Neighbors demand clarity on Coastal Resiliency project

Department of Design and Construction associate project manager Eric Ilijevich (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Gramercy residents slammed city officials for a lack of updates and lack of response to concerns about the flood protection project planned for the East Side at a Community Board 6 meeting last Monday.

Representatives for the Department of Design and Construction, which is overseeing the plan known as the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, were at the Land Use and Waterfront committee meeting last week ostensibly to provide updates on Project Area 2, which stretches from East 13th Street around the Con Edison plant up to just beyond the Asser Levy Recreation Center and playground at East 25th Street.

But Land Use Committee member and East Midtown Plaza resident Claude Winfield expressed frustration at the meeting that DDC’s presentation encompassed the changes outside the community district without addressing any of the concerns committee members had expressed about the project in their neighborhood.

When representatives for DDC said that there would be additional opportunities to ask questions about the plan, committee chair Sandro Sherrod responded, “We don’t have questions so much as objections to parts of the plan.”

Community Board 6 previously passed a resolution opposing the plan if it included certain elements that members felt would make the neighborhood less safe, and argued that the construction of some of the flood barriers would disrupt existing walkways around Murphy’s Brothers and Asser Levy playgrounds.

The board advocated against the tieback to the VA Hospital’s floodwall at East 23rd Street and instead argued that the tieback should be placed along East 25th Street so that the recreation center and playground could be protected by the same wall. Despite changes to other parts of the design, DDC associate project manager Eric Ilijevich said at the recent meeting the plan to connect the floodwall at East 23rd Street appears to have remained the same. The design for Murphy’s Brother’s playground, Asser Levy and Stuyvesant Cove Park also remains unchanged from the original plan and construction on Stuyvesant Cove Park is expected to begin later this year.

Jo-Ann Polise, a member of the Stuyvesant Cove Park Association, also wanted to clarify if the park would actually be closed for two full years during construction. Committee chair Sandro Sherrod said that the city previously said that there was a possibility the project could be staged in such a way that some parts of the park are accessible during the construction but Ilijevich could not confirm the exact timeline and said they would share further information when it becomes available.

The overall project was heavily criticized at the end of last year by residents and advocates throughout Lower Manhattan when the city announced substantial changes to the plans for East River Park on the Lower East Side, which was recently renovated and will now be rebuilt again, based on new designs. This park is outside the boundaries of Community District 6 but some at the meeting last week had objections to this part of the plan as well.

Although not a new element of the project since city representatives presented overall changes during a meeting last December, Ilijevich confirmed at the CB6 meeting that a flyover bridge near the Con Edison facility will be included in the plan.

There is currently a pinch point on the walkway along the water in the area around the facility and previous versions of the plan did not address what residents saw as a safety issue in navigating the area.

“The point of the bridge will be to go over all of that,” Ilijevich said. “This would relieve the chokepoint. Con Edison has some concerns about the work and we have to make sure the bridge isn’t too high but we’re still working out the specifics of the design.”

DDC will be reaching out to local community groups such as the ST-PCV Tenants Association, NYCHA tenants association presidents, elected officials, the Peter Stuyvesant Little League and others for meetings this winter. The city is aiming to break ground on the project by next winter, with the goal of having full flood protection for Lower Manhattan by the 2023 hurricane season.

The ESCR project is a federally and city-funded plan to provide flood protection for the east side of Manhattan in response to the flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the need to protect coastal neighborhoods from future flooding in major storms.

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