Boaters float ideas for East River Waterfront

Kayakers paddle around at an event at Stuyvesant Cove Park in June.  At a recent Community Board 6 meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick answered questions from community residents about ideas for improvements at Stuyvesant Cove Park and said available funds would be most conducive to a kayak launch. Other suggestions for utilizing the East River waterfront were also brought up. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Kayakers paddle around at an event at Stuyvesant Cove Park in June.  (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Local waterfront organizations attended CB6’s Land Use and Waterfront committee meeting to provide options for East River access.

At the committee’s October meeting, City Council member Dan Garodnick called on community members and organizations to come up with suggestions for how to use the $1 million in funding that his office has secured for East River access so representatives from waterfront groups returned in November to offer their proposals.
Stuyvesant Cove Park has served as a launching point for kayakers for the last three summers and representatives from the Watertrail Association, Long Island City Boathouse, Urban Swim, the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance have been working to provide easier access to recreational boating on the East Side.

The area of the East River around Stuyvesant Cove Park has a natural beach, which has made it an adequate launching site for kayaks when the tide is low, but one of the main problems is access to the beach itself.
During the summer when free kayaking events are available, there is usually a cooler for kayakers to step over and a ladder to get down to the beach, making it difficult and precarious to get to the boats.

“It gives people the impression that they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” Nancy Brous, of the Watertrail Association, added.

Ted Gruber, a volunteer with the Long Island City Boathouse, was skeptical that any of the proposals would be implemented by next season and suggested that an interim solution be used in the meantime.
“It would be a lot better if we had an opening in the fence we could use to get to the beach,” he said. “This is something we think could be achieved before the next season.”

Brous outlined the plans for the eventual kayak launch that would potentially be functional by the summer of 2016 and which would include permanent storage for boats, a floating dock and educational space.
Gruber emphasized that storage space for boats is crucial because it increases the number of volunteer hours to have to transport the boats back and forth between other storage facilities and the water.
Steven Leslie, a resident of East 24th Street and Second Avenue, created a Stuy Cove Kayaking listserv and has been working on programming to get residents involved with the water. He said that the educational space is a key part of getting children and students interested in the water quality and environment.

“We could liaise with local schools because the park is already a place where a lot of students come for educational activities,” he said.

The committee ultimately proposed a resolution to support the plans for a floating dock and a 3,000 s/f structure with an educational component, as well as the interim solution of moving the gate to make the beach more accessible.

Possible changes to waterfront floated

Kayakers paddle around at an event at Stuyvesant Cove Park in June.  At a recent Community Board 6 meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick answered questions from community residents about ideas for improvements at Stuyvesant Cove Park and said available funds would be most conducive to a kayak launch. Other suggestions for utilizing the East River waterfront were also brought up. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Kayakers paddle around at an event at Stuyvesant Cove Park in June. At a recent Community Board 6 meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick answered questions from community residents about ideas for improvements at Stuyvesant Cove Park and said available funds would be most conducive to a kayak launch. Other suggestions for utilizing the East River waterfront were also brought up. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community Board 6’s Land Use and Waterfront Committee discussed some of the imminent changes planned for the East River, in the context of both the Blueway Plan to provide more access to the river for recreational activities and the proposed renovations of the Skyport Marina at the committee’s monthly meeting last Wednesday.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick was on hand at the meeting to collect input from the committee on how the community would like to use the $1.5 million in funds that his office has allocated for Stuyvesant Cove Park.

A number of volunteers and staff members from organizations such as Long Island Community Boathouse and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance attended the meeting. Rob Buchanan from the NYC Watertrail Association said that he and his colleagues found out about the meeting too late to prepare a presentation with ideas and would be willing to come back to the meeting next month, but LIC Boathouse volunteer Ted Gruber had a preliminary suggestion.

“You already have a kayak launch there but there’s a fence in the way,” he noted. “It would only take about $5,000 and what you could do is put a gate and a couple of steps before it gets warm next year, because who knows when the rest of this would happen.”

The council member acknowledged that there are interim solutions that could be considered, but he is optimistic that the project will be completed. What that project is specifically, he said, is up to the ideas from the community, but he feels that the money available is most conducive to a kayak launch.

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

According to calculations that Garodnick got from the Economic Development Corporation, expanding a beach in the space would be about $7 million, which would be more than an ecodock and kayak launch. An ecodock would also be costly at $4 to $5 million, he said, including an additional $500,000 per year for dredging because the water is too shallow, but that option would be revenue-generating because it would allow historic vessels to dock there.

EDC’s Senior Vice President of Asset Management Rich Cote was at the meeting to address additional questions about the proposed renovations to the Skyport Marina and a number of committee members expressed concern about the changes, especially in light of the discussion about increasing recreational activity on the East River not far from where the marina is situated. Cote had said that the bulk of the work planned was focused on maintenance and improvements to the infrastructure, and one of the major concerns from committee members was the possible addition of more space for larger seaplanes that was included in the presentation EDC gave at the previous meeting.

“A new seaplane dock is not maintenance,” argued Committee Vice Chair Ellen Imbimbo. “If you want to have the discussion on what the river is for, like those uses that Councilmember Garodnick spoke to earlier, then a seaplane dock seems contradictory to all of our discussions of making the river accessible so we can all enjoy it. I don’t think it’s about noise. It’s about how we view the East River: for fun and swimming or for more seaplanes.”

Imbimbo added that the Community Board has a history of opposing seaplanes, noting that committee member Lou Sepersky found a CB6 resolution from 1999 that opposed seaplanes and the community board struggled with the city over the heliport at East 34th Street when that was new to the area.

Cote responded that there were no specific plans for larger seaplanes to be docked at the marina “in the near future” and that they were only creating a place for seaplanes to come in, but committee members were not appeased by the implication that larger seaplanes could technically be docking at the marina at some point.

“There is nothing in this for the community,” said Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal. “The plan has nothing for the community except noise and problems.”

Up the river, with paddles and kayaks

A kayaking event held at Stuyvesant Cove Park last Saturday was a hit with neighborhood residents. Photo by Wendy-Lynn McClean/Urban Swim

A kayaking event held at Stuyvesant Cove Park last Saturday was a hit with neighborhood residents.
Photo by Wendy-Lynn McClean/Urban Swim

By Sabina Mollot

Who needs the beach when you have the East River?

Last Saturday, neighborhood residents headed out to Stuyvesant Cove Park for a free kayaking event on the river, the second such event to take place since planning of the East River Blueway project got underway. Though this recreational event was unaffiliated with that plan, Deanne Draeger of the East 13th Street based organization Urban Swim said the goal is essentially the same, which is to get New Yorkers out onto a clean, safe waterway.

The first kayaking event at Stuyvesant Cove took place last August, and like this one, was a hit, with neighborhood residents of all ages, many of whom had never gone boating before, lining up to use the kayaks. According to Solar One’s figures, there were around 200 participants.

“For a lot of people it was their first time ever, so it was a very interesting thing to be able to do,” said Draeger. “You don’t need experience and we provided all the safety equipment. Some people were nervous, but when you get on the water it’s incredible and you’re paddling around in the New York Harbor.”

Along with Urban Swim, the afternoon activity was also made possible by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, NYCEDC and Long Island City Community Boat Club. The organization has also fostered relationships with other organizations that have supported its efforts including Solar One, the Lower East Side Ecology Center and the NY Water Trail Association.

In addition to hosting events aimed at getting people into the water, including the occasional swim between Stuyvesant Cove and Coney Island, Urban Swim also does weekly testing of the water to determine its cleanliness. Fortunately, according to Draeger, most of the time, the water’s fine, at least for swimming and other activities.

“It’s definitely a lot cleaner than it has been,” she said, noting that the practice of dumping into rivers by many companies “has been curtailed.”

The only exception tends to be after heavy rainfalls, thanks to an antiquated sewer system. (At that time, the river can see what’s known as combined sewage overflow, which is extra storm water that can’t be treated fast enough by sewage plants.)

Draeger said Urban Swim tests at around 30 sites in Manhattan and then publishes its results.

“We’re very grassroots about it,” she said. “A bunch of us test in different locations.”

Urban Swim has been around since 2010, having gotten started after Draeger organized a swim for herself from Stuyvesant Cove Park to Steeple Chase in Coney Island, Brooklyn. When she did it again the following year and then the next, she invited others to join her and has since been organizing other events on the water.

If anyone thinks they can handle a similar swim, the next opportunity will be on August 10, when the group once again heads from Stuy Cove to Coney Island. Another swim, from the Statue of Liberty to One World Trade Center, is scheduled for September 14. There will also be another kayaking day at the Cove set for August 17. For more information about upcoming events, visit the “Urban Swim” Facebook page.