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DDC grants exclusive look at work as ongoing construction sparks controversy over East River Park space

Some controversy looms over the East River Coastal Resiliency project as concerned residents in Manhattan express their dismay over the ongoing construction.

Edric Robinson

Jan 12, 2024, 11:57 PM

Updated 189 days ago

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Some controversy looms over the East River Coastal Resiliency project as concerned residents in Manhattan express their dismay over the ongoing construction.
They claim it's transforming the beloved East River Park beyond recognition. The controversy centers on the loss of hundreds of mature trees, sparking a passionate community movement to preserve what remains.
“Seven-hundred mature trees have been clear cut, including some trees that were over 100 years old,” said Sarah Wellington, a community member advocating for the space since about 2020. 
“This is actually called Lenapehoking, and community members are doing what we have a responsibility to do, which is defend land and also to remember this is not a flood plan, it's a real estate scam," she added. 
Wellington says the construction is taking away trees and the species that inhabit it and residents in the area are also losing precious community space. They want oversight. 
"For the last two years, they've been destroying the park. There’s been absolutely no oversight whatsoever, so basically the city is overseeing themselves," said another community member, Eve Josephson. 
Josephson also criticized the lack of information being provided to residents. 
News 12 New York reached out to the Department of Design and Construction and was given an exclusive look at the ongoing $2 billion resiliency project. Officials say the entire project is almost halfway completed. The goal is to reduce flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise.
“This project is a 2.4-mile-long flexible flood barrier that’s going to include 18 flood gates,” said Ian Michales, executive director of public information with DDC. 
As Michaels explained the gates being installed will even cross over the FDR. This extends from Montgomery Street all the way to East 25th Street. The project, set in phases to ensure some community use throughout, will be rebuilding five play areas, including East River Park. He confirms all trees will be removed. 
“It’s really something that we don't want to do, but in this case the entire park is being raised about 10 feet, and in order to do that we had to remove about 1,000 trees. But to make up for that, we are replanting close to 2,000 new trees here in the park that will be done by 2026 when this project is done,” said Michaels. 
“Also we’re working with the NYC Parks Department, which will run this park when we’re done. They are planting trees in the surrounding community on the other side of the FDR. So far to date, they’ve planted about 1,300 trees,” he continued.  
Michaels emphasized they’ll be planting about 50 different species of trees that are resilient to salt water.
At the construction site, about 100 workers man shifts. Tons of equipment and concrete for the work are brought in on barges from the East River.  The entire project area at completion will be filled with soil, fortified with beams and flood walls, some running underground. Officials say one multipurpose field covered in AstroTurf is almost ready for public use. It’s set to be opened by Memorial Day.  Michaels answered questions about concerns with AstroTurf instead of using soil.
“AstroTurf is used simply for maintenance. We anticipate that these fields will get a lot of use. The turf doesn't use the rubber pellets, this is different. It uses sand,” said Michaels
Addressing concerns about oversight and public information, Michaels emphasized the department's robust community outreach effort, including liaisons and regular report-outs at community boards. He stated, "If anyone wants to learn about this project, there are a lot of different ways to do that, and if they have questions, we have people who are paid just to answer those questions.”
Despite these assurances, residents like Josephson remain skeptical and stressed the need for external oversight, fearing the worst. 
"We lose the park, that’s what happens if no oversight and nothing is done," said Josephson.
The Department of Design and Construction asserts that the project is both on time and on budget, with an expected completion date in 2026.


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