East Side flood protection plan will get independent review

Curbed NY: The $1.3 billion plan to reshape a swath of lower Manhattan’s east side waterfront with flood protections will get an independent review ahead of a pivotal land use vote.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Carlina Rivera announced Monday that they have heeded locals’ calls for an outside expert to assess the East Side Costal Resiliency (ESCR) Project, hiring Hans Gehrels of the Dutch environmental consulting group Deltares.

“We’ve heard the requests of the community for an independent review before this goes into effect, and we listened,” Brewer said in a statement. “Dr. Gehrels will bring his vast experience and expertise to his analysis of this project, and I look forward to seeing the results of his review.”

This week, Gehrels is conducting interviews and surveying the current and former plans put forward by the de Blasio administration, which last September suddenly scrapped 70 percent of the project in favor of a new proposal that will bury East River Park with at least eight feet of fill. This would avoid tricky nighttime highway closures, but require the heavily-used park to go offline for some three years.

The ESCR plan spans Montgomery Street to East 25th Street, with the goal of adding flood protections to 2.4 miles of Manhattan’s shoreline. Originally, the city wanted to build berms, floodgates, and other barriers along the FDR Drive with an estimated cost of $760 million. The new plan moves those protections closer to the water and would raise the park, to the tune of $1.4 billion—just shy of doubling the price tag.

First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, who has led the charge to retool the proposal, has touted the new version as “better [and] quicker,” and stresses that it allows the city to meet its September 2022 deadline to spend federal recovery funds.

That new plan—and chiefly, the lack of engagement that led up to it—ignited ire among locals who attended countless meetings to weigh in with carefully-crafted input. The engagement fumble spurred Department of Design and Construction Commissioner Lorraine Grillo to shoulder the blame at a January City Council committee hearing. “I take responsibility for that, and I apologize,” Grillo said at the time.

But that did little to quell concerns about the new version, and local leaders have insisted that outside experts take a look at the project to ensure it’s the best path forward. Brewer—who called for an independent review as part of her recommendations on the application— community board members, and public housing tenant leaders emphasized the need for this extra step at a July City Planning Commission hearing. Read more>>