East River Resiliency Timeline is Changed, but Where the Hell is the Deltares Report?

Posted on: October 4th, 2019 at 5:06 am by

Photo: DDC

The following Bowery Boogie guest piece was written by contributor Aidan Elias.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor de Blasio announced an about-face with regard to timetable of the revised East Side Coastal Resiliency plan. A switch to construction work in phases to avoid full closure of the public amenity.

This “concession,” one of many that community members have desperately demanded since the city’s complete overhaul of the ESCR project last October, plans to close off sections of the park at a time, extending the projected completion of the project to late 2025.

It is worth noting that one of the primary rationales provided by the city for abandoning the previous resiliency plan (generated through the Rebuild By Design competition and extensive community input, and did not call for the razing of the park), was that the new “preferred alternative” would expedite the construction process. Phased construction, while absolutely better than the immediate closure and destruction of the entire park, eliminates essentially any advantages this plan would provide as far as limiting construction time.

The city government previously claimed to have “heeded the call of the people” when it was announced in early September that the ESCR plan would receive independent scientific review from the Dutch environmental consulting firm, Deltares. Hans Gehrels, the manager of Deltares’ corporate market team on urban resilience, was hired for $20,000 by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Carlina Rivera to review the ESCR project.

Photo: Susan Loeb

Just yesterday, City Council provided a more detailed report about these recent adjustments to the ESCR plan; a final vote expected within the next couple weeks. As the public awaits a final verdict for the East River Park, though, one significant question remains almost completely unaddressed by local politicians or media outlets: where the hell is the Deltares report?

As Curbed reported in September, “Brewer says Gehrels’s review will result in a public report detailing his efforts and with comments on the plan. That document, she says, will likely be released before September 23, when the City Planning Commission is slated to vote on the project.” That date came and went, the City Planning Commission approved the ESCR project, and no environmental report was issued. That same Monday, in the wake of the Planning Commission’s vote, it was Brewer’s office that indicated the Deltares report would be completed by the end of that same week (ostensibly by Friday, September 27) – yet no signals were given as far as the release of this public report. During the hearing yesterday, Rivera stated that Deltares’ report would be available “early next week” – yet offered no further insights into its contents.

It must be noted that Deltares is not the only Dutch environmental consulting firm working on city plans for the Lower Manhattan coastline; the same day as the news of phased construction for the ESCR project was released, so too was it announced that a team of eighteen consulting firms would be lead by Arcadis, a Netherlands-based design company, to develop the “Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan” – the city’s equally controversial flood protection plan which will extend the seaport waterfront up to a mile into the river. One of the other eighteen firms slated to work with Arcadis on developing this master plan is in fact (drumroll please) Deltares. Not only is Arcadis also been involved with the ESCR project, both Deltares and Arcadis have worked together on other projects internationally.

Now, nearly two weeks after the expected completion and release of Deltares’ report, as we await the imminent City Council vote on the ESCR project – effectively the final vote in what has now been an almost seven-year process – the city seems to have forgotten about their commitment to outside scientific review. How can this report provide “greater scrutiny and clarity” to the ESCR project (as Rivera professed to hope for) if there is no time for it to be reviewed by local representatives or community members? How can we expect the Deltares report to provide “outside review” if they have already been awarded other contracts to work on adjacent city projects for Lower Manhattan’s coastline?

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