Park possibly sliding into river; Work definitely behind schedule
New Yorkers will be waiting another year for East River Park to be complete — and maybe more if a state agency succeeds in halting the project.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is worried that workers repairing the East River bulkhead are allowing the shoreline to erode into the water, so D.E.C. tried to revoke the construction permit, D.E.C. spokesperson Arturo Garcia-Costas said.
D.E.C. first noticed erosion problems last year and fined the city and contractor Pile Foundation Construction Company $200,000, but the problems continued, Garcia-Costas said in an e-mail to The Villager. This August, D.E.C. notified the city of the state’s intention to revoke the work permit, and in response the city requested a hearing, which has not happened yet.
“That problem is being taken care of,” said Howie Porsche, Pile Foundation’s foreman on the project. “You don’t want to fool around with the D.E.C., that’s for sure. It was only a minor infraction, but to the D.E.C. it was not minor.”
Pile Foundation hired Maracap Construction Industries, Inc., a month ago to do erosion control, Porsche said. Garcia-Costas said D.E.C. has not verified whether Maracap is successfully preventing erosion, and he said Pile Foundation’s previous oversight attempts failed.
The rebuilt East River Park esplanade was supposed to open in 2007, but work has fallen behind and only one-third of the promenade is open now. Asked when the project would be done, Porsche laughed and said he didn’t know. After checking with someone else, he said it would be about another year.
A less-optimistic estimate came from Victor Micholasi, a shop steward for Pile Foundation who was working on the site Tuesday morning.
“It’ll take a year and a half at least,” Micholasi said.
He said work stopped for at least six months from the end of 2007 into 2008 because the city wasn’t giving the contractor permits. Porsche, the foreman, said work never stopped all the way, but it slowed down last winter when the city changed parts of the project and had to get new permits.
“New York City isn’t exactly the fastest people in the world,” Porsche said.
Cristina DeLuca, spokesperson for the city Parks Department, said an additional section of the park would be open by the late winter, and the entire park would be complete by next fall. She said the project got behind schedule because Parks decided to include the access road along the east side of the F.D.R. Drive, which is used as a jogging path and bikeway by parkgoers. Originally, that work would have happened in 2010, but Parks decided to do it now instead.
The city launched the $72 million East River Park reconstruction in 2001 after discovering that the bulkhead and platforms holding up the esplanade were crumbling and unsafe. In the first stage of work, Con Edison relocated its electric lines to beneath the park’s access road. Now, workers are removing and replacing the structures supporting the riverfront esplanade, so they can rebuild it.
Geoffrey Croft, founder of New York City Park Advocates, is angry that the Con Ed work added years to the project, since Con Ed is using city park space for free. DeLuca, the Parks spokesperson, said Con Ed paid to relocate its lines, but Croft said that does not count as mitigation.
“Con Ed was allowed to steal our parkland,” Croft said. “That’s a scandal that they’re not paying for the park property that they’re using.”
The northern third of the East River Park esplanade is already open, but in the middle and southern sections, construction materials and trailers block off picnic groves and views of the water. Joggers and cyclists use the cracked, puddle-strewn access road, sandwiched between traffic on the F.D.R. Drive and construction fences. Whenever a cement truck rumbles past, the passersby have to squeeze over to the side.
A sign in the park lists the completion date as 2008.
“They’re late,” said Jose Velez, 44, who was walking his dog on a recent morning. “It’s awful. … It’s taking a long time.”
Velez remembers coming to the park when he first moved to New York City 12 years ago. He would run along the water all the way down the esplanade — “Beautiful,” he said.
Another park visitor was Al Gaber, who lives on Grand St. and comes to the park daily.
“Obviously, it’s taking much too long,” said Gaber, who was power-walking along the access road swinging 3-pound barbells. “It’s a nuisance.”
Of the completed section of the park, he added, “It’s very limited, but it seems pleasant. It seems all right.”
Kenia Deltre, 32, said she was impressed by the section of new esplanade.
“It’s great that they’re improving the area,” the Lower East Side resident said. “It looks really good.”
Deltre rarely has time for a walk in the park, but she said that once it’s complete she’ll come more often.
The finished portion of the esplanade is silent compared to the chaos and traffic beside the access road to the west.
Clusters of benches face the East River, along with a smattering of tables, shrubs, drinking fountains and barbecue grills. Views stretch from the Williamsburg Bridge up to the Queensboro Bridge and beyond. The new metal railing is already tinged with rust.
Community Board 3 wants to see the rest of the park open as soon as possible, said Richard Ropiak, chairperson of the board’s Parks Committee.
“The city made a commitment to finish it and give us back a park that’s even better than before,” Ropiak said.
In addition to D.E.C.’s concerns about erosion, the state agency also issued four summonses this summer to Anthony Rivara, president of Pile Foundation, related to barges moored to Parks Department property. D.E.C. found multiple violations of the Environmental Conservation Law and found that the barges were endangering public health and safety, spokesperson Garcia-Costas said. He said some of the barges were not seaworthy and debris was escaping from them.
Porsche, the project foreman, said one barge was filled with Styrofoam to keep it afloat, and some of the Styrofoam leaked into the water. That vessel is gone now, he said.
By Julie Shapiro