NEW YORK - Protesters clashed with police Friday while opening up construction gates at East River Park. A big city project is now underway to create storm resiliency along part of Manhattan’s east side, where 100,000 people live.
"It’s a corrupt plan, it’s a land grab on stolen land, the city wants this 50 acres because you know that by how quickly they are destroying the trees," said Lower East Side resident Emily Johnson.
The construction is part of the city’s larger East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project, which started a year ago and spans from East 25th Street down to Montgomery Street. The de Blasio administration is calling this the most ambitious climate resiliency project in the city’s history. It’s funded in part by the federal government with the goal to reduce flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise on Manhattan's East Side.
Johnson disagrees with the plan and claims the city is doing work illegally.
"We have a state-issued temporary restraining order, so there isn’t supposed to be any work happening in the park at all," said Johnson.
The city says it has reviewed the court’s order and does not believe it prevents work from continuing. It also says the court has already decided in the city’s favor twice. Much of the community’s anger stems from the city’s decision to abandon a previous proposal, developed over years of community meetings. That plan would have raised a much smaller portion of the park, while adding berms and marshland to absorb future storm surge. The city says the new plan will be more effective and will reduce the impact on the community and nearby NYCHA complexes by eliminating the amount of construction vehicles in the area. The new plan would also allow the city to bring materials to the site by barge instead of truck.
However, right now for the protesters, the sight of trees being cut down isn’t sitting well.
"I was upset they are cutting down the trees, destroying the park," said Tahj Holligan from Brooklyn.
The city says the current plan will remove 1,000 trees right now, but will then replace them all, plus add another 1800 trees in the park and surrounding community.
"The saplings are not replacing fully mature grown trees which take 30 years to grow. And that’s terrible," said Karen Kapnick from the Upper East Side.
The entire project is expected to be completed in 2026.