East River Park Action protests Mayor’s plan to steamroll through ESCR plan

East River Park Action and their supporters are taking their park plight to the very top.

For years avid East River Park-goers have been pushing back against the controversial flood protection plans that look to completely upend the popular Lower Manhattan park by removing some 1,000 trees and filling the land with industrial soil. Although the development is proposed to protect the East Side from coastal torrents like that of superstorm Sandy, critics feel the destruction outweighs the benefits of a refurbished park.

On July 27, park advocates rallied outside of Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office in a plea for the former mayoral candidate to decline signing off on the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project contract, and in what was a major win for activists, he returned the contract to the City’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) unsigned requesting further information.

However, last week the City registered the contract anyway. The East River Park Action says the mayor has overruled Stringer’s decision to wait for more information and the administration is attempting to move forward with the park reconstruction regardless.

Firing back, protesters descended upon City Hall Park on Aug. 9 where they admonished Mayor Bill de Blasio for continuing to have his sights firmly set on the project despite the Comptroller having yet to approve the development.

The group brandishes signs outside City Hall.Photo by Dean Moses

For years, Emily Johnson, a Lower East Side resident, activist, and a member of the Yup’ik Nation, has opposed the ESCR plan. 

“The mayor overrode the Comptroller’s decision to take a deeper look into the contract, so the mayor really wants to push this through by being anti-democratic and vetoing a very obvious process that is put in place for safety reasons,” Johnson said, adding, “We are urging the Comptroller to come and stand with us at City Hall. The Comptroller made the right decision in sending that contract back. There are a lot of issues, not only with the contract but the entire ESCR so we are really pleased with that and now we are asking him to come join us further and really question why the mayor is pushing the ESCR through so incredulously.” 

Johnson told amNewYork Metro that they are not surprised by the mayor’s actions, describing the entire ESCR plan as an effort that has been steamrolled straight through since it was first announced. 

“The mayor and our Council Member Carlina Rivera, it’s been constant disappointment after disappointment and we are used to them really pushing this through by any means necessary,” Johnson said.

Dozens of activists joined Johnson outside the West gate of City Hall Park across from 250 Broadway chanting, “Save the park.” They say they will spend the rest of the week outside of this location pushing local elected officials, the comptroller’s office, and the mayor’s office to put a halt to the ESCR. 

“The ESCR is a dangerous, vile, imperialist plan paving the way for development of a lesser resilient community,” activist Emily Johnson said at the protest. 

Parts of the East River Park is already in the process of undergoing construction and as more work ensues, it is reported by various agencies that sections of the park will remain open to the public during the renovation. 

According to Mitch Schwartz the Director of Rapid Response and Deputy Press Secretary for the mayor’s office, the project is a tremendous undertaking intended to keep the East Side coastal area resilient from flooding. 

“ESCR is one of the most ambitious – and one of the most urgent – projects this city has ever undertaken to fight climate change and keep the east side safe to live in. We’ve responded to more than 50 questions from the Comptroller about our process, and our plan incorporates feedback we’ve worked tirelessly to solicit from the community. It’s the right project, at the right time, and we look forward to continuing our progress toward protecting all the New Yorkers who call this area home,” Schwartz told amNewYork Metro.