Tree-hugging activists chain themselves at City Hall to protest East River coastal resiliency project

Activists took the term tree huggers quite literally on Tuesday.

Fuming over the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project, a planned construction designed to create flood protection through Lower Manhattan’s East River Park, demonstrators took their long-standing grievances to a new level by chaining themselves to a tree in front of City Hall on Sept 28. 

In a desperate plea to prevent bulldozers from breaking ground at their beloved park, the dramatic action demanded City Council Speaker Corey Johnson hold an oversight hearing on the planned coastal resiliency project.

Two activists JK Canepa and Jmac sat interlocked around a tree in City Hall Park on Broadway and Warren Street as fellow demonstrators held up a banner reading “Corey Schedule the oversight hearing on ESCR now!”

Canepa, a resident of Lower Manhattan, said she is directly impacted by the ESCR project. She and her fellow protesters charged that an equitable plan proposed by environmentalists and the community in regard to flood protection was ignored by the de Blasio Administration, which dismissed their plan in pursuit of ESCR.

“We need an oversight hearing immediately scheduled by our Speaker, Corey Johnson. We need to have him have a hearing to look at the plan that Mayor de Blasio has placed on us to completely destroy our flood zone barrier in East River Park,” Canpea said. “De Blasio and his administration summarily dismissed the plan and put in another plan that would mean at least five years of excavating the entire park all the way down two feet below and killing every one of the thousand trees and then building a wall of fill, and we don’t know where the fill is coming from.”

Activists are demanding an oversight hearing. Photo by Dean Moses

For years, members of East River Park Action and other activists have held rallies, marches, and reached out to elected officials to what they say has been no avail. 

“We’ve tried almost everything that one could try. We’ve had a court case; we’ve tried our city council person and asked her to speak up for us. We’ve done just about everything we could,” Canpea said. “What else can we do but put our bodies on the line?”

The chained demonstrators believed this peaceful act of disobedience would finally get the city’s attention.

“I think that the people who have the power to make big decisions like this in this city seem to have a really easy time forgetting who is going to be affected first by climate crisis, and I hope that they will start to consider that the people who are going to be most affected by this are the ones who are raising their voices now,” Jmac said.

amNewYork Metro reached out to Johnson for a comment, and is awaiting a response.