Update on East River storm surge protection

Thanks to cooperator Susan Levinson for attending last week’s community meeting and providing us with her notes for this post.

The federal government is responding to Sandy with a bag of cash that in the next few years will transform East River Park. The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR) — or the Big U, or the Dryline — will reshape the landscape of the waterfront in order to stop any future storm surge from damaging property and casting lower Manhattan in darkness as happened in October 2012.

bridging-berm-r-800x0Last Thursday and Monday, two community forums were held to discuss the project. Representatives from the mayor’s office, the Parks Department, and the Department of Design and Construction gave presentations and answered questions (along with Cantonese, Mandarin, and Spanish interpreters).

The project area is 23rd Street to Montgomery and is intended to protect naturally low-lying areas of the East Village and Lower East Side, as well as, crucially, the Con Ed station at 14th. For areas west of Montgomery, similar plans are expected later this year, and Mayor de Blasio has announced that city funds will be made available to areas outside the ESCR.

The goal is to protect lower Manhattan from floods without walling the waterfront off from the city. Landscaped berms will be constructed between the East River Park playing fields and the FDR. Imagine rolling hills that complement the park but are tall enough to keep the river from spilling over during a storm. (Watch this concept video.)

Not every stretch of the waterfront has the width to accommodate a full berm, notably right around Con Ed. In some places a simpler flood wall will be built, and in others a deployable surge barrier can be installed, though a berm, it was explained, is the most effective protection.

Several studies of the area have already been completed, including tree inventory, bridge inspection, and underwater structural survey of the waterfront. A preliminary design is expected to be completed by October 2015. The goal is to begin construction by mid-2017 with construction lasting 2-4 years.