UES Seawall Collapse Spotlights Esplanade Decay - Manhattan Express | Manhattan Express

UES Seawall Collapse Spotlights Esplanade Decay

The site of the East River Esplanade seawall collapse as it looked on May 6. |
PEGGY PRICE

BY JACKSON CHEN | After a recent heavy rainfall caused a seawall collapse on the East River Esplanade inside Carl Schurz Park, Upper East Siders are saying the mishap is a glaring example of the waterfront promenade’s overall deterioration.

According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, the downpour on May 5 worsened the compromised state of the esplanade at East 89th Street. The collapse demolished a section of the seawall and its safety railing, and the agency has since set up an eight-foot chain link fence around the site.

“The first phase of the East River Esplanade project is designed, and prior to Friday was scheduled to begin reconstruction this summer,” Crystal Howard, a parks department spokesperson, said in a written statement. “We are working to expedite reconstruction to address this condition; a timeline is being determined.”

For residents who frequent the esplanade, the collapse was a telling sign of its condition. The incident forced the Friends of the East River Esplanade to reschedule their May 6 event at the nearby 90th Street Pier park until May 14.

According to Jennifer Ratner, the founder and board chair of the Friends group, the parks department has been aware for some time that the stretch of esplanade from East 88th to 90th Streets was in poor condition. She said the Upper East Side portion of the esplanade overall is plagued with rusty railings and crumbling concrete edges.

The Friends group has put a particular spotlight on the pier at East 107th Street that has already seen sections collapse into the river. The parks department is planning to remove half of the pier and repair the remainder, but Ratner is advocating for its complete overhaul.

“Our group advocated that [the pier] needs repair, but at a certain point we realized it needs a full redo,” Ratner said. “It’s been too many years, and East Harlem should get the kind of pier that other waterfronts have.”

Another waterfront advocate, Upper East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos — who co-chairs the East River Esplanade Task Force — said he was chagrined to learn of the collapse given that funding was already in place for repairing that section of the promenade. Over the years, the councilmember has identified $49 million in private and public dollars for piecemeal renovations along the waterfront.

“I am disappointed that despite having the funding and identifying this portion of the Esplanade that work did not begin in time to prevent the collapse,” Kallos said in a written statement.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced $100 million for closing the gap of waterfront pedestrian and cyclist access that currently exists between East 53rd and 61st Streets, Kallos stressed the vital importance of shoring up the existing infrastructure so that collapses, like this most recent one so close to Gracie Mansion, don’t happen again.

The seawall collapse site was later blocked off by an eight-foot chain link fence. |
JACKSON CHEN

Reaction from Community Board 8, which has long pushed the parks department to expedite the repair process, mirrored that from the Friends of the East River Esplanade. Peggy Price, CB8’s Parks Committee co-chair, said they were informed that the lengthy approvals process would hold up parks department action on preventive upgrades. The recent collapse, however, heightens the need for an aggressive timetable, Price said.

“I feel this latest collapse is a call to action,” she said. “I really believe that regardless of whatever red tape is believed to be a problem, it ought to be cut through because it’s a dangerous situation and it shouldn’t be allowed to continue.”

The collapse on May 5 saw no injuries, but Price felt the incident would create a lingering worry about public safety among waterfront users in any event.

“Just putting Band-Aids over the specific problem areas is not doing the trick,” Price said. “Because who can guess where it’s going to happen next?”

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