NYC - Opinion: A different vision for flood protection on the West Side
MARCH 5, 2023 -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently released a preliminary flood control plan for Manhattan’s West Side waterfront in Hudson River Park between Battery Park City and W. 34th Street. Their simplistic approach to resiliency is to build a 12-foot-high concrete wall along 3 miles of the waterfront — in the Hudson River Park.
The proposed wall would displace the busiest bike path in America, diminish public use and enjoyment of a $1 billion public park visited by 17 million people a year, impede public access to the river, increase air and noise pollution and block views of the river. It would significantly impact the desirability of the park, undermine the quality of life in adjacent neighborhoods, and erode the value of adjacent real estate and the city’s tax base.
Let’s take a look back at another West Side waterfront project. In 1985, after an 11-year legal battle forced the withdrawal of a U.S. Army Corps Westway permit for an interstate highway buried under 236 acres of landfill in the Hudson River, the governor and mayor established a unique city/state task force. That body brought together agency commissioners and local elected officials, along with community, environmental, business and civic stakeholders to craft a new vision for the West Side waterfront.
Their recommendations were visionary — build a surface-level boulevard and turn the waterfront into a world-class maritime park. The Hudson River Park transformed a dangerous and deteriorating waterfront, preserved the priceless Hudson estuary, made adjacent neighborhoods more livable, increased tourism, created jobs and enhanced the city’s tax base. That progress, and the continued vitality of adjacent West Side neighborhoods, will be undermined by the Army Corps’ current proposal.
In response, the Hudson River Park Advisory Council voted unanimously, on Feb. 13, to request that the governor and mayor establish a new city/state task force to coordinate public infrastructure investments in order to prevent coastal flooding, protect the Hudson River Park, and redesign Route 9A to meet changing transportation needs without impacting traffic congestion.
There are physical, environmental and economic benefits to crafting a new vision that will enable the West Side waterfront to adapt and thrive for the remainder of this century.
The opportunity is unique because three public infrastructure projects could be critical to the future of the park, the estuary and adjacent West Side communities. There has been billions of dollars in public and private investment in the park and in adjacent communities. Coordinating the planning and implementation of major public infrastructure improvements is critical to protecting the benefits that the Hudson River Park has created. Fortunately, new state and federal funding is available to help accomplish these goals.
Start in the estuary
West Side resiliency should include both in-water and shore-based measures. Given that 70 percent of the Hudson River Park is water, mitigating the impact of tidal surges should start in the park’s estuarine sanctuary. Existing natural systems must be preserved as we initiate innovative environmental interventions, such as expanding the current oyster restoration initiative, ecological enhancement of near-shore environments, and wrapping pier piles and surfacing the bulkhead with materials that encourage and support the growth of marine and terrestrial flora and fauna.
The Army Corps regulates all construction in the waterway while the state Department of Environmental Conservation oversees the estuarine sanctuary. In 2018, the governor supported a $135 million estuarine research, restoration and protection plan recommended by the Hudson River Foundation. Roughly $35 million is being spent for new shoreline habitat at Gansevoort Peninsula, ecological improvements at Pier 26, oyster restoration and the design of the estuarium in Tribeca.