Residents and environmental groups in northern Brooklyn are speaking out against a new plan that would reshape the city’s waterfront in the decades to come.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal risk management plan stems from the NY & NJ Harbor & Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study, which presents strategies for flood mitigation. The tentatively selected plan, Alternative 3B, would include 12 primary storm surge gates across major waterways, including Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal, and a series of flood barriers, elevated promenades, floodwalls, levees, and seawalls along the New York and New Jersey shorelines.
One of the proposed seawalls would cover over a mile of waterfront in northern Greenpoint. If the project moves forward — it still needs community buy-in and Congressional approval — construction is expected to begin in 2030 and take 14 years.
Last week, Bryce Wisemiller from the Army Corps of Engineers presented the $52 billion plan to a packed house in Greenpoint at Representative Nydia Velázquez’s town hall, “Planning for a Resilient Waterfront.”
During the two-hour long meeting, various stakeholders, including council members Lincoln Restler and Julie Won and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, shared their initial reactions to the plan and expressed concern about waterfront access, the “bathtub effect” — when rain water and discharge gets trapped after gates are closed during a storm surge — how the plan might impact remediation efforts at Newtown Creek, and the data used for the study, among other things.
In his opening remarks, Council Member Restler called the 15-foot proposed walls “disconcerting.” His district, he said, has worked hard to expand access to the waterfront, something the plan would effectively stymie. Restler oversees District 33, which according to his office contains 9 miles of shoreline.
The council member has outlined his own plans to combat flooding in his climate action roadmap, including a proposal to replace the concrete seawall in the district with a natural shore to facilitate stormwater drainage, a model the plan says Brooklyn Bridge Park is already championing.
Environmental groups echoed Restler’s alarm. Jessica Sechrist, the executive director of Hunters Point Park Conservancy, said gaining access to the waterfront has been a decades-long fight and she does not want the city to make a decision that will force the next generation to fight the exact same battles again.
Questions about Newtown Creek, one of four Superfund Sites in New York City, surfaced several times during the meeting. Willis Elkins, the executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, said the group’s leading concern was how the proposed storm surge gate for Newtown Creek might inhibit the flow of water between the creek and the East River, something that could impact water quality and the Superfund Site’s remediation progress.
In response to questions about remediation, Wisemiller said that the area where the footprint of the storm surge gate would be is the only section that would need to be remediated before moving forward with construction.
Local residents from Brooklyn and Queens also had a chance to weigh in on the plan and ask questions. For Kimberly Wright, who has lived in Greenpoint for over 20 years, the issue of flooding was top of mind. She wanted to know what the Army Corps and the city were doing to improve drainage and check valves, specifically north of Huron Street.
“Every single time there’s a rainstorm or a big surge, we have to be home to make sure that we don’t flood,” she said.
Another attendee asked how residents would have access to the piers with the new floodwalls in place, to which Wisemiller said there will be gates people can use.
Steve Chesler, the chair of the environmental protection committee for Community Board 1, said people were upset about the length of the comment period — it originally went until January 6, 2023, until being extended to March 7, 2023 — and that the community board didn’t have enough time to thoroughly study the plan. He also emphasized that they took issue with the design.
“It’s a publicly accessible waterfront and open space that people want. It’s the great equalizer. We have a huge issue with walling it off,” he said.
Wisemiller said the Army Corps of engineers has had “dozens of engagements” with the public since the report was released in September 2022 and that the plan is conceptual at this point.
The public can submit comments about the plan via email: NYNJHarbor.TribStudy@usace.army.mil; or mail:
NYNJHAT Study Team, Planning Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
26 Federal Plaza, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10279-0090
Walls or esplanades?
We’ll get a 17 foot high wall to cut us off from the East River in order to ostensibly “save” Greenpoint (which reminds me of the rationale we used in destroying Vietnamese villages in order to “save” them);
This while our well-to-do & well-connected neighbors right across the East River in Manhattan get a brand new & beautiful elevated waterfront esplanade that they can enjoy.
What wrong with this picture? Does anyone care?
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