Environmental Groups Seek to Stop NYC Seawall Construction

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

(CN) – Several New York City residents are seeking an injunction to stop the city from disrupting East River Park with the construction of a seawall.

Sixteen environmental and community groups, along with dozens of individual citizens, filed a lawsuit against the city in the New York County Court on Thursday.

They said they would be deprived of the use of the 45-acre John V. Lindsey East River Park during the construction of the seawall and that the original park would be destroyed once it was finished.

The petitioners asked the court to stop the construction and to void the New York City Council’s decision to approve the project.

The seawall is part of the $1.45 billion East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an anti-flooding plan the council approved last November in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The plan calls for the erection of a 2.2-mile wall, the burial of the park under eight to ten feet of landfill, and the construction of a new park on top of it.

They argued that the Court of Appeals has determined that “only the elected state legislature may grant permission for a park purpose to be altered for a non-park purpose.”

The petitioners include community groups like East River Park ACTION and environmental advocates like New York Climate Action Group, as well as a non-profit group of artists called the Cuala Foundation.

The individuals joining the petition are regular users of East River Park from the East Village, the Lower East Side and other parts of New York City.

East River Park opened in the late 1930s. It was named after Lindsey in 2001. He served as mayor of New York City from 1966 to 1973.

“The neighborhood around the East River Park is a low- to moderate-income area, and the neighborhood’s residents rely on the park for recreation and fishing,” the petitioners stated.

They added that Council developed its flood mitigation plan “without community input” at almost double the cost of the original plan, “which did not involve minimal intrusion on East River Park.”

The petitioners also claim that the plan would include the removal of 991 trees and the destruction of flowers and plants, “including echinacea, bluebells and milkweed, which attracts monarch butterflies.”

The park project is scheduled to take place in two phases, with 40 percent of the park remaining open as the work continues through 2025.

“Closing the East River Park, whether completely or in phases, will deny Petitioners, members of the Plaintiff organizations, and all New Yorkers access to greenspace and facilities in New York City parkland,” the plaintiffs stated.

Their main legal argument is that only the state legislature can approve such a project.

“Protecting the contiguous community from storm surges and flooding is a worthy endeavor, but shutting down more than half the Park to do so would greatly interfere with its use as a public park and would require approval,” they stated.

Attorney Arthur Z. Schwartz of Advocates for Justice is representing the petitioners. He said the past decision made by the appellate court is clear.

“No change in use of a park, to a non-park use, no matter what the public purpose, is allowed without approval of the legislature,” Schwartz said in an email. “The City was banking on no lawyer being willing to take them on. This lawyer/park user/neighborhood resident is happy to step into the role.”

The New York City Law Department did not immediately respond to an email request for comment made after business hours.

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