RIOC President's Report

Latest On DEP's Ugly Emergency Access Road Construction Behind Octagon

Updated 30 weeks ago David Stone
Contrary to DEP promises, "Sabrina," wrapped in plastic, along with picnic tables and grills were consumed inside the construction zone.
Contrary to DEP promises, "Sabrina," wrapped in plastic, along with picnic tables and grills were consumed inside the construction zone.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A saga the City Department of Environmental Protection strung across the last year, explaining the plug ugly project obstructing the waterfront along the West Promenade, unexpectedly got a fresh update during RIOC's December Board Meeting. It may be the most reliable yet. Or not - we're talking about the City DEP, after all.

A Board Meeting filled with significant developments rolled up to its conclusion with Susan Rosenthal's President's Report, a regular summary of activities not touched on during the formal, voting session. Among other comments, she said that she'd "finally" had a chance to meet with DEP officials and tour the site of DEP's emergency access road construction.

It remains obscured, though apparently finished, by industrial green fencing.

The City agency has been far from responsive as the project ran six months past its promised completion date. It also failed to meet its promise to limit restriction of park and waterfront use.

"Several trees adjacent to the Octagon, some picnic tables and barbecue grills, along with the iconic Sabrina statue were to be replaced and or relocated nearby to clear space," RIOC Public Information Officer confirmed in August.

But as we showed in our report at the time, none of that happened. Picnic tables and grills were never moved nor was Sabrina. All were contained inside the construction area, fenced off, instead.

Residents as well as visitors were denied use of the park all summer, months after DEP promised to be finished. Worse, the entire project area sat idle, the fenced off park space filling up with weeds.

DEP's ongoing failure to respond to requests for updates, even from the property's owner, forced to RIOC to turn to City Council Member Ben Kallos for intervention.

In late August, work finally resumed after what was reportedly a labor impasse. October completion was promised.

Surface soil was removed to provide a reliable base for the grass-paved road.
Surface soil was removed to provide a reliable base for the grass-paved road.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Workers had to clear a path through the area, roughly six inches deep, lay down a foundational grid for the road, then patch through with a natural grass paver.

It's an ingenious way of approaching requirements that will leave the park with a natural look while still providing emergency access, if needed. Some day.

Before turf was applied, a mesh base creates a firm footing for the road.
Before turf was applied, a mesh base creates a firm footing for the road.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

As Rosenthal pointed out after a tour, it looks great.

Except it's all still inaccessible behind ugly fencing that obscures views of the waterfront but also creates safety hazards. 

The geniuses who encaged picnic tables, grills and Sabrina inside the construction zone also consumed the streetlights, making that area of the West Promenade a dark danger zone where runners and strollers can only hope no one's lurking in the shadows.

Rosenthal seems to have gotten as close to a definitive answer as we're likely to get. During the tour, officials told her they expect to reopen the space in "the spring."

But, of course, that's what they said last year.

What causes the delay now is the need for the grass pavers to "knit" with the soil below before being trod on, a reasonable explanation, even as it's inconsistent with anything DEP has said before.

But it was one Rosenthal's willing to accept because, after the fence comes down, RIOC's responsible for maintaining the space. That commitment requires that it be right before the State takes over.

As for the safety issues, Rosenthal asked that the offensive green wrap around the fencing be removed, allowing more light for folks using the Promenade during the extended darkness of winter.

Given DEP's track record to date, optimism isn't our first reaction, but RIOC's increased focus should increase the odds of having an intact park ready for use by summer.


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