The contentious plan to demolish and rebuild East River Park, a key climate priority for the de Blasio administration that’s prompted legal challenges and neighborhood uproar, is officially underway.

Construction crews arrived at the park on Monday morning, fencing off most of its southern half between Corlears Hook and Houston Street. The work marks the start of a sweeping five-year plan to bury the entirety of the 2.2 mile green space under eight feet of landfill and build a new park on top of it.

When it's eventually complete, officials say the elevated park will reduce flood risk for more than 100,000 people, many of them residents of the public housing complexes that were devastated during Hurricane Sandy.

But the project has also become a battleground for neighborhood residents, who accuse the city of tearing down a vital green space instead of pursuing more innovative flood protection measures. Those opponents have filed a slew of lawsuits in recent months, temporarily halting construction until last week.

Protesters blocking construction crews on Monday

Protesters blocking construction crews on Monday

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Protesters blocking construction crews on Monday
Alex Kent/Gothamist

At a small protest on Monday, at least three people were arrested for attempting to block work trucks. “Just look at the plan,” one activist shouted, as cops placed zip ties around their hands. “Why was the plan switched?”

Much of the community’s ire centers on the de Blasio administration’s decision to abandon a previous proposal, developed over years of community meetings that grew out of the federal government’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. That plan envisioned raising a much smaller portion of the park, while adding berms and marshland to absorb future storm surge.

In late 2019, the city scuttled that project, announcing their decision to raise the park completely. City officials cited fears about maintaining a floodable green space, as well the disruption to motorists on the F.D.R. Drive and potential dangers to Con Ed’s power lines under the previous proposal.

Construction workers at East River Park on Monday

Construction work at East River Park on Monday

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Construction work at East River Park on Monday
Alex Kent/Gothamist

They have argued that the new plan will ultimately improve the public space by modernizing amenities and entry points. While the construction will result in the removal of close to 1,000 trees, many of them are in declining health, in part because of increased exposure to saltwater, according to the Parks Department. The agency intends to plant 2,000 new trees in their place.

Rather than close the full park, as initially planned, the city has agreed to construct the new park in stages. Under the current phasing plan, the southern half of the park will be closed until the summer of 2023, while much of the northern half, including the barbecue areas and basketball courts, will remain open. The majority of construction in the park’s northern half will take place from the summer of 2024 through the end of 2026.

“The East Side Coastal Resiliency project will save lives and provide much-needed flood protection for more than 100,000 New Yorkers in this area,” Megan Moriarty, a Parks Department spokesperson, said in a statement. “This critical open space improvement project will ensure that these waterfront parks are accessible and resilient for the surrounding community in the face of our daunting climate future.”