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‘Seaport City’ would bury East River fish

"Seaport City" would bury East River fish

Photo: Leah Rae / Riverkeeper
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The Hudson River flows both ways. So too does the history of New York City development proposals. Last week it was reported that the de Blasio administration is considering Seaport City, a project that would fill in the East River and most likely allow for development on the southeast shoreline of Manhattan, from the Battery Maritime Building to just north of Manhattan Bridge. The plan was initially crafted by the Bloomberg Administration as a gift to developers, under the guise of flood prevention. Since then, the Big U design showed that New York City can prepare Manhattan for sea level rise without dumping fill into our waters.

Seaport City

Photo: Leah Rae / Riverkeeper

Thirty years ago, Riverkeeper fought off a similar proposal to develop a six-lane highway on the west side of Manhattan, known to proponents as “Westway.” The highway would have been tunneled underground in new landfill, allowing for development and parkland on top. As it turned out, the waters surrounding Manhattan are teeming with aquatic life, especially young striped bass. “Allowing Westway to be built would be to fire a torpedo at Noah’s ark,” according to Bob Boyle, founder of Hudson River Fishermen’s Association. Although Westway had support from former Governor Mario Cuomo, New York City Mayor Ed Koch and even President Reagan, it was killed when a court found that federal agencies had attempted to deceive the public about the importance of the fishery.

New York City’s waterways provide critical habitat for a wide variety of aquatic species, a number of which are in precipitous decline, including American shad, alewives, blueback herring, striped bass, American eels, tomcod, weakfish, winter flounder and two endangered species of sturgeon. Also in decline are the lesser known seahorses, bay anchovy, hogchoker and white perch. Rainbow smelt are now locally extinct in the Hudson River. It’s up to us to build upon the legacy of great environmentalists like Bob Boyle and protect these waters and their fish from bad development proposals, like Seaport City and Westway. Instead, we should usher through less damaging projects to protect our shoreline communities. Multi-agency projects like the Big U show the potential to protect lower Manhattan without damaging shoreline environments we’ve spent half a century restoring.

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