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City Plans Competition to Help Fix Pier 40 and Downtown Waterfront

By Jill Colvin | September 19, 2012 4:18pm | Updated on September 20, 2012 12:25pm

MANHATTAN — The city is looking for new ways to fix the crumbling Pier 40 and repair rotting pilings along the Lower Manhattan shoreline — offering nearly $100,000 in prize money for the winning bids.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation plans to launch a new construction competition called "Change the Course," asking entrants to come up with new ideas to shore up the city's decaying waterfront, which is the focus of several major redevelopment bids.

“New York City Economic Development Corporation is seeking proposals for innovative and cost-saving solutions for completing marine construction projects in New York City,” the city wrote in a notice to potential bidders released Wednesday.

Water quality in New York harbor has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. But one of the unintended consequences has been the resurgence of tiny micro-organisms called marine borers, who munch on submerged wood, including the pilings that support structures like piers.

The hungry creatures have wreaked havoc on many of the city's underwater structures, causing dozens of piers to collapse — threatening the city with millions of dollars in repairs.

The city has tried several tricks to try to make the pilings less tasty, including treating them with chemicals, wrapping them in plastic, and encasing them in concrete — but the ideas either haven't worked or have proven extremely expensive — leaving many piers in disarray.

According to the full request released Thursday, the competition asks engineers and construction companies to come up with new, innovative ideas to keep the borers at bay.

Companies have been asked to focus on two areas: the structures between the old Fulton Fish Market at the South Street Seaport, Pier 35 in Lower Manhattan and the Hudson River Park’s Pier 40. Both the Sea Port at Pier 40 are being eyed for potential development in the coming years, and finding cheaper ways to improve supporting infrastructure would give them a boost.

A 2009 engineering report found that Pier 40 was in "poor condition," with many of its support piles exhibiting "severe" corrosion, limiting the weight that it can bear.

Similar damage was reported at the pilings supporting the old Fulton Fish Market at the South Street Seaport, which exhibited "widespread advanced defects including heavy marine borer and fungal rot deterioration," a 2010 engineering report found.

The borers also threaten other waterfront treasures across the city, including the East River's Andrew Haswell Green Park, which the city recently estimated would require $15 million in repairs to keep from crumbling into the river.

EDC spokesman Ben Branham said the goal of the contest was to brainstorm new ideas for maintaining and building waterfront infrastructure along the city's 565 miles of shorefront.

"In an era of limited resources, this innovative competition is aimed at uncovering new methodologies and techniques for addressing the challenges associated with our aging infrastructure, helping ensuring the long-term sustainability of and access to city's incredible waterfront," he said.

According to the request, contest submissions will be screened by an advisory committee and the EDC, which will decide whether or not to move forward with the competition. If the city gives the green light, finalists will be given the chance to compete for prizes, including $50,000 for first place, $25,000 for second and $15,000 for third, awarded based on factors including potential money saved and feasibility.

Submissions for the first phase of the competition are due Nov. 16.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that the competition was about redevelopment of the waterfront.