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Con Ed Repairs to East River Esplanade Have Made Conditions Worse, CB Says

 Con Ed agreed to return a six-block stretch of the esplanade to city control and make certain repairs.
East River Esplanade Repairs
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Incomplete repairs made by Con Edison to a stretch of the East River Esplanade have made the area look worse that than it did before, locals said — and no one has taken responsiblity for fixing it.

The utility controlled the section of the esplanade from East 72nd to East 78th streets until agreeing last year to return it to the city’s Parks Department, but only after making repairs to both the underlying structure and the surface of the esplanade.

But Con Ed did a shoddy job with the repairs, according to Community Board 8, whose complaints that the project did not receive proper public input led to a stall in the work that has yet to be finished.

CB8’s Parks Committee noted that the area is lined with mismatched paving stones, that a deteriorating barrier between the esplanade and the FDR was not repaired, and that large pits in the middle of the work zone were left fenced off and unpaved. 

“To its dismay, the Parks Committee learned that Con Ed’s Esplanade project has worsened area conditions,” they said in a recent report to the full board.

The utility company said it completed the work it was asked to do, and the Parks Department has not offered any solutions to fixing the conditions — leaving residents frustrated over the current situation.

According to Con Ed and the Parks Department, the utility agreed to place a permanent fence along the waterfront, install new pavers where needed, repair the esplanade’s bulkhead and install lighting. Con Ed also removed a small service building in the area to widen the path. However, it will maintain control of a larger facility located at East 74th Street on the esplanade.

Con Ed worked with the Parks Department to create a new design for the space that included one pathway for pedestrians and another for cyclists separated by a wide planting bed. They began the work in October 2013, but did not present the plan to Board 8 until the following month.

The community board objected to the plan on the grounds that the agencies did not seek public input on before beginning work, noting that the wide planting beds made for narrow paths in an area used by many pedestrians and cyclists. The board also questioned how the beds would be maintained, since no irrigation system was included in the redesign. CB 8 asked that all the work be halted until the public had a chance to weigh in on the design.

Con Ed continued with the repair work, but did not to pave or landscape the planting beds as show in a presentation to the community board about the project. As a result, the beds are simply two dirt pits surrounded by temporary fences.

The area reopened to the public last month, but the improvements have left locals underwhelmed.

Zoe Andrada, 32, who walks on the esplanade a couple of times a week in nice weather, said she hadn’t noticed any repairs.

“This area has always been sort of dark and grotty,” she said. “It’s hard to say if this is really an improvement or not.”

Thomas Eisenreich, who runs along the esplanade three times per week, did note that the path around 75th Street is noticeably wider.

“It was very narrow and winding before so you couldn’t really see if anyone was coming from the opposite way,” he said. “It looks like they still have a lot of work to do.”

A spokesman for Con Ed said the company has completed the repairs it was asked to make and has no plans for further work at the site, which is now under the Parks Department’s control. 

A Parks Department spokesman said the agency is discussing ways to address the community board’s concerns, but did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding what the plans entail.

CB 8 plans to meet with the agency and Con Ed to try to resolve these issues.

However, some fear that any further improvements may get lost in the back-and-forth between agencies.

“The number one thing is that Con Ed gave back this space, but there needs to be more coordination,” said Jennifer Ratner of preservation group Friends of the East River Esplanade. “Right now, it’s a little bit of theater of the absurd with neither Con Ed nor any agencies wanting to take responsibility for the space.”