The city has spent nearly $1 million trying and failing to fix a sinkhole on the Upper East Side esplanade – an ongoing problem Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine says highlights the need for a new agency overseeing the waterfront.
The sinkhole has collapsed multiple times, beginning in 2017, according to Levine. It opened up again in July 2020 due to a break in the adjacent sea wall, according to the Parks Department. Photos show a car-sized hole filled with water in the middle of a sidewalk on East 76th St. along the East River. Repairs cost the Parks Department $875,000.
But the work was for naught. The sinkhole started to buckle again last month, prompting Levine to write a letter to Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue citing “underlying infrastructure issues … posing a serious safety threat to visitors.” The buckling sidewalk, about six inches deep, is sectioned off with barricades. It has not yet been repaired.
“There’s always been issues along this esplanade,” said Dylan Hatcher, an Upper East Side resident who walks his dog along the water every morning. “This is the second or third [sinkhole] along this path.”
Garrett Gourlay, another dog walker, says he’s used to seeing cracks in the road. “It’s very much an inconvenience,” he said. “Left unattended, they’ll just continue to get bigger.”
Levine says the sinkhole highlights a larger issue: Lack of coordinated management of the city’s 520 miles of waterfront. Problems like these can trigger a disjointed response from an alphabet soup of government agencies, ranging from the city Department of Transportation to FEMA.
“We believe there needs to be a new city agency that specializes in waterfront infrastructure to unify what is currently jurisdiction spread over — by our count — 11 city agencies,” Levine said.
A new waterfront authority would require a change to the City Charter and approval from the City Council, according to Levine. The borough president can introduce legislation in partnership with a Council member. Levine said a bill is in the works, but declined to elaborate.
He argues the new agency would save the city money by creating more efficiency on waterfront issues.
The Department of Environmental Protection identified 3,921 sinkholes in the city’s roadways earlier this year – a 38% increase from 2021.
“It’s crumbling a lot and the sinkholes happen quite a bit,” said Jean Kim, executive director of Friends of the East River Esplanade and an Upper East Side resident. “It’s really a shame that it’s not better taken care of.”