Roosevelt Island’s Save Our Shorelines (SOS) protest gained momentum in July as state assembly member Rebecca Seawright signed on, but a day later, she ducked for cover. She promised to hold RIOC accountable, but that didn’t happen either.
By David Stone
Updated: September 28th, 2020
The Protest That Apparently Drove RIOC To Revenge
The protest described in detail below was soon followed by an aggressive RIOC campaign punishing protest leaders.
“Preserve and restore” a natural environment is the goal.
Undeterred by Seawright’s abandonment, dozens of Save Our Shorelines protestors rallied for a protest march on Saturday, July 11th.
Candidate running to replace Seawright in the New York State Assembly, Lou Puliafito appeared in support.
Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. Adamant
For its part, RIOC remained adamant about going forward with a plan it believes necessary and prudent. But acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes agreed to a delay, intending to better inform residents.
“The required work involves the removal of toxic soil* that has been inundated with overgrown landfills, choked with invasive vegetation, that must be removed before the seawall can be repaired.”
*After plan completion, tests from2014 suggest the most of the park will remain saturated with toxic wastes.
“Roughly 99 small trees (ten inches in diameter) will be removed and replaced with 79 trees,” Haynes said in a statement released after the protest.
“The tree removal is necessary to access the area to be remediated.
“In addition, 870 shrubs, 645 other indigenous plantings, and approximately 14,500 sq. ft. of new grass that will encourage more wildlife to visit the shoreline. This project must be completed in order to prevent further deterioration of the seawall due to the ever-increasing impacts of climate change.”
In summary, he added, “Once complete, the waterfront will create a safer, more natural environment where wildlife can thrive. The riprap rock will also be more resilient to future storms and more conducive for wildlife to reach the shore from the river.”
Lou Puliafito, a candidate favored to replace Seawright, offered his full support, and he joined in the march.
Local with a broader view: Roosevelt Island News, 24/7
History View: Save Our Shorelines Protest
Back in 2016, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. surprised residents, staging an initiative to “guide the future development of the Park and Ruins.”
The “Ruins” refers to the historic Smallpox Hospital, noted for its Renwick design, but only stabilized, so far, without a plan.
“We can’t wait,” RIOC president/CEO Rosenthal said, referring to the landmark’s future, but that vanished in the four year shuffle.
Asked for their input, a resident team scrambled for ideas and came up with a few. None were radical.
Less ugly comfort stations suggested Judith Berdy, but in more colorful language. And the late Jim Bates asked for ADA compliant seating.
Matthew Katz and Eva Bosbach hoped for a cafe.
But time washed all of that away, and the million dollar effort faded as a kind of questionable waste by a free-spending agency.
Fast Forward to 2019
In 2019, almost as if starting from scratch, RIOC convened a “town hall,” asking residents about plans for Southpoint Park “improvements.”
Gone now was anything related to the Smallpox Hospital, but the ugly restrooms remained. And ADA compliant benches were out in a design that decreased accessibility.
You can forget about the cafe too.
But emerging is nothing short of a vision of Southpoint as a mini Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The new design, masked behind shoreline repairs, lead an October board meeting. RIOC’s ever compliant and passive board nodded meekly, but then, protests built.
Rosenthal, who rammed the new project through without seeking consensus, tried placating locals by tweaking it. But again, without consensus, it had little effect.
Last month, Rosenthal was mysteriously fired on Juneteenth by Governor Cuomo, but her acting replacement, Shelton Haynes said the project was full speed ahead.
Deflecting mounting protests increased the anger.
Save Our Shorelines SOS Protest
Other than a meek rejection of the petition’s claims by board member Michael Shinozaki at last week’s board meeting, RIOC has not publicly responded.
RIOC Plan Is Unwise, Say Protestors
“It is an environmental disaster!” the petition declares.
As of this writing, 3,932 agree, including assembly member Seawright and challenger Puliafito.
“It’s disastrous to trees, and all wildlife living there: native and migratory birds, mammals, marsupials, native insects and pollinators.”
A better option, the protestors say: “Preserve and restore these shoreline habitats. Educate visitors to the natural wonders of Roosevelt Island.”
RIOC, in the midst of sudden change, has not officially responded, but plans are for starting the project this month.