UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A giant sinkhole swallowed a large portion of the East River Esplanade after opening up Monday night on a stretch of the river walk on the Upper East Side, city officials told Patch.
The city Parks Department is installing a permanent fence to block off the esplanade near the sinkhole after Monday night's collapse, a spokesperson for the city agency said. Repairs are expected to begin in the next few weeks, the spokesperson said.
Tricia Shimamura, co-chair of Community Board 8's parks and waterfront committee, told Patch that she was with her son in John Jay Park when the collapse occurred. Shimamura ended up helping parks officials Monday night by placing warnings near the collapse site and alerting neighborhood elected officials and community organizations of the closure.
"This collapse couldn't have come at a worse time — honestly — in the midst of summer in the midst of a pandemic, when so many people are using [the esplanade]," Shimamura said.
The Upper East Side's elected officials have done a good job advocating for esplanade repairs, but Shimamura believes that the city needs to direct more resources to preserving the river walk given the limited green space available to Upper East Side residents. The city Parks Department should conduct inspections along the esplanade, including portions outside the Upper East Side, to identify sections that may be vulnerable, the community board member said.
City Councilman Ben Kallos told Patch that his East River Esplanade Taskforce — which he co-chairs with Congressmember Carolyn Maloney — has secured more than $278 million for esplanade repairs. The funds will help fast track repair efforts at the site of the East 76th Street collapse.
"Where previous repairs have taken years or months, the Parks Department will be using funds we've already secured to mobilize and promised to begin repairs in the coming weeks. Our task force will work to keep this repair on track and restore this vital park space," Kallos said in a statement.
Footbridges connecting to the East River Esplanade between East 71st and 78th streets were closed following the collapse, a Parks Department spokesperson said.
Parks officials became aware of a "void" underneath the esplanade at East 76th Street following a June 30th inspection conducted by the city Department of Transportation, a department spokesperson told Patch. The agency had sectioned off the walkway since the inspection.
Design and contracting to repair the section of the esplanade have been expedited, city officials said.
Community Board 8 voted in February to approve city funding for repairs along two Upper East Side sections of the esplanade. The city's proposed rehabilitation project included plans to fully repair infrastructure along the esplanade from East 90th to 94th streets and East 62nd to 63rd streets. Both sections of the esplanade are classified by the city as "poor" or "critical" condition.
The section where Monday night's collapse occurred — between East 75th and 79th streets — was also classified as being in "poor" condition, but was not included in the city's proposal.
The city is planning to spend more than $700 million for ongoing repair projects on the East River Esplanade between East 61st and 145th streets, according to a Parks Department document presented to Community Board 8 in January.