NEW YORK - After more than two years of study, the federal government has given its approval for the construction of the Hudson River Park, clearing what is probably the last major hurdle in the plan to create a ribbon of parkland along five miles of the Manhattan riverfront from Battery Park City to West 59th Street.
The recent approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows construction to begin in the river itself, repairing the Civil War-era seawall and the 13 huge rotting piers that are the centerpiece of the plan.
To start quickly
"The West Side of Manhattan, along with the rest of the city, has been looking forward to this park for a very long time," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who joined Gov. George Pataki in Manhattan to announce that foundation work in the river would begin as soon as possible.
"The park will ensure that the Hudson River is part of our everyday lives," Pataki said, "not just as that waterway we see from the car."
Last September, the mayor and the governor opened the first phase of the park, running about 1,000 feet between West Houston and Bank streets in lower Manhattan. When it is completed, the park will have a continuous riverfront esplanade planted with lawns and flowers, bicycle and running trails and playgrounds.
"We're New York City and we have the crummiest waterfronts in the United States," said Albert K. Butzel, chairman of the Hudson River Park Alliance, a coalition of 35 community and environmental organizations that support the project. "It's time to have a waterfront that celebrates the city, instead of the derelict waterfronts we have now."
But in the months to come, there will almost certainly be more legal challenges. Several national and local environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth and the Clean Air Campaign, have long opposed the Hudson River Park.
Opponents say that the many varieties of fish that migrate along that part of the Hudson, including striped bass and sturgeon, could be seriously harmed by construction work in the river.
Foes say that a federal environmental impact study should be required for construction of this magnitude.
But Joseph Seebode, chief of the regional branch of the Corps of Engineers, in New York, said that the state environmental impact study that has been completed was exhaustive.
The state environmental study and the Army's own investigation indicated that there will be "minimal impact on the Hudson River itself and on the fisheries and wildlife," Seebode said.
$330 million cost
The Hudson River Park is expected to cost $330 million to $350 million. So far, $100 million has been set aside by the city and state. The state and city have pledged to provide at least another $120 million. The rest is to come from private donations.
The plans include a bicycle trail running parallel to the riverbank. The parkland is to cover 550 acres. Of that, about 400 acres is the part of the river that stretches along the 13 piers on the West Side, and will be used for fishing and boating.
The remaining 125 acres include the narrow strip of land from Battery Park City to West 59th Street, as well as the huge piers.