The first hint that Roosevelt Island’s East Promenade might be doomed reached us from Susan Rosenthal’s lawsuit against RIOC. Neglect risked a catastrophic collapse, but what’s the trigger?
By David Stone
Long before the new community for Roosevelt Island emerged from dream to reality, Goldwater Hospital built a mile long pipe, sharing steam with the sister city hospital, Coler. That was 1952, and it was an excellent example of savings through shared resources.
Goldwater’s steam plant centered around a traditional, brick-set boiler. Endurance was key because it’s a foundational part of the building itself. It did its job for over 70 years, beginning in 1939.
But the 1952 extension might lead to an East Promenade doomed for collapse.
That was the conclusion, Rosenthal says, reached by a study in 2014.
Is the East Promenade doomed?
“The land is not solid rock,” says long time resident Raye Schwarz. “It’s made of lots of layers of various components.”
Like miles of other Manhattan Shoreline, the bare schist jutting into the East River amplified into a habitable island by piling soil on top.
But that’s subject to erosion as gravity and natural sources try washing it away. The land moves slowly toward the shore in an eternal process that’s now retarded by sturdy seawalls.
But maybe not sturdy enough.
Whether it’s the power of a superstorm’s surge or a threat Schwartz suggested — an earthquake — more dramatic forces may do the job before erosion finishes up.
Superstorms and Earthquakes
With Superstorm Sandy recent enough to linger in memory, understanding that powerful threat is easy.
But an earthquake?
“We have the edge of a minor geographic fault going from Northern Manhattan, under the east River, and onto the island near the Octagon,” Schwartz points out.
And we’ve had them before.
“The largest were two magnitude 5.2 earthquakes that occurred in 1737 and 1884,” according to a Fox5 report. That cycle hints that in 2021, New York City is due.
Although most buildings are built to withstand a moderate earthquake, East Promenade doom is different.
We don’t know if the Goldwater steam pipe is earthquake proof, but we do know that hazards increased in the last decade. That’s because, since the hospital closed, there’s been no ongoing maintenance.
East Promenade doomed from lack of attention…
From the first winter I ran laps around Roosevelt Island, the steam pipe running up the East Side was a friend. During dark mornings, heat radiated from underground kept the surface free of ice.
But it did something else, and it wasn’t beneficial.
The rise and fall of temperatures, rain and snow, combine to make soil, cement and seawall expand and contract. And that steam pipe enhanced the natural pressures.
A deteriorated seawall is clearly visible from offshore.
An East Promenade doomed by neglect is not unimaginable. With RIOC’s strings being played by Cuomo insiders on the Second Floor in Albany, local officials won’t act without upstate direction.
And according to Rosenthal, that’s not going to happen. The imminent threat of catastrophic collapse during a superstorm didn’t jar them. In fact, her persistence about it got her fired.
Now, sprinkle in the likelihood of a 5.2 earthquake on the near horizon, and questions can be reduced to where an exaclty when.