RIOC tries repairing a mile long steam tunnel now in danger of collapse


A steam tunnel serving as Roosevelt Island’s east seawall is in danger of a catastrophic collapse. RIOC’s known about it since 2014, but Albany blocked repairs. Finally, they could no longer ignore the risks.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

A Steam Tunnel Rescue

As we reported in July, a steam tunnel in serious disrepair and long ignored has been at serious risk of collapse. Serving double duty as Roosevelt Island’s eastern seawall ups the hazards. A collapse would inevitably endanger housing complexes immediately adjacent. Most at risk is Roosevelt Landings along with the two newest Southtown buildings, but the Motorgate parking garage also leans on the seawall.

The steam tunnel rests just beyond this badly broken stretch of seawall. That’s 460 Main Street, Hudson-Related’s newest building just a few feet away.

Goldwater Hospital, now replaced by Cornell Tech, built a steam generating plant, which still stands in 1939. In 1952, they buried pipes along the east waterfront, allowing the plant’s sharing resources with newly built Coler Hospital.

The mile long pipe served well until ten years ago. Demolishing Goldwater, making way for the graduate campus, the city left it to the elements. As we discovered from a lawsuit filed by former president/CEO Susan Rosenthal, accusing RIOC of racial bias, a battle ensued over responsibility for maintaining the seawall/tunnel.

Rosenthal says that her persistent attempts at getting RIOC’s Albany handlers on board with emergency repairs contributed to her dismissal. Her immediate handler, Simonida Subotic, resisted appeals, but Rosenthal, sensing grave risks to the community, persisted.

RIOC Gets Wise

Subsequent to Rosenthal’s lawsuit and our reporting, what RIOC charmingly calls “other state government stakeholders” finally acted. In a memo dated October 21, 2021, general council Gretchen Robinson seeks board approval of a half-million dollar contract with Langan Engineering for repairs.

“Over the past several months, RIOC has been in negotiations with the City to determine how the repairs will be made, and also by which entity,” she writes.

“And, although RIOC is confident that an agreement will be reached with the City, the management team, in consultation with other state government stakeholders, did not wish to wait for such a deal to be struck as the project is a matter of health and public safety.”

While the delay was probably the result of hostility between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, the memo does not explain or justify the seven year delay.

The request for contract approval was on the agenda for RIOC’s October board meeting.

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