Upper East Side Gets Shaft—33B, To Be Precise

There’s no question that the East Side will be getting shafted—it’s just a question of where and for how long.

The Department of Environmental Protection, along with the Department of Design and Construction, is currently scoping out sites for the location of Shaft 33B, the latest infrastructure project for the long-awaited Water Tunnel No. 3, the 50-year, $6 billion project to update the city’s water system. But residents in the East 50’s are alarmed that the excavation, tentatively planned for the northwest corner of First Avenue and 59th Street, will disrupt their lives for the years it takes to complete the project.

Community Board 6, in response to these worries, passed a resolution last Wednesday that objected to the selection of any location for Shaft 33B by the D.E.P. “without a consolidated presentation of both the proposed location of 33B and the complete routing plans of the associated water mains … and full community participation in the decision of the routing of those mains.”

At a public hearing on Dec. 5 at the High School of Art and Design, nearly a thousand people packed the auditorium to oppose the D.E.P. plan, and the board’s resolution is another salvo in the ongoing contretemps that threatens to disrupt the project. At the heart of the matter isn’t so much the location of the shaft (although some people are opposed to that), but rather the location of the water mains that will connect the shaft to Water Tunnel No. 3 under Third Avenue.

The D.E.P. is responsible for the location, design and construction of both the water tunnel and Shaft 33B, but the D.D.C. is responsible for the water mains that will connect the two—and that’s where the problems begin. Once the D.E.P. makes a decision where the shaft will be excavated, then the D.D.C. will decide where the water mains should run. And in Manhattan, ripping up the streets to install those water mains will have an enormously detrimental impact on the neighborhood involved, project opponents say.

“We’re opposed to it because they will not tell us the water-main route,” said Linda Saputelli, the chair of the East 50’s Neighborhood Coalition. According to Ms. Saputelli, the site for the water shaft shouldn’t be finalized until the D.D.C. makes public exactly where the water mains will run, how long the construction will last and how the neighborhood will be affected. Ms. Saputelli said that if work on Shaft 33B is approved, the water-mains component of the project will be a fait accompli, without any public oversight of a project that could adversely affect the neighborhood for years to come.

State Assemblyman Jonathan Bing has been working with the East 50’s Neighborhood Coalition to demand answers from the D.E.P. and the D.D.C. “Right now, the big issue is trying to make sure the entire project—both the water shaft and the water main—are viewed as one project,” Mr. Bing told The Observer.

According to the D.E.P., excavation of Shaft 33B could begin as early as the spring of next year and would continue until 2010. Construction of the water mains would begin concurrently and continue after the shaft is completed, finishing up sometime in 2011.

The D.E.P. has released a draft version of the environmental-impact statement for Shaft 33B, and comments were accepted until Dec. 22. The department will now finalize the environmental-impact statement, and responses to comments will be incorporated into the final document.

Ms. Saputelli told The Observer that she is currently contacting elected officials with her group’s concerns to force the D.E.P. and the D.D.C. to open up their selection process for water-main routes. A lawsuit to stop the project is possible, Ms. Saputelli said, if the city continues with the project without community input.

And she has support. “If the D.E.P. does not adequately provide information to the community about why this site has been chosen and why other sites weren’t chosen—and, more specifically, how the water shaft is going to be connected to the main water tunnel—certainly I would support efforts to gather that information, up to and including a lawsuit,” Assemblyman Bing said.

Calls to the D.D.C. were referred to the D.E.P. Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the D.E.P., said: “We’ve been very open to the with the community and Community Board 6. We’re not concealing any information from them …. We’ve done more outreach on this site than any other shaft site related to Water Tunnel No. 3.”

Downtown Barhoppers Beware

In its ongoing battle to curb bar noise and the proliferation of nightclubs within its district, Community Board 3, on Dec. 20, passed a resolution supporting Assemblywoman Deborah Glick’s Dec. 12 letter to Governor George Pataki requesting that the recently vacated commissioner’s position in the State Liquor Authority be filled by a New York City resident.

In November 2005, S.L.A. chairman Edward F. Kelly announced his retirement after a decade with the authority, shortly after State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer began an investigation into pricing practices in the state liquor industry. A week before, Mr. Pataki had announced the creation of a chief executive post with the S.L.A. to run its day-to-day operations.

A spokesperson for the Governor wouldn’t comment on the selection of the new commissioner, saying only that “the Governor always looks for the most qualified and capable individuals when making appointments.” Joshua Toas, a former Assistant Secretary of State and Assistant Counsel to the Governor (and frequent contributor to Mr. Pataki’s campaign fund), was appointed to the chief executive position of the S.L.A. shortly after it was created.

Critics of the S.L.A. have long said that the authority ignores community input when granting new liquor licenses in New York City, especially in the bar-saturated neighborhoods of the East and West Village and Chelsea. The three neighborhoods have the greatest number of liquor licenses in the city (3,055, 1,866 and 944, respectively), according to a 2005 report prepared by the office of then–City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

Because the commissioners of the S.L.A. all live outside the city, critics contend that the S.L.A. is unaware of the acute noise problems and disruption to the community that this proliferation of bars causes. Lately, Board 3 conducted a public hearing to discuss the feasibility of converting Avenue B into a one-way street. Proponents contend that the change would ameliorate traffic noise on the busy weekend nights, but others are concerned that it would irrevocably alter the character of the neighborhood. Other groups have called for a complete moratorium on new liquor licenses for certain neighborhoods in the city.

“We are looking for greater sensitivity from the S.L.A. regarding the impact of granting the large number of licenses in a concentrated area,” Ms. Glick told The Observer. “I think that commissioners that infrequently visit the city—who may not come into some of the downtown areas—they may not have a full understanding of how many people live in the area, and in what proximity to these establishments they live.” Upper East Side Gets Shaft—33B, To Be Precise