By Lorcan Otway
Last week, as dive flags snapped in the breeze, W. Stuart Lewis, an engineer diver with Ocean and Coastal Consultants, above right, was submerging south of the Department of Sanitation pier on the Lower East Side to examine the supports for the East River promenade’s platform.
Much of the F.D.R. Drive and most of the East River promenade are built over the river, which is as deep as 50 feet below in places. Inspection and maintenance cannot wait for warm weather or slack tide. The engineer divers are studying inch by inch, in a small pool of light and a few feet of visibility, each piling and support for the piers, roadway and riverside park.
“There are times you are hanging on down there, from piling to piling, the river is so swift,” said Michael Ajemian, who had just come up from a three-hour dive. “This area is pretty calm, however.” The water was 41 degrees. Even dry suits leak, though, and when Ajemian removed his dive gloves, water streamed off his bright red hands.
Kevin M. MacDermott, the project manager, likes diving the East River.
“It is nearly pristine. The visibility is pretty good, as long as you don’t stir up the bottom,” he said. “It is not like the Hudson, where the river bottom is soft silt. The bottom of the East River is mostly sand.”
“Still, it’s not the Caribbean!” added Ajemian.
There is evidence of some deterioration just below the Sanitation pier. It is now fenced off awaiting repair. Eventually, when the repairs are made, the promenade will be able to go right around the pier along the river. A few passersby watched the work, in wonder, not realizing how much of their security is in the hands of these engineer divers who are constantly inspecting, constantly insuring that we can take this part of our island for granted.