They’ve invented the Wheel! The New York Wheel is finally being built in St. George.

As with any large project that is so transformative and audacious, it has always been difficult to believe that the New York Wheel would ever get built. The groundbreaking has been postponed several times and the completion date has become one of those fictional futures that hang like a fig leaf over delayed projects for years beyond their expiration. Like most residents of the neighborhood, I have had a wait and see attitude: I’ll believe it when I see it!

Ear-pounding pile-driving going on.

Ear-pounding pile-driving going on.

But now it seems that it is actually inching closer to reality and I can almost see it… or at least the most fundamental innards of it. On a walk along the shoreline today, I snapped these photos of work in progress on the Wheel. It is a real, functioning construction site, with a couple of dozen workers busy at work digging and pile-driving and driving around in their gadgety construction vehicles. It is a welcome sight for those of us eager for some change in this neighborhood.

Thus, the Wheel joins the Empire Outlet Mall, already under construction and presages the start of construction of the Lighthouse Point project, all ferry-terminal-hugging projects at the center of St. George redevelopment.

More construction activity at the water's edge. Is this where the unloading pier will be built?

More construction activity at the water’s edge. Is this where the unloading pier will be built?

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Hard edge or soft? The impact of construction on the St. George shore.

With construction presumably about to begin on two large waterfront projects in St. George, the New York Wheel and the Empire Outlets, the question arises what will be the impact of these mega projects on the shoreline. The water’s edge is a problematic area,

The water's edge in front of the Empire Outlets site.

The water’s edge in front of the Empire Outlets site.

scarred by decades of neglect. rampant trash accumulation, runaway water pollution and a weedy, rock filled terrain. The recent park construction has greatly improved the shore with the creation of a carefully delineated soft edge. However, it is a delicate balance of shoreline1nature and human use and one wonders how the tremendously increased human traffic that is in store for this area will impact that shoreline. Among the many things that the North Shore community must be vigilant of during the construction of the wheel and the mall is the effect these will have on the quality of our shoreline. The dark, slimy rocks and the turgid harbor water may not be the most picturesque water’s edge in the world, but it has its own modest beauty and it deserves to be treated respectfully.

The shoreline itself is not part of either project, and it remains the responsibility of government agencies. And since soft edge shoreline stabilization is the preferred approach nowadays, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, it is unlikely that the shoreline2shoreline is in for a hardening (seawalls, stone-filled wire baskets, etc.). But soft edge shorelines need constant maintenance, and this one will be particularly vulnerable to degradation from the changes coming just a few yards away, with increased run-off from construction and ongoing use, and the probability of increased trash accumulation. In addition, there are proposals for new and expanded ferry service which will most likely require more docking structures in the water. How are the developers and the city planning on meeting the challenges that these new conditions create?