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Parks Department unveils Rockaway Boardwalk plans

By Sarina Trangle

Plans to replace the Rockaway boardwalk may put the peninsula on a map in a whole new way.

The city Parks Department unveiled plans last week to use various tones or etchings on the walkway to spell out Rockaway in letters large enough to be read from airplanes.

John Cori, founder of Friends of Rockaway Beach, said he anticipated the marque luring tourists and economic activity.

“We’re getting our own Hollywood sign,” he said. “Millions of people fly to JFK every year and they’re going to be French tourists, people from Japan saying, ‘What’s this Rockaway?’ And they’ll say, ‘We got to check it out.’”

Parks said it had not decided on the color or size of the font, but planned to spread the letters throughout the 5-mile boardwalk.

The department released renderings of the first phase of its project to rebuild the walkway swept away by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Designs call for sand berms to be piled between the 40-foot-wide boardwalk and the ocean. Additionally, Parks has agreed to install metal walls called baffles behind the boardwalk to prevent sand and water from drifting onto the street during major storms.

This spring, contractors will begin using sand-colored concrete slabs to resurrect the wooden boardwalk between Beach 86th and 98th streets. Officials said the structure would be more elevated and secure than its predecessor.

Parks has divided the project into five phases and intends to complete the entire project by Memorial Day 2017.

But the department said it would have to halt construction between Beach 17th and 73rd streets from April to September to ensure that an endangered bird species is not put at risk.

State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) said he and Community Board 15 were pleased with the plans and park’s timeline.

He said Piping Plovers, a stocky, sand-colored shorebird, have been around since before he was born and he understood the need to work around their nesting season.

“I’m hoping we can find a way to alleviate some of the problems that the plover is causing. If Parks can’t work in one area, then let them try to work double time in another,” Goldfeder said. “We only get one chance to do it right. While I’d love to get it done as quickly as possible, I’m more concerned that we not only build a beautiful boardwalk, but one that will last and protect the community.”

Some Rockaway residents were less forgiving about the 2017 completion date.

Cori said if another community lost its natural attractions, the city would move much quicker.

“Imagine if Central Park closed. All the people that lived along Fifth Avenue and Central Park West would be furious. There would be heads rolling,” Cori said, noting that Parks only committed to rebuild the boardwalk after Rockaway rallied for it. “The sense of urgency is really not that critical for the people who are running the project.”

He said the beaches were man-made, not originally a habitat for the piping plover, which could easily be moved to Jamaica Bay.

Zachary Feder, a Parks spokesman, said the moratorium emerged from the department’s discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

He noted that Parks planned to build a temporary walkway between Beach 35th and 39th streets this summer, which would give beach visitors a continuous boardwalk through Beach 9th to 60th streets.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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