By Bill Parry
Days before the start of the summer swim season, the city announced Monday that an 11-block stretch of Rockaway Beach would be closed for the summer due to beach erosion that has created unsafe conditions for beachgoers. The portion of the beach, from 91st Street to 102nd Street, includes restaurants and bars such as Connolly’s, Community House, Thai Rock, Uma’s and Bungalow Bar which could lose business due to the closure.
Lawmakers voiced outrage over the decision, saying officials were warned about the problem for years and did nothing and now businesses and restaurants would suffer the consequences during this summer season and possibly longer.1
“This is an insult to the thousands of residents who have been tirelessly fighting for sand on our beaches,” City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “It has been more than five years after Superstorm Sandy and parts of the Rockaways are still recovering. It is a disgrace that the Parks Department would rather ignore the problem than work to address the needs of the community. My constituents cannot wait another three years for some sort of remedy. Hurricane season is right around the corner and our coastal communities are still vulnerable. We need a solution now.”
Ulrich sharpened his attack on Twitter.
“Thank you @NYCParks for once again screwing my constituents…Rockaway begged you and @NYCMayor for sand on the beach and you pointed the finger in every other direction,” he tweeted.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) expressed frustration with the city’s decision, but he singled out the federal government for not doing more to restore the sand from Beach 91st Street to Beach 102nd Street.
“The Army Corps of Engineers knew that this portion of the beach needed attention and should have acted years ago to remedy this situation,” Addabbo said. “Now the people and businesses of Rockaway that depend on the summer season will suffer because of their lack of action,” Addabbo said. “The summer season is supposed to be Rockaway’s shining moment. All we ask is that government agencies do their job so that we can maximize the potential and enjoyment value Rockaway has to offer.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) demanded action from the Army Corps of Engineers nearly a year ago, saying the Hurricane Sandy Relief Act of 2013 provided the Corps with more than $5 billion to protect the peninsula’s vulnerable areas. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he traveled to Washington to meet with the head of the Army Corps “to come in and restore that part of the beach,” and they agreed to expedite their process, de Blasio said during his weekly appearance on NY1. A timeline for that process is expected over the next few months.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz blamed both agencies and the city for shortchanging one of the largest tourist attractions in the five boroughs.
“The community had long expressed its concerns about the vulnerable shoreline to the Parks Department for years,” she said. “When the Army Corps last replaced 3.5 million cubic yards of sand on the Rockaway beaches in 2014, the community repeatedly warned the city that without permanent protective measures, the sand would soon need to be replaced again. The consequences of the city’s failure to act earlier will be disproportionately borne by the Rockaway community.”
In the meantime, the city Parks Department said 4.5 miles of beach will remain open for swimming and a section of the beach at 97th Street will be open for recreation, but there will be no access to the water. The boardwalk with its concession stands will also remain open. Parks will post wayfinding signs at subway stops, ferry landings and along the boardwalk directing beachgoers to the nearest accessible beach.
“The rebirth of Rockaway Beach stands as a symbol of this community’s strength and determination to move forward after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, so having to close even just a small portion of it is very difficult for us,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said. “Parks, along with the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and Recovery, will continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps on the long-term solution to mitigate erosion and protect our coastline, and we are committed to making sure that they see this work through.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr