Local civic leaders, business owners hold town hall on reopening Rockaway beaches

Courtesy of Mike Scala

Rockaway community leaders and business owners held a virtual town hall called “Surviving Summer: Will Rockaway’s Beaches and Businesses Reopen?”

The event was hosted by Democratic district leader Torey Schnupp, former Councilwoman and current Queens borough president candidate Elizabeth Crowley and attorney Mike Scala. Guests included John Cori, Bungalow Bar owner Terence Tubridy, Lana’s Loft owner Lana Mell and RBQ owner John Moroney. 

Schnupp emphasized she was not pushing for a time frame for restrictions to be lifted by the city but wanted to engage with the community because they would be affected when visitors inevitably descended upon the Rockaway peninsula. Streaming live on Facebook with more than 300 live viewers, the town hall offered residents the opportunity to share their questions and concerns.

“We’re not saying we should open up the beaches,” Tubridy said. “We’re saying that if they can be opened, they should be opened,” Tubridy suggested creative approaches and brainstormed a system where people were assigned beach visits by the first letter of their name to reduce beach congestion and allow for social distancing.

Meli talked about the struggles she faces as a “non-essential” business during the COVID-19 crisis, saying she has been making zero dollars but still pays employees. While so much of Rockaway’s economy depends on beach traffic, many participants were justifiably concerned about endangering lives amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

“Can social distancing be enforced or even exercised on the beach in the summer months when you have so many people congregating in that area?” asked Scala.

“That’s very hard. How are you going to do that with the transportation alone?” Maroney asked. “You see how it is. The ferries are jam-packed, you’ll always have people waiting to get on to these ferries, will they limit that as well? What are they going to do with the subways and buses? Those are really questions that are going to need to be answered.”

Panelists agreed that any decision to reopen should not be made without public health professionals deeming it safe, but wanted to see plans in place with contingencies for different scenarios.

“You want it to be a public health decision, not a budgetary decision,” Crowley said, adding that innovative thinking could ensure that social distancing can be practiced on the beach.

One area of concern was making sure lifeguards would be available. The discussion served as a microcosm of the need for officials to be proactive so that if it becomes appropriate to open at some point, the entire summer swim season is not lost.

“We need to keep in mind that these beaches are so important to the people who have risked their life’s fortune on this economy and on our peninsula,” Cori said.

The town hall has been watched more than 6,000 times. The event can be viewed here.