Rockaway councilwoman calls for lifeguards on beaches closed to swimming after hundreds ignored closures on Memorial Day weekend

Rockaway Beach opening day
Rockaway Beach during the NYC Parks Department opening ceremony for city beaches on Friday, May 27, 2022. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

Rockaway Councilwoman Joann Ariola is sounding the alarm after dozens, if not hundreds, of beachgoers went swimming in restricted areas during the Memorial Day weekend.

She said despite receiving “repeated assurances” from NYC Parks and the Parks Enforcement Police that they would keep bathers out of the water on the beaches that are closed to swimming due to ongoing construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she saw no such enforcement during the opening weekend.

“It’s only a matter of time before someone loses their life unless action is taken immediately,” Ariola said. “I am therefore asking that the Parks Department deploy lifeguards to these locations, to prevent an otherwise avoidable fatality from occurring in the future.”

The popular stretch of Rockaway Beach from Beach 95th Street to Beach 116th Street allows access to the sand but no swimming at least until July 15. However, many beachgoers ignored the restrictions and went swimming at numerous locations where lifeguards are not on duty.

“Every year we see people drowning off the shores of Rockaway, and we ask, ‘How could we have prevented that tragedy?’ Well, this time I am telling you ahead of time before we have another loss of life: we need more lifeguards deployed to those busy areas near the concessions where visitors congregate,” Ariola said. “Not having lifeguards posted on some of the busiest beaches of the peninsula is nothing short of negligent, and it will lead to death unless something is done to rectify the situation.”

Rockaway Beach
Swimmers ignored warning signs that beaches were closed at went into the surf where no lifeguards were on-duty during Memorial Day weekend. (Courtesy of Ariola’s office)

QNS reached out to Parks and is awaiting a response.

“I am publicly imploring the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to post lifeguards on the beaches near the Beach 97th Street and Beach 106th Street concessions — beaches which are currently ‘closed to swimming’ — before we need to see another young face posted on the cover of a newspaper under a headline of ‘Gone Too Soon,’” Ariola said. “Several weeks ago, in conversations with Parks Department leadership, we discussed plans to potentially keep those beaches open for swimming on the weekend. I think that it is time we revisit those plans so that lifeguards will be on the beaches during the weekends when crowds grow to unmanageable numbers but off-duty during the less busy weekdays when the construction is being done.”

Ariola is also concerned that the Army Corps of Engineers construction project to finish building stone groins, or jetties, to slow the beach erosion that has plagued Rockaway Beach for years, will extend into August as the cleanup operation might take several weeks beyond the groin construction prediction.

“We’re working with Small Business Services (SBS) to assist any business owners who may be eligible for grants and subsidies. With SBS, we plan to visit our local businesses and assess their needs, and find out how we can best help them get through this summer,” Ariola said. “In addition, SBS will seek to negotiate with the business owners’ landlords regarding their rent. We want our businesses to know that we are doing everything that we can to help them during this time.”