With less than three weeks to go before the traditional beach season opening on Memorial Day weekend in the Rockaways, small businesses and restaurants learned of plans to close the beaches from Beach 90th Street to Beach 116th Street on weekdays through July.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been implementing a $336 million infrastructure project consisting of a reinforced dune system designed to block storm surges and new and extended tapered groins, jetty-like structures extending out into the ocean intended to trap sand and reduce beach erosion and help maintain a critical buffer between the Atlantic Ocean and beachfront communities.
“The Corps of Engineers will continue to work with our partners at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the city of New York and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to make sure there are minimal impacts to the 2022 beach season,” Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Chief of Public Affairs Michael Embrich said. “The corps is willing to be as flexible as possible with work schedules to ensure that the work does not pose any safety concerns for beachgoers. The city of New York will have the final say on any potential beach closures, as they are responsible for the New York City beaches.”
NYC Parks spokesman Dan Kastanis said the agency hasn’t made any announcement of closures and is finalizing a plan.
“The Army Corps is doing good work that is responsive to decades of local requests for new groins and replenished beaches,” Kastanis said. “That work is ongoing.”
Elected officials across South Queens were blindsided by the development. State Senator Joseph Addabbo stands opposed to any closures, especially the stretch of Rockaway Beach that is crucial to the local economy.
“While the planned closures are only scheduled to happen on weekdays and are expected to last through July, the Rockaway Peninsula depends on these beaches being opened during the summer season,” Addabbo said. “The potential for any closures must be weighed against the economic impact they would have on the local shops and restaurants, in addition to the negative effect on those who visit our beaches. For many, the Rockaway beaches are their only means of summer enjoyment and I don’t believe we should limit that. I will continue to investigate the validity of these claims and work to ensure that whatever happens. I will work toward keeping our beaches open and that the community is informed.”
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato was angered at the lack of community outreach.
“Beaches closed? If this is true, I am beyond outraged,” Pheffer Amato said. “It was not even a week ago I hosted my annual pre-summer beach meeting with NYC Parks, local civic leaders, Senator Addabbo, Councilwoman Joann Ariola and the NYPD. There was not even an inkling of this possibility and that is unacceptable. I would hate to think that this vital information was withheld. We are a beach community and closing our beaches is an attack on the entire Rockaway Peninsula.”
The local economy was devastated during Superstorm Sandy nearly a decade ago and erosion continues to plague the beaches. An 11-block section from Beach 91st to Beach 102nd was closed last year due to sand erosion that made bathing unsafe.
“This will without a doubt hurt small businesses, impact the people of our great community and poses a safety risk. For this to be done during the summer, after a meeting where major stakeholders were gathered, is nothing short of an insult to everyone involved. I will not accept this and I will fight to keep our beaches open.”
Councilwoman Ariola agreed the beach closures will have a “tremendously negative impact” on the businesses along the peninsula.
“The summertime and the concessions along the boardwalk are major economic engines for the area, and losing access to the beaches can be devastating. I urge my partners at the federal level and in the NYC Parks Department to devise a new plan that will postpone these closures so that local businesses can continue their post-COVID recovery and do their part to get our city back on track for the future.”
Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers said the beach closings would impact the entire Rockaway Peninsula.
“The potential for any closures must be weighed against the economic impact they would have on the local shops and restaurants, in addition to the negative effect on those who visit our beaches,” she said. “I will work toward keeping our beaches open and that the community is informed.”
Rockaway Beach Bazaar co-owners Aaron Broudo and Belvy Klein, who took over the NYC Parks lease for the boardwalk concessions last year, are hoping a solution is found.
“The latest from NYC Parks is that they are trying to find a solution to opening those beaches to some degree and hopefully that includes weekends,” they said in a statement. “Also, the boardwalk is NOT closing and will be open per usual, and ditto our vendors.”