BY JON CRONIN
Queens leaders are inflamed at the city’s Parks Department following an announcement that 11 blocks of Rockaway Beach will be closed this summer. Borough officials noted that the city has ignored the community’s pleas for help for years.
On May 11, the Parks Department announced that it would close off access to the water between Beach 91st Street and Beach 102nd Street to prevent further erosion in the area and keep swimmers safe.
The dunes were rebuilt with additional sand in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy struck the region. The Parks Department announced that approximately 4.5 miles of beach where the water is accessible will remain open.
The announcement also noted that the full boardwalk and surfing area from Beach 88th Street to Beach 91st Street will also remain open. The stretch of the beach in front of the concession stands and bathrooms at 97th Street will also be open, but there will be no access to the water.
Signage will be placed at subway stops, ferry landings and along the boardwalk that will note where the water is accessible.
“The city’s immediate plans for the Rockaways will significantly hurt the local community and Queens economy during the vital visitor season of the summer months, and shortchange one of the largest tourist attractions in the city,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said of the closures.
Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said that the city was prioritizing safety by closing parts of the beach.
“This decision was made in the interest of safety, and that will always remain our top priority,” Silver said. “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.”
He added that the agency will work with the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and Recovery and continues to work with the U.S. Army Corps to find a long-term solution for the region. The Parks Department has not disclosed how dune erosion could impede the safety of swimmers.
According to the Parks Department, a meeting was held in February in Washington D.C. between U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mayor Bill De Blasio and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss a long-term solution. The agency wrote that there should be an outline in place by August and then a final report in November on the matter. Construction would start next year on the Atlantic and Jamaica Bay sides of the Rockaways.
“I am calling for an emergency meeting with the city, the state, and the Army Corps of Engineers to explore options available this summer, whether we can expedite current plans to build groynes along the ocean front and back bay, and relief for local businesses affected by this abrupt closure,” U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said.
Katz noted that the community has been trying to get the city’s attention about erosion for years.
“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,” Katz said. “The consequences of the city’s failure to act earlier will be disproportionately borne by the Rockaway community.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) echoed Katz’s dismay at the city ignoring years of the community pleading for attention regarding the matter.
“My constituents cannot wait another three years for some sort of a remedy. Hurricane season is right around the corner and our coastal communities are still vulnerable. We need a solution now,” Ulrich said.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) stated that the city also recently announced that shuttles to the Rockaway ferry will no longer operate on the weekend.
“It would be another devastating blow to the Rockaway community, and I do not support taking away valuable ferry transportation options for the beaches, especially since a large portion of the beach will not be accessible,” Addabbo said. “The summer season is supposed to be Rockaways’ shining moment.”