Rockaway residents ask the mayor for help at a rally this past winter. Photo courtesy of John Cori
BY JON CRONIN
Although Memorial Day weekend typically kicks off several months of summer fun, a dark cloud hung over Rockaway Beach as the city’s Parks Department held a press conference to declare the beaches open and residents turned out to protest the closure of 11 blocks of beachfront.
“At Friday’s opening of the beach season in Rockaway, the message was made loud and clear that the people deserve to have all beaches open and we need sand replenishment now,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said. “I would like to thank the advocates who showed up at the ceremony. I appreciate the NYC Parks Department commissioner Mitchell Silver’s commitment to work towards urging the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to provide the sand needed to open the beaches for this summer season, not in 2019 or 2020. It’s unacceptable that the first beach a person sees as they enter Rockaway from the bridge at Beach 94th Street is closed.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) decided to boycott the event.
“I decided to skip today’s press conference as a way of protesting the city’s overall lack of transparency, truthfulness and communication,” Ulrich said. “The ceremony is meant to be a celebration, but for my constituents and the business owners who will be impacted by this decision, it is anything but. The closure will devastate our local economy, and during peak season, no less.”
On the same day, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) released a letter that he wrote to Col. Thomas Asbery, of the Army Corps of Engineers, which stated an “urgent need to address the erosion,” in the Rockaways. He asked the Army Corps engineers “to think as creatively as possible” to replenish the eroded sand.
He noted that earlier this year, he secured $730 million in federal funding to bring the resources needed to this part of Queens.
“I am hopeful that we can now employ those resources to rapidly respond to the dire situation in Rockaway,” he said.
John Cori, the founder of the Friends of Rockaway Beach and president of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, said that he brought homemade wooden tombstones and a coffin to the Parks Department’s press conference to represent the deaths of the 11 blocks of beaches. He added that there will be another protest on June 1 on the steps of City Hall to get the mayor’s attention.
The Rockaway Beach advocates are also calling on Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, to create a hearing regarding the issue.
Cori, who lives near the beach, said that his home is among those that get pounded by waves, which he said could be prevented if the Army Corps of Engineers built groynes to retain sand and prevent erosion.
He noted that the erosion is worse than usual this spring. He said that at the end of the ramps leading to the beach, there is almost a four-foot drop to the sand. Cori added that the Parks Department has pushed sand up to the ramp. He believes that closing the beach is “a little bit of an overkill,” and that residents and beachgoers should be able to at least walk along the beach.
On May 25, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the issue on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.
“We all knew the beach was eroding and I was at a town hall meeting in the Rockaways, I think it was about six months ago, and this topic came up,” he said. “I pledged to folks in the community that I would go to the Army Corps of Engineers.”
De Blasio said the Army Corps of Engineers is the only organization that can resolve the issue, and added that in the past six months, winter storms made erosion worse.
“The Parks Department talked to the lifeguards, who really have to be the final word here, and said, ‘Can we secure this area properly, as this beach has gotten a lot thinner than it was a year ago?’ And they did not feel we could.”
He concluded, “The various concessions will still be open. People are still going to have a lot of ability to enjoy the Rockaways.”