Rockaway to NYC Parks—‘Do Better’

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 No access. Sand only. Full access, for half a summer. After NYC Parks released its closure plan in relation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shoreline protection work taking place this summer, one thing is clear—it’s going to be a confusing, and oftentimes frustrating summer.

After The Wave shared that NYC Parks would be closing Beach 90th to Beach 116th Street through July earlier this month, NYC Parks told The Rockaway Times that these reports were “not accurate” and that they were still in the process of formulating a plan. Late night on Thursday, May 12, NYC Parks released that plan, but it still left out information about beaches on everyone’s minds, Beach 92nd through Beach 108th. By the next morning, that information was clarified. While many of those beaches will not be completely closed, the best Parks can offer is some sand time until July 15.

Prior to the announcement of any beach closures, the Army Corps gave The Rockaway Times a rundown of their planned work this summer. The Army Corps plans on finishing up the groin currently being worked on at Beach 92nd Street, through July 15. They’ll then be moving on to the groin at Beach 110th, with an expected completion in August. The staging area for this work will remain on Beach 116th Street. Simultaneously, within the next month, the Army Corps will begin Phase II of their work, which entails constructing the reinforced dune. This work will begin on the west end, with a staging area on Beach 147th Street, with construction starting on Beach 149th and continuing east all summer, with expectations of reaching the mid Beach 130s by September.

With this work, interruptions are in order for the 2022 beach season. NYC Parks’ schedule, with different schedules applying to some areas now through July 15, and then July 15 through the beach closing in September. Only six beaches will definitely be closed completely at any given time. They are as follows: Beach 92-95 and Beach 109-111 from now through July 15, and Beach 114-117 and Beach 119-121 from July 15 through September. The following beaches will see full access, meaning open to sand and water access: Beach 9-13, Beach 16-18, Beach 32-36, Beach 59-65, Beach 69-86, Beach 117-145 (May through July), Beach 91-109 (July through September), Beach 112-114 (July through September), Beach 121-136 (July through September) and Beach 140-145 (July through September). The following beaches will only be open for sand access: Beach 13-16, Beach 18-32, Beach 36-38, Beach 65-69, Beach 86-91, Beach 146-149, Beach 95-108 (May through July), Beach 112-116 (May through July), Beach 115-121 (July through September) and Beach 136-140 (July through September). Beach 136 through Beach 149 will see periodic full closures throughout the summer, depending on where the dune project work is taking place.

While Parks’ schedule announcement put rumors of a full closure from Beach 90th to Beach 116th to rest, many are saying, “do better.” Elected officials from Councilwoman Joann Ariola to state officials Sen. Joe Addabbo and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato and congressional representative Gregory Meeks, immediately jumped on the issue and put the pressure on. On Sunday, May 15, local activist John Cori called for a rally, asking NYC Parks and the Army Corps to not stop or delay this vital construction work, but to come up with a better plan to work around it, whether that means speeding up the construction process or doing it during certain hours, so there’s minimal beach interruptions and impacts on local businesses.

“The problem now is Parks has a plan that doesn’t jive with what we want in the community,” Cori told the group of rally attendees. “We want safety, we want beach access, we don’t want to stop this project. Army Corps has come up with a plan that they presented to Parks and Parks didn’t seem to want to budge. But we want to have access, especially for the businesses.”

Cori said there are possible options that could allow for more access. “NYC Parks, we need a better plan now. We love Rockaway. We love Parks. They do a great job with all the new beach amenities, but we need to have beach access, surfing, swimming, to bring people to our beaches to allow the businesses to thrive. If they thrive, we thrive. We don’t want to walk 15 blocks out of the way because that means people leave our businesses.  We want to have better access on Memorial Day, not July 15 and we hope Parks hears us,” Cori said.

Erin Silvers of Zingara Vintage, a business owner and concessionaire who has experienced business interruptions for several years in the area due to boardwalk construction, erosion and Covid, put it simply—“We’re tired.”

Joseph Edwards, representing Gregory Meeks, attorney Mike Scala and Councilwoman Joann Ariola also spoke at the rally. Ariola suspected that more is at play than just the construction work when it comes to Parks closing beaches. She believes NYC Parks doesn’t have enough lifeguard staff. “The Army Corps of Engineers has put together a plan that would allow us to keep beaches open. NYC Parks Department is adamant against that plan. I had conversations with the Congressman that Army Corps is willing to keep these beaches open safely for us to utilize,” she said. To their credit, she added that NYC Parks has decided to give concessionaires a break, as they will not be charged rent during the times when the beaches are not fully open. But Ariola said something else is behind these closures. “I think it’s much more than this project. I think it has to do with what we deal with every single summer season and what’s that? Lifeguards. They don’t have enough lifeguards. And they’re buying time at our expense.”

Ariola vowed to continue to keep the pressure on and fight against this issue. “We’re tired. This beach didn’t just appear. How are we not prepared? I’m going to continue to follow up with Parks, continue to keep them accountable, continue to work with our elected officials on the state and federal level, continue to work with the Army Corps and continue to keep you abreast of any change to come. Nothing is going to sandbag us again like they did,” she said. Ariola encouraged the crowd to write letters and emails to elected officials and the Parks Department to keep the pressure on.

Meanwhile, NYC Parks has established a website that will be updated consistently to reflect how beaches will be impacted this summer during the Army Corps construction. It can be found at: www.nycgovparks.org/facility/beaches/beach-recovery/rockaway-beach-closures

 By Katie McFadden

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