Councilwoman Ariola Provides Summer Updates

 Councilwoman Ariola Provides Summer Updates

By Katie McFadden

Memorial Day weekend is just two weeks away, with beaches opening for the season on Saturday, May 25. On Friday, April 19, elected officials, NYC Parks and other agencies that keep our beaches operating safely, met to discuss some changes for the summer ahead.

On April 19, District 32 Councilwoman Joann Ariola was among the officials gathered at the meeting held at the new Arverne Nature Preserve Welcome Center. According to Ariola, a lot of important information was discussed regarding the beach and boardwalk for summer 2024. Recently, Councilwoman Ariola reached out to The Rockaway Times to discuss some of the key points from that meeting and other updates since.

Ariola recently met with the Mayor’s Office regarding motorized scooters and electric bikes being allowed on the boardwalk. Ariola says the Mayor’s Office launched a pilot program allowing these things in NYC Parks, but since the boardwalk is technically considered a park, it has been wrapped up in this activity, which has caused issues. Ariola says she had a special meeting with intergovernmental agencies and the mayor to discuss how the boardwalk is not a proper place for these motorized and electric vehicles. “He agreed,” she said. “So signage will stand that no motorized e-bikes will be allowed on the boardwalk.” As far as enforcement of this goes, Ariola expressed concern over there being a shortage of NYPD officers available to strongly crack down on this, as their energy is focused on recent protests across the city, but with 600 new recruits joining the NYPD academy, she’s hoping for more officers to become available and is advocating to bring more to District 32.

Ariola says there has been a lot of discussion over mobimats and beach and boardwalk access ramps being covered in sand. Since the reinforced dunes started to be built to the height of the boardwalk, there has been an ongoing issue of sand covering the ramps and mobimats. “You can’t build the dune to the same height as the boardwalk and not expect it to be covered with sand,” she said. In response to this, Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, said that the dune plantings that are being done after the dunes are built, should help with this issue. Additionally, Rodriguez-Rosa has hired a special detail to specifically focus on this, keeping the boardwalk and access ramps clear of sand throughout the summer.

What is the outlook for lifeguards this summer in wake of an ongoing national lifeguard shortage? Ariola says NYC Parks really ramped up recruitment efforts this year, on top of raising the starting pay to $22 an hour, to try to attract more lifeguards to city pools and beaches. Ariola was part of a meeting with Rodrigues-Rosa in which they met with current lifeguards to discuss their needs, to try to address some ongoing issues on the job, and how to best assign lifeguards to make sure beaches are covered properly. While Ariola says she doesn’t have exact numbers as the lifeguard hiring process is ongoing, she says, “Parks is confident that they are ready for the summer for the beaches that are opening.”

Not all beaches will be open this summer due to ongoing work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their contractor Michels, to build the reinforced dune. According to USACE, they are currently working from Beach 106th to Beach 126th, and due to this work and their staging area still being set at Beach 116th Street, NYC Parks has said that beaches west of Beach 114th to Beach 126th Street, will be closed for swimming over the summer, meaning no lifeguards will be assigned there. As Beach 116th has been impacted by this staging area for a few years, Ariola says it’s “unfair.” She says, “It really impacts our small businesses and the residents who live there, so we’re working with the U.S. Army Corps and Michels to work around this to a point where trucks are not idling while delivering materials. Beach 116th as a staging area has to be removed. I think five years of patience from the people who live there and the businesses there has been more than enough. So we’re working with USACE to find another appropriate location for the staging area. After they finish the dunes, they’re going to have the installation of the timber ramp crossovers. I have been putting a lot of effort into Beach 116th Street, so to have it where stores are closing because of this, since they don’t have people coming to the beach, it has been really hard. We need these beaches to be open,” she says, vowing to continue to fight to get the staging area moved.

Speaking of the timber ramps, Ariola says after taking in feedback from the community, NYC Parks and USACE have finalized designs for the four ADA ramps that will be installed uptown. They will be presenting the latest design to civic associations that want to hear about them. She is also working with both agencies to address an issue of sand eroding from underneath mobimats and ramps, leaving them on cliffs. They are working under various federal and state guidelines to come up with a solution for this.

Regarding parking issues, Ariola says the DOT recently brought up the issue of allowing seasonal parking along the south side of Shore Front Parkway. However, as this issue has been addressed before and was overwhelmingly rejected by the community board and various civics, Ariola reminded the DOT of this. “There will be no seasonal parking or otherwise on Shore Front,” she said. Asked if parking issues will be enforced along Shore Front, Ariola explained that a traffic cop or the NYPD would need to watch the area all day to keep up with tickets, and given the shortage of manpower, this is not always realistic. However, she is working with the DOT to install larger, more noticeable signage reminding drivers that the beachside of Shore Front Parkway is not a parking zone, and will ensure barriers are placed near ramps so that access points to the boardwalk aren’t blocked in case of emergencies like a drowning.

She also says that in the wake of concerns over migrants being housed at Floyd Bennett Field, the NYPD, especially the summer detail assigned to the beach and boardwalk, will especially be looking out for signs of panhandling or property theft on the beaches, so that people can feel safe. “We welcome everyone to our beaches, but we don’t want any issues, so police will be especially cracking down on that kind of behavior,” Ariola said.

Working with all of these agencies, Ariola is hoping for a successful and safe summer season. “I think because our office is on top of all of these issues and since we’ve worked on a lot of preventative measures, we’re hoping that everyone is able to enjoy the summer and enjoy our beaches and support our business districts,” she said.

On a more fun note, Ariola reminds everyone to mark their calendars for the Beach 116th Street Summer Kickoff celebration on May 19, and the June 14 Flag Day Celebration, complete with a fireworks show at Beach 94th Street.

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