Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York
The Rockaway Beach saga continues as the city Parks Department and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a joint statement this week reiterating their partnership in reinforcing the shoreline of the peninsula and continuing work on the groins in the area.
It has now become a bureaucratic battle as lawmakers are imploring Parks and the USACE to consider community concerns.
In a statement last week, the USACE said it would be “as flexible as possible with work schedules to ensure that the work does not pose any safety concerns for beachgoers.”
Then, it issued the joint statement supporting the plan to prohibit access from Beach 92nd to Beach 95th streets and from Beach 109th to Beach 111th streets from Memorial Day weekend until July 15. Full beach access will be limited elsewhere, as well.
“The Summer 2022 operational plan that we collaborated on allows us to keep as much of the beach safely open as is possible, with only six blocks closed to sand access and swimming as construction moves forward,” the agencies said in the statement.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Congressman Greg Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) wrote a letter on Wednesday urging the agencies to hold a community meeting to publicly discuss construction plans.
“It is imperative that there is transparency and engagement with the entire Rockaway community,” the letter stated.
Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park) expressed frustration with the “backtracking.”
“After weeks of playing the blame game, I’m not surprised that these government agencies agreed on a decision that does not support our residents, business owners, tourists, or economy,” she said in a statement.
“We’ve worked hard to make sure that the Parks Department will suspend rent collection for the boardwalk concessionaires from Memorial Day through July, but this is still not enough. We will continue to push for full beach access this summer, and closely monitor the project’s timeline to ensure the engineers meet the construction deadline of July 15 so that Rockaway’s shoreline can continue to serve as an attraction for all New Yorkers during the hottest months of the year,” Ariola continued.
In response to the proposed beach closures this summer by the NYC Parks Department, a group of Rockaway locals went to Beach 92nd Street, with construction on the beach behind them, to express their displeasure with the plan.
“We want beach access,” said John Cori, who organized the rally attended by around 50 people Sunday afternoon, “This is our beach access, we have it, we don’t want to walk 15 blocks out of our way. We can, but by doing that other people have to do, that means they leave our business district.,” he said.
The rally, originally scheduled for Friday, May 13, but delayed due to weather, came as a response to the Parks’ plan to close and partially close beaches along the Rockaway strip in order to complete jetty construction.
“We hope Parks hears this and listens to the community,” Cori said.
Those against the plan say the closures will harm the businesses on those blocks, particularly the concessionaires on the boardwalk who depend on the foot traffic, but also those further inland.
“We’re tired, we’re tired,” said Erin Silvers, who operates a business on Beach 91st Street and has also worked at the concessionaires.
“We need the beaches open Memorial Day. it’s possible. It’s possible because if we can work hard this community can do what we’ve done all these years…It’s possible, anything is possible,” she said.
From what it looked like on the first 90 degree day of the spring on the week before the “official start of summer” this Memorial Day weekend, the possible was achieved. For the fences that were supposed to deter people from going on the shore that were there for their safety were torn apart and beach combers made do with what little space on the sand there was.
The beachcomber rebellion was most glaringly apparent by B 91 street where the temporary summer shut down of the beach began. Two large stop signs were pried off and fencing was cut off to prevent access to the citizenry for their safety.
The red flags, normally a symbol of warning and emergency were reduced to being only a suggestion. The fence on this blockade was shredded so hastily and so bad that people had to duck to enter and exit the staircase. Making the inevitability of cutting your head open as much a threat as the inevitability of drowning.
Another entrance that was left open had about a seven foot drop to the ground
Heading down the ramp towards the perilously eroded shore was a sight to behold as people made do and set up their places with what little sandy real estate they can find under the omnipresent cranes and some plows left behind for the continuing reconstruction of the shore to save the peninsula from being submerged.
New sea wall dunes that are being constructed, which were about 10 ft. high, were actually also being used by beach combers to lay their towels down for relaxing and tanning under the sun’s rays.
But probably the biggest indicator of civil disobedience against the NYC Parks Department’s order to cancel nearly two months of summer, and also NYC Parks own insouciance and disinterest in enforcing the shutdown and concern for the safety of the public was this lunatic sight of a wedding picture being taken on one of the newly laid jetties. Which means that someone in NYC Parks or possibly NYC Council gave their approval to allow this display of gaudy exceptionalism.
Heading west on the boardwalk where other resiliency reconstruction was going down, more civil disobedience against the death of (half of) summer on Rockaway was more evident. Especially with the other new jetties as people walked and stood on the groins to enjoy the fresh salty air standing feet above the deep violent waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
While the absence of lifeguards gave people the impunity to perilously stroll on the jetty, an indicator of how difficult its going to be to stop them came when a lone NYC Parks dept cop rolled up and adamantly demanded the crowd to get off of there. Truly a disturbing sight considering how much Mayor Adams cut from the NYC Parks Dept. in the most recent city budget and the slashing of funds de Blasio did the year before (although plenty of that cash clearly when to fake open street parks).
Besides people milling about on the groins, there were more disturbing sights on what little shore there is that the Army Corps Of Engineers is using as a storage yard. Like this nuclear bomb looking object some folks decided to plant their umbrellas, tents and and chairs by.
Another odd sight was of an unaccompanied lone child sitting a top a sandy hill that was repurposed as a slide. While a corporate news correspondent was standing nearby ready to do a segment for Spectrum News NY1 only a few feet away.
Something about these sights resembles the prehistoric era scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even Land of The Lost as people sunbathe and chillax next to dinosaur like cranes. But what this actually resembles quite aptly is the dystopian wasteland landscape that New York City has devolved into from the effects of kakistocratic government incompetence from federal, state and city levels. It’s really mind blowing that when FEMA and the ACOE went to work to replenish the beaches from Far Rock to Belle Harbor, they never thought to place the groins down while they were putting thousands of tons of sand down and built the sea walls after the new concrete boardwalk was laid down only 5 years ago.
Since then and even more since my last post on the gentrification of the beach, the seawalls and the sands have been devoured by the Atlantic over the last three seasons including this one. Even on B 116th St., which was once speculated to be a major tourist and high end lux living destination, is going through another coastal resiliency replenishing as groins are finally being laid down. Although that beach is also still not closed despite all the signage and presence of cranes and boulders just feet away from the boardwalk.
Obscured by the lifeguard chair is the estimated time completion date: June 2024!
Then there’s Riis Park, which for a while was repurposed and reinvented as a consumer culture foodie and glamping destination has shut down a segment of the beach there from the public including caging up the dilapidated landmark bathhouse for the second year in a row, finally recognizing the erosion that has been getting worse that the National Parks Department and the former Riis Park Beach Bazaar chose to ignore for years.
Despite all these receipts of how fucked the situation in the Rockaways are, the top brass at NYC Parks is still bandying about how wonderful and peachy things are with the official opening of the beaches this weekend, conveniently announcing it on the still resilient shore of the legendary Coney Island boardwalk.
With news reports and nauseating photo ops and self-aggrandizing praise by Parks officials like this is it any wonder why Rockaway Beach continues it’s steady decline and why people don’t even give a shit of what elected officials say, even when their reps in City Council and Congress are going to bat for them to keep the beaches open despite the dystopian and hazardous environs. What’s even more interesting is how are lifeguards going to handle this. They don’t even have anywhere to sit and watch out for people on the water. And if beachgoers are that defiant to hold a fucking wedding on a jetty then what makes NYC Parks think they are going to listen to them, even to get away from the deep waters.
What people like Council Person Ariola, Congressman Meeks and Senator Schumer should have done if they are worried that businesses will be lost if no one goes to the closed beaches is to get a temporary fed bailout for them as well. Or maybe ask the developers and oligarchs that run NYC and see Rockaway as a big land grab cash cow to donate a couple billion or two to get them by this summer and hope the beaches get saved for the rest of the summer if these officials were really looking out for us. Literally.
Its been 10 years since Hurricane Sandy leveled Rockaway Beach and what’s resulted in the past few years to battle the extreme effects of climate change on the beach as been an abomination. In all honesty, the damage clearly is done and FEMA and USACE took too long to fix the beaches besides doing it wrong in the first place and the city was more concerned with gentrifying the beach than fortifying it.
And keeping them open on the weekends is only going to exacerbate the situation even more and cause more land erosion which will make the Rockaway Peninsula even more vulnerable when the next major category 5 hurricane or tropical storm comes.