Beaches Open Friday BUT….


NYC Parks Drops A Stink Bomb


In Rockaway, it’s like Christmas morning when the beaches are declared open.  But this year, it’s as if Santa Claus really did bring coal.  And then dropped a stink bomb.

This Friday, May 25, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver will declare the City beaches open and the start of the summer season will be officially underway.

Well, not all the beaches. 

In Rockaway Beach, big summer crowds are going to squeeze onto fewer available beaches. On Monday, the Parks Department announced that it will close eleven blocks, from Beach 91st Street to Beach 102nd Street, because erosion has wiped away so much sand.  This strip of beach is among the more popular destinations for visitors and locals alike as it abuts the boardwalk where the biggest concession exists at Beach 97th Street. The closed beaches are also just in front of the large parking area on Beach 94th Street and what is considered the beach’s welcome way, the wide steps leading to the boardwalk.

It is no surprise to many here in Rockaway, that erosion is putting a damper on what normally is a day of celebration.  Locals have been demanding sand and beach protection for years.  Although 3.5 million cubic yards of sand were poured on to Rockaway beaches in 2014, as part of a beach replenishment program, many residents rightly predicted the sand would wash away, unless permanent protective measures, such as jetties, were put in place.

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) is in charge of such measures and has not demonstrated any sort of urgency, frustrating residents and elected officials.  A rally led by John Cori and Friends of Rockaway Beach will be held this Sunday, May 27 at Beach 97-98th Street and the beach hoping, yet again, to spur the ACOE into sorely needed action.  U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who has had some success getting the ACOE to budge, reacted to the beach closures with a statement: “Today, I am demanding the Army Corps host a community meeting ASAP and spell out in plain English a detailed timeline for locals.”

While the disappearing beach is no surprise, the Parks’ announcement certainly was.  Vendors, elected officials, and the public had no inkling such a stink bomb would be dropped just days ahead of Memorial Day weekend.  Congressman Gregory Meeks called for Army Corps action, but also blasted City Hall.  “I am both surprised and dismayed by the City’s announcement that the busiest stretch of Rockaway Beach will be closed this summer. This is a failure on the part of the City to alert lawmakers with sufficient time to act, and a failure to communicate with the community.”

That’s right, not even a heads-up. Vendors at the Beach 97th Street concession were stunned.  Andrew Field, who operates Tacoway Beach and is a member of the Rockaway Beach Club, the main lease-holders of the concessions, said they had been in talks with Parks throughout the off-season but had been given no indication such an announcement was coming.  “We came back after Sandy.  We’ve been through plenty and would have planned for this.”  Steve Stathis, a vendor who runs Boarders, said he ordered beach umbrellas to rent.  “What good are they now?”

Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said Parks and NYC Lifeguard Officials conferred throughout the spring about the shrinking beaches and what to do.  Lewandowski was asked if she thought the beach was somehow going to get bigger with all the recent storms.  She replied that sand, “comes and goes” and that ultimately the lifeguards said it would be too dangerous to open the beaches for swimming.

Another Parks person said they didn’t want to be “hasty” when deciding the fate of the beaches. 

Field said the announcement made it seem like all Rockaway beaches will be closed and visitors won’t get the message that all the concessions will be open with full slate of food, drink and entertainment options.  He wonders if the public will grasp anything beyond the opening of the press release which begins: “NYC Parks has announced that Rockaway Beach will be closed this summer in the area between Beach 91st Street and Beach 102nd Street in order to maintain the protective dune and keep swimmers safe.”

Indeed, in the nearly 500-word Monday press release, there was nothing about the concessions themselves remaining open.  There was just one mention of the concessions at all: “a section of the beach in front of the concessions and bathrooms at 97th Street will be open for recreation, but there will be no access to the water.”

That’s it.

When The Rockaway Times received the release and posted it online, the public reaction was in a word, brutal, with Parks and the Army Corps getting slammed.  The news was seen by more than 40,000 people on our Facebook page with hundreds of people expressing outrage.

And now, on the heels of all this, is the annual Beach Opening ceremony scheduled for Friday, May 25 with Commissioner Silver on hand. Usually, the happy event is staged at Beach 94th Street on the Boardwalk with food and drinks supplied by—yes, the concessionaires.  This time, Parks—probably trying to avoid declaring the beaches open a closed beach—will instead host the opening at Beach 108th Street.  The kick-off time was still to be determined as The Rockaway Times went to press.

So far as we can tell, the Parks Department and Army Corps can’t do anything about the weather forecast which calls for warm and sunny.

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