Rockaway Brings the Beach Battle to City Hall

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Instead of spending a sunny, late Friday afternoon at the beach, many from Rockaway were on the steps of City Hall, fighting to ensure that there will be a beach for people to go to in the future.

On Friday June 1, the first day of hurricane season, local community activists, business owners, civic leaders and elected officials, attended a public rally outside City Hall and asked the mayor, “What’s your plan?” This comes in response to the New York City Parks Department's abrupt decision to close 11 beaches to the public, just a few days before the official beach opening for Memorial Day Weekend, due to severe erosion that the city was long made aware of.

“This is a devastating blow to the local economy,” Councilman Eric Ulrich said amongst the crowd of protestors. “These are some of the most popular beaches in the City of New York. Hundreds of thousands of locals, tourists and people from all over the world flock to Rockaway to support our local economy, support local jobs and to support the most resilient community in the City of New York, one that has bounced back remarkably since Hurricane Sandy. And yet even though we are five years from Sandy, there are some parts of the peninsula that are more vulnerable today than they were the day before the storm. Today is the start of hurricane season. Parts of the peninsula are actually less prepared and less protected today because of inaction by the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), because of lack of planning by the City of New York, and because of a lack of the political will and muscle that is needed to put people’s feet to the fire so that we can actually build the longtime protective solutions that we need like rock jetties, T-groins and sand replenishment.”

Ulrich mentioned that he had spoken to New York City Council Parks Committee chair, Barry Grodenchik, about the issue, who agreed that City Council should have a hearing on the beach erosion and closures. Grodenchik later confirmed this, tweeting on June 5, “The @NYCCouncil Committee on Parks & Recreation will be holding a hearing on June 27 at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway on preventing beach erosion. At that time we expect to hear from @NYCParks. Members of the public are invited to testify as well.”

At the rally, Ulrich gave credit to activists, John Cori and Eddy Pastore, for being leaders in organizing other beach rallies over the past few years and keeping on top of the issue. Cori criticized the mayor for not doing more. “The beaches they closed are the weak link. We’re beneath pre-sandy conditions. This is a major issue for our lives. We panic every day when we see the beaches close. And they close for one reason and it’s purely ineptitude on the mayor’s office,” Cori said. “We told him that we needed this done back in November. He did a study, an engineering firm came down, and they found that there’s nothing to see here, and moved along. Obviously there is something to see. We need to get some real action and today we’re here to ask the mayor, now that the beaches are closed, what’s your plan? This is the perfect opportunity to do something.”

Cori suggested hiring a dredging company to replace the sand on the eroded beaches temporarily. Eddy Pastore also reiterated this idea, saying, “Mr. Mayor, we need you to put in place an emergency plan of allocation of sand to get us to the point where the Army Corps comes in and does start their work, starting in 2019.”  Since the City Hall rally, it seems that this could also be a reality. Congressman Gregory Meeks recently told The Rockaway Times that a meeting was held with the Army Corps of Engineers and that a company performing sand replenishment in Long Beach, may also be able to stop by Rockaway to give the eroded beaches a helping hand, or at least more sand. Further meetings with USACE are planned to follow up on this being a possibility to save the beaches by August.

The sentiments of Ulrich, Cori and Pastore were also backed by supporters like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, activist Hank Iori, Senator Joseph Addabbo, District Leader Lew Simon and others.

“This community has suffered since Sandy and it’s time the suffering ends today. So I’m asking the mayor today to go back to the drawing board with the community and talk about how we can mitigate this issue and talk about how this can never happen again. And finally present the Rockaways with a boardwalk beach plan that will keep the community thriving,” Stringer said.

Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato spoke about the poor planning of the city and its affect on businesses. “It is irresponsible of the City, four days before the busy part of our season, to close the beaches. Because how do you plan? How do you tell our vendors and businesses that they hired people based on what the projections would be for the summer, and now possibly need to lay off people? How do we know and that’s what we’re here to stand up for, our local businesses because most of our businesses are locally owned. What beaches are we going to close next? Do we close Times Square before New Year’s Eve? I don’t think so, that would be unheard of. But you did it to us in our backyard.”

Hank Iori, another longtime activist for the beach, asked for real action this time. “The study the City of New York put together on our beaches cost $200,000 and they told the people everything was fine. Suddenly the storms came along and nothing was fine. They should actually ask for a refund from the consultants who put the study together. We’d like to get all our elected officials together and get them pushing the Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New York, and see what they can do on an emergency basis. I don’t want anyone thinking that Rockaway is closed. There are 140 some odd beaches in Rockaway. It’s only 11 now, but I can tell you there will be others that will be closed this summer. And that’s scary. In the event that we have any kind of storm, we’re going to have a lot of damage done. We don’t want to see that. It can be prevented if we move forward and we get the work done now. Get this sand replenished now, get these rock jetties put in and get the permanent berms reestablished,” Iori said.

Senator Joseph Addobbo reiterated the need for urgency in action. “Enough of the finger pointing, with city saying its federal and federal saying it’s city. We need answers, we need action, we need sand, we need jetties, we need groins and we need it now if we want to salvage what’s left of this summer. That’s why we’re here, to get this done this summer, not 2019, not 2020, but the summer of 2018.”

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