Beach Closure Baseball

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A baseball game took place at P.S. 114 on Tuesday, June 19. No, not in the schoolyard, but in the auditorium as Team Elected Officials were invited to play against Team Beach Erosion in the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association League. However with many absentee players, a majority of pinch hitters stepped up to the plate, joining some of the regular stars.

BHPOA President Hank Iori held a special meeting on Tuesday night, in which all of Rockaway’s elected officials, state, city and federal were invited to speak about their plans for handling the issue of beaches being closed due to erosion and the urgent need for protection in the form on extra sand and jetties. Everyone from Governor Andrew Cuomo to Senator Chuck Schumer to Mayor Bill de Blasio and local state senators, councilmen, assemblywomen and more got an invite. Iori referred to the list of elected officials as “our ball team,” and said, “We need every one of them to be active and focused.” However, on Tuesday evening, many were no-shows. Iori explained that some flat out rejected or ignored the invitation, while some had prior engagements. With the state legislature being in session, many were in Albany for the day and others in Washington, D.C., but some sent representatives in their place. Councilman Eric Ulrich and Democratic District Leader Lew Simon were the only direct elected officials to speak to the crowd of about 40 directly on Tuesday night.

Iori explained that he invited all of the elected officials out because more can happen when people are working together. “We’re rapidly approaching the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and unfortunately, too much storm protection remains to be done. A coordinated effort needs to happen between officials. We would like officials to discuss actions. No finger pointing. There’s only what’s happening and how quickly can we make it happen. I feel people have been asleep at the wheel and we need to motivate them to get things done quickly,” he said, before opening the forum up to the officials and representatives that showed up.

First at bat was Joseph Edward, executive director for Congressman Gregory Meeks, who was in Washington, D.C. Despite not being able to play on Tuesday, Meeks has been an MVP and has stepped up to the plate since it was announced that 11 blocks of beach were being closed in Rockaway Beach before the start of the season. “On June 4, after we heard the announcement to close the beach, the congressman called an emergency meeting with those elected officials whose districts were impacted and we had a few community leaders, Borough President Melinda Katz, Senator Addabbo, Councilman Ulrich, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, a rep from Schumer’s office and Parks’ Queens Commissioner Lewandowski,” Edwards said. “We were notified the Friday before the announcement that they were going to close the beach and the congressman was livid,” Edward explained. “We feel there was ample enough time because Parks was warned and they didn’t think it was necessary to replenish the beach. We wanted solutions, so we spoke with Parks Commissioner Silver and asked for an action plan as far as what the City is going to do. The city said they would deliver a plan. But with the closure announcement, people were thinking Rockaway was closed completely, so we asked Parks to lead a media campaign and say the beaches are open and they said they were still planning. However, we met with local entities and delivered our own plan to Commissioner Silver last Wednesday and we asked him to take it into consideration.”

Congressman Meeks also brought matters to Washington, D.C. “On June 6, he went on the floor and drafted an amendment to the Water Resource Development Act, which basically asks the Army Corps to expedite their reformulation study so that whatever can be done, can be done quickly. It should pass the House,” Edwards said.

Next on Iori’s list of players were Senator Chuck Schumer and Governor Cuomo. Schumer’s office said they would try to send someone and no one showed up, but Iori specifically called out Cuomo for his inaction. “How many times have we seen Cuomo since after Sandy?” he asked. “I don’t understand how he doesn’t know what’s going on in Rockaway, but he loves to go to Long Beach. He needs to be woken up. You’re falling asleep at the wheel and I don’t think you want us to fall asleep when it comes time to vote,” Iori said.

Sandee Doremus was pinch hitting for Senator Joe Addabbo, who was in Albany. She explained that Addabbo is working with the other elected officials in regards to replenishment, and is also sponsoring some relevant bills, including one that would establish a New York State Climate Change Task Force, and another that would lead to a study on the feasibility and effectiveness of establishing a sea wall, or seagate to protect New York City from future storms. “He’s out here working for you,” Doremus said.

Warren Woodberry, director of communications for Senator James Sanders, said Sanders was in Albany, but “he’s concerned for all people of the Rockaways and he’s closely monitoring the situation and he’ll be in touch with any information he has.”

Danny Randell stepped in for Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato, who was also in Albany. He explained that the assemblywoman’s main message has been to communicate that Rockaway is still open, and she has been doing things to try to promote that, such as recently passing a bill in the assembly, that would eliminate the toll from the Cross Bay Bridge, giving people more incentive to come to Rockaway. He said she has also sent many letters to various officials requesting that sand replenishment be expedited and she’ll be testifying at Monday’s City Council Hearing on the issue at 11 a.m. on June 25 at 250 Broadway.

Councilman Eric Ulrich also encouraged people to attend the City Council hearing if possible and told those who can’t make it to send him questions to ask. Before Ulrich showed up on Tuesday, Robby Schwach summarized much of what Ulrich’s office has been doing in wake of the beach closures and explained that it’s not as easy as people want it to be. “It’s embarrassing to come to this kind of meeting and to look at my neighbors and tell you how the government has failed us again,” Schwach said. “We’ve spent weeks trying to find solutions. We talked to the Army Corps and every time we thought we found a solution, there was another hurdle.” In recent weeks, it came to light that a contractor is heading to Long Beach to replenish the sand there and a request was made for the contractor to make a stop in Rockaway for emergency replenishment. Not so easy.  “The Army Corps told us their contracting process doesn’t allow them to detour the dredge for another project without reopening the contract, which would delay Long Beach’s replenishment,” Schwach explained. He also explained that there is another option to dredge sand from Jamaica Bay, but there is no contract for this option and it hasn’t been funded. “Every time we got an answer, it seems like somebody slammed the door on us,” Schwach said. However, he encouraged everyone to keep the pressure on.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release a final draft of their study at the end of August, which will be followed by public input meetings and an approval process that wouldn’t be complete until late 2019. “We’re not going to see bulldozers until 2020 at best,” Iori said.

Hopefully, with the pressure still on, that Army Corps timeline can be expedited, and perhaps something productive may come from Monday’s City Council hearing. Here’s to hoping for a home run.

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