Army Corps Provides Updates at BHPOA Meeting

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Before the Thanksgiving holiday, on Tuesday, November 20, the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (BHPOA) meeting gathered at PS 114 to provide updates from the local precinct and elected officials, discuss a new school being constructed across the street and to invite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to provide an update on their beach protection project, which USACE got brutally honest about.

With the public comment period for USACE’s coastal protection plan for Rockaway now closed, BHPOA president Hank Iori invited USACE Project Manager Dan Falt to the meeting to provide some updates.

Iori first asked Falt about the timeline. Falt said, “The feasibility report is basically done. We’ve taken the comments and they’re being incorporated into the report and being sent to headquarters, if not the first week of December, the second week. We’re hoping our Chief of Engineers, Lt. Todd Semonite signs it in a winter timeframe so it goes to the Assistant Secretary of Civil Works and once he signs it, we’re authorized to spend what we need to do the project,” Falt explained, adding that some things will be changed, like where the groins will be. “What we’ve been able to do already is start the design phase, so what you saw in the report, to be honest is ‘crayon drawings.’ As we get into the design, the real engineering work, things can change. We hope to have the first contract awarded this time next year to begin construction,” Falt said.

Falt then broke down some of the aspects of the plan, starting with a major feature that is often overlooked. “One of the features that doesn’t get recognition is a sea wall from Beach 9th to Beach 149th. It’s a sand dune, with a wall buried in the dune, and in front of it is large rocks, and that, combined with beach plantings, will make it look like a regular dune that will offer 150-year level protection, so that is a very significant piece of hardware,” Falt said, adding that these new dunes will be two to three feet higher than the current dunes and the design for access over the dunes will be discussed later with city agencies.

Falt explained that the much-discussed groins can only do so much. “The notion is to control the areas that erode the most, so that the whole beach erodes the same way. No matter what, we have to keep renourishing the beach. It erodes, but the last thing we want to do is create another hot spot for hot spot for erosion," Falt said, meaning USACE is willing to work with residents’ pleas for groins further west of Beach 121st. “We surveyed the area and we have a new two-dimensional modeling tool and we’re now looking at groin configurations. For the west side, we had recommended 12 groins. Now we’re looking at options to make them a little wider or longer, so what you see in the groin field in the report may not be what we present to you this winter, which is good news,” Falt said.

With all the talk of the beach protection, the first question asked was, “what about the bayside?” The USACE’s report eliminated much of the bayside protection, including a sea barrier that would cut across Jamaica Bay, to include it in a separate study, as the bayside features, which would require a lot more funding and time to study, would have held back what could take place on the beach. The current study includes minimal protection to bayside areas on the east side of the peninsula, but nothing on the west.

A woman said, “As it is now, waves crash over the wall. There’s no barrier. Dunkin Donuts already had their wall fall in…” to which Falt responded, “There’s nothing planned for that.” The woman followed up by saying, “so that’s just going to erode?” Falt bluntly responded, “yes.” A woman followed up by saying, “But during Sandy, the ocean met the bay. So all this beach protection is still not helping?” to which Falt said, “No.” This led to another resident asking a question that’s a hard pill to swallow. “So basically you’re telling us that in 50 years or so, Rockaway is going to be under water?” Falt responded, “In 50 years, the drains will be backing up constantly. I don’t want to say fight and retreat, but…” His answer trailed off as chatter filled the auditorium.

The next hot-button issue was the construction of a new school building for PS 256, a school for special-needs students, across the street from PS 114. Many, including Iori and teacher, Barbara Larkin, expressed anger and concern over the lack of community input on the new building. Iori explained that he worked with Community Board 14 (CB14) to have a meeting with the NYC School Construction Authority (SCA) when he first learned about the project in July 2017, but the SCA allegedly told CB14 that a meeting wasn’t necessary since this project is meant to replace an existing school instead of creating a brand new one. Some particularly brought up the playground aspect of the new school, saying it should have been planned with community input, as it is something that could be utilized by the neighborhood. Robby Schwach of Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office acknowledged that the community should have been more involved and suggested that if people have recommendations, since the building hasn’t been built yet, to provide them to him so he can pass them to the SCA. He also cleared up some rumors about the school, explaining that the new school will have the same number of students as it currently does instead of the rumored 400+. “The current school can take 120 students. Currently there are only 88. The new school will allow for 122 students. They plan for that number, but right now, there aren’t enough special-needs kids to fill the register,” he said. He added that the SCA will be at the next meeting in December and can address concerns.

Captain Louron Hall of the 100th Precinct spoke about some recent thefts, including burglaries at homes and grand larceny from a vehicle. He advised people to lock doors and windows, and not leave valuables in plain sight. He also said that NCO Supervisor Sgt. Julieann Stapleton has been promoted to lieutenant and Officer Turner has been selected to fill her spot.

Local elected officials then provided some updates, including Senator Joe Addabbo and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, who were both recently re-elected. Addabbo touched upon the voting issues on election day, with scanning machines going down. He mentioned that the next session day in Albany will be January 9, where he vowed to discuss protecting the voting process. As far as the USACE plan goes, he said that if the NYS Department of Environmental Conversation has a role in the approval process for the plan, then he plans to urge the commissioner to really listen to resident input.

Pheffer Amato said she will continue to push the mayor and others to provide funding for additional groins to protect the west end of the beach. She also gave a heads up about upcoming naloxone training sessions in December for people to learn how to prevent overdose deaths.

Assembly District Leader Lew Simon also gave a heads up about the Beach 116th Christmas tree lighting on December 1 and the menorah lighting on December 5.

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