Local Movers & Shakers Review 2018 & Express Hopes for 2019

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Rockaway is a little town that could, with movers and shakers, who behind the scenes, dedicatedly work hard on getting what their beloved waterside communities need. In this three-part series, The Rockaway Times dives into reviews of 2018 from local civic associations, nonprofits and businesses, and what their hopes are for 2019.

In this first installment, we interviewed civic leaders. From 2018’s ongoing battle for beach protection, Downtown Far Rockaway’s Revitalization Plan, Build It Back, restoration projects in Jamaica Bay, and more — here’s what they had to say.

Born-and-raised in Rockaway, John Cori, president of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association (RBCA) and longtime Community Board 14 (CB14) board member, along with locals, Eddy Pastore, Hank Iori, Noreen Eliis, (and many others), has been one of the most vocal advocates for what the peninsula direly needs when it comes to storm protection. Cori has organized rallies and protests, not just in Rockaway, but at City Hall, and the fight is ongoing.

Cori said 2018 was a mixed bag, and a lot still needs to be done. “In 2018, we saw design plans for various parks the peninsula lost during Sandy, and what further infrastructure needs to be placed to improve the overall recreational and safety experience for both locals and visitors. However, we’re not happy. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) unexpectedly changed the direction of traffic on Beach 91st Street, when we specifically demanded changes for the bike path loop on Beach 92nd Street and Beach Channel Drive. To our surprise, DOT has already packed up their construction equipment. We were expecting changes on 95th Street and the Freeway. Work is not done, and we’re definitely not going to lay back. Also, regarding the old courthouse, in a recent meeting with CB14’s Economic Development Committee, after months of confusion, initially thinking the historic building was going to be used as a medical facility, now we shockingly heard that the first floor is going to be used as a childcare center. Who approved this, and when?” Cori exclaimed.

As far as future beach protection goes, Cori hopes something good is in store for 2019. “In late November, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato informed us there’s a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Army Corps of Engineers to place more sand to help with the erosion and prevent beach closings. However, we’re still waiting for a confirmation as to when this is going to happen. RBCA will be under Army Corps’ skin to make sure this is signed, sealed and delivered, but again, it’s the waiting game. We’ll keep fighting the fight, but know sand is just a drop in the bucket for what the peninsula truly needs to protect us from another catastrophe like Sandy.”

On the east end of the peninsula, the Bayswater Civic Association (BCA) has been carefully advocating against what they deem as not being beneficial to the community. While some laud the Downtown Far Rockaway Revitalization plan as a godsend, many like BCA board member Eugene Falik dub the revitalization as a “destruction.” Falik said, “I don’t believe this plan is going to revitalize anything. From paid parking in underground lots, high-rise buildings for a multitude of low income residents, and lack of infrastructure for transportation, schools and traffic, this plan is not going to make Far Rock any better. We spoke up and our concerns were ignored,” Falik said. “Let’s see what 2019 reaps. With this plan already hitting the ground running, everyone will see the reality,” he grimly stated.

The Heart of Rockaway (THOR), which represents Arverne residents from Beach 73rd to 81st Streets, is relatively new, but the civic has made colossal strides in improving the safety of the eight-block stretch. After a woman was struck by a car and killed in front of the YMCA, THOR held street protests with religious and community leaders, local pols, and at a town hall meeting, they implored the mayor to help. Edwin Williams, an inaugural THOR vice president, stood with his two children and local residents, to make sure traffic safety measures were put in place. “Our community’s children wait on this intersection for their school bus. We all saw how unsafe, not only this intersection was, but also Beach Front Road. Thankfully, DOT put speed bumps on Beach Front Road from Beach 60th to beach 73rd; and at the intersection of Beach 73rd and RBB. Williams says THOR’s work isn’t done. THOR is also fighting to get a traffic median placed between Beach 81st and 73rd Streets, where there are two schools in the area, P.S. 183 and St. Rose. “I know with passionate advocacy, we can make it happen.” Williams said.

According to Williams, for 2019, THOR plans to continue their drive to help impoverished families during especially hard times like the holidays. “We are going to continue working on keeping our community safe, and helping those less unfortunate,” Williams said.

Across the Cross Bay Bridge, the Broad Channel Civic Association (BCCA) and the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers have also relentlessly advocated for folks to return to their homes, and restoration of Jamaica Bay’s precious marshlands. Dan Mundy, BCCA president and founder of the Ecowatchers said,  “It took hundreds of phone calls and emails to see work done. People needed to return to their homes, streets needed to be raised, and our dream, Sunset Cove needed to be made a reality. We’re elated to see over 230 homes completed with Build it Back (BiB). Unfortunately, the street-raising project was put on hold due to BiB construction. However, with the help of the Queens Borough President’s Office and local pols, the street-raising project for West 11th, 12th and 13th Roads are back in construction. We expect most of the work to be done by June 2019, which will be a huge plus for the town, especially with tidal flooding.

On the bayside with the Ecowatchers, Mundy said after 10 years of work, 2018 saw the start of Sunset Cove, a 14-acre restoration wetland project, that will not only restore critical tidal wetlands in the Bay; but will also boast a boardwalk with full dock. Mundy said, “This past fall, seeing the bulldozers down there and the site being cleared, was very exciting. This is the biggest ongoing project to protect the habitats and overall health of the Bay.”

Mundy said one key point for 2019 is monitoring a critical piece of legislation, the Water Resource Development Act. “Though it was approved and made into law, the language of the bill was problematic. With $117M committed to the project, it became a question of who would have to foot the bill. We never expected the National Park Service to be totally held accountable, and hope with help of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and other local pols, this critical piece will be rectified to make sure the Army Corps accepts the legislation,” he said.

As for Cori, his wish for 2019 is that more people get involved in their local civic association. “Whether you’re a resident or business owner, we are all stakeholders. Instead of complaining, join us in making Rockaway more resilient in 2019,” he said.

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