Army Corps to Lend a Helping Sand

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Rockaway Beach will be open for beaching. At least, that’s the hope after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City announced a plan to replenish the sand from Beach 92nd to Beach 103rd in time for the summer season.

After last summer’s disaster with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation announcing right before the Memorial Day beach opening, that Beach 91st to Beach 102nd would be closed for the summer due to severe erosion, it looks like there won’t be a repeat. With $7 million in funding secured by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer for the East Rockaway Inlet dredging project and an additional $2.7 million from the Parks Department to pump the sand west, USACE will be able to replenish the sand in an area that has seen extreme erosion over the past year.

“Let there be sand – on Rockaway Beach!” Schumer said. “Using the sand from the East Rockaway dredging is a win-win that will keep open BOTH a vital navigation channel and all of Rockaway Beach. I fought hard to secure the extra money Army Corps needed to dredge the inlet, and it makes perfect sense to use that sand to shore up the most eroded parts of Rockaway Beach that had to be closed last season. Kudos to Mayor de Blasio and the Army Corps for working together in a way that provides a critical positive fix for this situation. No one wanted to have another partial beach shutdown again this summer.”

The East Rockaway Inlet is regularly dredged, with the last dredging taking place in FY2017, of approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sand that was removed and beneficially used to renourish the beach between Beach 27th Street and Beach 38th Street. Prior to that was a mass replenishment project of 3.5 million cubic yards of sand throughout the beach after Hurricane Sandy. Now the funding for the new dredging project of the Inlet will allow for sand to be placed in a dangerously eroded area.

USACE New York District has awarded a contract for $10.7M to Weeks Marine of Cranford, N.J. to perform needed maintenance dredging of the East Rockaway Inlet Federal Navigation Channel. With an additional $2.7 million from the Parks Department, this sand can be pumped from Beach 92nd to Beach 103rd Street, in the hopes that it will allow these beaches to be open this summer.

“We’re grateful to the Army Corps for enabling us to use the sand they will be dredging to replenish Rockaway,” NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver said. “The City has always been exploring a way to reopen this section, and we’re very happy that the timing, cost and permitting processes aligned to enable this.”

The dredging of the Inlet is expected to begin this spring and if all goes well, the sand will be replenished before the summer season begins.

When the news dropped on Monday, it came as a surprise to some, especially to concession spokesperson and Caracas owner, Maribel Araujo. “We definitely see this as a great thing, but it’s a bit of a shocker. I know the Rockaway Business Alliance and our local elected officials and the whole community was pushing for this, but I was on the pessimistic side. I didn’t think this was going to happen because of a lack of funding. So when Parks called me to tell me, I was like, ‘I’m sorry, what?!” It’s a really great thing and it’s going to help with some of the damage that was done last year with the last-minute closures,” Araujo said. While her business at Beach 106th did well, picking up the traffic from the beach areas that were closed and the new visitors off the ferry, Araujo explained that the largest concession at Beach 97th concession, took a huge hit last summer. “They had at least a 20 percent decrease in sales, which for a food operator is huge because only a small percentage goes toward profit. The concessions really struggled because of that,” she said.

Araujo hopes that the sand replenishment will be a boost, but she still remains skeptical. “I’m just a little worried about the timing. They say before summer and even if it’s not ready by Memorial Day, but July 4 instead, it’s still a great thing because at the end of the day, we need sand. So we’re definitely excited, but still on err the side of, ‘let’s see if it really happens,’” she said.

For Steve Stathis, who owns the Boarders boardwalk concession at Beach 97th, and the Boarder’s Surf Shop on Beach 91st, the news was also welcome. “That’s great news! Of course, this should have been done last year, but better late than never,” Stathis said. However, he, like many, are still hoping for more to be done to protect the beach. “Now put in the jetties and I’ll be really happy,” he said.

Getting this sand has been a collective effort between local elected officials that kept the pressure on and locals activists that wouldn’t let the issue fall on deaf ears, such as Rockaway Beach Civic Association president, John Cori, who helped organize several rallies relating to the issue. For Cori, the replenishment announcement comes as a victory. “It’s great that they heard us. It shows that the noisy wheel gets the sand. If you stay active and get involved, they hear you. If you stay loud, you’ll be successful,” Cori said.

However, even with this small victory, there’s no time to be quiet. With the announcement, many have pointed out the obvious need for jetties, more sand throughout the beach and other protective measures, which many vow to continue to fight for.

“While this is great news for the upcoming beach season, I will continue urging the Army Corps to hurry up with their broader erosion and storm protection measures – like groins, jetties and dunes – which will protect beachgoers, businesses, schools and homeowners alike in Rockaway and Jamaica Bay for generations,” Schumer said.

“This is a positive first step towards the complete re-nourishment and in order to fully protect our community we need permanent measures as soon as possible,” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said. “We’ve continuously rallied as a community to have our voices heard and today is the first step in the right direction. Going forward we need to stay focused on ensuring the long-term projects stay on track.

“While I am relieved the City is taking these important steps to protect our coastal communities, other areas of the beach remain vulnerable,” Councilman Eric Ulrich said. “The City must continuously replenish sand throughout the Rockaway Peninsula while we wait for the ACOE resiliency projects to begin.”

Long-term solutions are on the way. USACE New York District is in the process of receiving final approval from USACE headquarters for its major plan to protect the rest of the beach. This includes a larger, reinforced dune from Beach 9th to Beach 149th Street, an extension of five existing groins, and the construction of 13 new groins, plus sand replenishment throughout the beach and more. USACE has set a goal of beginning the first elements of construction in late 2019.

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