Sand Replenishment Ends, Erosion Begins

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Rockaway Beach is back. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has completed its sand replenishment project, ahead of schedule and covering a larger section of beach than originally planned. On Tuesday, May 14, Mayor Bill de Blasio was in town, along with USACE representatives and other officials, to applaud the effort and announce that this stretch of beach is ready for the summer season. However, a walk on the beach shows that there’s still need for more to be done.

After last summer’s disaster, where it was announced just before Memorial Day weekend, that the beaches from Beach 91st to 102nd Street would be closed for the summer due to erosion, the City is hoping to prevent a repeat with new sand in the area. NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver briefly recalled Rockaway’s reaction at last year’s beach opening ceremony, in which several residents staged a funeral for the beach. “I remember last year, it was the most memorable beach opening I could remember. There was literally a mock funeral with bagpipes. So all I can say that this year… is the resurrection,” Silver joked.

In mid-April, USACE began its project of dredging the East Rockaway Inlet and began using that sand to replenish an area from Beach 92nd to Beach 103rd Streets. This project was made possible with $10.7 million that USACE awarded to contractor, Weeks Marine, with funding made available by Senator Charles Schumer, and another $2.7 million from the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation to bring the sand west for the replenishment. On Tuesday, de Blasio, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and local business owners like Ethan Long of Rockaway Beach Brewing Company came out for a press conference on Beach 94th to applaud the efforts of the city and USACE for getting the job done in time for beach season.

USACE had set out with a deadline of June 1 and finished the project ahead of time, ending in early May. Plus, they took the sand further than originally planned, extending the replenishment to Beach 105th Street.

De Blasio applauded the accomplishment as a win after last year’s fiasco with the beaches being closed last minute. “It was not an easy decision to close off a section of the beach last year because we had to do it for safety reasons but it wasn’t the kind of decision you ever went to make. And the whole question was, how quickly could we get to a solution? I believed it would come sooner rather than later and today is that day and it’s a great day for the Rockaways and this is a great day for New York City because you can see with your own eyes that change has come, that this beach is back and better than ever,” the mayor said.

USACE Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite spoke further about the project. “We had a project to dredge out East Rockaway Inlet, which we were going to do in 2020, but when the Mayor came to Washington, D.C. and asked what we can do, we made that dredging project happen a year earlier and we moved that sand three miles west to this beach. This was a $12 million project that was ahead of schedule and below cost. We used 348,000 cubic yards of sand. If you took a football field and put all of that sand on it, it’d be 20 stories high,” Semonite said.

Semonite acknowledged that more still needs to be done and spoke about USACE’s future plans. “We can’t just keep rebuilding these beaches. We got to make them stronger and more resilient. We’ve got another project coming. We’re in the middle of getting this in contract and rolling it out. With this $573 million project, we’re going to take the berm and make it much stronger. We’re going to put a rock base underneath that sand and make the sand go much further out. We’re going to have two million cubic yards of sand. If you were to take that same football field and pour that sand on it, it’d be like a skyscraper, 120 stories high. That’s a lot of sand. But more important is groins. Thirteen brand new groins are going in and five already existing groins will be extended. Basically, we’re going from Beach 9th all the way to Beach 149th. And back on Jamaica Bay, there are four different areas that we’ve also go to protect. We’re trying to do it with green solutions, like wetlands and seawalls to protect those people. We’re excited about the next phase. It’s going to take about three years, so we have to work with local officials. We can’t shut the entire beach down. We have to do it in a very deliberate way where we’re transparent and we’re working with you,” he said.

The need to do more was clear on Tuesday. Mayor de Blasio didn’t spend time walking on the beach, inspecting the new work, which from the boardwalk, shows huge, beautiful sandy beaches. However, a walk along the shoreline tells a different story. Recent storms have already taken a toll on USACE’s new work. In the area where the new sand is, beginning on Beach 92nd Street, there is now a three-foot drop off due to erosion, so people have to jump down to get to the ocean and find a way to climb back up to get out of it. Also, while USACE went a little further west with the project, sand was not replenished on Beach 91st, which still remains heavily eroded. Other areas like the Beach 30s, 120s and 140s, are also facing severe erosion. So while de Blasio declared that the beaches are ready to open on Memorial Day, it’s clear that more needs to be done.

On Tuesday, de Blasio also made it clear that he wasn’t there to hear what locals had to say. Some residents showed up to the press conference hoping to send another message to de Blasio, with signs protesting the proposed Beach 101st Street homeless shelter. However, they were turned away and asked by police to stand behind a designated barrier across Shore Front Parkway. Even local reporters were banned from asking questions. Mike Schramm, publisher of the Rockaway Point News, was escorted off of the boardwalk by de Blasio’s security after he asked him the question, “Where were you last year?”

De Blasio is expected to come back to town for the official beach opening ceremony on Friday, May 24 at Beach 17th Street. (Photo by Paul Lurrie)

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