Rockaway Rallies For Protection on Sandy Anniversary

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“Today needs to mark the beginning of a new timeline for Rockaway. The first five years was about getting our lives back, the next five years will be about guaranteeing that our lives remain here,” Rockaway Women For Progress’ Jean Belford said before a crowded beach on Saturday, October 28, the day before the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. The message that the fight continues radiated throughout Beach 129th Street during the rally calling for immediate action to take place to protect our coastline.

Belle Harbor Property Owner’s Association President Hank Iori, who was instrumental in organizing Saturday’s rally, reflected on what occurred five years ago and what needs to be done, moving forward. “The Rockaway community and Broad Channel experienced a devastating storm. It destroyed many homes and many lives were lost,” Iori said. “There is a saying that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat the past. We’re here to celebrate our community’s resilience. Now is the time to take action to protect lives and property for the future from devastating storms. We’re still very vulnerable right now and we want to see that’s corrected and fast.”

The rally served as a way to get the attention of elected officials and the Army Corps of Engineers and send the message that something needs to be done—soon—to protect residents from the beach and bay. This included asking for permanent berms, rock jetties, storm walls, bulkheads, construction, reefs and sand replenishment. This message was also made clear on petitions that circulated the peninsula for about six weeks leading up to the event. By the time of the rally, there were nearly 2,000 signatures.

Several others spoke, including Father Bill Sweeney and Rabbi Marjorie Slome, who opened with prayers, plus Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Rockaway homeowner Walter Meyer and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Walter Meyer, an urban designer, professor and Harvard graduate, who just returned from working in Puerto Rico to bring them solar energy after the storm, spoke about Rockaway’s struggles and the need to put pressure on the city and state. “You’re learned lessons from these storms and you’re building your houses stronger, but the ocean is everyone’s space and it’s bigger than any government can handle. While we have these beautiful dunes, they’re only sacrificial and will erode over time as they’re designed to if these jetties don’t come,” Meyer said. “Rockaway is eroding to the east and gaining to the west on Breezy Point, up to an acre a year of land. Here, in the middle, around Belle Harbor, is a transition zone where we’re not really sure if they should do jetties here. But if they run the numbers again, after seeing the sea level rise, and higher water temperatures and record-breaking hurricanes this season, I bet they’d run the numbers and we’d have jetties here. We’re more vulnerable in terms of ecology and nature, and our community is stronger, but governmental support is diminishing with each storm and federal funds are on their way out and what’s going to be left is going to be the city and state to organize from here on out, so it’s important to push the city and state as much as possible.”

Stringer, who has audited Build it Back closely, spoke about the issues with the program, and the urgency to protect the peninsula. “It’s unacceptable that we cannot verify or understand how 11,900 people who went to Build it Back in good faith, who were told that they would be made whole, that they simply dropped from the rolls. We need answers from the Build it Back program right now,” he said. “And if you think about what’s happening across this country and around the world from Puerto Rico to Texas, if there isn’t an urgency to deal with the issue of resilience for jetties and the dunes and the sand replacement, and the fact that we are no further along, in a real way, than we were five years ago. I say enough is enough.”

The message was made clear when Iori asked the attendees, “Are we better protected now than we were prior to Hurricane Sandy?” The resounding answer was no.

The petitions with approximately 2,000 signatures, will be sent to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Photos by Dan Brown and Katie McFadden.

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