Community Board 14 Meeting Highlights

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 With a three-hour monthly meeting, Community Board 14 covered everything from the Army Corp of Engineers to making Rockaway voices heard. It was held via Zoom on Tuesday, March 9, and attend by 128 people.

CB 14 Chairperson Dolores Orr called on State Assemblywoman Stacey Amato to address recent reports of recommendations to severely down-size St. Johns Episcopal Hospital (SJEH).

Amato reported “disapprovals were heard loud and clear” as she and other elected officials and SJEH leaders rejected any such moves. They have received a commitment from NY State to not consider any changes until at least after the pandemic has passed.

Amato also noted the high praise St. Johns has received for its handling of COVID this year. Since last year SJEH has also added a new state of the art emergency room, offered a growing list of services at Beach 105th Street, and added numerous women’s health services.

The proposals, she said, showed “complete detachment from the work that is going on,” and would have cut 1,000 jobs.

Next was a presentation by US Army Corps of Engineers Senior Project Manager Dan Falt regarding the ongoing beach groin and coastal risk reduction projects. The groin or rock jetty at Beach 32nd Street is the first to be completed.

Several board members gave positive reviews of the work so far.

Falt confirmed that 19 groins have been funded, along with reinforced dunes, beach fill and berms. Beach 36th Street will be completed within two weeks or so. Work has begun at Beach 149th and Beach 145th Streets, and is expected to be completed in early July. The main access point for heavy machinery, trucks, and jetty rocks will be at Beach 142nd street. A hauling road is being constructed along the beach wall which will allow trucks to move from beach to beach.

There will be beach access but swimming won’t be permitted as lifeguards will not be monitoring these beaches while construction is underway.

Once the jetties are done at Beach 149th and 145th, work will begin immediately to the east, from Beach 140th to Beach 135th. Work here is expected run from early, mid-July through end of summer.

Construction at Beach 92nd and Beach 98th Streets is scheduled for the fall.

Falt said the project has a lot of “nuance” and strict schedules and exact operational matters are subject to change. Falt confirmed that no work will be done during the weekends and generally be done between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and all measures are being taken to provide beach access and keep disruption to a minimum.

The Corps’ full schedule will also factor in windows for bird nesting season, public safety and avoiding work during summer when the beaches are most crowded.

Falt also outlined a number of projects now in various stages. These included mobi-mats for beach access over the protective dunes from Beach 126th to Beach 149th Streets and zig-zag timber ramps where ADA access is required. There is also a reinforced dune design planned which features steel sheets with a rock and sand overlay, as well as baffle walls and beach openings.

Coastal risk reduction design projects are underway for the bay side as well as the ocean front. These include pumping stations, reinforcements and nature-based features.

Chairperson Orr noted, “Most people seem to be happy with the work that’s being done. But the sand. We’d like to wake up and see that.”

Falt replied, “We understand and will work that in where we can. In early 2022 we’re looking to the dune replenishment and reinforcement portion of project.”

Next on the agenda was a report on the Rockaway United Resilient Micro Grid (RU), presented by RU president Bill Schacht and other members working on the project. A micro grid, according to the US Department of Energy, is a self-contained energy system which can operate independently of the larger system.  

This project aims to establish a system to cover the Rockaway peninsula.

Schacht discussed several initial sites set first for Far Rockaway. Even in the event of an emergency, these would provide “24/7 lights, power, communication and security.”  Initial plans would be to power to St. Johns hospital, police and fire stations, officials and other emergency first-provider locations.

“We are on borrowed time till the next occurrence,” Schacht said, noting the project, in conjunction with NYU and others, began development shortly after Hurricane Sandy.

Another key proposal would be using the parking lot at Beach 108th and Beach Channel Drive. The plan would be to covert this into a sustainable energy generating center, which would also create additional jobs. Using wind and solar power, the goal is to be fossil fuel free by 2035. The group is also looking into plans to provide electric powered transportation throughout the peninsula.

Also covered at the meeting were public speaking and reports from CB 14’s Transportation and Parks and Public Safety committees. The latter reported that NYC Parks is planning for a normal beach season opening. Swimming opening will depend on ongoing situations such as beach erosion.

Staff levels will be same at least as 2019 and lifeguards are already being hired.

Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people. Parks is working on an updated permit system. Low contact sports will be permitted but no high contact ones. Masks still are still required. Concessions are expected to follow city guidelines re: seating, distancing and sanitary practices.

The committee also requested to be informed on which beaches will be closed before the season opens.

The last topic, which drew spirited discussion among members, was how to make their voice as a Community Board more effective.

Several noted that although their role is advisory, their recommendations addressing Rockaway’s needs and concerns are often ignored.

Suggestions included keeping elected officials fully in the loop regarding their votes and decisions, as well as requesting that they themselves attend the Board’s meetings instead of sending representatives.

Others were more blunt as they expressed their anger and frustration.

As one member said, “If we want to make change, we have to stop electing the same people, and getting the same results.”

Other suggestions included protesting and involving the media when issues are ignored, working to have the Rockaways under one city council district, report card grading officials on meeting community needs and organizing our communities to get out the vote.

Another board member summed it up by saying, “Every time we advise on something, they turn around and do what they want.”

“This is Rockway. We have invested in it. We need our voices to be heard.”

Chairperson Orr concluded the CB 14 Executive Board will discuss these options to come up with plans to make sure the community is indeed heard and listened to.

 By Dan Guarino

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