common / SandyEdition

From The Parks Commissioner

A Change Of Plans
By Veronica White

Shortly after Mayor Bloomberg announced my appointment as NYC Parks Commissioner, I visited the Rockaways and Jamaica Bay several times with First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris's Chief of Staff, Nanette Smith. I was in awe of the beauty of the ocean and the bay and the resurgence of the Rockaways. I pledged to continue that resurgence, to help establish a conservancy for the area and to work with the National Park Service to give life to the newly signed Bloomberg Salazar cooperative agreement. I planned to raise funds for a Corps to work throughout the Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks region.

Just eight weeks into my service as Commissioner, on October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York and ravaged our parks, playgrounds, fields, beaches, boardwalks and trees. I visited the Rockaways on October 30th with First Deputy Mayor Harris. We were shocked and saddened to see the devastation wrought by Sandy. The wooden boardwalk was gone. In many spots the beach was gone.

And the damage inflicted on our properties was a just bit part in the tragedy of what the community endured. Patti and I knew what the Mayor would say. Fix it. And make it better. For the community, for businesses and for visitors.

We have been inspired by the strength, resiliency and spirit we have seen in the Rockaways.

The entire NYC Parks team worked long hours throughout the five boroughs, with the most demanding issues in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. With 152 miles of coastline and 29,000 acres, we at Parks had much to do.

After assisting with humanitarian efforts, Parks focused on our mission:

We cleared 20,000 downed trees from streets and parks. We engaged volunteers and emergency contractors in digging out playgrounds and fields. We cleared contents from homes off the beaches; we cleared sand and wood from communities. We partnered, most especially with Sanitation, with SBS, with the National Guard and with the Army Corps of Engineers. For a while we even had our own US Marines assisting us on Staten Island.

And then the work of rebuilding began: the Mayor and budget director worked with Parks to put in place the necessary funding for repairing and rebuilding and replanting: our parks and our playgrounds, our fields and our trees, and our beaches and our boardwalks.

The Mayor committed to reopening all of our beaches by May 24th.

And we did.

We built better and stronger. We worked with DDC and the Army Corps to ensure resiliency and protection. We used concrete with glass aggregate. We repaired and painted the old Robert Moses buildings. We built new buildings elevated beyond the reach of future Sandys. We created a bike lane with jersey barriers and engaged volunteers to make them attractive. We filled trap bags with sand. We built baffle walls. And the Army Corps brought 600,000 cubic yards of sand.

I am enormously proud of the work of our Parks employees: from Phil Sparacio from our Queens operations, always on the ground fixing problems on the boardwalk; to Roy Tellason and Jack Rohan's keeping beach operations on track despite multiple construction and beach replenishment projects; to Dottie Lewandowski and Jill Weber's work with our community board, civics and volunteers; to George Kroenert 's tireless efforts with our capital unit's rebuilding; to Vicki Cerullo's 24 hour days on Staten Island and recruiting her knowing she has what it takes to work at Parks.

Together we have written another chapter: for NYC, for Parks, and for the Rockaways.

From our reopening our beaches on May 24th to our Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Restoration Corps to our new Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Conservancy to our selection of CUNY for our Resilience Institute -- we are thankful for what we have accomplished together. And I am grateful to those who partnered with us in these efforts. Above all, I am grateful to Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Harris for entrusting NYC Parks to me. And to Nanette Smith whose intellect, energy, passion, and belief in the Rockaways and Jamaica Bay kept us all going forward positively together.

This was not the chapter we planned in the Summer of 2012 but it is a most extraordinary chapter for all of us and for the Rockaways.

The next chapter is now being written. The community has coalesced around a vision that includes additional protective measures, full restoration of the boardwalk and a plan for recreational amenities. NYC Parks and EDC are working together to carry out the community's vision: a more resilient Rockaways in our ever more resilient City.

Veronica White is Commissioner of New York City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

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