Parks Dept. To Beachgoers:
‘Take A Walk’
By John C. McLoughlin
Rockaway’s beaches will be manned with a full complement of lifeguards this weekend to the delight of many beachgoers. But residents are concerned that coverage during the weekdays remains scarce, something that officials from the Parks Department say "may improve as summer goes on."
Beaches that have lifeguard coverage and are open for swimming on the weekends include Beach 9 to 13, Beach 15 to 24, Beach 42 to 44, Beach 57 to 72, and Beach 72 to 149. Beach 13 to 15 are open for fishing only; Beach 24 to 42 are closed because of erosion and unsafe swimming conditions; and Beach 44 to 57 are closed because of the Piping Plover, a bird on the Endangered Species List.
There remains a lifeguard shortage during the week, with several blocks throughout the peninsula closed to swimmers. A seven-block stretch, from Beach 136 street to Beach 143 street, is closed Monday through Friday.
Bob Lawson, spokesperson for the Parks Department, said that Rockaway’s beaches have a full capacity of 250 lifeguards on the weekends. Lawson said that beaches from Beach 136 to 143 "will be closed", but that it is a "matter of walking a few blocks" to beaches that are open.
Belle Harbor residents have rallied together to combat what they are calling the Parks Department’s "lack of concern for safety." Petitions have been circulating in the community demanding lifeguards for the unmanned areas of the beaches and urging residents to contact Councilman Al Stabile and Parks Department Deputy Commissioner Alan Moss.
Jamie Agoglia, a resident of Belle Harbor who is leading the petition drive, questions if the city is waiting for a tragedy to occur. "We rely on lifeguards," said Agoglia, "for first aid, oxygen for those suffering from heat exhaustion, and water safety." Referring to the lack of lifeguards as a "sin", Agoglia is demanding that elected officials resolve this problem before someone drowns.
Some Belle Harborites have questioned the coincidence between the dunes along this seven-block stretch and the beach closures, but the Parks Department said there is no connection. "Closures occur because of beach usage and lifeguard availability," said Lawson.
Councilman Stabile, who has been speaking with Parks Commissioner Henry Stern about the lifeguard situation, said, "I have been told by Parks that as soon as a new crop of lifeguards is ready for assignment, they will assign them to the beaches that remain closed during the week. As is the case every year for as long as I remember, there is a lifeguard shortage. Thankfully Commissioner Stern listened and has attempted to address the problem in Rockaway as best as possible for the time being."
A former lifeguard chief and instructor at the lifeguard training school told The Wave that the Parks Department is mismanaging its resources. He said that the Parks Department is "working with more lifeguards and less beach" then 10 or 15 years ago, but they still maintain there is a "shortage." He feared that another drowning, similar to the mother and daughter one earlier this month off of Beach 17 street, is in the foreseeable future if these conditions continue.
He recommended that the Parks Department keep the busiest beaches open with lifeguards until 8 p.m. At this time, beaches are open for swimming from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. He also suggested use of radios among lifeguards to compliment the whistles, raintowers for bad weather days, and having two lifeguards per chair.
Stabile agreed that safety is essential and said, "It is imperative that all beaches in Rockaway be open seven days a week. People have a right to walk down the block and enjoy one of the main reasons why people live in Rockaway."