2001-08-11 / Front Page

Gateway to USCG: Get Out, Please

Gateway to USCG: Get Out, Please

By Howard Schwach

If the National Park Service (NPS) has its way, Coast Guard Station, Rockaway may soon be a thing of the past, replaced by restaurants, shops, kayak and bicycle rentals and even a small inn.

The intent of the NPS to move the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) completely out of its last station on the Rockaway peninsula was made clear in a letter from Billy Garrett, the superintendent of the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Park, to Rear Admiral George Naccara, the Commander of the First Coast Guard District in Boston, Massachusetts.

In the letter, dated June 15, 2001, Garrett said, "One of the most important elements (of a multi-year development plan) is this effort to establish a multi-modal transportation hub on the Rockaway peninsula. It is our intent that this hub be centered around Coast Guard Station Rockaway as well as our adjacent maintenance facility. We are calling this combined site ‘Riis Landing.’ Accordingly, the purpose of this letter is to investigate the feasibility of the Coast Guard transferring to the National Park Service all Coast Guard controlled property at Station Rockaway that is excess of your needs."

Some Rockaway residents are not sure that they like the idea of the Coast Guard abandoning Rockaway, particularly in light of the water-related activity on the peninsula in the past three weeks.

"We have had several drownings, a large number of water rescues on our ocean beaches and a couple of rescues that the NYPD carried out, but that should have had Coast Guard involvement," says Peter Thompson, a long-time boater in the area. "This does not seem to be the right time for the Coast Guard station to become a restaurant."

In a letter to Garrett dated August 7, Jonathon Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, stated his objection.

"The board is supportive of the ‘Riis Landing’ project and the potential it has to provide not only ferry service, but adjacent economic development. We are, however, concerned by your efforts to remove the only presence that the Coast Guard has in Rockaway."

"It is our feeling," Gaska added, "that you can develop this area and still allow for the small presence that the Coast Guard has in our community."

Other locals, however, seem unconcerned by the proposed pullout by the Coast Guard.

"I was really concerned when they pulled their copters out of Floyd Bennett Field and then pulled their boats out of Station Rockaway," says Chamber of Commerce president Liz Sulik. "That was a few years ago and I am not sure what they do around here anymore."

"The Coast Guard does not do rescues in either Jamaica Bay or in the ocean off Rockaway anymore," says Congressman Anthony Weiner. "They defer to the New York Police Department’s harbor and aviation units, and those units do an excellent job."

"What they do is mostly tows," he says. "I am not sure that their leaving will make a difference."

"I will not accept a reduction in safety," he added.

Weiner says that he will "keep an open mind on the issue."

"We thought that the sky was going to fall when the Coast Guard scaled down their involvement originally," Weiner says. "The sky did not fall down and it probably will not even if NPS takes over the facility."

Garrett does not think that safety will suffer in any way.

"It is my understanding that the presence of the Coast Guard in the waters around Rockaway and your response capability in the area is fully supportable from existing facilities at Station New York (in Staten Island), Station Sandy Hook (New Jersey) and Station Jones Beach (South Shore, Nassau County)," Garrett wrote. "As a result of this capability, the shore facility at Rockaway appears to be operationally redundant and may be considered excess property relative to the Coast Guard’s current needs."

At press time, Alex Romero, a spokesperson for the National Park Service, told The Wave, "the plan is still under negotiation between the NPS and the Coast Guard."

No date has been set for the completion of the negotiation or for a possible takeover by NPS of the USCG facilities in Rockaway.

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