2002-04-27 / Front Page

Good News – New Warning Signs Bad News – Not Enough Lifeguards

By Howard Schwach

Good News – New Warning Signs
Bad News – Not Enough Lifeguards
By Howard Schwach

There is good news and bad news for Rockaway in the coming summer season. The good news was to be expected and the bad news is not surprising to anybody who has been around for a while.

The good news is that the Parks Department will post new warning signs along the dangerous stretch of ocean and beaches that line the East Rockaway Inlet, the stretch of water that most people in Rockaway know as Reynold’s Channel.

It was on that stretch of beach last summer that three young girls died while wading in the surf early in the morning, prior to the lifeguards coming on duty.

"We agree a stronger, more explicit sign needs to be placed on our beaches to warn people about the dangers of swimming in the ocean in general and about going into the water when there are no lifeguards on duty," says Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh.

Kavanagh told reporters that city agencies have drafted different versions of the new signs. One will be used during the summer season and the other during the time of the year when there are no lifeguards on duty.

"We hope to have something in place before the summer season," he adds.

A number of local residents and politicians have urged the Park Department to put up signs in various languages in order to address the population that regularly utilizes the beach. The recommendation is that the signs be in English, Spanish and Russian.

Earlier this year, Representative Anthony Weiner, who represents much of Rockaway, announced that the Federal Government was going to study ways to make the stretch of beach along Reynold’s Channel safer, but there have yet to be any recommendations made on the issue.

"One reason that corner of the beach is so treacherous is a single jetty that creates an unnatural swirling effect in the water," Weiner says. "In past years they’ve designed the beach rather poorly and we’re trying to see if we can improve it."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced a project to dredge the channel to allow better access by barges and pleasure boats.

Local experts say, however, that the dredging may well exacerbate the rip current problem that exists in the area.

The bad news is that there will "most probably" be a shortage of lifeguards to man Rockaway beaches until the beginning of July.

"I would like to tell you what the situation on the beaches will be like," Jonathon Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14 told The Wave. "We got 20 kids from Rockaway who went through the training program at Far Rockaway High School, but that may not be enough. We will not know much until July, when all the kids get out of school.

New York City has set up a recruiting program that reaches even Australia in order to find lifeguards for New York City beaches and pools. That program, however, has not reached the desired goals and a number of Rockaway beaches might be closed for portions of the coming summer.

"They are really trying, but the problem is money," Gaska says. "The job doesn’t pay enough to draw kids away from other jobs that pay more or other pursuits that are more interesting."

A plan to hire off-duty cops, firefighters and EMT’s on a part-time basis has not materialized.

Although it is too late for this summer, Joe Addabbo, the chair of the city council’s Parks Committee, has promised to push legislation for next summer that would allow for part-time hires.

A call to the Parks Department for comment on this story went unreturned.

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