2002-08-24 / Front Page

`Addabbo: ‘State Set Restrictive Beach Rules’

By Howard Schwach

Those local residents who believe that the Green Book regulations for Rockaway’s beaches are restrictive should take a look at the New York State regulations governing bathing beaches within the state.

"It’s really the state health regulations that dictate all of the rules that Rockaway surfers and fisherman have been having problems with," says City Councilman Joe Addabbo, the chair of the council’s Parks Committee. "If we are going to change those rules, we’ll have to get the help of our state legislators such as Audrey Pheffer, Michelle Titus and Malcolm Smith."

The state rule, enunciated in what is known as NYCRR 6-2.16, says, "No boating, water skiing or surfboarding shall be permitted in the bathing area. Separate areas for the above activities may be designated by floating lines and buoys."

Pheffer, however, throws the ball back into Addabbo’s court, saying that there is a balance struck at state parks between the rules and the needs of surfers and fishers.

"The state rule says that the city can designate a separate area for surfers and fishermen," Pheffer says. "They did that in Jones Beach and those areas are open from sunrise to sunset. That’s what the city has to do."

In a letter to the city’s parks commissioner Adrian Benepe, dated August 15, 2002, Pheffer says, "As a long-time Rockaway resident, I am uniquely aware of the tremendous enjoyment and pleasure derived from a fun-filled day at the beach, and many residents and visitors have been denied this privilege."

"At many New York State parks, surfing and fishing are allowed from sunrise to sunset. These activities are permitted only at designated beaches and locations. Additionally, surfers and fishers are allowed to conduct these activities without lifeguard supervision. However, swimming is allowed only at designated beaches and while lifeguards are on duty," Pheffer wrote.

Pheffer urged Benepe to evaluate the New York State procedures with an eye to modifying the city procedures.

"Our beaches are one of our most precious assets and resources," Pheffer concluded the letter. "It is truly a shame to deny anyone the pleasure and enjoyment of their use."

Addabbo agrees that the city can modify its rules along state lines, but emphasizes that it has become an issue of the city’s legal liability should an accident occur.

"We are trying to work on those changes with the city’s legal counsel," Addabbo told The Wave. "It has become an liability issue."

The surfing and fishing issues aside, there are a number of regulations in the code that could have a major impact on Rockaway beaches.

For example, subsection (i) of the rules state, "The maximum number of bathers permitted in bathing waters of a bathing beach shall not exceed one bather per 25 square feet of water surface. In areas of water depth greater than four feet, at least 75 square feet per bather shall be provided. The operator (of the beach) shall be responsible for restricting usage so that the maximum capacity is not exceeded. A sign stating the maximum number of persons who may use the bathing beach at any one time should be posted in a conspicuous place."

"These are the same rules that hit Rockaway so hard two years ago, when the state demanded that we have a lifeguard posted every fifty feet. That forced the closing of many Rockaway beaches that year," a Parks Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "Can you imagine a lifeguard in the water with a measuring tape, counting swimmers to make sure that the number does not exceed 75 square feet per bather? Since our lifeguards are fifty feet apart and the water is more than four feet deep, a very limited number of people would be allowed in the water on any beach at any given time if we strictly followed the state rules."

Pheffer says that she will work with city lawmakers to designate specific beaches for surfing and for fishing.

Addabbo says that he has already met with Benepe, but that the Parks Commissioner fell back on the state regulations. The designation of specific beaches for surfing and fishing now rests with the city’s lawyers, who must decide the liability question prior to any decision on designating beaches for specific uses.

In the meanwhile, police officials say that they will continue to enforce all of the rules.

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