2004-06-25 / Front Page

State Acts, City Lax On Surfing Issue

By Brian Magoolaghan

State Acts, City Lax On Surfing Issue

By Brian Magoolaghan

Just as the state took a step which many believed would allow the city to quickly establish "surfing only" and "fishing only" areas in Rockaway, a Department of Parks and Recreation honcho is saying "not so fast."

The state Department of Health redefined bathing to "exclude fishing, scuba diving and surfboarding," eliminating the misinterpretation that surfing and fishing activities are universally prohibited. The clarification was made official on Wednesday, but it is was not immediately clear if the city would uphold its end of the bargain, often cited by City Councilman Joe Addabbo and State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, and establish beaches expressly for those activities.

"They've given us no indication of what they're going to do," Pheffer told The Wave from Albany on Tuesday. "They can't use [the state's language] as an excuse anymore... We've got to demand action immediately."

But Liam Kavanagh, Deputy Parks Commissioner, Operations, who spoke to The Wave at press time, says another change, in the state's General Obligation Law this time, is also required. When asked why Pheffer and Addabbo, who have been in countless talks with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, were seemingly unaware of this Kavanagh replied, "We very consistently voiced that requirement."

The first sign of trouble came when Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a spokesperson for Corporation Counsel, said the surfing is "not an issue that we're working on." The issue was broached with the head of Corp. Counsel, Michael Cordozo, in a brief letter from Addabbo dated June 8. In it the councilman, who has been criticized in connection with the strict enforcement of the long list of beach rules, said he hopes to meet with Cordozo, but admitted his letter received no response.

Ahlers punted the issue to the Parks Department this week.

Initially, a Parks spokesperson, Margaret Johnson, said the following: "Surfing only beaches? I don't think that's in the pipeline." A follow-up call with Kavanagh, who called the change to the Public Health Law the first step of a two-step process, appeared to dash the chances that the special recreation areas would be established shortly.

Initially, Pheffer said the city should be able to act within a week and Addabbo, who has consistently supported surfing areas and said, "I think the state has given us a green light to go ahead with this," this week.

While the immediate future remains in doubt, it's clear that Pheffer and Addabbo are not alone in supporting the issue: The Wave has learned that every shred of correspondence sent from New Yorkers to the State Department of Health supported surfing and fishing activities in Rockaway.

"It's common knowledge that Rockaway is long overdue for designated surf-only beaches, similar to our neighbors in Long Beach," wrote Neponsit resident Patrick Conlon.

"Let's stop criminalizing something as healthy, wholesome and spiritually fulfilling to so many New Yorkers, and give surfers the rights we deserve!" wrote Dean and Nicole Jones of Rockaway Park.

Others, such as Donald and Barbara McDermott of Rockaway Beach, broadened the issue with their comments. "Please reestablish our beaches in Rockaway as a "recreation" area, where all cultures may enjoy fishing, swimming, walking, running, surfing, bicycling, sunbathing, etc. or merely feel free to perch on a bench to take in nature's gift to us all," they wrote.

Addabbo and Pheffer were the only two elected officials to send correspondence.

The state received more than 50 letters, with return addresses from the Rockaways, Long Island and Manhattan, during a 45-day public comment period. The Wave reported the announcement of the call for feedback in a front-page story on March 19 and obtained the correspondence under provisions of the Freedom of Information Law.

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