2004-07-30 / Front Page

Parks Department Dozers Dunes

Beach 124 Street resident Ben Paolino, left, speaks to the Parks bulldozer operator hoping that he will stop.
Beach 124 Street resident Ben Paolino, left, speaks to the Parks bulldozer operator hoping that he will stop. The Parks Department bulldozed a two-block stretch of beach dunes in Rockaway Park Tuesday morning after receiving a civic association request – a move that angered many residents who appreciated the benefits of the natural landscape feature.

The removal of the dunes, at the request of the Rockaway Park Homeowners and Residents Association, “is consistent with Parks & Recreation’s annual beach prep work,” said department spokesperson Ashe Reardon. “They were not [removed] this year and when community members approached the Parks Department with the request we removed them.”

Not so says a group of residents, who were home when the dune destruction began. The Beach 123 and 124 Street residents said the dunes were allowed to develop over the last 10-14 years, and wondered why Parks chose a misty midsummer morning to level them. Reardon, however, said Parks would never allow sand to accumulate for that length of time.

Placing the dispute over the how long the dunes were allowed to form aside, some residents were simply saddened to see them go.

“When I looked out the window... I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Beach 123 resident Barry Glasser, who said he was “anguished” by their removal.

Ben Paolino, who had a view of the dunes from his Ocean Promenade apartment, said that Hamptons and Fire Island residents would never stand for the removal of their dunes.

Professor Ed Re, Rockaway Park Homeowners Association president, said his group was approached in the spring by local Parks manager Jim Cafaro, who asked if the dunes should stay or go. The 11-member executive board voted 6 to 5 in favor of tabling the issue until more association members could be polled on the issue, Re said. Several months later, with “overwhelming” support from several dozen members in favor of removal – citing cleanliness and access issues – the association sent a letter requesting removal.

“I was personally very disappointed, but I have to respect my neighbors,” said Re.

City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, whose office received a stream of calls on the dunes this week, said the discussion of what to do with the dunes should have reached a wider audience. “Dunes are there to protect the beach for all,” he said.

Re agreed that his association was seemingly allowed to wield a disproportionate amount of control over public property, but pointed out that residents in Neponsit and Belle Harbor have been able to do the same.

Strange as it may seem, Reardon said Parks would be willing to construct man-made dunes. “If there is consensus within the community, we would like to build dunes and plant them with native grasses,” he said, citing the benefits of the grassy sand piles.

Parks tried to bulldoze the same dunes back in March, but a different group of passionate residents prevented the dune-dozing. The department said, at that time, that the dunes on Beach 123 were not “official” and told The Wave that the community would have to submit paperwork for the dunes to gain legitimacy.

Dunes are a coastal area’s major defense against wind and waves; they support wildlife and natural vegetation, and keep sand from blowing onto the boardwalk.

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