2005-10-21 / Editorial/Opinion

Now Is The Time To Settle Beach Issues, Hire Lifeguards

With winter right around the corner, most Rockaway residents are more concerned with the water left in their basements from the recent storms than they are with the Atlantic Ocean, but this is the time that our elected officials should be thinking of next summer in order to keep this summer’s debacle on the beach from happening again. Beach access problems aside, the major problem seems to be finding a sufficient number of lifeguards to keep our ocean beaches open. In May or June each year the Department of Parks issues a statement that it has hired a sufficient number of lifeguards from all over the world. On Memorial Day, however, many beaches remain closed. The Parks Department says that everything will be fine by July 1 and the coming of high school and college students. Then, each year, we find that many beaches remain closed, even on weekends, because there are no lifeguards for those beaches. That is not a tolerable situation in a community where people buy homes so that they can use the beach. The time to begin planning, to begin training, to begin recruitment is now. This issue was discussed at a recent meeting of Community Board 14, but that board has no power to ameliorate the problem. Only Adrian Benepe, the city department’s commissioner and his minions can do that. We urge Benepe to get off the line early this year, rather than play catch-up in July. Set up training programs at both Far Rockaway High School and Beach Channel High School. Raise the salary so that it matches surrounding areas. Set up a system of hiring part-time lifeguards. There are plenty of teachers, firefighters and police officers who work during the summer but could pull a part-time load, particularly on the weekends. Parks has been reluctant to hire those part-timers, but we see no reason for throwing out the idea out of hand. Parks aims for seventy-five percent of the beaches open on weekends and 65 percent during the week. That itself is not acceptable and the department failed to make even that paltry goal most weeks. Now is the time to find a solution to that problem.

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