2006-06-02 / Front Page

City, State To Eye Dunes

By Brian Magoolaghan

The Concerned Residents lead a tour of the dunes last Friday.
The Concerned Residents lead a tour of the dunes last Friday. City and state officials will meet soon to discuss a four-block stretch of dunes in Belle Harbor that is at the center of a reemerging community controversy.

The meeting, which will bring together the city's Department of Parks and Recreation and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, should happen shortly, Parks' Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski told The Wave. It's being planned after a group of Belle Harbor residents - who want the dunes between Beach 138 and 142 Streets removed - staged a coup at last week's beach opening ceremony and gained attention and support for their cause.

The dunes, however, are not without their supporters who say the sand and grass is part of the ecology and form an important barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and Belle Harbor.

Last Friday, more than a dozen people, calling themselves "A Group of Concerned Residents," showed up at the annual event that is always attended by Parks commissioners, local politicians, community board members and reporters.

Storm waters carve up a section of beach in Rockaway, but dune (left side) offers protection for house in background.
Storm waters carve up a section of beach in Rockaway, but dune (left side) offers protection for house in background. The Concerned Residents, led by Jamie Agoglia, carried bound copies of a "study" they prepared that says the 9-year-old series of dunes is "severely deteriorated," limits beach access and has become hazardous. The back cover of the study doubled as a sign that made their stance clear: "Dune Project Is A Failure! Remove The Dunes Now!" it said.

The group was visible and vocal enough to persuade Lewandowski, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., Community Board District Manager Jonathan Gaska, a pair of representatives from the Mayor's Office and others to tour the dunes following the beach opener. Their general consensus afterwards: something must be done.

"[It's] too big. This is a disaster," Gaska said as he trudged through the sand.

Addabbo said the dunes had "no layout, no plan."

"Ridiculous," Pheffer huffed as she surveyed the beachscape. She later elaborated this way: "We can't have it the way it is, it's dangerous." Beach access is her main concern, she added.

Barbara Larkin said the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association is also backing the Concerned Residents.

Lewandowski said Parks workers cleared sand this week at the end of Beach 138 Street to improve access, but she added that the meeting with the state has to happen before she can determine if more can and should be done. "I need to get a clear understanding of the [DEC] regulatory statutes," she explained.

Anything more than light maintenance is sure to draw opposition from beachfront property owners like Martin Ain who "fought a war" nearly 10 years ago to keep the dunes.

"The current conditions are proof that the dunes are working," Ain told The Wave this week. "The purpose of dunes is to attract sand, to keep sand from blowing off the beach onto streets and to grow themselves in a manner that they become a protective barrier for property in the event of a hurricane or storm or flood," he said.

Ain said the people who toured the dunes last week were "broadsided" buy the Concerned Residents, who are not experts in beach ecology and have a weak case against the dunes.

"They've really put on a show, but there's no substance," said Ain.

This is not the first time these dunes have made news, they were a source of conflict in 1997 when seven beachfront homeowners - Ain included - quietly paid Parks to build them. Some residents and the community board criticized the move because the public had no say. They also accused the beachfront homeowners of buying a natural barrier to keep beachgoers away from their homes.

Ain says that was never the motivation and contends that people flock to the water - not to the back of the beach where the homes are.

He says the elevation of the sand keeps sand on the beach (and off of the street) and provides a barrier from storm surges. "The only thing that separates the houses from the ocean is the height of the sand on the beach," he said.

Ain chipped away at the anti-dune argument point-by-point and called their claims of rat and mosquito infestation "absurd."

"These dunes are never coming down, they're there for the health of the beach," Ain said.

The dunes turn a walk to the shoreline into a hike that begins with an uphill climb, and some of the fencing surrounding them is sunk down enough to create a tripping hazard, but there was no evidence of rats or mosquitoes when a Wave reporter toured the dunes last week.

Lewandowski said Parks is also going to discuss other dune areas in Rockaway with DEC to create a more widespread approach. "We're trying to figure out the best balance to accommodate public usage and the ecology," she said.

Pheffer, meanwhile, says do it and do it fast: "I don't want DEC to take all summer to tell Parks what it can do."

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The dunes need to be cleaned up and made safer.

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