There can be no doubt that our beaches (and their accompanying boardwalk) are what brought many residents to Rockaway in the first place. They are perhaps our most important natural resource and we have lost control over that resource to the forces of greed and politics. The city's Department of Parks and Recreation, an agency that has decided for us that we are a residential community that does not need summer recreational development, decided when we can use the beach and the boardwalk and what rules we must live by when on the beach. While it is proper to use alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine in most city parks and federal venues such as Riis Park (directly to our west) and such use is winked at other city beaches such as Coney Island, doing so in Rockaway brings big trouble - at least a fine and arrest if the miscreant does not have the proper identification. The beach and boardwalk rules should be set by the community, perhaps by the community board, after public hearings and public debate, not by a group of men and women who live in Manhattan and have no idea what Rockaway is or what its residents need. Then, we have the lifeguard problem. Or, rather, a lack of lifeguard problem. It seems that the leadership of the lifeguard union has, over the years, used its contract with the city to develop a fiefdom that rivals those of the middle ages when the royalty ruled and the fiefs could just grin and bear it. The union controls who becomes a lifeguard. It controls which beaches will be covered (and therefore open) and which will not. It controls the hours that the lifeguards work. And, it seems that it does all of those things not in a way that serves the Rockaway community, but in a way that rewards friends and punishes foes. We have heard stories of lifeguards who have been fired for speaking out against the system. We have heard stories of graft and cronyism. We wrote last week of a testing system that allows credible candidates to be failed simply because the union bosses want it that way. It is time for all that to stop. The beaches belong to Rockaway, not to Adrian Benepe and certainly not to a group of hack union leaders. It is time for us to take back our beaches and for our elected city officials to take the lead in that effort.