2006-09-08 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

By Howard Schwach

The new canal from the Atlantic Ocean to Jamaica Bay could be cut around Beach 40 Street. The new canal from the Atlantic Ocean to Jamaica Bay could be cut around Beach 40 Street. On August 30, 1956, more than fifty years ago this week, The Wave ran a headline that blared, "Moses Cool Toward Canal At Edgemere."

The paper was not writing about Moses in the biblical sense, but of Robert Moses, who had about as much kingly power back in the 1950's and who was the city's master builder.

The subhead on that article, however, said, "But Local Interests Continue Studies Of Plan To Connect Ocean, Bay."

It seems that George Wolpert, who was then the Executive Director of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce, had personally paid for some engineering studies that showed that a canal cut from the ocean to the bay at approximately Beach 40 Street would help the bay environmentally and would open Rockaway to a plethora of water-related economic development.

"Boaters shy away from Rockaway and Jamaica Bay because they have to go all the way around the point to get to the ocean," he explained.

"We can all find more constructive ways than this one to spend our resources on," was the response that Moses gave The Wave.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor Baltimore's Inner Harbor The idea was not new. In fact, there was a canal that went from the ocean to the bay in the Beach 40 Street area called Bannister Creek, until it was filled in after the major storms of the 1890's and early 1900's.

The 800-foot creek allowed the bay to cleanse itself on a regular basis and reduced flooding of homes along the bayfront, according to one expert at the time. It reportedly also brought many boaters and excursion boats to Rockaway for the many summer hotels and "amusements" in Rockaway at the time.

I have raised the issue of cutting a man-made canal that would rival Bannister Creek from the ocean to the bay a few years ago, after an eye-opening trip to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The Maryland city's Inner Harbor is anchored by inner-city Baltimore, with its hotels, restaurants and its new major league sports stadiums.

The major attraction, however, is the city's water taxis. For a couple of bucks for the entire day, you can ride from that inner-city to several distinct neighborhoods and tourist attractions, including Fort McHenry, where the battle that sparked the writing of the poem that eventually became the Star Spangled Banner was fought.

The water taxis that have revitalized Baltimore and could do the same for Rockaway. The water taxis that have revitalized Baltimore and could do the same for Rockaway. For example, jump on the water taxi and take off from Baltimore and its new, beautiful National Aquarium and the final mooring place for the USS Constitution. A couple of minutes sailing time and you're in Fell's Point, a neighborhood of cobblestone streets, maritime souvenirs and pricey antiques.

Or, get off at Little Italy, with all that you would expect from any neighborhood with that name - including dozens of great restaurants.

There are also water taxi stops at some of the best seafood restaurants in the nation and at several familyfriendly attractions.

You could get on and off the water taxi for days and never have to hit the same stop twice.

The Inner Harbor has become the reason that Baltimore has once again become a tourist draw. Without the Inner Harbor, there never would have been a Camden Yards or a Ravens football Team nor new hotels and restaurants. The plan sparked all sorts of economic development throughout the city. Rockaway could become the anchor of our own inner-harbor if the new Bannister Creek was cut from the ocean to the bay.

Think about the possibilities. The new canal would be the home of several piers on both the ocean and bay sides of the cut. One of those piers, nearby the new Edgemere Hotel, would be the home for our own water taxi fleet. Other piers could be used to house new restaurants and provide berths for our fishing fleet, which would quickly move over to Rockaway from Sheepshead Bay once the piers were built. The number of water taxi stops from a Rockaway inner harbor would be limitless.

The first stop would be, of course, at JFK Airport so that travelers could jump onto a water taxi and be in their Rockaway hotel rooms in fifteen or twenty minutes.

There would be a stop in Broad Channel, where a new Weiss' Restaurant for its world-famous clam bar and its Thumb-bits. Charlie Howard could build an amusement park on the island and call it "Charleyworld,"

There would be another stop at Breezy Point where tourists could hit the beaches or some of the restaurants on the peninsula. Visitors could also tour Battery Harris at Fort Tilden and the Rockaway Museum or Floyd Bennett Field with its famous NC-4 Museum, commemorating the first flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1918. There would be a stop, of course, at Brighton Beach for more than the memories. Visitors could sample a true Russian community with some of the best food in New York.

There would have to be a stop at Coney Island for the beach, the amusements, Nathan's and KeySpan Park for a good minor league ballgame. Because of the Rockaway Inner Harbor and the number of people coming to the games, the park will house the Met's AAA baseball team, one step below the big dance.

Out into New York Harbor, the water taxis would make stops at Wall Street to see ground zero and the stock market and them move out to the Statue of Liberty, the symbol of American freedom. What's the downside to the plan? Money and the lack of political insight as to what Rockaway needs for a real revitalization.

There are engineering problems, of course, just as there were 50 years ago when the story last appeared in The Wave. Engineers would have to figure out how to support the subway elevated structure as it went out over the canal. Some new homes would have to be relocated. There is, of course, the cost of dredging the canal and building seawalls around it. There is nothing that can't be overcome, however. They found that out in Baltimore.

As the old saying goes, "If you build it they will come."

And, they will.

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