2006-11-03 / Columnists

It's My Turn

We're Not Getting Our Money's Worth From Government
By John Baxter

We are not getting our money's worth in Rockaway Beach, mainly because we are not applying the laws that govern us, especially in new developments. It's time to put our own beliefs and know-it-all attitudes aside and simply follow the law. If we do that we are on our way to great expectations, and we don't have to kiss up to politicians, who most of the time bluff their way through tough questions. Rockaway is blessed with laws that other communities would give their right arms to have, and here we are letting it slide over our heads. Why? Is it because we don't know, or is it because we depend on other people to speak for us? Whatever the reason, it is time to demand our rights. Let me explain how it works, or should work, in my limited legal capability.

Let's start with the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972. Obviously, before 1972 the government was aware that developers were not doing the right thing in coastal areas, and the CZMA legislation was passed by Congress. It was a voluntary program and the states receive federal money to implement the CZMA with an approved coastal management program. New York State (NYS) and New York City (NYC) developed a coastal management program that was approved on September 30, 1982 by the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Congress delegated the Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), to oversee development in Coastal Zone Boundaries and the financial award contracts to New York State and City. New York State program is called the Coastal Management Program, (CMP), and the City has the Waterfront Revitalization Program, (WRP). The NYS CMP and NYC WRP work as partners in a coastal zone boundary through financial award contracts approved by NOAA, which is responsible for oversight and enforcement powers and adherence to the contract awards since 1982.

What is a Coastal Zone Boundary? It's a distance off a body of water, and that distance is determined by CMP and WRP working together with NOAA as partners. The distance from water varies from area to area. All of Rockaway Beach, from Jamaica Bay to the Atlantic Ocean was declared a Coastal Zone Boundary and approved by NOAA. Our Community Board has an obligation to check out the CZMA. NOAA, CMP and WRP are legally responsible to adhere to the CZMA program and award contract to regulate development through Consistency Assessments and Environmental Reviews for compliance with the CZMA, CMP and WRP. All three agencies will say that they have no say in development in a Coastal Zone Boundary. Just the opposite is true. The reason they will say that is because they let so much development go forward breaking the laws.

The Duane Reade building on Beach 116 Street is a perfect example. On the Federal Consistency Assessment Form there are about 36 questions. If the answer was yes to any one of the questions on the application the project could not be undertaken. There are at least five obvious questions that were falsely answered. One question: Is the project adjacent to a Federal, County or City Park? Duane Reade building is adjacent to a City Park, Marine Park. Another question: Is the project in a Special Natural Waterfront Area (SNWA)? All of Jamaica Bay is a SNWA. There were no Environmental Reviews or Consistency Assessments on file at the state and local level that would have prohibited Duane Reade from building along Jamaica Bay and over the mapped Public Access to the water with the storm water from the parking lot polluting the Bay. One of the main ingredients of the CZMA is, existing Public Access and Visual Corridors to the water cannot be blocked or diminished. They can only be enhanced.

I believe we should get more familiar with the laws that govern us and demand our rights. If we do that the City of New York could not compel us to take more than our share of unwanted illegal projects. It is important to know that the CMP has received more than three billion, with a B, of our tax dollars to carry out the rules and regulations set forth in the CZMA. You think we are getting our money's worth? A few years ago developers were allowed to certify their own projects. It's called Self Certification. In most cases the developers use an architect to Self Certify. That's where all, or most of the violations occur, and the only penalty is, if there is a penalty, that the architect loses his license. If there is an attorney willing to look these laws over and set the record straight it would be a start. If not, we should hire an attorney to give the people of Rockaway a legal interpretation of the laws that apply in a Coastal Zone Boundary. I have a ton of information available, and I will work with anyone willing to bring this to light. Any takers? CMP has used the CZMA in court to deny development in coastal areas and was successful. CMP was good for the Goose but the Gander got the shaft. I have those cases.

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