Parks Punts Rockaway Residents Off Beach
By Miriam Rosenberg
Those who were hoping to hit the beach for a swim after a long day at work this summer had those dreams dashed when the New York City Parks and Recreation commissioner told City Council representatives last week that expanding either beach hours or the season would have to wait another year.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe testified at a May 17 City Council hearing to answer questions about the proposed $355.5 million executive budget for Parks for the fiscal year starting July 1, as well as the agency's four-year $1.2 billion capital plan.
"At his testimony last week, [the commissioner] did state that it looks like we won't have anything in place for this season which begins this weekend," said Abby Lootens, a spokesperson for Benepe, who added that the department would love to extend not only the hours, but also the beach season.
Although Benepe told City Council members that the city would have enough lifeguards to open the season, he said there would not be enough to keep the beaches open past Labor Day.
"It does have a great deal to do with the fact that the majority of lifeguards in place for this summer are students and would return to school at the end of the summer," explained Lootens. "We would be unable to keep the beaches open past Labor Day as our lifeguard force would have returned to school."
One of the options the commissioner discussed last week included talking to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about the issue.
"That is an option [speaking to OMB], but for next season," said Lootens. "We have more than enough money budgeted for this year. If next season involves extended hours or an extended season, we will seek more money; but we have no fear that we will be budgeted additional monies as needed."
The original goal was to sign 1,200 lifeguards to completely staff the beaches and pools this summer. Benepe said last week that approximately 1,100 lifeguards would be available for this season.
The issue of extending beach hours and the season was raised during a press conference held by Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he came to Beach 126 Street on May 8 to announce a planned commuter ferry to run from Riis Park to Manhattan.
In answer to questions from local residents about the possibility of changes with the beach schedule, the mayor and later the commissioner said the idea would be explored.