Activist Charges Parks Bigwig With Lying
By Howard Schwach
Public School 114 in Belle Harbor rang with anger and cries of "You're a liar," as Department of Parks and Recreation officials took the floor for a forum sponsored by the Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella group of more than 100 Queens civic organizations.
Tempers flared when Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski responded to a question about beach closings asked by Michael O'Connor of the Neponsit Property Owners Association by saying that "75 percent of the beaches were open, on the average, each day."
O'Connor and others in the sparse audience comprised mostly of Rockaway residents and politicians, reacted to her statement by charging the commissioner with lying about the extent of beach closings. Dan Mundy, the chair for Community Board 14's parks committee, who was sitting right next to the commissioner on the panel, responded to her statement by telling her that he had done of survey twice during the past week - once on a weekday and once on a weekend day, and found that during the week, out of the 76 beaches he checked, 58 had the red flag flying denoting that the beach was closed - a percentage of closed beaches that nears eighty percent. On Saturday, June 16, Mundy said, more than half of the beaches he surveyed, from Beach 73 Street to Beach 136 Street, flew red flags.
"This is a disaster waiting to happen," Mundy said. "There is a beach safety plan that is supposed to be used by lifeguards. I have spoken to dozens of lifeguards over the years, and nobody has ever seen that plan."
A young female lifeguard, who asked not to be photographed or identified for fear of retribution, told the audience that she and her fellow lifeguards were being spread thin by the drive to open more beaches. She said that the number of lifeguards assigned by the Parks Department did not adequately protect the beaches.
"That's a slap in the face to Rockaway, that another meeting is more important than hearing what we have to say," one resident at the meeting said. "People buy their homes here
because of the beach. Now, we can't use the beach and what's the sense of paying for beachfront property when you can't use it?"
Jacqueline Langsam, the agency's Chief of Operations, was left behind to field questions, but could not answer most of the questions that were asked, saying only that she would bring the community's concerns to the proper authorities.
City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, who represents part of Rockaway and sits on the Council's Parks Committee, said, "No matter how many lifeguards we have, there will always be issues with the beach."
He asked that people who find closed beaches call his office so that he can address the issue.