2007-06-22 / Editorial/Opinion

Opinions Red Flags Have Beachgoers Seeing Red

Hardly a day begins at The Wave from June to August that we don't have a phone message complaining of the red flags that delineate closed beaches. In a beach community such as Rockaway, this is a major and contentious issue. Local residents argue that every beach from Beach 3 Street to Riis Park should be open every day during the summer. The Parks Department, however, while it might agree in principle with that view, the dream of fully staffed beaches should be more appropriately thought of as a goal, a wish list item on a long list of other staffing and funding priorities. Just this week, at a Queens Civic Congress meeting at PS 114, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski was charged by a Rockaway activist with lying when she responded to his question about closed beaches that "Seventy-five percent of Rockaway's beaches are open on a regular basis." Anyone who lives in Rockaway knows her statement is nonsense. All they have to do is look at their beaches. Dan Mundy did a survey throughout the beachfront on one weekday and one weekend day last week, and found that only half of the beaches were open; the rest were red-flagged. Every year, The Wave addresses this story at about this time, and every year, the answer from the Parks Department is the same. "College and high school students are not yet free of their academic duties." "Ocean lifeguards are hard to find and we are still looking for more." "Fewer kids want to become lifeguards." "Our schools are not doing a good enough job in teaching kids how to swim." "Come July 4, all of the beaches will be fully staffed, particularly on the weekends." Then, July comes and the red flags remain, local swimming champs are turned down for lifeguard jobs, and residents grow angrier as the heat index rises. What the Parks Department does employ in good number are Parks enforcement police officers. They ride up and down the beaches on their ATV's, pushing residents aside, yelling to beachgoers that they can't play Frisbee on a closed beach, screaming at those who dare dab a toe into the water when the red flags are flying. What Rockaway needs are fewer parks enforcement police officers and more lifeguards. The excuses are getting tiresome. The answer is simple. Open up the testing system. Too often, experienced lifeguards are failed on the tests they take in May and then passed when they retake the test in July. Too often, local kids are failed without telling them why. Too often, we are told that it is impossible to hire part-time lifeguards when hiring police, teachers and firefighters on their time off would go a long way in remediating the shortage problem. The time for excuses is over. It's time to fully staff Rockaway's beaches. The city is lying to us and has been for years. Barbara Larkin, the president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association said it best when she addressed the parks commissioner at the meeting. "When I was a teacher and was absent, a sub took my place," she said. "We pay our taxes and we are entitled to a lifeguard on every beach rather than a red flag." Lewandowski took the words of the audience and then left early because she had another commitment to a northern Queens civic association. Why was that meeting more important than ours. I would bet that few people buy homes because they are nearby Forest Park. Many do buy homes in Rockaway because they are close to the beach. Those beaches should never be closed to them due to bureaucratic bumbling and cost-cutting.

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