2008-07-25 / Letters

Where Are The Far Rockaway Lifeguards?

The following letter was sent to Commissioner Adrian Benepe of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in regards to the shortage of lifeguards in Far Rockaway.

As you know, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance has been working to encourage the public to use their waterfront through programs and activities that are so desperately needed in the Rockaway community. But it is difficult to watch as much of our work is undone by PEP patrol officers who chase the public off their beaches in search of an 'open' beach with lifeguards.

Last year in our local paper, you 'Pledge a Commitment' to the Rockaway community. But since that time little has changed and we still have no "Learn to Swim" or local "Lifeguard Training" programs anywhere in the Rockaway's and the lifeguard recruiting process does not seem to be getting the numbers of lifeguards required to keep our beaches safe.

As it stands now, certain beaches are extremely well staffed for the privileged few, while other beaches in Rockaway are extremely underserved; putting the public at risk and overextending the lifeguards themselves.

For the past two weekends the beachfront at Beach 25 Street in the Rockaways has had well over 500 people each day, and no lifeguards at all during the week. This beach is adjacent to one of the largest populations of people on the peninsula, exceeding 25,000 residents and yet there is only one lifeguard stand for miles of public waterfront all the way to Beach 74th Street.

This seems extremely unjust given the fact that areas on the far western end of the peninsula like Neponsit, have more than 21 lifeguards; 7 stands, 100 yards apart for less than 2,000 residents in an area with no public boardwalk, parking by permit only, and no access to public transit. This would seem to be a "private beach" paid for with public resources that are required to serve seven miles of public waterfront.

There is a drastic contrast in services provided between City Council District 31 and 32; two districts that lie adjacent to one another along the same waterfront. City Council District 31 presently has only 4 lifeguard stands from Beach 9th Street to Beach 54th Street. While City Council District 32 has over 72 lifeguard stands from Beach 74th Street to Beach 149th Street, every 100 yards apart.

It is also important to note that the population in these areas is polar opposites; Neponsit has a population of .02 percent minorities, where Far Rockaway has 98 percent minority population. This cannot continue, as this is racial discrimination and could put the Parks Department in serious danger of legal action if it were investigated further.

To address the present shortage of the Eastern end, I would ask that the Parks Department in the very least, have lifeguards all week long at the one stand at Beach 25th Street and consider designating more stands along the beaches from Beach 25th Street to Beach 38th Street, to ensure the public's safety and emergency back up for the lifeguards that are stationed there.

Additionally, NYC legislation should be revised, as it is in all other US coastal states to have a "swim at your own risk" policy. By doing this the city would reduce their risk of lawsuits and could use the funds, presently used fore PEP officers to hire certified lifeguards, so we can have more 'open' swimmable beaches and less harassment to the public who deserve the right to use their waterfront.


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