2009-09-11 / Letters

Education Not Jetties

Dear Editor,

Congressman Anthony Weiner should be applauded for standing up and taking on a lead role in the national healthcare debate and for his efforts to provide clarity on the proposed "LNG: Insanity Island" project. Unfortunately, Mr. Weiner has unwittingly put his newfound political clout in jeopardy. In a recent press release dated August 18, Weiner calls upon the Army Corps of Engineers to expand a proposed $4 million study of the Rockaway beaches to include safety measures to prevent deadly riptides. But the release makes no mention of any provision for improving the way that New York City teaches water-safety education.

"The study won't be complete if it doesn't closely examine the serious safety concerns for swimmers and recommendations for " structural changes to prevent drownings," says Weiner, who blames the six tragic drownings off the Rockaways this year on "deadly riptides." While rips can and have certainly proven to be deadly, any public effort to reduce drownings that does not include swimming, water safety and basic lifesaving education does little more than throw money at a problem with little promise of positive results.

Rip currents most commonly occur along man-made structures such as the rock and wooden jetties that line the peninsula. Known as death-sticks to local surfers, these wooden pilings are particularly dangerous to swimmers because they lie submerged and out of sight during high tide. These sharp and spiky lines of wooden pilings create natural conduits for rip currents as waves that break on the shoreline return to the ocean via the path of least resistance. Without the aid of a flotation device such as a surf or body board, a swimmer could be easily swept out to sea by this current.

Bathing in the Atlantic Ocean without knowing how to swim is like driving drunk (especially at high tide). Unfortunately, even capable swimmers have been known to succumb to the ocean when trying to save others. This is why the NYC Department of Education has a fundamental obligation to teach each student not only how to swim but also teach basic lifesaving techniques as part of a comprehensive water safety program that includes lessons on tides, rips and other naturally occurring changes in the ocean environment that could put swimmers' lives in jeopardy.

Ocean safety education may not be a high profile effort but $4 million spent on ocean safety education will save more lives than any ACOE-led jetty building or sand pumping project and NYC public schools are just part of the solution. There must also be a push to teach adults to swim and help save lives by using basic and advanced techniques. Unfortunately, the Rockaways are ill-equipped to meet the water education needs of its non-swimming adult population.

To my knowledge, there remains just one Olympic-sized pool on the entire peninsula located at the former Far Rockaway High School. This being the case, a significant public investment is required to build the community swimming pool/aquatics center the Rockaways and New York City so desperately need. The Arverne by the Sea YMCA project once held promise of meeting this need but remains unfinanced. At this moment, it is best to assume that the facility will never be built, especially if Mayor Bloomberg is reelected.

Rather than drop rocks (and sand) on the problem, why not ask the ACOE to use these funds to build a salt-water aquatics center near the ocean? Such a facility could operate during the summertime and provide a safe bathing option for non-swimmers and establish a place for working New Yorkers to safely cool off after the Rockaway beaches close at 6 p.m. Regardless of the framework, aquatic education and public swimming pools are desperately needed in the Rockaways. So, please Mr Weiner, do not waste another cent with the ACOE. Instead, re-direct these funds toward a smarter solution.

ROBERT SHERWOOD

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