Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski told an overflow crowd at the monthly Community Board 14 meeting Tuesday evening that beaches will open on Memorial Day and a full slate of lifeguards will be hired for the season. As for the boardwalk, its ultimate finished state could be years in the making but temporary plans are in place for the 2013 summer season. Among the temporary measures is the plan to establish “islands” for the concessions at Beach 86th, Beach 96th and Beach 106th Streets. The islands, possibly a block long in either direction would allow the popular concessions to open for business. Although no final design or contractor has been approved, it seemed likely that ramps of a sort would run from the street or sand as the islands would be ADA compliant (American Disability Act). The boardwalk will not be continuous in this temporary plan.
The plans for the boardwalk vary depending upon the damage the boards sustained and its location. Beach 9th through Beach 35th Street is in good shape and should have normal access and use. Other stretches of boardwalk, such as Beach 40th through Beach 60th Street, which sustained only minor damage, should be repaired and open by Memorial Day.
There will be no boardwalk from Beach 88th to its former ending point at Beach 126th Street. The concession islands will arise in this stretch but temporary plans include chain link fences and breezeways at still to-be-determined blocks for beach access.
Besides having no boardwalk, Beach 116th Street will have no underground bathroom this coming season as the restroom there was filled with water and sand and remains unusable. Modular facilities will be placed there for lifeguards and public use.
Lewandowski said Parks is working under a three phase plan: Clean Up, Safe Up, Open Up. The clean up is largely done. In this phase some boardwalk was salvaged for possible future use. In the blocks from Beach 88th to 126th Street, however, no boardwalk was salvaged. The few boards that remain are where the concessions stand.
Other than the concession areas, the only remains of the boardwalk are concrete stanchions that the boardwalk once rested upon. As part of its Safe Up phase, Parks is filling the gaps between the stanchions with mounds of sand that had been collected, sent to Riis Park, cleaned and sifted. The mounds and the stanchions will be protected by chain link fences so they are not climbed upon by beach visitors.
Some in the crowd asked if such mounds would offer sufficient protection from future storms. Some wondered if fixing their homes was worth it if only a chain link fence and a sand mound separated them from the ocean.
Beach 126th through Beach 149th Street will be getting baffle walls, described as similar to the sound proofing walls found along many highways nowadays. These precast concrete panels would be set 25-30 feet into the sand leaving four feet exposed as a beach wall, a foot higher than previous walls.
A board member, Hank Iori, used this as an example of the need to coordinate efforts among any agencies involved in rebuilding and recovery. He said 4 feet is a welcome improvement, however, if the Army Corps of Engineers pumps sand on the beach after that is done the walls might end up at 3 feet high. His comment made others chime in about the need to communicate ideas and information. Community Board 14 Chairperson Dolores Orr said a G-Mail account through the Community Board website would be set up so the public could submit ideas and comments on boardwalk plans. It was later suggested a Facebook account would be a far better forum to post ideas and initiate public debate.
Lewandowski was asked about events and activities (such as the Rockstock and Barrel surfing day) which have been instrumental in the recent Rockaway renaissance and whether such fun will continue in 2013. The commissioner stated her hope that many events would go on but were subject to change as the temporary plans take hold.
As for the larger, long term plans for the boardwalk, Lewandowski said public meetings will be held throughout the process and possibly begin as soon as next month. Although no plans have been set for the larger redesign and rebuild, Lewandowski said she expects, among other things, that Shorefront Parkway would “look different.”
The crowd, called the biggest in more than ten years by District Manager Jonathan Gaska, was largely appreciative of the Parks’ efforts in the clean up since the October 29th, 2012 storm. The news that the concessions would operate and the beaches open with lifeguards was met with wide applause. One woman, however, did ask if making temporary plans was shortsighted and possibly a waste of money. She proposed focusing immediately on long term design, fearing that another storm would crush any temporary set up.
Her comments came during the Public Speaking segment of the meeting. She was just one of 27 people who arrived before the meeting and signed up to speak to the assemblage.
Joe Hartigan, well known as a ferry advocate, got one of the biggest rounds of applause when he took the floor and said a full, continuous boardwalk could be ready for the summer in a relatively inexpensive manner by using HESCO barriers. Used in sandy war zones in Iraq and in post-Katrina Louisiana, Hartigan suggested they be used in Rockaway, now. These units, he explained, are approximately three square feet and filled with rocks, sand, and rubble. They come in sets of five and have joining pins to connect each. These could be used as the foundation for a boardwalk and be ready by spring. He added, that at the very least, Parks should test one immediately “in the water” to see how it stands up. His proposal was referenced and supported by a number of speakers who followed.
Lew Simon, calling Rockaway, “the stepchild” of New York City, demanded to know why Long Beach is getting its boardwalk back this summer while Rockaway must settle for a temporary solution. Lewandowski replied that it’s about funding as much as anything else. Emergency Declaration money allows for the temporary fix while other funding due in July will address the long term issues.
The crowd applauded two people who made statements about keeping the hockey rink at its current location at Beach 108th Street. Each noted how it was a valuable asset for locals who put a lot of time and effort into its creation. Further, the rink protects the nearby bungalow community which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer.
A handful of people, including two visitors from Brighton Beach, took the opportunity to advocate for wood boardwalks rather than concrete while stressing the need to avoid using woods that are found in rainforests.
Many of the public speakers took the mic to remind those in attendance that it’s important to be heard. Community activist, Eddie Pastore said, “What we do is going to be the Rockaway we have for a hundred years. It’s an empty canvas. Make phone calls, get involved.”