IDEAS AND ANGER
Billed by Friends of Rockaway Beach as “the first in series of planning meetings on rebuilding our beach, boardwalk and play areas,” the gathering at the Knights of Columbus on Wednesday, January 30th became a forum for new ideas and an outlet for frustration.
Co-organizer John Cori moderated the meeting and opened with slides showing how various boardwalk construction features, some dating to the 1920’s, held up during hurricane Sandy. He also told the crowd that the meeting was essentially a chance for the community to start sharing ideas and among those he offered was the “idea of the boardwalk as a surge protector.” He said, “If we can get this built, it can be a very strong structure.”
Cori made it plain that he wasn’t pushing his ideas but instead wanted community input and asked all in attendance to write their ideas on cards he and co-organizer Eddie Pastore made available.
Guest Rob Burnstein, of the Coney- Brighton Boardwalk Alliance, spoke on the experience of Brooklyn’s boardwalk rebuild. Noting the importance of community planning involvement, he said, “In Coney Island and Brighton Beach we have been fighting for a wooden boardwalk.
“The city put in concrete. We weren’t consulted. Whether you are for wood or for concrete it doesn’t matter but become informed and be heard.”
Tim Keating, director of the group Rain Forest Relief, detailed design materials and construction methods that, according to him, would provide durable, long lasting structures.
Different types of materials can be used to rebuild the Rockaway boardwalk, he said, including recyclable plastic lumber, special thermo-treated woods and composites.
Keating stated that the Army Corps of Engineers has been using such materials for years to build bridges capable of supporting 68-ton M1 Abrams tank traffic.
Longtime community activist Joe Hartigan said he has talked to the Army Corps of Engineers as well as several design and construction firms. Hartigan said each started with the concept of using the boardwalk as a beach barrier. Noting there were many successful design possibilities, he advised, “Go online to ‘America’s Best Boardwalks’ and you can see all kinds of ideas.”
Other speakers from the community pointed out there are many worldwide examples of measures where environmental concerns, storm protection, recreation and economic development considerations are planned for.
Projects in Australia, France and Germany were mentioned.
A representative for The Wave, citing a recent editorial, announced the paper’s proposal for an international design competition for the boardwalk.
“There is a world full of ideas, a world full of experience available to us.
“Let’s invite that world here into the Rockaways.”
His remarks were well received, meeting with applause from the audience and were also supported by Hank Iori of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association in subsequent remarks. Iori reminded all that being in New York, Rockaway has access to a vast pool of talent.
During the meeting some residents took the opportunity to vent their frustrations with the rebuilding process so far and concerns about storms hitting their unprotected homes while the boardwalk is being rebuilt.
Said one woman from Beach 108th Street, “You can walk right out of my block and into the ocean. There’s nothing protecting us.”
Another person expressed the fear that “all we need is a simple storm and our houses are gone.”
Many of the audiences’ questions and comments were directed at NYC Parks and Recreation Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh.
Kavanagh said he had come to “listen to ideas” but instead became the target for frustrated and angry residents unhappy with Parks’ notorious history for slow work and for its uncommunicative manner regarding plans for the upcoming season.
Kavanagh took a series of questions as well. Acknowledging the just passed $51 billion in Sandy relief monies, the Commissioner stated, “… a fair amount of (that) has been assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers for beach rebuilding and shoreline protection.”
Addressing specific concerns about the boardwalk and beach, he stated Parks is hoping for a Memorial Day opening. “We plan to operate the entire beach.”
He said however that, “rebuilding is not going to be an overnight project,” adding, “There is an enormous amount of work to be done and …all elements need to be integrated so one supports the other.”
In answer to an audience query, Kavanagh did agree to post regular website updates on Parks’ projects and progress in the Rockaways.
Near the end of the meeting Dan Mundy Sr. of Broad Channel pointed out the new possibilities and opportunities brought about by the storm.
He said, “It’s a terrible thing we all went through, but we’re going to see good things come out of it.
“Because of Sandy there are all kinds of ideas coming in… many that are out of the box. Let’s look at all of them.”
Pastore encouraged all to keep attending planning meetings. “We need to keep coming out and making our needs known. We’re not going to be overlooked.”
One woman echoed that sentiment: “Our boardwalks are a business, our business. And we should be looking after our business.”