2013-02-22 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

We The People
Commentary By Peter Stubben

The opening words of the US Constitution - We The People - ricocheted off the walls of a jammed Scholar's Academy last Monday evening as the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) took questions and suggestions on Rockaway's waterfront. It was terrific that Community Board 14 hosted this presentation and that the Army Engineers were ably represented by Rockaway resident and Army Engineer Planner Dan Falt. It was also terrific that NYC Parks Department's First Deputy Commissioner Kavanagh attended (and stayed for the 3 hours!), as did Queens Parks Commish Lewandowski and both Parks Administrator and Manager for The Rockaways, Weber and Tellason.

New York City's greatest beach - Rockaway's 7-mile jewel - desperately needs not only sand replenishment and restoration, but protection, preservation, rejuvenation and beautification. I'm fearful the Army Engineers’ plans - as presented to the huge crowd last week - may be insufficient.

To build Jones Beach in the 1920's and fulfill his dream of a magnificent New York playground, Robert Moses added 40 million cubic yards of dredged sand to a height of 14 feet above sea-level. On the elevated dunes he planted indigenous sea grasses to stabilize the beachfront. Upon this beach he built bathhouses, pools, a golf course, an Italianate watchtower, and a 2-mile boardwalk. Later, the Jones Beach Theatre was added.

Here in Rockaway almost 90 years later, the Army Engineers rehab plan is in two parts and rests on the supposition of '10 by 100'...that is, Phase #1 is to replenish Rockaway's beach to an elevation of 10 feet above sea level and to a beach-width of 100 feet by pouring some 1.5 million cubic yards of dredged sand, and they expect to accomplish this from June to December. Phase #2 - still under study - will be to further 'stabilize and armor' Rockaway's 10-ft by 100-ft beach with any one or combination of the following improvements... groins, t-groins, breakwaters, dunes, reinforced dunes, seawalls and bulkheads.

Mr. Falt presented these improvements in the conditional tense, and he assured the 350 Rockawayites in attendance that throughout the process public hearings will be held.

Is 10 feet of elevation sufficient? In my view, how can 10 feet be sufficient? Last October 29th, Rockaway took hits from 30 foot waves and 15 foot surges. How can you preserve against 15 foot surges with 10 foot elevations? Number 2, if Robert Moses deemed 14 feet to be sufficient 90 years ago and without the benefit of the data from Hurricane Sandy, how can 10 feet be sufficient for Rockaway today?

Robert Moses, with all his blemishes glaringly reported these days, was guided by an unquestionably huge vision and an insatiable desire to get stuff done. Here's what he said then...''Let us have no illusions about Jones Beach as we found it. It was an isolated swampy sandbar accessible only by small boats and infrequent ferries, inhabited by fishermen and loners, surf-casters and assorted oddballs and beachcombers trying to get away from it all. The tales told of a lovely primitive paradise wilderness with indestructible dunes were fiction. Jones Beach was in fact a mosquito-infested tidal swamp full of stagnant pools, flanked by shifting dunes."

The Army Engineers, on the other hand, are not guided by vision, but by law, by protocols and by legal stipulations. And so they plan to restore Rockaway's beaches to the design conditions of the 1970's...that is, '10 by 100', irrespective of Sandy's 15 foot surges.

A 10 foot elevation for Rockaway's beach, knowing our recent calamitous history, I fear is insufficient. Certainly, Phase #2 of the Army Engineers Plan will reinforce the beachfront, but I believe those improvements should be built upon a solid foundation referencing today's data, not data from 40 years ago.

Mr. Falt struck me as genuine and sincere, and he lives here in Rockaway. Are the top Army Engineers - likewise – 100 percent committed to Rockaway's destiny? I dunno...last Monday four (4) top Parks Department officials attended... no top Deputy Army Engineers attended. And, with the scale and enormity of this grand plan to rejuvenate Rockaway, should not a top Deputy Mayor, a top City Planner and The Governor's Office be represented at these Army Engineer plans? The data from Sandy has been collected...32.5 foot waves and a 15 foot surge. Should not this data be referenced in today's plans for Rockaway?

Am I asking too much? Are my fears unfounded?

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