It’s My Turn
Can you feel the tide rising? I’m not talking about the ocean that continues to creep up the beach towards our homes and businesses during storms, or the bay splashing onto Beach Channel Drive. I’m referencing the growing levels of anger and frustration among our citizens who have been waiting over four months for sand-replenishment and a permanent solution to protect us from ocean surges and even more devastation.
You can’t say our citizens haven’t done their best to remain positive and patient. The spirit of community, unity and hope shined bright even in the darkest days following October 29, 2012. With blind faith in a better tomorrow neighbors joined together to dig out of the rubble with their own bare hands. Residents were at the ready to offer the shirt off their back to one another when the shirt on their back was all they had left to give. We came together in a common belief that the dangers we still faced from the waters that surround us would be understood and addressed in early December when we gathered with the Friends Of Rockaway Beach to claim we were “Ready For The Jetties.” Hope was still in full bloom a month later when we “walked a mile” with Peter Corless, and our elected officials stood before us and assured us that the cavalry was coming.
But now the tide is turning.
The growing discontent can best be measured at our community meetings. In the January gathering of Community Board 14, Parks Department’s Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski felt the wrath of our residents when her department’s plans to secure the area consisted mainly of redistributing sand we already had and putting up fencing where the boardwalk used to be. Later that month Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh was greeted by an even angrier reaction when Lew Simon challenged him to address the audience at a meeting of the Friends Of Rockaway Beach. The tipping point came on February 12 when, at the most recent CB 14 meeting, Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Daniel Falt made a long-awaited presentation on the subjects of sand-replenishment, jetties and other perspective permanent answers to providing protection.
The presentation started off on a very positive note as the full auditorium at the Scholars Academy cheered at Falt’s announcement that 1.5 million cubic miles of sand would be dumped on the peninsula. However, when pressed on the timeline for when we could actually expect the sand, the Army Corps’ answers were ambiguous at best. Then, when there was no concrete plan laid out for protection beyond the sand, many in the room felt as if they just had 1.5 million cubic miles of BS dumped in their laps.
Perhaps the most overt display of resentment during the open speaking portion of the meeting came from 119 Street resident, Elizabeth Geraghty, expressed outrage that the Army Corps’ plans did not offer solutions to dangers the Rockaways remain vulnerable to in the present. A few days after the meeting Elizabeth expressed the fears she and her family share about living in Rockaway.
“Aside from getting wooden fences, what are they going to do to try to stop the sand blowing down the street? What are we going to do when our sewers collapse and our insurance companies say, ‘Sorry, you’re not covered for that?’ I don’t feel safe. Just look at that storm that happened a week or so after Sandy, and the snowstorm we just had. The water was almost up to where the boardwalk used to be, and I have my five-year-old asking me if Sandy is ‘coming back to kill us.’”
I reached out to other citizens as well as elected officials to gauge their feelings on the growing animosity in our area.
“I’m angry…just frustrated beyond belief,” explained long-time Rockaway community activist, Joe Hardigan. “As you give me excuses on why we don’t have sand, they are pumping sand out in Long Island. They were pumping sand on the beach before Christmas on the Jersey Shore. So, when the Army Corps of Engineers says, ‘We can’t start until June,’ that’s not a true statement.”
Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder is also a Rockaway resident whose local office and home received their fair share of ocean devastation. The Assemblyman understands the anger, but points out that the roots of the dissatisfaction can be traced back to a time long before last October.
“This is not something that was created by Superstorm Sandy. This is something that has been building for the last 15 years. Sandy just gave us the attention we finally deserved. Things like rock jetties and dredging on the beaches, these are things that we had been fighting for, for a long time. I’ve written letters to the Army Corps, Parks Department, the Mayor’s office, asking them…begging them to address rock jetties, sand on the beach and fixing the bay wall. So, yes I think there is a rising frustration. But this is something that has been building for a long time with many of our residents.”
Community 14 Board Member Noreen Ellis also walked away from the Army Corps presentation disappointed.
“If we have to take steps to do something correctly, I understand that. What I don’t understand, and I want to emphasize this, is that no government agency is taking a look at normal proce- dures and understanding that we can’t go by ‘normal’ anymore. There is no more normal in Rockaway. The agencies should be working together in a seamless way rather than working separately and drawing out a process for something that needed to be done yesterday.”
While frustration and anger is the common thread at community meetings, the fork in the road appears when it comes to understanding in which direction the slings and arrows should be aimed.
“The anger should be directed at the governor of our state,” says Friends Of Rockaway Beach co-founder, Eddy Pastore. “He’s more interested in buying up people’s homes than protecting the citizens of our peninsula. It should also be directed at the city of New York. It’s their job to protect us. We’re taxpayers.”
Joe Hartigan has major issues with the Parks Department.
“I think the top management at Parks should be held accountable. And when Parks shows up and says they have a master plan…no, no, no. They have proposals, and they should present those to the community. And the community should make the decisions as a group; one person, one vote. Why is this a secret process from the Parks Department? You need to have community input. I also want to know how much Parks has charged to FEMA or the Sandy Fund for the work they’ve done so far.”
John Cori, also a founding member of The Friends Of Rockaway Beach, lays the blame a bit closer to home.
“The anger comes from the fact that, with our Community Board, we have zero leadership. And the ones who are supposed to be leading, and getting feedback from the committees, are making decisions on their own. There’s no community input and that’s why people are upset. Some of the committee chairs don’t even know what the chairperson is supposed to do. We’re not well informed because they don’t want us to be informed, and the politicians hide behind that fact. That leads to people making decisions for us, and telling us what they are going to do for Rockaway. But how about that we want?”
Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. is both aware and sympathetic to where our citizens are coming from, but believes that raised voices and displays of anger are not part of the solution.
“I’m of the opinion that these venting sessions aren’t that helpful. We need to direct our attention in a rational manner towards the city, whose jurisdiction it falls under when we talk about the beaches and boardwalk. The beach jurisdiction also falls under the Army Corps of Engineers. But yelling and screaming is not going to get it done. It’s going to take sitting down, and community group meetings are a good way of doing this.”
Dayton Towers resident Josie Leger is not angry at all. In fact, her experience with expecting government agencies to come to our rescue has taught her not to have hope in the first place.
“I don’t feel it, because I am so used to it. I don’t know why people thought they were going to actually take care of this. When is money ever put into Rockaway? My feeling is that Rockaway has always been something of a dumping ground. If there were casinos here, then yes. If (the government) thought this was a place where they can make money, they would be hurrying to rebuild. But they don’t see it, and they figure, ‘What’s the point?’”
What has further escalated the frustration were news reports of sand being pumped on the beach on Long Island only two days after the Army Corps stated that Rockaway would not be seeing sand until at least June. Approached for comment on the Long Island sand pumping, Assemblyman Goldfeder and Senator Addabbo cautioned against comparing our situation to those of other communities.
“I never liked to compare us to anybody else,” Goldfeder explained. “The issues are different, and the challenges are different. What I can tell you is that, if we have a clear understanding of what the challenges are in Rockaway, then we are going to know how to address them. Counties are different than New York City. Governments are different, and bureaucracies are different. It’s nearly impossible to compare and say, ‘They’re getting this and we’re not.’ There are too many variables involved.”
“You know, I am personally less about a time frame on who’s getting what,” said Addabbo. “I’m more concerned about things getting done in a timely manner in Rockaway. We know what has to be done before Memorial Day. Certainly myself and my colleagues are pushing the officials on the administrative side to get it done. So, it’s not so much that we’re looking at Long Island or wherever. We look at Rockaway. We say, ‘We know what we need, and let’s get it.’’’
Whether the comparisons are fair or not, watching other beach communities being secured while we wake up each day to stick fences and an ocean too close to Shore Front Parkway for comfort is more than some Rockaway residents can handle. And, at least for the time being, the tide of anger continues to rise towards a dangerous level.
“I was glad to hear about the sand coming to Rockaway this summer,” Eddy Pastore offered. “But by the time we get to building jetties, that sand will be gone. I know the summer is important to Rockaway. But if there’s another storm, there won’t be anything here anyway. I don’t understand why nobody gets it.”
“I almost feel like they are just trying to wear us away,” adds Joe Hartigan, “so that we just give up. But we can’t give up. What happens is, they tell you ‘yes, yes, yes,’ and they hope you go away. It’s time for the Rockaway residents to draw a line in the sand, while we still have a little bit of sand left.”