2013-05-10 / Top Stories

Double Dune Pilot Proposed

By Katie McFadden

A double dune forest might be the answer for how to protect a post-Sandy Rockaway. Walter Meyer, an urban designer and the Founding Principal of Brooklyn-based Local Office Land Architecture, has proposed a test dune system for the peninsula.

Meyer holds a Masters in Urban Design from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In 2006, he founded Local Office Landscape & Urban Design, LLC with his Harvard classmate and wife, Jennifer Bolstad. Although he currently lives in Brooklyn for work, the surfer and sailor, who has sailed to 30 countries, considers himself to be a “semi-local” as he has lived in Rockaway on and off for ten years.

Meyer has proposed his firm’s idea for a double dune system in a post-Sandy Rockaway. So far, the plan has been well-received, getting unanimous support from the Rockaway Beach Civic Association.

Meyer and his firm have proposed to test the idea in a pilot program on Shore Front Parkway from Beach 87th Street to Beach 97th Street.

This system consists of a primary dune, a secondary dune and a beachwalk in between. To illustrate, the pilot program would include in order the oceanfront, the beach sand, a primary dune, a beachwalk and a secondary dune followed by Shore Front Parkway.

The closer-to-the-ocean dune, the primary, would serve as the “skin” and be built of sand and contain sand grasses and other vegetation that can withstand high winds and salt water. This would be built where the current concrete pilings of what’s left of the boardwalk are and the roots of the vegetation would combine with the pilings. The primary dune would mainly serve to protect the secondary dune.

The secondary dune, which would be the “spine” of the peninsula, would be a dune forest. This area would be covered in trees such as pitch pines and other vegetation. The roots of these trees interlock and strengthen the dune, keeping it intact and making it a strong wall that would prevent future Sandytype flooding.

In the pilot, the coastal forest would contain 500 trees, which Meyer says should be planted by families in Rockaway. One family could plant one tree, meaning 500 local families will have a part in this project. Meyer says that residents could take pride in the fact that they personally did something to help protect Rockaway after Sandy. “It’s important as a process of healing from Sandy that the community has these symbolic things to point to,” he said.

In between the two dunes would be a beachwalk, or perhaps even a boardwalk. The walkway could be made from hardened sand. The sand would be hardened with a glue-like substance that was developed after the Gulf War to make the sand solid so that tanks could travel over it. A proposed boardwalk structure could also be in this area.

The beachwalk would be wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as emergency vehicles such as ambulances, which could easily use the walkway to transport people during summer emergencies such as drownings.

Meyer also proposed the possibility of having a sheet pile wall between the dunes which would also protect the secondary dune in case the primary dune fails in the event of a future superstorm.

He’s proposing this pilot for Shore Front Parkway from Beach 87th to Beach 97th Street as this would be a “spot where it helps the most people,” Meyer said. Being a big surfing area and a prime spot for visitors in the summer, presenting the pilot in this area would give a high number of people a chance to see it at work and it would protect a high number of residents.

Meyer also has bigger plans for this space. In phase one of the pilot, the system would only extend from the curb to where the boardwalk was. In phase two, if the pilot is successful, Meyer hopes to make more use of Shore Front Parkway. In his plan, the dune forest would be extended over the southern half of Shore Front Parkway and the road would be reduced to two lanes.

Meyer insists that parking will not be affected and no lanes would be closed as only two lanes of Shore Front are currently used for driving. The plan is to consolidate and have the lanes in both directions on the north side. The lanes would be tighter, but Meyer says they would still be wide enough for sanitation and emergency vehicles to use. In Meyer’s view, this would also make Shore Front Parkway kid-friendly as they’ll have more space to play and won’t have to cross such a wide road with high-speed traffic.

As for implementing a double dune system in other parts of the peninsula such as Belle Harbor and Neponsit, different challenges emerge. To make this possible in those areas, the beachfront properties would have to bought up at the market rate or the beach would have to be expanded far beyond what the Army Corps of Engineers has planned.

Meyer can point to some examples of where this system has worked before. His company, LOLA, played a major role in the development of the awardwinning “Parque Del Litoral” in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. The once derelict industrial shore was transformed into a dune forest that protects the city from storm surges. The park was completed in 2010 and has survived two hurricane seasons without issues so far. Meyer also points to the natural Sunken Forest in Fire Island as another example of dune forest protection.

Meyer has incorporated the community’s input to his plan. “I haven’t made a single move or step without keeping in touch with community leaders,” Meyer said. He has shared his plan on many occasions and the proposal is being well received so far by residents and the city. “We’ve met with Walter several times and are enthusiastic about his concept and its application in the Rockaways,” Liam Kavanagh, Deputy Commissioner for Parks said.

When he presented this idea at a Rockaway Civic Association meeting on Tuesday, the civic unanimously endorsed the double dune system. Some members even want the pilot extended to Beach 107th Street.

If this pilot takes place, it could go up pretty quickly because it is simply sand, trees, and compacted walking surface. The phase one secondary dune forest and beachwalk, which would cost less than $4 million, would require hundreds of truckloads of sand to be placed in the area over the course of a month. The primary dune on the beachside would be coordinated with the Army Corps of Engineers sand replenishment work.

Kavanagh called the July 4th date “ambitious” as permits would have to be set and other factors would have to be considered. “DEC and the Army Corps would have to weigh in on any beach side work, and depending on how it impacts Shore Front Parkway, some level of traffic planning/ management/ permitting will probably come into play. It might also make sense to wait until after the Corps does the initial sand replenishment work, which looks like late June/early July. It will raise the level of the beach several feet adjacent to the boardwalk piers, potentially saving a lot of work on the front dune,” Kavanagh said in a statement. At the latest, the pilot could be done before the next storm season.

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