From The Parks Commissioner
On Friday, we mark an important annual ritual: the Memorial Day weekend opening of Rockaway Beach. And this year, more than ever, it will be a celebration and a relief – because after Hurricane Sandy struck, it was far from a certainty that we’d be able to re-open the beach for the summer season.
For many residents of Rockaway, restoring the beach was secondary to restoring their homes and businesses, and trying to restore some normalcy to their lives. For the Parks Department, the restoration of the beach has been a top priority for many months. Rockaway's beach is the vital engine for local businesses and a front yard for many residents. The beach is also vitally important as a protective barrier that can help blunt the impact of future storms on the homes, businesses and schools on the peninsula.
When I was in Rockaway in the days after the storm, it was clear that work needed to begin immediately if we had any hope of opening the beach Memorial Day weekend. Mayor Bloomberg assured us it was a goal we could achieve – and that we must achieve. And he gave us the resources and support we needed to do it.
Over the course of many subsequent visits to Rockaway, I saw teams of Parks Department employees clear debris, recover sand, and rehabilitate playgrounds. I shoveled sand with thousands of volunteers, whose help was crucial to our success. At the same time, we worked in partnership with the city’s Department of Design and Construction and other agencies to map out the plan for re-opening the beaches safely. From new elevated, storm-resistant lifeguard stations and public restrooms, to boardwalk islands to play areas reborn after the storm, the job would be massive.
In the span of just a few months, the Bloomberg Administration has invested $140 million to clean-up Rockaway Beach, make it safe, and allow it to open.
One of the most repeated visual reminders of Sandy’s power has been the empty pile caps, stanchions that once supported Rockaway’s iconic boardwalk. The boardwalk was not only a place to enjoy a lemonade, bask in the sun, or go for a jog; it provided protection from the ocean and was one of the primary means of transportation through the peninsula. It will be rebuilt – stronger and more resilient than before. And it will be rebuilt in a way that helps protect the community from the destructive power of future storms.
Protection work has already begun with baffle walls from Beach 149th Street to Beach 126th Street. Soon, dunes and sand-filled geo-textile bags will be installed in other areas on the peninsula. The work will continue with further input from the community, the Army Corps of Engineers and the city's Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency. The dialogue that has begun over the last few months will not stop – and together, we will build a stronger community.
We all still have lots of work to do, but this weekend, if the weather cooperates, enjoy a day at the beach.
Commissioner, NYC Parks