2013-08-02 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

City Should Listen To The Community
By Hank Iori

Our City government did an admirable job in its initial response to the unprecedented disaster that Sandy wreaked on our community. Now, nine months later, it feels like a historic opportunity to improve safety against future storms is slipping away because the City is squandering one of its best assets — the knowledge, experience and diligence of the Rockaway community.

While the Parks Department limps toward completion of short-term protective measures, plans to protect the City from future storms like Sandy are being crafted in City Hall without meaningful input from people across Rockaway. Our peninsula is not a monolithic barrier beach. Each community has its distinct features and needs. We also have a profound understanding of how the ocean impacts Belle Harbor differently than Far Rockaway or Broad Channel. This comes from the experience and stewardship that only Rockaway citizens possess. By ignoring community input on the front end, the City is destined to make costly missteps that may be largely ineffective and rejected by most neighborhoods.

Nine months after Hurricane Sandy the top issue for our community is still safety. Rockaway needs a comprehensive long-term plan with a realistic timeline that will address safety issues across the peninsula — from the east corner of Rockaway all the way to the tip of Breezy Point. These plans must reflect the unique needs of each neighborhood but be integrated to provide unified protection against a raging ocean.

A new position of Waterfront/Climate Change Commissioner for NYC should be created. The waterfront is a critical asset for any major city. It is surprising that a city with islands, rivers and a large amount of ocean front lacks such a centralized authority. Given the risk of rising seas and/or stronger storms in the future, a single commissioner needs to be in charge. This commissioner should have a staff and sizable budget with broad reaching authority, working with and overseeing work done by other City Departments. A main responsibility would be to coordinate efforts with communities in waterfront areas.

While there were positives, the city administration has not done well with communicating and collaborating with residents. The short term and long term revitalization plans for the Rockaways are unclear at best. In January the Department of Parks told the community of the islands they planned to build on sections of the boardwalk to attract tourists in the summer. Their plans were set prior to any community input. They also showed plans for lifeguard stations and bathrooms. The community spoke up forcefully that they were not in favor of the lifeguard stands or the bathrooms. We were told it was a done deal and we had no say in this matter. These structures have not been well received and stand as a reminder of what can go wrong when residents are not involved in the restoration plans. These stations and bathrooms were not only poorly planned, but a very expensive misstep.

The Department of Parks, Department of Transportation, City Planning, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Housing and other city agencies all have a crucial role in the restoration of the Rockaways. It is therefore disappointing that the department heads have not come to the Rockaways to explain or discuss their coordinated plans. These departments should be collaborating and informing our community before other work is done and further costly missteps are made.

As a community, the way to address our need for protection is to look into the “Tool Kit” of options available, i.e. sand replenishment, walls, barriers/boardwalk, dunes, rock jetties, reefs, sand bags, Hesco barriers, metal sheeting, etc. No one item can bring us to a level of safety -several of the above items need to be packaged and adapted for different sections of the coast line and bay based on physical factors. We implore the Mayor and Commissioners to collaborate with communities to find the right mix that will provide the utmost safety to our precious peninsula.

(Hank Iori is president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association)

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