Here Comes The Sand!
Let the pumping begin! After months of delays, the first phase of sand replenishment is finally getting started. For those who consider protection from the ocean the most important challenge facing Rockaway, the new sand is welcomed news after a long time coming.
Under a $10 million contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the sand started being pumped onto the beach by Weeks Marine of Cranford, New Jersey, which won the bid for the project in early June. The sand was expected to be replenished starting in late June or July, but the proper equipment didn’t arrive until early last week. With the equipment in place, Senator Charles Schumer paid a visit to the beach on Sunday, August 4th and announced that the project was set to begin. Daniel Falt, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said it would begin Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ sand replenishment project is a significant marker in Rockaway’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy and an important building block for future fortification,” NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica M. White said. “The project will leave Rockaway beach wider and higher than it has been in nearly two decades and form a dune over our existing TrapBag installation. Parks is looking forward to offering a larger beach that provides more protection for the Rockaway peninsula.”
Under the first phase of the project, 600,000 cubic yards of sand from the East Rockaway Inlet will be pumped onto the beaches where erosion is most critical. This includes the areas from Beach 86th Street to Beach 149th Street. According to Falt, the replenishment starts on Beach 101st Street and will make its way east to Beach 86th Street. This work will go on 24/7 and will take approximately a week to complete. The beaches in this area will be closed during this time, as they have been for most of the summer.
The pipe from which the sand is being pumped will then be pulled up and flipped and the sand replenishment will start heading west towards Beach 149th Street, starting at Beach 101st Street. This work, which will also go on 24/7, is expected to take two to three weeks and small sections of about 1,000 feet of beach will be closed at a time during this project.
John Cori, founder of Friends of Rockaway Beach, has been an advocate for more sand and protection long before Hurricane Sandy. He was pleased to find that the project will finally begin, but he continues to have concerns about the timing and circumstances.
“It’s wonderful news,” Cori said. “I’m saddened that it took this much devastation, but it took this storm to get us the protection we always wanted.”
The sand will make the beaches higher and wider, which will offer more protection for the peninsula. Cori noted that with added sand, the waves would break much further off shore and wouldn’t be as big of a threat to homes.
“Hurricanes need to eat something and it’s best that they eat our sand than they eat our homes. If a storm hit today, we’d lose a lot of homes,” Cori said.
Despite the good news, Cori is concerned that sand replenishment might be problematic at this time as there is no other form of protection to keep it on the beach. “I don’t know how they’re going to put sand without jetties. A large amount of sand will rapidly erode,” he said. “I still consider this sand temporary.”
The lack of sand and beach closures have been particularly hard against concession business owners. The Department of Parks and Recreation has prohibited swimming on the beaches from Beach 88th Street to Beach 108th Street for the summer. With the beaches being closed, the concession owners at Beach 106th Street and Beach 97th Street have noticed that business hasn’t been as strong as in previous summers.
“We have been operating with ‘no swimming allowed’ between Beach 88th and Beach 108th. In turn, the lack of swimming beaches has clearly played a role. The Beach 97th Street concession has been heavily impacted by it and we, at 106th, have been impacted in a weird way,” Maribel Araujo, owner of Caracas Arepa Bar at the Beach 106th Street concession said. “People don’t come to dine with us so much in the weekdays and then we get an overwhelming amount of people on the weekends.”
Steve Stathis, owner of the surf shop Boarders on the Boardwalk at the Beach 97th Street concession, has also noticed a huge difference. “I don’t understand why they would shut beaches down,” he said. “My business is down almost 65 percent. Typically around this time I have a long waiting list for lockers and this year, I still have lockers open.”
The business owners may get some relief as a Parks Department spokesman said the beaches from Beach 86th Street to Beach 101st Street will reopen as soon as the sand replenishment is complete in those areas.
Stathis noted that the Parks Department understands the trouble he’s faced. They lowered his rent rates which allowed him to open a pop-up rental tent on Beach 68th Street, since the surfing beach has been relocated to the 60’s while the sand is replenished uptown.
However, when it comes to beach projects, Stathis noticed that the work has been slower than the Parks Department had let on. He referred to the work being done to remove the “death sticks” or the decrepit remains of wooden jetties from the surfing beaches. He was told that the work would take two to three weeks. “They’re not making very good progress,” Stathis said. “They’re now in the 4th week.”
Araujo also noted that the Parks Department hasn’t been very clear on the details of their plans for sand replenishment.
“I am really concerned about not understanding what exactly is going to happen and not knowing exactly how many days it will take,” she said. “Parks keeps telling us that it will be good for us since it should be a pretty interesting thing to watch and people will come to the “islands” to watch it from there, but who knows? At this point the lack of planning is so extreme that we have no other option than to go with the flow.”
Both Stathis and Araujo believe the sand replenishment is necessary, but like Cori, they think that the work may be a waste of time without protection.
“We need more sand but my common sense tells me we need a few other things that allow that sand to stay where the Army Corps is planning to put it, otherwise it will be gone again in relatively a short period of time,” Araujo said.
“They’re going to fill in the beach and I can tell you, when the first nor’easter hits, all that sand will be washed away and will go to Breezy Point,” Stathis said. “If they’re not going to put in a jetty, they have to put something in or else the sand isn’t going to stay.”
Cori believes the solution is jetties and groins. “We want to see jetties and rock groins across peninsula,” he said. Many of the beaches with rock groins and jetties are much bigger than those without them. Cori notes that having jetties and groins would save the city money on having to dredge and replace the sand, as it won’t have to be done so often.
For now, he’s just happy that his pleas are being heard and some progress is being made. “Now we can say we got the sand on the beach,” Cori said. “It’s going to be very good to have some sand.”
A second contract is expected to be awarded later this summer to place more than 3 million cubic yards of sand along Beach 19th to Beach 149th Street. A total of 3.7 million cubic yards of sand will be placed, which is the equivalent of almost four Empire State Buildings. This will bring Rockaway beaches to mid-1990 levels.
“The amount of sand on the beach will be mind-numbing,” Cori said. “It’s going to be a long walk to the ocean. I hope people aren’t angry,” he joked.