At a Community Board committee meeting Tuesday night at Scholars’ Academy, Parks Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said the new boardwalk would cost $200 million dollars but no dollars would be spent on a seawall. Adding a seawall to a new boardwalk, Kavanagh said, “could jeopardize” some of the options the Army Corps would put in place after it completes its Reformulation Study. One of those options might be a seawall.
Parks is faced with a number of challenges. One of those challenges is scheduling. As the Bloomberg administration winds down, Parks is hurrying to get the boardwalk rebuild started but must consider and anticipate where and how the Army Corps will implement its own beach protective measures. The completion date of the Reformulation Study seems as firm as a sand dune in a windstorm. On Tuesday night, a slide show indicated the study would be completed by the end of 2015 but bureaucratic and technical snags could push it back further. It could be three or four years before any kind of shovel hits the sand or a jetty hits the water.
Even with the uncertainty of the Army Corps timeline, Parks would rather leave the seawall to them. For one, Parks does not want to negatively impact the Reformulation Study which might trigger funding issues. The Army Corps has said that if a seawall is erected by Parks, the Army Corps will do a cost/benefit analysis which might lead to a conclusion that Rockaway no longer needs jetties, for example, because it has a seawall. In theory, sand replenishment projects in the future might be held off as well, due to an unsanctioned seawall. And for that matter, all monies the Army Corps has earmarked for Rockaway protection could, possibly, be steered elsewhere. These possibilities makes Parks pause. Perhaps the clinching factor for Parks making way for the Army Corps to build a seawall, is that Parks would hand off maintenance of the wall (if one is built) to the Army Corps.
Dan Falt, a project manager with the Corps, was at the meeting and said that a seawall, by Army Corps definition, meets certain engineering and construction measures. The baffle walls, for example, which have been installed from Beach 126th to Beach 149th Street are not considered seawalls. Although they would likely provide some protection from flooding, the walls are not designed to absorb certain levels of wave force. These same walls could be installed under a new boardwalk and would not jeopardize Army Corps projects.
However, Kavanagh said, such walls might be installed but since the design team had not completed its work it would be premature to say if such walls or similar structures would be part of a new boardwalk plan.
The design team, CH2MHill—chosen by the City from a Request for Proposals issued in July—-and Parks have arranged a series of community meetings, they say, to get community input on any number of issues such as bike lanes, handicap access, recreational areas and aesthetics. The meeting schedule is as follows: Monday, September 23 (PS 43) 7:00 p.m., to discuss Beach 9th Street to Beach 72nd Street; Tuesday, September 24th (Knights of Columbus) 7:00 p.m., to discuss Beach 73rd to Beach 109th Street, and Wednesday, September 25th (PS 114) 7:00 p.m., to discuss Beach 110th Street to Beach 149th Street.
Although Parks alleges that these meetings are set to make Rockaway residents part of the design process, many in the crowd were skeptical and took the opportunity to chide Parks for its failure to include the community in previous decisions. Dolores Orr, chair of Community Board 14, drew wide applause when she revealed that she had submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out how the controversial lifeguard and comfort stations were chosen without community input. When reviewing the application Parks was required to submit to the Design Commission, she discovered that the Parks Department had “left blank” a section of the application which asked if Parks had gotten Community Board approval. The application was approved nevertheless.
She pressed Kavanagh about getting Community Board approval going forward. Orr asked Kavanagh for a yes or no answer in regards to Parks getting Community Board approval for a final boardwalk design. Kavanagh’s response: “I would hope so.” Pressed again, Kavanagh said: “It is not a yes or no answer.”
Orr’s point about the importance of community input was underscored when she referred to the ramp designed for handicap access at Beach 86th Street. She said the ramp pointed west. The trouble, she said, was that people with disabilities would take the ramp right to the surfing beach. They could get to the beach but not be able to use the ocean.
This kind of detail, she and others emphasized, could only come from locals familiar with Rockaway beaches.
Besides a frustrated Community Board, the new design team, CH2MHill, will have to contend with building a boardwalk considerably higher than the original. In some stretches the boardwalk will be several feet higher than the level it once stood yet slope down to meet the boardwalk islands that will remain below FEMA advisory levels. In addition to the actual boardwalk work, Parks and the design team will also work with the Army Corps (as part of its betterment project) to establish a dune or berm built from the new sand which will be pumped onto Rockaway beaches starting in late December or January and continue until at least May. The berm could be 12 feet or higher in some places. Jonathan Goldstick, a vice president of CH2mHill, said part of the design effort would be figuring how to allow beach access for people when such protective mounds are put in place.
Although several people in the crowd expressed their strong preference for a wood boardwalk the decision to go with concrete has already been made. The RFP issued in July listed concrete as the material to be used and applicants were expected to submit plans accordingly. Kavanagh said concrete had many benefits including being fire resistant, alluding to the recent boardwalk fire in New Jersey. The new boardwalk will have a design life of 50 years and will reuse the existing concrete foundations.
Representatives from CH2MHill, were on hand to introduce themselves and give a preliminary overview of their RFP proposal, parts of which are available online at nycgovparks.org
Although no completion date has been set, the plan calls for pre-construction work to begin in 2013.