2013-10-11 / Front Page

Higher And Stronger

Boardwalk, Baffles, and Berms
By Kevin Boyle

An overhead view of the boardwalk just weeks before Sandy. The new boardwalk will be made of concrete and be several feet higher than the old version. An overhead view of the boardwalk just weeks before Sandy. The new boardwalk will be made of concrete and be several feet higher than the old version. Higher and stronger. That was the City’s plan for the boardwalk. And now it’s the official, approved plan after the Community Board gave the green light to the Parks Department to proceed on four key structural matters.

Liam Kavanagh of the Parks Department and Greg Clancy of the Economic Development Corporation came before the Board on Tuesday evening at Scholar’s Academy hoping to gain support for higher dunes, an elevated boardwalk, a concrete surface and continuous baffle walls from Beach 20th Street all the way to Beach 126th. They walked out winners as the Community Board approved all four measures in near-unanimous numbers.

The news of the baffle walls, in particular, was praised by board members and some in the crowd greeted the announcement with applause. Baffle walls are currently installed from the west side of Beach 126th to Beach 149th. The walls are attached to 22-foot steel pilings, driven into the ground, and the concrete portion of each wall extends an average of four feet below grade. They rise out of the sand to a height of approximately 4 feet.

The new baffle walls will rise up and connect to the boardwalk on the north side or street side although in some areas the walls will be connected underneath the boardwalk. The boardwalk could be elevated six to ten feet higher than where it once stood for the purpose of meeting or surpassing the 100 year flood map requirements, except for the boardwalk “islands” which will remain at the current elevation. The baffle walls will extend as high as the boardwalk so in long stretches the wall will be considerably higher than those currently installed in Belle Harbor and Neponsit.

Baffle walls are not considered seawalls by Army Corps of Engineering standards. Clancy called them “retaining” walls that are primarily used to keep windblown sand on the beach. The baffle walls, however, are substantial and would likely stop some flooding but perhaps not direct wave action.

The installation of baffle walls will begin before the actual boardwalk build and sections can be built simultaneously at multiple locations, though it is expected that Beach 88th Street will be the starting point.

Beach 88th Street will also be where construction on the new boardwalk will begin, some time in the winter of 2014. Work will continue westward. Because of residences and differing elevation requirements this section (Beach 88th Street to Beach 126th Street) is considered the most challenging part of the rebuild so it will be tackled first. The boardwalk will have slight grade, likely undetectable, that will allow the new structure to slope and connect to the existing islands at Beach 116th Street, Beach 106th Street, Beach 97th Street, and Beach 86th Street.

As for berms or dunes as they are often called, the Army Corps of Engineers will build them to a height of 16 feet above sea level. Originally, the plan was to erect 14 foot high berms but agreed to add an additional two feet after the City agreed to foot the bill. The approximate width of the berms will be 25 feet.

The new berms will be built after sand arrives from another round of Army Corps pumping that is supposed to commence in late December or early January. Pumping will continue through the winter and spring with a completion target date of Memorial Day. The berms will be fortified with plants and trap bags or something similar.

Clancy said there will be more sand on the beach “than before 1970.” And the berms will be “higher than Rockaway has ever seen.” Even with 16 foot high berms on the beach, the boardwalk will be higher allowing for ocean views from its deck.

Clancy also said that even though a seawall is not part of the rebuild, Rockaway will benefit from a “system of protection.” The dunes, the amount of sand, and the baffle walls together will afford Rockaway more protection than ever.

The Community Board also gave its official blessing to concrete as the material that will replace the wooden boards that has been the standard for decades until Sandy lifted it away.

While the plans were approved, a couple of unknowns linger. The current government shutdown will delay starting dates and a new administration will take over City Hall on January 1st, 2014. The consequences of such matters remain to be seen.

As for beach access points, ramps, color of the boardwalk, bike paths and so on, these are matters of design – not structure – and will be addressed at subsequent community meetings.

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