2014-01-17 / Front Page

Flipping Us The Bird

Now Plovers Delay Boardwalk
By Kevin Boyle

This boardwalk rebuild is for the birds. People hoping for a quick rebuild are sure to have their feathers ruffled over the details of the timeline. According to the EDC and Parks, the boardwalk will be completed in approximately 40 months, with a target date of Memorial Day 2017. More than a third of that time, 15 months, will be spent at rest as Piping Plovers nest. Yes, construction crews must honor the DO NOT DISTURB signs from April until September on the beaches of the entitled species.

There will be three moratoriums – the word Parks uses for delay — in Phases 4 and 5 of the project which involves the rebuild from Beach 73rd to Beach 19th Street. This almost-three mile stretch of beach includes a protected nesting area for 27 birds. Twenty seven.

Each summer, Rockaway attracts more than 3 million human visitors.

Piping plovers were definitely mentioned at the Community Board meeting Tuesday night when this timeline was first revealed. There was even a brief mention of a moratorium. But if there was an emphasis on why the boardwalk was going to take three and a half years to complete, the culprits were permitting and approvals with a dash of funding and procurement,

But, as is often the case, the cold hard facts are only fully realized and understood the next day. That’s when the fine print isn’t so fine.

It is true that in the presentation given by the EDC and the Parks Department that three asterisks ( ***) were included in the construction timeline for the boardwalk rebuild. The asterisks, on Page 34 of a 38 page overview, signified the three five month work breaks in the middle of the rebuild. It was a detail, this 15 month total, that seemed to slip past most people at the meeting.

One possible reason it went unnoticed is that at the December Community Board meeting at which Parks and EDC revealed a preliminary timeline there was no mention of piping plovers. The presentation still viewable online makes no mention of moratoriums.

Parks says Federal laws are in place and the Fish and Wildlife Agency says the birds are not to be disturbed. The same agency, however, permitted the pile driving in 2013 when lifeguard and comfort stations were installed at Beach 32nd and Beach 59th Streets. To that, Parks replied that those jobs were limited in scope and were able to gain approval from Fish and Wildlife but a full boardwalk rebuild is another matter.

Community activist Joe Hartigan has suggested relocating the birds from city beaches to federally owned Fort Tilden where the beaches remain closed since Sandy and where there might be fewer hazards for the endangered species. The Wave called Fish and Wildlife about this option but did not receive a reply by press time.

As it stands, the plovers rule the roost and were not offering comment. So, yes, Long Beach and towns in New Jersey have their boardwalks back. But they didn’t have 27 plovers in the catbird seat.

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