Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
Beach season is three months away and residents of the Rockaways have been eagerly anticipating news from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation on whether the beaches, badly damaged by Sandy, will be ready for the summer. Thursday night at Beach Channel High School, they got their first taste of what the future of the Rockaways may look like.
Members of the department, including First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, said May 24 is the goal, and they expect to be ready to open the beaches to the public. However, parts of Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden may have some sections that remain closed.
Much of the infrastructure on the beach was destroyed in the storm: the boardwalks, restaurants, lifeguard towers and comfort stations. The Parks Department didn’t present any innovative new boardwalk suggestions, like many residents had been hoping for.
But one slide in the presentation drew a visceral reaction from residents. Slipped in, innocuously, between renderings of before and after images of Sandy were new bathrooms perched above the beach.
The 12-foot tall, pre-fabricated trailers look like they're on stilts. From the slide it was hard to discern exactly how large they are, and the Parks Department wouldn’t give the dimensions, except to say, they’re 12 feet tall, and meet the requirements for FEMA’s 500-year flood plan. The new bathrooms will be placed in about eight locations, some of which will be lifeguard stations.
But what really galled residents was the Parks Department saying it is moving forward with the plans, without having consulted any residents.
“I don’t know if you realize, on Beach 66th on Beach 73rd there are homes that are just across the street, you’re essentially building restrooms in people’s front yards, backyards,” said one Arverne neighborhood homeowner, during the question and answer session afterwards. “Please consider the whole ecosystem, not just revamping the beach, but everything that makes the Rockaways beautiful.”
The department also said it has three RFPs (request for proposals) out for food stands on the beach, as well as kayak and bike rentals. Again, residents were disappointed, because this is the first they’d heard about this.
“You’re putting a food court on 116th Street? Don’t you realize that all the local merchants on 116th Street are hurting for business?” another outraged residents said at the meeting.
This meeting comes less than two weeks after the Army Corps of Engineers presented plans for protecting the beach at a community board meeting. Engineers presented their plans for protecting the beach, which amounted to replacing the 1.5 million cubic yards of sand that was lost during Sandy and continuing to study what the best plan for the future would be.
That study may not even be completed for another year. In the meantime, the Parks Department says it is considering taking a few measures—like sand fencing, and dunes made of Christmas trees—to protect the beach.
None of this reassures a community still in recovery and about to face another hurricane season.