Seventeen months ago, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stood with Mayor Bloomberg and other officials in Brooklyn and announced big plans for the future of Gateway National Recreation Area — the federally protected park that includes most of the Jamaica Bay shoreline, as well as portions of the Rockaways, Staten Island and New Jersey.
The park was underutilized, Salazar said, and the Obama administration wanted to see the land become a recreational area, part of the White House’s nationwide plan to invest in urban parkland. Last week, they moved forward with those plans.
The city Parks Department and the National Park Service announced on March 11 that three requests for proposals have been issued for the installation, operation and maintenance of kayak and canoe rental stations, bike rental stations, and mobile food units on both city and federal parkland throughout Jamaica Bay, the Rockaway Peninsula and the adjoining Gateway National Recreation Area.
Specifically, the RFPs seek a concessionaire for a one-year term, with three, single-year renewal options — exercisable at the Parks Department’s and the concessionaire’s mutual discretion. The RFPs are for operations to begin this summer.
“We are hoping to offer opportunities for New Yorkers to bike, eat and paddle, and are looking to receive proposals from companies or individuals with strong backgrounds in delivering these amenities to the public,” said city Parks Commissioner Veronica White.
But a lot has happened since the deal was announced in 2011 and agreed to last summer. Topping the list of issues the bay has faced since then — a direct hit from a 10-foot storm surge caused by Hurricane Sandy almost a year to the day after Salazar came to the bay.
The aftermath of the storm has led to a common reaction to the plan among activists and officials who know Jamaica Bay well:
Hey, that’s great, but we have bigger problems to attend to first.
“They’re putting the cart before the horse,” said said Don Riepe, the northeast chapter president of the American Littoral Society and a Broad Channel resident, noting by his count, there are still around 200 boats or fragments of boats scattered throughout the bay as a result of Sandy, most notably the one still bobbing in the tide in Charles Park in Howard Beach, where it has sat since mid-January.
“Kayaking and camping are all great, but considering the amount of debris and destruction, we are trying to clean up the bay. That should be priority,” Riepe added.
The RFPs were also announced at the March 7 Community Board 10 meeting, when Chairwoman Betty Braton brought up the issue of debris in the bay.
“We will let them know that we want to see some action at Charles Park and other locations that need some attention,” she said.
Though Sandy devastated Charles Park, some Howard Beach residents have been complaining about the situation there since long before the storm.
Daphne Yun, a spokeswoman for the NPS, said it and the city would move forward with plans to open the RFPs despite the storm and that the agency has been able to also focus on post-Sandy cleanup.
“The timeline for the RFP that NYC and the NPS just put out for kayaking, biking and food was not affected by Hurricane Sandy,” she said in an email.
According to an NPS press release, most public facilities were either undamaged in the storm or have already been repaired and reopened. The campgrounds at Floyd Bennett Field reopened March 1. Riis Park and Fort Tilden’s athletic fields will be open this summer, though the beach at Fort Tilden will remain closed due to safety concerns.
Yun added that the abandoned Charles Park boat has not yet been moved because the NPS is looking for the owner first, and has not yet found him or her.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) said he approves of the plan to bring kayaking and other activities to the bay, noting the potential economic benefit to the communities that need it after Sandy.
“The expansion of uses at Jamaica Bay over the past five or 10 years has helped to improve our local economy and bring attention to the bay. The tremendous economic benefit is often overlooked,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a recovery, but we have to start thinking of the future. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a renaissance in Rockaway; we need to make sure we don’t slow our momentum.”
Goldfeder added that bringing kayakers and other people looking for recreation would not only help the community economically, but may also bring people who could see the recovery first hand and pitch in or donate to relief funds.
Rockaway Beach, which suffered a catastrophic blow from the storm, will also be open in the summer.
The Parks Department said it would build “boardwalk islands” along Rockaway Beach where the boardwalk was destroyed in Sandy. The islands will be built around concession buildings that survived the storm. The department has said the beach would be ready and open by Memorial Day.
There was an informational meeting at Floyd Bennett Field on Wednesday morning. Hard copies of the RFPs can be obtained, at no cost, through April 8 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., excluding weekends and holidays, at the Revenue Division of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which is located at 830 Fifth Avenue, Room 407. The RFPs are also available for download through April 8 on the Parks Department website, nyc.gov/parks. All proposals submitted in response to the RFPs must be submitted no later than Monday, April 8 at 3 p.m.