Along Rockaway Beach between Beach 89th and 101st streets, there’s no shortage of action on this particular sunny Thursday in August.
But the action is not the sound of radios, kids playing in the sand or umbrella cloth whipping in the seabreeze; rather it’s the sound of backhoes rolling over damp sand dunes and construction workers shouting.
On one of the concrete boardwalk islands built around the Beach 97th Street concession stand, Col. Paul Owen of the Army Corps of Engineers shields his face from the sun with the palm of his right hand as he points out toward the ocean with his left. Next to him, Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Veronica White look out to where Owen is pointing.
In the distance, a dredging craft, the CR McCaskill, works in the Rockaway Inlet between Far Rockaway and Atlantic Beach in Nassau County.
The sand it is picking up, Owen explained, is sent through a pipe laid in the water parallel to the beach until it is turned at Beach 101st Street onto the shore, then through a pipe onshore to the spot where workers are piling up the sand to be distributed along the beach.
The work that was underway last Thursday morning is part of the first phase of the reconstruction of Rockaway Beach, which was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy last October. The storm eroded the beach so badly that for weeks afterward, high tide brought waves right up to the pilings of the destroyed boardwalk.
The first phase of the project — a $10 million contract awarded to New Jersey-based Weeks Marine — was awarded earlier in the summer and calls for placement of roughly 600,000 cubic yards of sand from the inlet to be placed on the beach.
That work will also serve to clear the Rockaway Inlet, where sediment buildup is threatening the channel.
“It has kind of a dual benefit,” Owen said. “We’re able to clear the navigation channel that hasn’t been cleared in a long time. We’re taking the material out of the navigation channel and using the good quality sand to place on the beach.”
But that was only the first part. The second, larger, contract, which Weeks Marine bid on and won, calls for nearly 3 million more cubic yards of sand from another dredging location in Lower New York Bay to be placed on the beach at a cost of $26.4 million.
That will allow the Army Corps to rebuild Rockaway Beach as it was in the 1970s — 100 feet wide from boardwalk to waves and 10 feet above sea level.
The project, which is still in the first phase, is being done in stages between Beach 89th and 149th streets, which were the hardest-hit areas by Sandy. The beachfront east of Beach 89th Street, where long jetties jut out into the sea, was not badly eroded in the storm.
“We’re working in 1,000-foot sections,” Owen said. “We’re shutting off portions of the beach and then reopening them. We’re making good progress.”
This week, the work is being done between Beach 89th and Beach 101st, and then later will be done west of Beach 101st, where the pipe comes in from the ocean. Some areas will be replenished with sand multiple times before the project is complete.
Work will continue through the winter and the estimated completion date is in mid-2014, but Owen said he’d like to get the work done by Memorial Day.
“You’ll see some incredible resilient features that will provide recreational benefits, but the primary purpose of our projects is to reduce the risk from future storms that are coming here,” Owen said.
There will be a third phase, that will be a longer project dealing with resiliency along the entire shoreline, including the Jamaica Bay-side of the peninsula, which was hit hard by Sandy’s storm surge. That phase will include a study of other means of protection, including the possibility of seawalls and jetties.
That project will cost around $200 million more in federal investment, Owen said.
For officials and residents from the Rockaways, the projects gave a hint of optimism to an area that has struggled to recover from the storm.
“This is hopefully the beginning of what will be a process that will include the community and a process that will work hand-in-hand to make sure that residents who have lived there for so long will be part of a process to make Rockaway better than ever,” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) said.