Short of trucking in sand on their own, Rockaway activists did everything in their power to protect their beaches. They protested, wrote to their elected officials and discussed the issue of erosion face-to-face with Mayor de Blasio last December.
But in the end, it was not enough.
“They should be closed for the construction of the beaches, not this,” John Cori, founder of Friends of Rockaway Beach, told the Queens Chronicle.
The city Parks Department announced on Monday that an 11-block section of Rockaway Beach, between Beach 91st and Beach 102nd streets, will be closed indefinitely due to the erosion of the sand there.
“This decision was made in the interest of safety, and that will always remain our top priority,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said in a statement. “The rebirth of Rockaway Beach stands as a symbol of this community’s strength and determination to move forward after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, so having to close even just a small portion of it is very difficult for us.”
The boardwalk along that stretch will still be open, as will the concessions and bathrooms at Beach 97th Street, but there will be no access to the water.
The agency said the erosion of sand — caused by waves and currents washing it away, causing the shoreline to become narrower and dip in elevation — made it so there is no longer enough beach for people to safely swim or soak up some rays. At some points, the waves wash all the way up to the boardwalk.
But the city can’t claim it wasn’t warned about the problem.
“We have been seeing this since 2013,” Cori said.
Multiple groups and elected officials brought the issue of erosion to the city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking both to replenish the sand and add protective measures such as more rock groins and jetties to prevent additional sand from being washed away.
Following Sandy, the Army Corps placed 3.7 million cubic yards of sand at the beach. Area residents, though, say they’re more at risk now than before the storm because most of that has since been washed away.
Officials were incensed at the city’s decision.
“We have been demanding sand and resiliency measures for our beaches for YEARS — and this is how the city reacts by closing 12 blocks of the beach?” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park) said in a statement. “That’s not a solution. Residents and beach-goers should be able to take full advantage of our city beaches and community — the City failed us by not taking action earlier, it’s simply unacceptable.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said, “This is an insult to the thousands of residents who have been tirelessly fighting for sand on our beaches ... It is a disgrace that the Parks Department would rather ignore the problem than work to address the needs of this community.”
Many fear the closure will affect nearby businesses and vendors along that stretch.
“The Army Corps of Engineers knew that this portion of the beach needed attention and should have acted years ago to remedy this situation,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said in a statement. “Now, the people and businesses of Rockaway that depend on the summer season will suffer because of their lack of action.”
Cori asked de Blasio during a town hall in Rockaway last December to help fortify the beaches. The mayor met with the USACE weeks after that, but no action ever came out of that meeting.
The federal agency is scheduled to release a draft Rockaway and Jamaica Bay Reformulation Project report in August, which will outline ways to protect the peninsula and neighboring coastal areas.
The USACE did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) is requesting a meeting with city and federal leaders to discuss the next steps.
“Since Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Rockaways, I have worked side by side with the Army Corps of Engineers to allocate millions in funding to study, repair, and safeguard our coast from future storms,” Meeks said in a prepared statement. “While I understand that an unprecedented four Nor’easters impacted New York this spring, the need for sand replenishment should have been identified sooner so that a solution could have been reached.”
Others are preparing to mourn. Rockaway activist Jean Belford is organizing a “funeral” for the beach, which will take place at Beach 108th Street on Friday at 11 a.m. She’s asking people to arrive in all black with black umbrellas and “RIP Rockaway Beach” signs.
“This is going to happen no matter what,” Belford said. “So if it’s going to continue anyway, there should just be a funeral.”
She also noted that the Parks Department’s decision is the latest in a stretch of bad news for the peninsula — part of the A train will be shut down for repair work and another homeless shelter is expected to come to the area.
The USACE recently completed construction on groins and jetties in Long Beach, LI, and Rockaway residents wonder when it will be their turn.
“They’re the answer to keeping the beaches in place,” Cori said.
One person doesn’t seem to think so. Sailing enthusiast and investment manager Bruce Stone said in a letter to the editor this week, “If you fly out of JFK and look down at the entire stretch of the Rockaways, you will note that the build-up of sand on one side of a groin is only half of the sand lost on the other side, as the low pressure causes waves to wraparound and scour out the beach. Therefore, adding a groin is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
He suggests installing breakwaters parallel to the beach to “mitigate extreme waves hitting straight-on during storms.”
This isn’t the first time erosion has closed part of the beach in Rockaway. In 1973, according to a New York Times piece at the time, 13 blocks of the beach had to be shut down until the sand could be replenished. A city official back then said the beaches “were quickly becoming a ‘natural disaster area,’” according to The Times.