Photo Courtesy of Laura Deckelman
Councilman Eric Ulrich addresses the crowd on Sunday at the Friends of Rockaway Beach rally.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The de Blasio administration last weekend shuttered a dozen blocks of Rockaway Beach—just in time for the unofficial start of summer in the city—ignoring calls to reconsider and leaving elected officials, area residents, and business owners with little answers or options.
“[W]e know that this summer there is going to be a challenge in the Rockaways; no one is happy about it, I’m not happy about it, [City Parks Commissioner] Mitch Silver is not happy about it,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday as he opened city beaches in a celebration on the Coney Island boardwalk. “But we are going to get that situation fixed as quickly as we can… So the Rockaways is going to have a great beach season even though we have got some work we got to do.”
Rockaway pols and community leaders last week lambasted de Blasio and the City Parks Department for suddenly indicating that the area between Beach 91st and Beach 102nd streets, one of the more popular stretches of the borough tourist destination, would be closed effective Friday for safety concerns due to erosion.
Rockaway residents and civic leaders have been warning City officials for years about erosion issues at certain swaths of the beach. And federal representatives have been urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the Rockaway shoreline a priority for the better part of the last decade. In 2013, Congress passed the Hurricane Sandy Relief Act, which provided the corps with over $5 billion in funding to protect the region’s most vulnerable areas. But last year, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) fired off a letter to corps leadership, blasting the Army for not delivering.
“It is simply unacceptable that a fully-funded project languish for so long, leaving Rockaway susceptible to erosion, storm surge and flooding,” they wrote in June 2017.
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) boycotted Friday’s Rockaway Beach opening ceremony in protest of the closure. The event was produced by the Parks Department.
“The ceremony is meant to be a celebration, but for my constituents and the business owners who will be impacted by this decision—it is anything but,” Ulrich said. “The closure will devastate our local economy—and during peak season, nonetheless.”
And on Sunday, Friends of Rockaway Beach organized a rally during which they demanded that state and city leaders to invest in infrastructure to protect beaches and coastal communities.