A popular stretch of Rockaway Beach may close to the public this summer as federal contractors move ahead with a major resiliency project that aims to protect the coastline from further erosion.
Multiple Rockaway business owners said they were briefed by city officials on the looming closure this week, which could affect beach access between Beach 90th Street and Beach 116th Street through at least July — a prime stretch for one of the city’s most popular summertime destinations.
Dan Kastanis, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, said in an email that the agency was “finalizing a closure plan,” but declined to give specifics about the timing and scope of the shutdown.
The 1.5 mile stretch of coast is among the most transit accessible on the peninsula – by both subway and ferry – and is home to nearly a dozen boardwalk concessions. It is also the latest portion of the beach where federal contractors intend to build stone jetties that will trap sand and protect against storm surge.
Belvy Klein, the co-owner of Rockaway Beach Bazaar — which last year took over concessions at Beach 106th, Beach 97th and Beach 86th Streets — said he was in talks with the Parks Department about keeping the beach open to some degree, including a possible construction pause on weekends, if not the entire summer.
“We understand it's needed, but the timing is not ideal by any means,” Klein told Gothamist. “We’re going to do our best to see if there’s any way the feds can pause for the three months of summer that everyone counts on.”
News of the potential closure – which was first reported by the Wave – set off outrage among local elected officials, who called for the work to be postponed through the summer.
“I am steadfast in my belief that closing any stretch of beach during the busy summer season would be economically disastrous and antithetical to our efforts to rejuvenate the peninsula in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. said in a statement.
In a statement to Gothamist, U.S. Army Corps spokesperson Michael Embrich said the federal agency was working with city and state officials to ensure “there are minimal impacts to the 2022 beach season.” He added that the city’s Parks Department was ultimately in charge of beach closures.
It’s not the first time that Rockaway’s business owners and officials have been blindsided by unexpected shutdowns. In 2018, just days before Memorial Day, the de Blasio administration announced last-minute closures to a half-mile section of the beach.
Two years later, as COVID spread through New York City, de Blasio shuttered the entirety of the city’s beaches, promising to send cops after swimmers – before ultimately relenting in time for the start of July.
Michael Reen, owner of the Edible Eats on the Beach 97th Street boardwalk pavilion, said that business owners were still recovering from the pandemic and could not survive another major closure.
“We were under the impression that we were coming into a normal summer,” Reed said. “We were all just hoping for some normalcy.”