I know it sort of strains credulity, what with the relentless chill of all these May showers that have plagued us (and may continue to plague us) for weeks, but beach season is just around the corner, which means basically upon us, which means effectively here. Don't tell me to cool it, YOU cool it: we're going to have even more beach to enjoy this summer and I refuse to contain my excitement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who must have heard me banging my fists on my desk and chanting "beach beach Beach BeAcH BEACH BEACH BEACHBEACHBEACHBEACH" with escalating fervor every day throughout the winter, announced at a waterside press conference on Tuesday that the full length of Rockaway Beach will reopen for swimming this summer, starting on May 25th. (That's next Saturday, for your planning purposes.)
Last year, the city closed Rockaway between Beach 92nd Street and Beach 105th Street for the season, because the ocean had eaten up so much of the shoreline that it became a safety hazard at high tide. The closure, de Blasio reportedly acknowledged, "was painful for everybody," but officials said there was no other choice: The beach had been so severely whittled down that crowd control could have become a nightmarish prospect for lifeguards.
There was considerable outcry from boardwalk businesses and locals following last spring's surprise announcement from the Parks Department (right before Memorial Day, no less) that it would close an 11-block sand swath in order to rebuild. Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, who represents Far Rockaway, said in a statement: "I am adamantly opposed to the city's plan to close part of our beach right before Memorial Day weekend—the unofficial start of summer. Not only will this significantly hurt our local communities and residents but will hinder our economy. We have been demanding sand and resiliency measures for our beaches for years."
Residents had raised alarm about rampant erosion, only to have the city tell them the beach hadn't been this robust in one hundred years, thanks. And while de Blasio and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bickered about whose job it is to protect New York's coasts, a long ribbon of extremely nappable shore sat unused.
In March, however, Senator Chuck Schumer announced that the city and USACE had finally struck a deal. "Let there be sand!" he declared, and indeed, now there IS sand—about 348,000 cubic yards of it, dredged from East Rockaway Inlet Federal Navigation Channel by the USACE and injected straight into the beach, restoring the eroded dunes to their former glory. According to CBS New York, the beach "hasn't been this wide since the 1970s," and if you corralled all the repurposed sand onto a single football field, you would have a 20-story mountain on which to lounge.
The total cost weighed in at $10.7 million (of which the city contributed $2.7 million), which is admittedly steep, but Colonel Thomas Asbery of the U.S. Army Corps New York District said in a statement that it was also "vital to the residents of this community." Schumer agreed, touting his "hard" fight "to secure extra money" for the project.
"Getting tons of sand onto Rockaway Beach in time for summer—and [to] avoid a repeat disaster of prime time beach closures—required every level of government to dig in deep," Schumer said in a statement, calling the recycling of dredged sand a "win-win." In addition to providing the sweaty masses with more space to cool off (for free, at that), the dredge allows commercial and recreational vessels to move safely through the inlet, while the newly reopened beach stretch should provide an extra line of defense against storm surge as we head into hurricane season.
So there you have it: Beach season is back, baby—now with more beach added! Please cross your fingers that it doesn't rain every single weekend.