It's almost February, and New Yorkers suffering from cabin fever are already dreaming of the day when we can strip down to our trunks and dive into the refreshing bosom of the Atlantic Ocean without fear of frostbite. NYC beaches will reopen on Memorial Day, but due to Hurricane Sandy, the future remains uncertain for the popular beaches at Fort Tilden on the Rockaway Peninsula.
Although the NYC Parks Department was able to reopen NYC beaches on schedule last summer (seven months after Sandy clobbered the Rockaways), Fort Tilden falls under the auspices of the National Parks Service, which oversees the Gateway National Recreation Area. Unlike the more crowded beaches at Jacob Riis Park just a stone's throw away, the beaches at Fort Tilden have no lifeguards, and its relative seclusion has made Tilden increasingly popular in recent years. But despite volunteer cleanup efforts, federal officials determined that there was too much erosion and debris from the 2012 hurricane to allow the beaches to safely reopen last summer.
It's unclear if summer 2014 will be any different. "We hope so, but it's not ready yet and there's still a lot of work to do," says Daphne Yun, a spokesperson for Gateway National Recreation Area. "The hazardous debris in the sand (metal and broken slabs of concrete from Shore Road) is still in the sand. We had a lot of people volunteer to help last Spring and they were able to clean up all the things that they could. What remains are the bigger things: pieces of metal, broken pieces of concrete from the road."
Asked why, almost a year and a half since the hurricane, there's still so much left to be done, Yun explains, "Gateway is really big. It's 60 miles of coastline—everything was damaged during Sandy, and during the last year our main priority was to open our life guarded beaches, which we did. Secondly, the process of awarding a contract for the cleanup has to go through very specific rules."
Apparently it's a long process! The entity overseeing the cleanup is the Denver Service Center, which is "the central planning, design, and construction management project office for the National Park Service." But according to DSC spokesperson Lindy Allen, the National Park Service is only now "beginning the contracting process for the cleanup of the beach at Fort Tilden." The project is being funded by the Federal Highway Administration.
Yun declined to predict when that contract would be finalized. She also refused to speculate on the odds of Fort Tilden's beaches reopening this summer. But she did stress that reopening the beach "is a priority."