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'Let There Be Sand': Shuttered Portion Of Rockaway Beach To Reopen This Summer

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The snow is melting, the days are growing longer, and pretty soon—please, Beach God, let it be soon—the sun will poke its head through the dull grey sky and liberate us from these indoor doldrums. When that glorious day finally comes, and New Yorkers flock to the city's beaches to dip our toes in the water and asses in the sand, we can do so without a worry in the world about the beach-eroding tides rapidly threatening the coastal integrity of our region. At least, we can be a bit less worried than last year.

On Monday, Senator Chuck Schumer announced that the 11-block stretch of Rockaway Beach closed off to the public last year will soon reopen, thanks to a joint agreement reached by the Army Corps of Engineers and New York City. The receding half-mile shoreline in question—a popular recreational strip that was shuttered days before the beaches officially opened for swimming last year—will soon be replenished by sand dredged from the East Rockaway Inlet. The project will be paid for with $7 million in federal funding included in the Army Corps' budget.

"Let there be sand—on Rockaway Beach!" declared Senator Schumer in a statement. "Using the sand from the East Rockaway dredging is a win-win that will keep open BOTH a vital navigation channel & all of Rockaway Beach...No one wanted to have another partial beach shutdown again this summer."

Following last summer's beach bombshell, furious locals and business owners complained that they'd been sounding the alarm about erosion for years, even as the city claimed that the beach was wider than ever. A prolonged period of finger-pointing followed, with the Army Corps insisting that recreational use of the beach was the city's jurisdiction, as Mayor Bill de Blasio demanded the federal agency expedite its building of protection measures like groins—stone jetty structures placed perpendicularly in the water to restrict the flow of sand. A solution could not be found in time, and beach-goers were left to stare longingly at a closed off stretch of prime shoreline for the entirety of the summer.

This year, the two parties seem to be cooperating a bit better. In a statement, de Blasio said that he'd "worked [for] months with the Army Corps and our federal partners on a solution to get it done." He added that "Rockaway Beach defines summer in New York City"—which, agreed.

While the sand replenishment program means that New Yorkers will once again have the full run of the beach, the problem of erosion at Rockaway is far from solved. Notably, the announcement did not include any timeline for the addition of new groins. It also remains unclear when a long-awaited seawall, intended to protect the coastal communities from the next Superstorm Sandy, will rise in Jamaica Bay. Building was initially slated to begin at the start of this year, but construction on the first elements of the wall has been pushed back to least the end of 2019.

Schumer says he and Mayor de Blasio met with the Army Corps' New York District Leader Colonel Thomas Asbery to urge him to "expedite the Rockaway Reformulation Study’s timeline so that construction agreements for the Atlantic Shorefront and Jamaica Back Bay could be issued in 2019." A spokesperson for the Army Corps did not respond to Gothamist's inquiries.

New York City beaches reopen for swimming on May 25th. In the meantime, let the gentle current pull your slush-addled brain toward summer's bliss, and pray to Beach God that a winter storm won't spoil the good news.

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