In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, one of the most potent reminders of the storm's wrath was the obliteration of much of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, where the wooden platforms were ripped off their concrete supports and slammed into nearby cars and homes by the storm surge. In some sections, the beaches themselves were eroded almost to the roadway, with dunes destroyed and barrier rocks damaged. For a beach community that had enjoyed a surge in business and activity along the boardwalk in recent years, the storm quickly washed away what had been one of the most successful summer seasons in memory.
“The beach was starting to come alive again; we were having a renaissance,” said Carmen Acuna, a retired church worker who has lived on Beach 108th in the Rockaways for 25 years. “We had a nice mix of people from all over the city, and the boardwalk was where the life was at—it connected everything.”
A few months after the end of recovery efforts, where the Rockaway community struggled through power outages, lack of transit, and widespread beachfront destruction, rebuilding is underway in the Rockaways. The Parks Department has said that the beach will be open by Memorial Day, and aims to have the reconstruction of the concession stands at Beach 86th and Beach 95th also completed by the end of May. Those two destinations on the boardwalk, which housed popular new businesses like Rippers and a Rockaway Taco outpost, will have the boardwalk immediately around them restored, but the rest of the boardwalk will still have a long way to go. For most of the summer, the boardwalk will consist of little else than its concrete support beams. And there might not be much of a beach, either.
Water ripped through sandbag barriers on Wednesday morning as a high tide, along with a powerful wind, blasted through the protections for the construction site. The water and erosion has prevented workers from putting down cement below stairways and generally stymied reconstruction efforts. One construction worker shook his head about the proposed completion date. "No way," he told us, on condition of anonymity.
The NYC Parks Department ignored repeated requests for comment and clarification.
“It depends who you ask,” Andrew Field, co-owner of Rockaway Taco and one of the managers of the concessions on 86th and 95th, told us. “One day the construction workers will be optimistic, another not so. They keep telling me that we’re going to get the keys on Memorial Day, but even then, we won’t be able to open.”
Field believes that July 4th is the more realistic opening for the concessions, as they will have to move all-new equipment into the renovated concession areas and get operations up and running. But he still sees an exciting summer ahead. “People are going to paint the picture. We have no idea how this summer is going to look, but for this summer, you can really write your own story. We all just need a smile, and that’s what this summer is going to be about.”
For Raheema Badoon and Reginald Davis, a high-school couple from South Ozone Park, the reconstruction couldn’t happen fast enough. “This summer would be great if we had a boardwalk,” Raheema said. "They still come to the beach every day after school. Now, they hang out inside PS1’s VW Dome 2, which sits across the street from the destroyed boardwalk. The Dome is an installation/community center that offers a mix of art workshops for children, film and video pieces, as well as presentations to raise awareness about environmental issues affecting the Rockaways. Originally slated to close on May 18th, the Dome has been extended through June 30th.
Still, restoring the boardwalk will take years, and even the optimistic dates of the Parks Department seem far too soon for even a partial restoration. Ed, a Rockaway resident for 11 years (who didn’t want his last name printed), says that there’s been “a lot of big trucks rolling by, but no boardwalk yet.” He laughed at the idea that even a part of it would be completed by the end of May. “Summer without the boardwalk would be dead. It would just kill a lot of businesses.”
Despite the possibility of another storm, deeply eroded beaches, and the loss of several businesses, Field is optimistic. “We keep going forward. This is how we survive. We have 10 local kids from the high school here who work for us during the summer, and they need these jobs. So right now, let’s just make this happen.”
To that end, Rockaway Taco will be reopening its non-boardwalk location this Friday.