The NYC Parks Department spent the holiday weekend strictly enforcing a recently announced closure of a prime stretch of Rockaway Beach, stationing Park Enforcement Patrol officers along the beach to prevent anyone from so much as setting foot on the sand. Surfing is still permitted along the stretch from Beach 91st Street to Beach 102nd, but aside from a small section by the concessions at Beach 97th, the 11-block section is completely off-limits.
In a surprise announcement made last week, just days before the opening of public beaches for the summer, the city said that beach erosion "means that there is not enough beach area to safely operate swimming and recreation activities in this area." The suddenness of the announcement angered local residents and business owners, many of whom said they had been warning the city about the beach erosion for over a year.
On the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, some Rockaway residents held a mock funeral for the beach, and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver was heckled at a press conference announcing the start of the beach season.
Only In Rockaway. FUNERAL FOR A BEACH. After Parks say some beaches are being closed for the summer some locals say RIP to the dead beaches. pic.twitter.com/fuVJFPJDpu
— Rockaway Times (@Rockawaytimes) May 25, 2018
Local business owners protested the closure of a stretch of Rockaway beach by staging a funeral and I can’t stop thinking about this image! pic.twitter.com/lM213Ym4H1
— aditi (@oatmilkmotel) May 29, 2018
Although the boardwalk remains open to pedestrians, some beachgoers and local residents were surprised that the Parks Department was preventing them from even walking along the beach, which is now cordoned off by fencing. Over the weekend, some visitors were observed climbing over a protective dune in order to access the blocked-off section of beach.
Rockaway resident Matt Johnson says he was walking on the beach Sunday afternoon when he was shooed away by Parks Department staffers.
"I was wearing shoes and socks, did not have a bathing suit, towel or even a bag, so I believe it was clear to any observer that I was not intending to enter the water," Johnson said. "I was stopped by the two Parks staff members on the beach, who told me that I could not continue walking on the beach past that point. I asked them whether the section of the beach closed to swimming was also closed to pedestrians and they confirmed that it was."
Johnson said he told the staffers that he had walked along the same stretch of beach on Saturday morning, and during that stroll had informed several Parks personnel about a large object that had washed up on the beach, and had not been told to leave.
"We had a calm, respectful discussion, during which they suggested I file a complaint with 311 regarding this policy change, as well appeal to my local community board," Johnson said. "They agreed with me that the policy of barring pedestrians from the closed beach was flawed. In course of our conversation, I learned that they were ordinarily posted in Manhattan but had been reassigned to Rockaway to help manage the beach closure."
The Parks Department says that in May experts took final measurements of the distance between the toe of the dune and the high and low tide lines to estimate how much space could be available for recreational use. After consulting with lifeguards, Parks officials said they decided it would not be safe to allow access to the section, which can become largely submerged at high tide.
This stretch of beach will be off limits through next year and likely beyond. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Chuck Schumer have called on the Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate their timeline for adding new stone groynes to help slow down the erosion, and dump more sand to the beach. But that project is not expected to begin until after the 2019 beach season, the NY Times reports.
The Parks Department stresses that 4.5 miles of Rockaway beach are still open for swimming, a fact that former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe also noted on Twitter.
Sympathetic--to a point--with #RockawayBeach residents complaining about City shutting a half-mile eroded stretch for safety reason. But they still have 4.5 miles of beach & boardwalk restored at massive expense, and at worst a 5-minute walk to an open section. @NY4P @NYCParks
— (((Adrian Benepe))) (@Adrian_Benepe) May 28, 2018
A Queens Community Board 14 Parks and Public Safety meeting is scheduled for June 11th at 6:30.