In September of last year, I was joined by Senator Chuck Schumer and over 20 civic and community leaders and many others to tour the boardwalk and beach in Rockaway. We witnessed first-hand the erosion that has taken place and saw the damage that was caused by Hurricane Irene. At that time, the Senator and I made a commitment to work side by side with the community to fight for every resource to rebuild our beaches and give our families the safety and protection they deserve.
Immediately following Hurricane Irene, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was committed to working with local government agencies to help with the cost of boardwalk and beach repairs, but they did not seem to appreciate the urgency and dire need for swift action. Senator Schumer and I stepped in to ensure immediate aid to the New York City Parks Department was distributed. Beach and boardwalk repairs were not a luxury but a necessity and matter of public safety. Our homes and businesses were in jeopardy and the storm season only put us at risk for even further catastrophic damage. We urged FEMA to take quick action and expedite the request for much needed relief, and they did.
In an effort to address the beach erosion, even if only temporary, we then called on the Army Corps of Engineers to reprogram funding to dredge the East Rockaway Inlet, and to work with New York City Parks Department to restore Rockaway Beach with dredged sand from the inlet, which would protect both Rockaway residents and this vital recreational boating and commercial shipping channel.
Only a few weeks later, Senator Schumer and I announced that the Army Corps of Engineers had agreed to allocate $4.5 million for the project, with a contractor expected to be chosen as soon as possible. The Army Corps of Engineers committed to place the new dredged sand only on the eastern section of the peninsula because that was most cost efficient and their budgetary restraints prohibited moving it. They did explain that a local sponsor agency could step in to provide additional funding and work with them to move the sand to other locations on Rockaway Beach.
I immediately sent a letter to Mayor Mike Bloomberg requesting that he provide the funding necessary to move the sand where it was needed most along the beach. This past week, I was proud to announce that the mayor heeded our calls and allocated $3 million dollars to make sure the hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of sand provided by the Army Corps of Engineers will be placed in the hardest hit areas. The New York City Parks Department will be collaborating with the Army Corps of Engineers to get a contract in place and hopefully begin work in the fall. This victory was won by a long fight and I was proud work with the community and attend rallies and meetings to ‘Demand the Sand.’
While we have won this particular battle, the job is far from complete. Most residents in Rockaway agree that the real long-term solution would be permanent rock jetties. I have called for the Army Corps of Engineers to restore funding for the Rockaway Beach Study – East Rockaway Inlet to Rockaway Inlet. The study began in 2004 after three decades of continuous beach upgrades by the Army Corps of Engineers, when it was determined that the beach required a comprehensive, long-term plan for protection and upkeep. Significant progress had been made while funding was steady – however, the loss of federal funding in 2011 delayed the project’s completion.
The need for long term comprehensive action to deal with the eroding Rockaway Beach is evident today more than ever before. We’ve spent almost 10 years waiting for results and have made too much progress only to lose momentum now that we are so close to a real solution. The beaches in Rockaway are crucial to our community and economy; after being hit by several recent storms taking care of this beach must be a top priority. Restoring much-needed funding will help see this project to completion and ensure the future of Rockaway beaches and our community. I will continue to fight alongside my colleagues at every level of government to ensure that Rockaway is not forgotten and we get the resources we need to keep our families safe.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder represents the 23rd Assembly District which includes the communities of Broad Channel, Howard Beach and Ozone Park.