Our Beach: Discriminatory and Unfair
As the vestiges of winter cling on with all their might denying us a preview of spring, Rockaway residents can’t help wondering whether so cold/so late/so rainy is a harbinger of our summer weather. We cannot argue with the facts. Our northeast has but a slice of summer whereas the more south one travels the more summer is lengthened. However residents only want a fair share of beach weather for the late part of May, all of June, July and August with most if not all of September and possibly October (and a bit of November) hoping it is ours for the taking.
Of course this reads like a Rockaway prayer for most residents. But its reality is actually a cruel joke for others. Who are those others? They are the ones who are no longer welcomed on the beach since Hurricane Sandy. Who are these residents who dutifully pay their taxes yet have been prevented from using their beaches for the last five years because they are unable to navigate up and down dunes with or without a chair, two towels, drinking water, a book, sunscreen, a phone, an umbrella and fruit or some sustenance?
Every year since Sandy and the dunes, the elderly and the handicapped no longer have access to the oceanfront. Call Councilman Ulrich’s office and complain and Robbie Schwach tells the same old story: “nothing can be done.” Is that true or is that due to Councilman Ulrich deciding that this sector of Rockaway is simply not worth fighting for or is it laziness on the part of the City Parks Department?
What would we have them do? On my block alone we have a substantial number of elderly who always used the beach pre-Sandy who are captives on their porches due to the dunes. We have a tenant who is a double amputee. We have several residents with knee and back issues unable to not only climb up the dune but to climb down no matter what kind of synthetic walkway is imposed on us. Glen used to take his wheelchair or ride down to the sea wall and sit watching the ocean tides. Since the building of the dunes, Glen has no view of the ocean at all. Angie, Linda’s mom, used to accompany her family to the beach and take a brief walk with her feet in the ocean now has to be content sitting on Linda’s porch while her family leaves her behind for hours and heads for the ocean. Lucy, who at one time did summer work for the Parks Department is incredulous at how she and other handicapped neighbors are being disrespected by Parks and doubled down by our councilman.
Did you hear that we, the underserved, are getting tax refunds because we can no longer use the beach? Not really! Yet each summer we hope against hope that Parks will find a way to be inclusive with respect to all of our neighbors. It certainly does not need explaining that being old or handicapped is surely burden enough without what used to be our summer pleasure being ripped from us. What should be done?
First of all let us admit that the dunes are no insurance against another hundred year storm. If Sandy ripped out the sea walls and concrete baffles and sidewalks, piles of sand are not going to protect us against Sandy-like devastation. With that as a certainty let us proceed with a plan for inclusivity this summer.
Each beach block must provide direct access from the baffle (beach entrance) to the ocean on a level beach. One suggestion is the Parks Department use their heavy equipment to carve out flat access from the baffle through the dune to the ocean front for the summer. The cutout should be in the shape of the letter ‘V’ with a wider base to prevent collapse. And, it must be monitored throughout the summer and shored up when necessary. At the end of the summer, Parks using the same heavy equipment can pack the dunes with sand from the south and north side of the dunes. With all of the attention Parks is paying to the Beach 70s through Beach 126th Street, it would be novel if they commiserated with our struggle and solved our problem.
The fact that this effort would necessitate work from Parks each spring and fall is not a one-time solution. Was the building of the dunes Parks answer to a hundred year storm or a matter of having less beach to maintain? Clearly, Parks did not take into account all residents of Beach 126th to 149th streets.
For the last five years, we (I include myself as handicapped) have cried out for a solution to this problem. One suggestion was to put access on every other or every third beach which is a non-starter because how are those in the out group supposed to navigate on soft sand east or west two or three blocks to access a ‘cutout’ to the ocean. There was a ramp idea, but that was disruptively idiotic when dune tunnels or V’s can be carved out of the dunes.
For the Robby Schwachs of this world who bark that nothing can be done year after year, what if I suggest shutting down the beaches altogether denying physically fit folks their summers at the beach until Councilman Ulrich, Parks and our mayor remedy this untenable situation. Would they be peeved?
Further, it is ironic that Wounded Warriors get their few days at the beach while those wounded by life itself get nothing. Our beach solution, and there is one, needs to be engineered so that it is functional and safe. As it is, it stinks.