Rockaway Boardwalk Project Delayed by Rare Bird Nesting
ROCKAWAY BEACH — Reconstruction of the decimated Rockaway Beach boardwalk will not be completed for at least another three years in part because crews will have to stop work for months to accommodate the endangered piping plovers, which nest on some Far Rockaway beaches, according to officials.
Plans for the design were unanimously approved by the community board on Tuesday. They include a designated bike lane, massive lettering spelling out "ROCKAWAY," which can be seen from the air, and stairs and ramps built with wood salvaged from the old boardwalk, which was partially destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.
The city is still awaiting federal approval for an environmental impact study to move forward with construction, but officials anticipate work on the first section, from Beach 84th Street to Beach 97th Street, will begin this Memorial Day.
Officials said the project, which is being constructed and reopened in phases, will be finished by Memorial Day 2017 — which DNAinfo New York reported in November.
But the expected completion date for the project has been revised several times. Last year, a parks department official said December 2016, but the department later backtracked, saying it would last "a few years."
A government shutdown last year, as well as approval for new features such as a protective wall delayed the project, as did the discovery that concrete pilings that supported the structure were corroded and would have to be replaced.
Now, officials revealed that construction on nearly three miles of boardwalk will be delayed due to a "piping plover moratorium" that prohibits construction from April to September, officials said.
The moratorium will affect the phases of the project in Far Rockaway, from Beach 73rd Street to Beach 19th Street, some beginning later this year, according to a presentation.
The birds, federally designated as endangered in 1986, nest in an area between Beach 45th and Beach 56th Streets, with "satellite" mating areas on either side, according to the city Parks Department.
Great pains are taken not to disturb the birds during mating season. Fewer than 2,000 pairs of the plovers remain in the Atlantic area, according to the US fish and wildlife service.
The approved design for the boardwalk includes wide, sand-colored concrete planks to replace the wood that had defined the peninsula's boardwalk for nearly 90 years, according to the presentation by Greg Clancy, an engineer from the Economic Development Corporation, and New York City Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh.
Designers will also integrate the word "ROCKAWAY" in large letters integrated into the boardwalk, a feature that will be visible by travelers landing at nearby JFK Airport. This feature was suggested by local residents at a community session, the Parks Department said.
The boardwalk will be elevated further to comply with new FEMA flood standards — in some cases as much as 7 feet higher than the original.
It will be surrounded by protective sand dunes with sea grass, and a concrete wall will be integrated into the design for added protection in case of flooding or a strong storm surge.
Bikers will have their own separate lanes along the stretch, and there will be modern lampposts and water fountains, two kinds of benches and additional garbage bins.
The project, estimated to cost up to $250 million, is estimated to create 190 full-time construction jobs, and the city will open a local hiring office in March, according to the EDC.
While the community board unanimously approved the designs, not every resident was happy with the design and timeline of the project.
"I think it's a shame we've gotten hoodwinked into a capital project to bleed money from the feds," said John Edwards, 60, who's appealed to the city for an expedited project or at least have a temporary boardwalk installed during construction.
The city does plan to build a temporary connector from Beach 35th to Beach 39th street this summer that would create a continuous boardwalk up to Beach 60th, a Parks spokesman said. It still leaves much of the peninsula without a boardwalk, though.
Edwards participates in a summertime running series and used to sponsor races — from 5Ks to marathons — on the boardwalk.
"I can't wait til I'm 70," he said. "I want to ride my bike on the boardwalk this summer."