Rockaway Bathrooms Installed Despite Presence of Endangered Birds

By Katie Honan on January 20, 2014 6:56am 

 A construction moratorium during nesting season for the endangered piping plover may delay boardwalk reconstruction for months, but lifeguard shacks were installed on Far Rockaway beaches during nesting season last year. 
A construction moratorium during nesting season for the endangered piping plover may delay boardwalk reconstruction for months, but lifeguard shacks were installed on Far Rockaway beaches during nesting season last year. 
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

FAR ROCKAWAY — The nesting season for endangered birds may delay the reconstruction of portions of the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Rockaway Beach boardwalk for months, but it didn't stop the city from installing a series of pricey beach bathrooms in the area last year.

Four of the city's controversial, multimillion-dollar lifeguard shacks were installed last summer at two locations along Far Rockaway beaches that prohibit construction for several months a year to protect the piping plovers that nest there.

The elevated structures, at Beach 32nd Street and Beach 59th Street, were installed after Memorial Day — right in the middle of the seasonal moratorium, which is expected to halt the reconstruction of the boardwalk twice.

Officials said the boardwalk, which is being constructed and reopened in phases, will be finished by Memorial Day 2017.

The delay is largely due to the fact that construction crews will have to stop work for two periods in 2015 and 2016 to accommodate the birds from Beach 19th Street to Beach 60th Street.

A spokesman for the Parks Department, which is overseeing the boardwalk rebuilding with the Economic Development Corporation, said last year's construction "was limited to a much smaller portion of the protected nesting area."

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitored the projects closely and directed adjustments to the construction operation when necessary," he said.

"With the larger scope and scale of this project, which will occupy the entire length of the protected nesting area, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a moratorium on work during nesting season."

Last summer, 27 piping plovers nested in the area, according to the Parks Department.

All of the work last year was "completed under a permit from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and was also subject to an environmental review by FEMA," the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service said they coordinated with FEMA last year and were "engaged in the comfort and lifeguard station replacement and reviewed the project for impacts to plovers."

Piping plovers were federally designated as endangered in 1986 and nest in an area between Beach 45th and Beach 56th Streets, with "satellite" mating areas on either side, according to the Parks Department.

And while the plovers have been present on the peninsula for more than 25 years, neither the Parks Department nor the EDC ever mentioned until last week's community board meeting that they would impede the boardwalk construction.

It's just one of many issues — including the government shutdown, the approval of new features and corroding piles that need to be replaced — that has caused a delay, city officials said.

The latest hurdle is frustrating for residents left vulnerable after the powerful superstorm.

One local politician said that while protecting an endangered bird is important, he's worried about the more than 120,000 residents of the peninsula.

"The No. 1 concern for Rockaway's families, including my own, is protection from the next storm," said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who lives in Far Rockaway.

"Every agency within every level of government has to do everything they can to ensure an expedited rebuilding of appropriate safeguards."

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