LONG ISLAND CITY — Long-awaited repairs to the badly damaged seawall in Queensbridge Park are scheduled to begin this spring, according to the Parks Department, amidst criticism from park advocates who decry the heavily used greenspace's lack of waterfront access.
The 20-acre Long Island City park's shoreline has been fenced off for the last few years because its crumbling concrete seawall requires repairs, a project that's stalled for almost a decade.
But the seawall overhaul is finally expected to start in May, according to a Parks Department spokesperson.
In a recent study, advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks criticized the park's current lack of waterfront access is its main pitfall.
"Overall it is a tremendous park, which makes it all the more painful that the waterfront isn’t accessible," said Holly Leicht, the group's director.
New Yorkers for Parks recently released a report that scores the city's large parks, ranking them out of 100 based on a number of factors. The report gave Queensbridge an automatic failing grade in its "water bodies" category because of "blocked access," keeping parkgoers from reaching the water for recreational activities like fishing or kayaking.
"The thing that really brought down the score was waterfront — it didn’t get any points," Leicht said (overall, Queensbridge Park scored a 79 out of 100).
Queens Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who has pressed for repairs to the seawall for years, said in 2005 that experts found a 200-foot portion of the structure had "completely failed" and predicted more deterioration in the coming years.
"The decay of parts of the seawall gets worse," said Katie Ellman, president of the waterfront advocacy group Green Shores NYC. "[With] Tropical Storm Irene, with Hurricane Sandy, the same thing."
Last year, local City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer allocated $3.4 million in funding for the seawall repairs, though the actual project has been slow to get off the ground.
"We just think its unfortunate that its taken this long," Ellman said.
The park is one of the most heavily used in the area, she added, and opening up the waterfront could make it an even more valuable resource.
Home to picnic areas and a medley of sports fields, Queensbridge Park sits just north of the Queensboro Bridge and next to the sprawling Queensbridge Houses complex, the country's largest housing development.
"Imagine how much more a resource the park will be to the community if you can have even more recreation at the river's edge," Ellman said.
The Parks Department referred additional questions to the city's Economic Development Corp., which is managing the seawall project. The EDC did not respond to questions by press time.
Elizabeth McQueen, a lifelong Queensbridge Houses resident and Queensbridge Parks' steward for more than a decade, said the seawall has long been an issue.
"It's been more than ten years," she said, saying the site was fenced off a few years ago after it was deemed dangerous.
"We have a lot of children that go into the park. We cant run the risk of those children going down there by that water because the hole was so big they would fall in," she said.
McQueen said she hopes the repairs will include lights and the addition of benches along the waterfront.
"People come down there to sit and eat their lunch," she said. "They like to watch the boats go by. it's beautiful. It's really pretty."