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Rockaway Beach Renewal Work Delayed to Protect Rare Birds

By Katie Honan | March 26, 2014 6:48am
 The endangered piping plover, for which officials delayed reconstruction of the Hurricane Sandy-battered Rockaway boardwalk, will delay sand replenishment there as well.
The endangered piping plover, for which officials delayed reconstruction of the Hurricane Sandy-battered Rockaway boardwalk, will delay sand replenishment there as well.
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Shervin Hess

ROCKAWAY BEACH — The endangered bird for which officials delayed reconstruction of the Hurricane Sandy-battered boardwalk will delay sand replenishment as well.

The project to replenish the sand along the shoreline will be pushed back because contractors will have to bypass miles of beach until fall to avoid interfering with the hatching season of the piping plover, according to a federal official.

Contractors are not expected to begin the process of pumping 3 million cubic yards of sand onto the Rockaway peninsula until at least April as they await the delivery of a pipe required for the job, according to Daniel Falt, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. The plovers' hatching season will then force workers to skip a large stretch of beach.

"We will not be working in bird zone," Falt said in an email to DNAinfo New York, referring to the federally protected beach from Beach 19th Street to Beach 73rd Street.

Work will begin on Beach 116th Street in Rockaway park and move down to Beach 80th Street, he said, then the pipe will pivot and continue up to Beach 149th.

Despite not being included in the "bird zone," Beach 74th Street to Beach 80th Street may have to wait until the end of the summer because of high demand for the pipe elsewhere, Falt said. 

The "piping plover moratorium" prohibits construction from April to September on certain stretches of the beach. It's also delaying rebuilding of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, according to officials. 

The sand replenishment project that will pump in sand from offshore is expected to help protect the peninsula from further storms and restore the beach to its "design profile," making it larger and wider than it's been in decades, according to the Army Corps.

But about 3 miles of the peninsula will have to wait until the birds are done with the hatching season in order to get the sand. 

"We might be able to start earlier if the birds hatch, fledge and fly away early," Falt said. "The birds will be closely monitored."

In an email sent in November, he said the project was supposed to start on Jan. 14, and at a community board meeting two weeks ago, he said he hoped it would begin on March 22. 

The pipe used for the project is in high demand at other beaches, he said, and the storm that was expected for Tuesday and Wednesday will delay the start as well. 

"The crews are laying the submerged pipeline this week, the dredge is still in Delaware and I don't think they will tow it up here in the face of coming storm," Falt said.

"Taking into account weather delays, it looks like early April for sand to pump."

The construction firm Weeks Marine is in charge of the $26.4 million project to restore the beach as part of the federal government's plan to strengthen beaches eroded after Hurricane Sandy.

That company was also in charge of the smaller sand replenishment project, which pumped 600,000 cubic yards of sand from Beach 89th Street in Rockaway Beach to Beach 149th Street in Neponsit last summer.

Some beach access will be interrupted this summer, Falt said, and beaches will be closed for about one week for every 1,000 feet of sand, similar to the closures during post-storm beach reconstruction work last summer.

That's cold comfort for residents living on the narrow peninsula who say the lack of sand leaves them unprotected.

John Cori, 51, is the co-founder of Friends of Rockaway Beach and has worked for years to push for sand replenishment. He called the delays "pure insanity." 

"I'm shocked at the lack of urgency," he said. "We are so vulnerable to even just a regular storm. Someone isn't stepping up to say it's unacceptable."