Funds adrift in battle to save beaches:
Some projects to combat sand erosion at city beaches are in limbo because of federal funding cutbacks, city parks officials testified yesterday. For one, Rockaway beaches are suffering serious sand loss, but federal funds to devise a long-term solution have run out.
“More federal funds are needed to complete the study, and for an actual [long-term remediation] project,” Dorothy Lewandowski, the Queens borough parks commissioner, testified at an oversight hearing by the City Council’s Waterfront Committee.
Similar problems are stalling a $10 million reclamation project at the city-owned Orchard Beach in the Bronx and a $15 million project at the privately-owned Sea Gate beach community in Brooklyn.
And there are no federal funds in reserve in the event that a major storm or hurricane causes severe sand depletion at Coney Island, by far the city’s most-popular beachfront. It had an estimated 15.6million visitors last year – three times the number at six other city beaches combined.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the lead agency in beach erosion projects, which are generally financed 65% by the federal government, with state and city governments paying the rest of the tab. But the Bush administration made major budget cuts last year for such projects.
Several Council members who participated in the hearing expressed optimism of winning funding restorations this year from the Congress, now that it is Democratic-controlled.
“The Congress changed hands Jan. 1, and I’m hoping that we have a more responsive Congress,” said Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), whose district includes Orchard Beach.
Vacca said the city and state should be prepared to fund beach-protection projects on their own, if necessary.
“I want the city to say that this is a priority with them,” Vacca stressed to the parks officials.
Councilman Michael Nelson (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the committee, added, “We’re seeing parts of our neighborhoods washing away … I think we have to be proactive about this matter.”
Councilman Joseph AddabboJr. (D-Queens) also said that sand replenishment in the Rockaways is high on his list of priorities.
As for Coney Island, Lewandowski said no major sand replenishment is needed at the moment.
But she added, “If the beach changes from a significant storm event and replenishment is needed, there are no existing federal funds in place.”
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) said, “What you’ve told us here today is not good news for Brooklynites, and for all those who may not be Brooklynites but love the Coney Island beachfront.”
Originally published on January 17, 2007