Rockaway wants to shift focus to hurricane-battered bay wall

The city-owned bay wall near the corner of Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Freeway is crumbling, the land surrounding it sinking in places. Photo by Karen Frantz
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Tom McNicholas, owner of a gas station and convenience store that overlooks the bay in Rockaway Park, says the city has neglected the bulkhead that protects the shoreline from the water.

“They’ve done nothing at all over the years to maintain it,” he said, looking at the crumbling bay wall and frowning.

His property runs right up to the bay, and he maintains his own bulkhead near his convenience store, Waves, on Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Freeway. But a few yards down the city property begins, he said, and the bay wall there is partially held together with wooden planks that have rotted through.

As a result, McNicholas said, the water easily penetrates the wall and is washing away the land from underneath.

“What you’ve got here is a pie crust,” he said, pointing at the land that is sinking in some places. “There’s nothing under this.”

The bay wall that runs along a large portion of Beach Channel Drive, a main thoroughfare in the Rockaways, has sparked the concern of local politicians and community leaders. The area’s state assemblyman, Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park), said he has long called for the restoration of the bay wall and pointed out that it now is in even worse shape after Hurricane Sandy.

“Right now, the safety of Beach Channel Drive is questionable and this puts our families at a level of risk that I refuse to accept,” said Goldfeder.

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska also said the community has long been struggling to bring attention to the wall.

“We have been fighting for years and it’s about time someone takes notice before it’s too late,” he said.

The seawall includes both public and private ownership. But the city Department of Transportation said for the portions under its jurisdiction, repairs have either been completed or are about to begin. The agency said it has already wrapped repairs at Beach 131st Street and it expects to soon begin repairs from Beach 116th to Beach 125th streets and from Beach 130th to Beach 145th streets.

Regardless, Goldfeder said he has heard from residents and community leaders who are concerned about Beach Channel Drive’s safety due to the deteriorating bulkhead. And he said the present conditions leave the road with little underground support and open up the peninsula to further damage from flooding in the future.

He also said he is concerned that sinkholes could form if the decay continues, putting homes along the bay at risk.

DOT said it did inspect Beach Channel Drive for damage after the storm and from that review made temporary repairs to the roadway between Beach 129th and Beach 130th streets with plans to schedule more permanent repairs in the future.

In the meantime, McNicholas said the deterioration of the bulkhead is so severe it is affecting his own property. He said a food stand his son had erected near the city’s bay wall may have to be moved out of harm’s way.

“Had [the city] acted better, surely we’d be in much better shape,” he said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 4:41 pm, December 27, 2012
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