The Rockaway Beach Civic Association’s January meeting was jam-packed with information, as local organizations came together to discuss the recent passing of the NYS Water Safety bill, and elected officials and community leaders provided updates about the goings-on in the neighborhood.
After a welcome from the RBCA Executive Board, the stage was turned over to members of the Water Safety Coalition, who helped to get the Water Safety Bill passed and who plan to continue the work on improving water safety for all residents of the state.
“We are a group of concerned New Yorkers, community organizations, and nonprofit organizations,” RBCA Secretary and Water Safety Coalition member Clare Hilger explained, giving a bit of background on the Water Safety Coalition. “Our mission is to make water safety an essential right for all. We’re seeking to save lives, and we want to make a more inclusive recreation community.”
The group, Hilger went on to say, has worked to gather signatures and promote awareness for bills in the NYS Assembly and NYS Senate that would make water safety education mandatory in all New York schools. The group has also been working on bringing a public pool to the Rockaway Peninsula, to better enable children to learn how to swim and about water safety in a secure environment.
Shawn Slevin of the Swimstrong Foundation then explained how it is crucial for water safety to get into local schools as our contact with water is seemingly unavoidable. “As we discovered with Ida, we can no longer avoid water,” Slevin said. “Water will seek us out, so it is imperative that all of us understand water on a much deeper level than we have in the past, and that we develop a much deeper relationship with it.”
Shanna Blanchard of the Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Conservancy (JBRPC) agreed with the need for enhanced water safety and awareness, and stressed the importance of having a public pool that would allow residents to safely engage with the water without having to get into the oftentimes rough and unpredictable tides of the Atlantic. In order to make that pool a reality, the JBRPC is looking to gain support from residents and is trying to identify potential opportunities for pool placement.
One idea Blanchard suggested was something like the East River +Pool, and asked if something similar might be a viable option in Jamaica Bay. The new Arverne East Developments also offered a potential opportunity for a public pool, and the JBRPC is hoping to work with local elected and other organizations to help find suitable locations.
“We live in a world that is becoming more wet with climate change, and the resources are just not there,” added Aydon Gabourel, the co-founder and executive director of the Laru Beya Collective, who said that building public pools in the area is a critical issue and will help to save lives in the future. “There are a lot of children – there are a lot of adults for that matter – in this community that don’t know how to swim.”
“One thing that the coalition has been talking about that’s really low hanging fruit is really basic signage along the boardwalk and the beaches,” said Saylor Pochan of the Surfrider Foundation, who believes that even simple signage that explains things such as what a rip current is could go a long way towards saving lives and enhancing water safety and awareness.
“Even signs with really basic stuff like ‘mind the tide’ or ‘don’t go swimming when you’re drunk’ helps,” Pochan added, pointing to the success of the JBRPC/Surfrider “Respect Rockaway” campaign, which is entering into its third year and places signage all along the boardwalk. Those signs, Pochan hopes, can be especially helpful to visitors to our area who might be unfamiliar with tides and other water issues that some of us along the shore take for granted.
A newly-bearded NYS Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. and NYS Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato also spoke, pleading to continue their support for the Water Safety Coalition and of expanding water safety throughout the state. They also mentioned that they would like to make it easier and more streamlined for locals to access the pools in the peninsula’s high schools, such as the one located in Far Rockaway HS.
“It’s not so easy to learn to swim in the ocean right off the bat – some folks do, and I think that’s great – but a pool is so needed,” Clare Hilger added before turning the conversation over to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who promised to support any water safety initiatives that come across his desk.
“We look forward to working with you and being a partner in unison to make sure that we can do everything to not only educate our young people, but also to work on the many underlying issues that we know have impacted our waterfront from east to west ,” Richards said, adding that this involves a deeper conversation with the Parks Department on expanding lifeguard coverage.
The issue of water safety, Richards went on, is particularly personal to him as he lost a niece to drowning when she was only six years old while she was on vacation in Mexico.
Richards also revisited the subject of public high school pools before turning the conversation over to his Director of Education and Policy, Monica Gutierrez, who explained that it is difficult to build pools in every high school as many schools are already overcrowded and typically don’t have enough classroom space as it is. As a result, placing pools in every new school is not possible, as the classroom space will take priority, and schools might not have the kind of space a pool requires.
That said, Richards said, “there are opportunities in Rockaway to get creative,” and asked residents to identify potential spots for a public pool and let his office know. It is, however, an expensive undertaking to build and maintain a new public pool, and the BP cautioned it might not always be financially feasible to build new pools all over. Additionally, the need for pools in certain areas such as Arverne East also must be balanced with other community needs, such as business incubator space or indoor basketball courts.
Councilwoman Joann Ariola spoke next, saying that there was a great opportunity now to begin looking into why places like Far Rockaway HS were still not open for public use, and for local pols to pool discretionary funding to help make some of the Water Safety Coalition’s goals a reality. “I want to work with all of you to make sure that when I meet with Commissioner Dockett I am bringing what you want over to him,” Ariola said, specifically noting the importance of enhanced signage along the beach.
Alysa O’Shea – the elected Queens Rep for the Citywide Council on High Schools (CCHS) – followed this by saying that she is planning on putting forth a resolution during the CCHS’s February meeting to make water safety a priority for school curriculum. O’Shea went on to say that she wanted to make pool repair a priority across the city.
After the conversation with the Water Safety Coalition, Capt. Jean Bouvier of the 100th Precinct provided updates about the 100th Precinct. As he explained, the 100th Precinct saw crime fall across all major categories in 2021 (for more details on the crime decrease, check out the CB14 coverage on page 17).
Bouvier also mentioned that there was a burglary in the area, and the NYPD believes the perp to be an experienced repeat offender. As such, they caution local businesses to make sure that their alarm systems are engaged at the end of shifts, and that their gates are properly locked and secured when they close up for the night.
The Captain was then asked about motorized vehicles on the boardwalk. As the officer explained, the precinct is limited in many ways because of manpower shortages due to COVID-19, but he said that he will make sure that he sends people to the boardwalk to keep an eye out.
old & new
As the meeting drew towards a close, RBCA Prez Bridget Klapinski informed the attendees that NYC Parks has announced that lifeguard recruitment is now underway. RBCA Treasurer Grace Miller then provided a treasury report, and asked for the Association to donate a $100 gift card to the McFadden family, who lost their apartment in a fire earlier this month. Klapinski agreed that the Association should go ahead and make that donation.
New RBCA co-VP Cheryl Hauk then provided a brief update on the ongoing groin construction in area beach, explaining that the US Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to have the 92nd Street jetties completed by Memorial Day. Jeremy Jones then added that the USACE was looking to build a gravel haul road to the 92nd Street jetty to better enable their equipment to get to the shore. That road will be removed once construction is wrapped up.