Rockaway Voices

Four months after Hurricane Sandy, Rockaway residents are grappling with the challenge of making their voices heard as recovery plans move forward.

In many areas the beach has been completely washed away, and the bulkheads and seawalls have been severely damaged. On the beachside and the bayside, the daily high tides come within feet of neighborhood streets. Regardless of their demographic and economic diversity, residents are reminded of the constant risk of flooding. Many residents have felt starved for information, waiting for news about the city and federal agencies' plans for rebuilding.

In the last month, many Rockaway community groups have been working to ease frustrations by convening workshops and meetings to discuss recovery issues. Groups like the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, Friends of Rockaway Beach, the Queens Congregations United for Action and the Jamaica Bay Task Force have been trying to collect ideas, unite their constituencies, and help inform community members about the rebuilding process. These meetings have included presentations from academics, advocates, engineers and elected officials, discussing everything from flood mitigation design to off-grid energy. While these meetings have presented many with possible solutions, for many they have raised new questions about what the future holds.

The debate within and about the Rockaways is a snapshot of what is occurring in other areas that have suffered from Sandy's wrath, from the beaches of New Jersey to the coastline of Connecticut. The Rockaways, because of the peninsula's geographical isolation, provides a particularly vivid picture of the challenges that communities are dealing with post-Sandy.

At the February Queens Community Board 14 meeting, the Army Corps of Engineers presented the agency's' initial recovery plans to begin to replenish the beach with more than 1.5 million cubic yards of sand in June and to expedite a study of options for long-term protection. It became clear that Rockaway residents were seeking guidance from government agencies on how to move forward.

Many Community Board members were concerned that flood mitigation solutions proposed by the Army Corps wouldn't be equitably applied to the entire peninsula, as the initial beach replenishment outlined in the presentation will only focus on Beach 16th Street and higher. Still others wanted to know how the community could help government agencies quickly make progress.

Overwhelmingly, the community agreed that they want to see progress and to be involved. But some were still wondering when and how the community would be engaged in the planning process. Some have called for the creation of a Rockaway Rebuilding Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from each community cohort. And others have called for hosting an international design competition to create a world-renowned recreational attraction on par with the Central Park or the Highline.

As city and federal agencies begin to unveil more rebuilding plans, the challenge for Rockaway residents is to come together to have a united and representative voice at the table. Many of the solutions, whether it's more sand dunes or different flood insurance rules, are applied to the peninsula as a whole and can't be applied piecemeal to the Rockaways' diverse communities. It's a challenge that other affected areas will doubtless face as well.