Bulldozers and heavy equipment were odd summer sights at Rockaway Beach Sunday, but their presence had a purpose: The massive machines are involved in the first phase of a larger effort to prevent a repeat of superstorm Sandy's devastating effects.
The beachside community was hit hard by last fall's historic storm. Rockaway Beach's popular boardwalk was destroyed and a large chunk of shoreline was lost, forcing beachgoers to crowd into a smaller area. Large chunks of the shoreline remain closed to beachgoers.
The first part of the Army Corps of Engineers project, which is expected to begin this week when a dredging boat dumps sand from the ocean onto the beach between Beach 89th and Beach 149th streets, should take about eight weeks to complete, said Sen. Charles Schumer, who joined community leaders at a news conference at Rockaway Beach Sunday.
"Sandy came and wiped out the Rockaways but we need them back," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "The Rockaways will come back bigger, stronger and better."
A second multimillion-dollar contract that still must be awarded will add 3 million more cubic yards of sand along the beach, from Beach 19th to Beach 149th streets, Schumer said. Portions of the beach are closed, officials said, from Beach 91st to Beach 108th streets.
The third phase of the project, which will include the construction of jetties, dunes and sea walls, is in the planning stage and could take three to five years to complete after the first two phases are finished, Schumer said.
Residents in the beachside community said that dumping tons of sand on the beach is a temporary fix because it will eventually wash away like it had even before Sandy. Instead, they said, jetties and sand dunes with grass planted on top should come first because that would slow beach erosion in a storm.
"They are spending money the wrong way," said Janet Rodman, 56, a resident of the Rockaways for 52 years. "Until you build the rock jetties, the sand will just blow over every couple of years."
Frustrated residents have also grown impatient because part of the beach is still closed more than nine months after Sandy, said Lew Simon, a community leader and a candidate for a seat on the New York City Council.
Simon said replacing the sand is a good start, but just a start. "This project helps because it's sand and protection, but we need more," Simon said. "My phone has been off the hook with locals who can't use the beach."