Freeport has begun a nearly $1 million renovation of bulkheads at its Waterfront Park in the village's South End. Some question whether it's a priority while others say the work is long overdue.
"The bulkhead failed and the ground was eroding into the water, leaving large sinkholes in its path. This was a clear and present danger to park goers," Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy said. "The renovation was long overdue."
Village Public Works chief Robert Fisenne said, "Bulkheads are designed to protect waterfront real estate from erosion. The more than 70-year-old park's bulkheads are 25 years old and were hard hit by superstorm Sandy in 2012."
The park, at 957 Long Beach Ave., overlooks Swift Creek and Nassau Channel. It is nearly 2.7 acres, with a playground, large picnic area with two pavilions, walking paths along the waterfront, fishing area, gazebo at the water's edge and restrooms.
The park, with water on three sides, is accessible by bicycle or car. Many residents are within walking distance.
For the past four years, the south waterside portion of the park has been roped off and barricaded. It is next to the park's playground and was a particular danger to children, said Kennedy, who became mayor in 2013 and promised the bulkhead repair.
But some residents said they think there are bigger priorities in the village.
"Public roads," said Justin Kargman, a 10-year resident, as he walked and carried his 1-year-old son, Cole, around the playground. "This [park] is nice, but better roads are a bigger priority."
Evelyn Kaufman, who has lived in the village for 40 years, said she loves the park, played there as a child and loves bringing her two children, ages 2 and 5, to it.
"But if there's anything that's a bigger priority in this village, it's the roads," she said. "Still, it's a beautiful park, with a feeling of community."
Upon taking office, Kennedy said, he and the village board of trustees authorized $947,800 for the new bulkheads and railings alongside them.
He said $697,800 of the renovation money will come from bond proceeds -- money the village will borrow -- and $250,000 from a state Environmental Protection Fund grant.
Steven Borriella, who lives a few doors north of the park, said: "The park was getting dangerous with all of those sinkholes, and it's really a spot that residents like a lot.
"Do roads need to be fixed? Sure. But I think people want that park the way it used to be," he said.
Kennedy said you can't do everything at once, adding that "13 village roads are being replaced at the same time as this project." He said the state grant "was a big impetus for doing the park now."
The park, which opens at dawn and closes at dusk, hosts 20 to 30 permitted summer parties, he said, and hundreds of residents use the playground, barbecues and restrooms each week.
"Residents deserve a safe and secure park. This renovation will ensure that," he said.
The project, he added, should be completed in June.