Replacement Of Coney Island Boardwalk With Concrete Begins, Outraged Pols Seek To Cut Off Funding

The Parks Department says it can avoid routine maintenance by replacing wooden planks that warp over time, seen above, with concrete and plastic. (Photo by Ned Berke)

A site trailer and construction fence were installed at Brighton 15th Street this month – a first step in a controversial plan to replace the Riegelmann Boardwalk’s iconic wooden planks between Brighton 15th Street and Coney Island Avenue with cement and plastic. But several elected officials are expressing outrage about the work, and at least one is threatening to cut off funding to the project.

Construction on the Coney Island Boardwalk officially began on November 11, the Parks Department confirmed, despite fierce objection from community members, advocates, and local politicians who disagree with the plan to replace the boardwalk with artificial materials.

“I remain very disappointed that the Parks Department is moving forward with this major change to the boardwalk without completing any safety studies to determine the impact it will have on the community,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger. “The Parks Department is also ignoring the will of the local state lawmakers who allocated this funding for repairs, and not for a new concrete road down the middle of the iconic boardwalk.”

The state lawmakers in question are Assembly members Alec Brook-Krasny and Steven Cymbrowitz, who together allocated $10 million to the Parks Department in 2009 for general repairs and improvements to the 2.5-mile span. The funding can be cut off at the lawmakers’ discretion – but only before the contracts are signed. That time has passed, but Cymbrowitz said he’s still going to find a way to close the funding spigot.

“I am outraged that Mayor [Bill] De Blasio and Commissioner [Mitchell] Silver have fast-tracked the destruction of an iconic landmark in southern Brooklyn. As I wrote to Mayor de Blasio, concrete and composite plastics are a poor approximation for a boardwalk. It’s a boardwalk, not a sidewalk. There are also significant safety concerns with this project since no impact study has been done,” said Cymbrowitz in a statement. “This is an underhanded misuse of the money and the mayor knows it. I will work to make sure that the millions of dollars I allocated are cut off. I fought hard for the boardwalk to be repaired, not to fund the elimination of the boardwalk as this community and all New Yorkers know it.”

He’s backed up by both Treyger and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who say that the funders’ intentions should be considered in how their money is spent.

“The money came from Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, and whoever gave the money for the boardwalk should have a voice in it,” Deutsch told this outlet.

Even though Coney Island’s boardwalk survived Superstorm Sandy relatively unscathed compared to the Rockaways’ concrete walk, Mayor Michael Bloomberg deemed all wooden boardwalks insufficient to withstand the ocean’s surges, and commissioned them to be replaced with concrete. That was the plan anyway, following a 2008 directive from Bloomberg’s office that city agencies would stop using tropical hardwoods – the type used to construct the boardwalk – for environmental reasons. The de Blasio administration has continued to press forward with those policies.

“Using tropical hardwoods could contribute to the climate change that helped destroy the boardwalk in the first place and it would be more expensive,” said a spokesperson for the Parks Department. Critics point out that there are other options, including sustainable domestic hardwoods such as Black Locust or White Oak, that can be used.

But the lower cost of maintaining concrete, long a part of the Parks Department’s justification for switching to cement, does not necessarily mean it will hold up better during storms, said Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents the Brighton Beach portion of the Riegelmann Boardwalk. He, Treyger and Cymbrowitz want an impact study that considers the performance of concrete in storm surges. Other areas, including Manhattan Beach and the Rockaways, saw huge concrete chunks barrel through the streets as they broke up during the October 2012 storm.

“[This is] about what is safer with the community in case another storm comes in,” he said. “It has to be safe, not just more resilient in terms of repairs, but what’s safe in regards to any kind of surge.”

Even before the storm, advocacy groups filed a lawsuit hoping to stop the plan, demanding a full environmental review. But just weeks after Superstorm Sandy, a judge ruled that the project did not need to undergo such a study since it would not constitute a signficant change the existing structure.

The boardwalk construction is expected to be completed in time for the 2016 beach season, according to the Parks Department. Elected officials are asking the city to terminate all construction until the concerns of residents are addressed.

Here is a map of the proposed plan via the Coney Island Boardwalk Alliance:

Click to enlarge

– With additional reporting by Ned Berke.

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  1. Well when the councilman hears that the wood on the boardwalk broke and the injured person files a lawsuit I bet then we will have a different opinion

  2. First of all the money is from the Taxpayers!
    And the Taxpayers do NOT want concrete! Look at the section that is concrete- full of cracks and NOT well maintained!

  3. And the wood broke because the NYPD insists on riding it’s way to heavy wehicles and the parks rides its way too heavy trucks and does not maintain the boards on a regular basis!

  4. Not only that but it was done correctly with wider planks for fewer seams and all the nails are recessed, unlike the Coney Island Boardwalk where big nail heads start protruding only three months after being installed on the new wooden sections.

  5. A stop work order needs to be issued immediately. They promised two wooden strips but the narrower section between Coney Island Avenue and Brighton Beach Avenue will be all concrete. Total misrepresentation. Also, if the wood is placed directly over a concrete base, there will be no give and it still will seem like you are walking on hard concrete. OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS MUST DO SOMETHING NOW.

  6. The people of Brighton Beach and Coney Island thank and will remember Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, and Councilmen Treyger and Deutsch at election time, for their efforts to stop a terrible plan of destruction that almost noone who lives in our communities wants. Mr. Cymbrowitz must find a way to stop our money from being spent on a project that denies us a Boardwalk and endangers us!
    And, oh yes, there is certified sustainable rainforest wood, grown for this very purpose, that financially benefits the communities that produce it, and does not at all adversely impact the rainforest. So, please Parks Department, enough nonsense!

  7. Let me add something to the story. First, it was a Councilman Deutsch who initiated a letter back in June 2014 to the Mayor DeBlasio. The letter was co-signed by other elected officials including chair of a Park Committee Councilman Mark Levin and a chair of a Waterfront Committee Councilwoman Debi Rose. The work was scheduled to start in November 2014, right? I have a question “Why funding was not revoked back in June?”

  8. The alternative that is the safest is the correct way to go. Hopefully Chaim is not just stalling and actually believes that a wooden boardwalk would be safer for his constituents’ during storms. I seriously doubt that it is the latter.

  9. A wooden boardwalk definitely would be safer. Look at what happened at Ocean Parkway after Sandy where there is a sall section of concrete walk. The sand was carried several blocks inward past Brighton Beach Avenue. That didn’t happen anywhere there was a wooden boardwalk.

  10. Chaim does not have to believe as well as others. There’re facts, pictures, etc. It looks like Park Department believes that people are stupid

  11. This part of the borough largely voted against Bloomberg the second er…DeBlasio. That’s why this is happening.

  12. Assemblymen Cymbrowitz and Brook-Krasny are trying to have it both ways. Mr. Brook- Krasny certainly knew what he was committing his funding for, since he even had a representative testify regarding the plan at a City hearing at the Design Commission. Given that he and Mr. Cymbrowitz were co-funding this project, it seems disingenuous for Mr. Cymbrowitz to now claim he was “hoodwinked” and wasn’t precisely aware of how his funds were going to be used.
    When exactly did he find out what the plan was, only in the past few weeks? Did it take him the last couple of years to figure out? If not, why didn’t he stop the funding sooner, if he really were serious about doing so, and put on a show just as the project begins??
    It begs credulity, and suggests that Mr. Cymbrowitz, seeing the backlash from the community, is feigning righteous outrage, and wishes to have himself perceived as trying to perform a heroic effort on behalf of his constituents, when in fact, it was he and Assemblyman Krasny that were the enablers for this terrible plan being able to proceed in the first place!
    As another commenter has written, we will remember both of these politicians next election time, but for all the wrong reasons! Shame, shame!!

  13. Yeah, where were all the politicians when people are falling all over the broken wood? I almost cracked a darned rib. I saw a guy with a six inch piece of wood in his foot. I saw a woman actually fall into the boardwalk.
    The “popular” opinion is to want the wood. Meanwhile, have you seen what it costs to fix wood? It takes those union workers at least 10 minutes to fix a single plank. Multiply that by the thousands of pieces of wood in need of repair. That money could go instead for the poor and homeless, instead of spoiled middle and upper-middle class people who just can’t do without their precious wood. Okay, let’s fix the wood by charging everyone some money, directly out of their paychecks/Social Security, and let’s see who is so in favor of wood. Heck, I’ll bet half the people yelling for wood don’t even step foot on the boardwalk.
    Bring on the concrete. It’s safer, and cheaper. Spend the extra money helping those in our neighborhood who really need it and deserve it.

  14. Do you really think that the money saved from replacing the wood with concretet will be used to help the poor and homeless? The city will just squander the savings on something else.

  15. I use the boardwalk for jogging and I have to admit that I have a problem with this.

    Though potentially dangerous (when in the state of disrepair), a wooden boardwalk is springy and provides better cushion than concrete. Being a heavy runner, this is a huge consideration, as running on hard surfaces leads to injuries.

    Still…. a waste of money is a waste of money. If a cheaper, safer, longer-lasting, more environmentally-friendly option is available, I’m for it (even if I’ll have to grumble and run on sand).

    However…. will it really be the solution that the parks department claims it to be? Seems they have not done their homework yet. And before they submit their “study” for consideration, they should open up the section that they just closed (so I can keep on using it).

  16. There have been many studies commissioned by communities like Ocean City over the years. all conclude tropical hardwoods provide the lowest life cycle cost including a recent letter issued by the Army Core of Engineers. That being said why isn’t the parks department looking at the Long Beach Boardwalk design. This design is the best of both worlds. Concrete paths for heavy vehicles and a fire break against the buildings and wood for the traditional feel to the edge of the beach. Heaven forbid the parks department or any other municipality follow the best of ideas when some other community comes up with a better solution. And by the way recycled plastic isn’t recycled. Its reconstituted. It gets a second life as decking and then ends up in a landfill not to mention the energy it takes to reconstitute plastic. The myth of recycling is the best thing that ever happened to the plastics industry. And as for the tropical forests. They can only be preserved if their value as a renewable resource is greater than the value of converting the forests to cattle ranches, soy plantations, sugar plantations (biofuel). Take away the value of wood by boycotting its use and see how long the forests last. I’m a big proponent of common sense and life cycle engineering. The work has already been done, the answers came back tropical hardwood. The Boardwalks are political and so is the parks decision. Like most political decisions, common sense is irrelevant to the decision making process..

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