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:

boardwalk-map
Click to enlarge

– With additional reporting by Ned Berke.

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