|Sad day for old boardwalk screws
A Brooklyn judge ruled that the city Parks Department can replace a section of the Coney Island boardwalk with concrete and plastic without an environmental review. The plan to eventually replace most of the boardwalk with artificial materials has been bitterly contested by a small but dedicated group called The Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance, which filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the plan to replace a five block section of boardwalk, from Brighton 15th Street to Coney Island Avenue.
Judge Martin Solomon ruled that the renovation "does not involve substantial changes to the existing structure. The footprint of the boardwalk will remain the same and the substructure will be replaced with artificial materials. Second, it is a replacement or repair of the structure in kind albeit with artificial materials in addition to natural wood." Solomon also decided that artificial materials do not "constitute an impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archeological, architectural, or aesthetic resources or of existing community or neighborhood character." In his ruling, he said the changes were similar to replacing an athletic field with artificial turf, which is not subject to environmental review.
Rob Burstein, one of the most outspoken wooden boardwalk preservationists, tells us, "We're disappointed and our attorneys are reviewing it. We believe that especially in light of the damage from Hurricane Sandy, a full moratorium on concrete and plastic sections is urgently needed for the safety of the community. And in our opinion a full environmental impact study should be mandated prior to any design or construction, especially in light of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy."
We asked Burstein about Mayor Bloomberg's recent assertion that Hurricane Sandy put the nail in the coffin for wooden boardwalks. (In an interview last month, the mayor said, "I guess this settles the issue of wooden boardwalks versus concrete boardwalks. There will be no more wooden boardwalks in Rockaway or anywhere else.") But Burstein isn't buying it—he tells us:
"Contrary to Bloomberg's claims that in the Rockaways the concrete boardwalk sections fared better than wood sections, that is not in fact the case. Most media have not covered it, but both concrete and wood were either demolished or left sanding solely depending on whether they were to the east or the west of Beach 86th Streets. There were no rock jetties to the west, where boardwalk sections—both wood and concrete—were demolished. However, there were rock jetties to the east that helped the boardwalk, whether wood or concrete, remain intact."
Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, also dismissed Bloomberg's statement as "greatly misinformed." Now wooden boardwalk advocates are worried that changes to this five-block section of boardwalk will serve as a blueprint for a completely synthetic boardwalk—and the mayor's declaration would seem to support that theory. Burnstein says, "Whether it's Bloomberg's ignorance or his purposeful use of the hurricane to further the use of concrete, it's sad that it's being done when it's not based on facts."
NY Times article on boardwalk controversy February 2012