The Army Corps of Engineers recently changed its work schedule at the request of the city, which led to the closure of a portion of one of the busiest beaches near the West End, with officials saying that the move would significantly minimize beach closures over the busy summer season.
But a number of residents of the Walks and Westholme neighborhoods have raised concerns about overcrowding, parking, lack of beach access and other issues as a result of the closure at Grand Boulevard beach, and complained that the change came without notice.
“Most of us feel that this was done without any consideration to anybody, and it gives the appearance of being very underhanded,” said Dina Fiore, president of the Westholme and Walks Civic Association. “We understand that the Army Corps is ahead of schedule, but the entire schedule went from being very specific to ‘to be determined.’”
The Army Corps, which is eight weeks ahead of its schedule for rebuilding stone jetties as part of a $230 million, federally funded coastal protection project that began in March, was initially set to begin work at the Tennessee Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard beaches after work on jetties at Arizona Avenue and Franklin Boulevard was completed on July 7.
But on July 6, the city announced on Facebook that it had met with the project’s contractor, H&L Construction, to adjust the schedule and relocate the next phase of work from Tennessee to Grand, where, on Monday, about 750 feet of beach was closed for construction. The work on Lincoln is moving ahead as scheduled.
According to the city, the initial schedule for the work called for six of 15 groins that are being rehabilitated in Long Beach to be completed by Labor Day. However, the city said that the contractor is ahead of schedule, and would be able to finish two more groins before Labor Day.
Several large payloaders and other construction vehicles do the work on the beach. Two groins are under construction at a time, and take about a month to complete. There is no work on weekends or holidays.
In April, city officials persuaded the Army Corps to work on the groins at or near the staging areas, at New York Avenue and Neptune Boulevard, after Memorial Day to avoid hauling rocks across the beach and to reduce the impact on the summer season. As a result, the fencing that the Army Corps installed in March to create haul roads was temporarily removed.
“Unfortunately, if the contractor moved to the next scheduled groin on Tennessee, they would have to install a long haul road from New York resulting in approximately 2,000 feet of beaches being cordoned off on the West End,” the city explained on Facebook. “By moving to Grand, less than half of that area will be impacted.”
“The contractor is so far ahead of schedule,” John Mirando, the city’s commissioner of public works, told the Herald. “It’s eight weeks before Labor Day and they’re ready to move forward. The decision was made between the Army Corps and the contractor. This was based on [the Department of Public Works’] suggestion. We also consulted the beach police and lifeguards.”
Mirando added that because the West End beaches are narrower, the contractor would have had to create a haul road from New York to Tennessee avenues — a 13-block stretch — “which would have cut off the beaches or made them unusable.”
“What’s happening is we’re kind of a victim of success,” said John Bendo, president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association. “The contractor is ahead of schedule, which is a good thing, because the faster they get done, the quicker we’re better protected. But the city is trying to balance that with our peak season, and all of a sudden the contractor is moving into an area that they weren’t supposed to move into until after the peak season.”
Fiore, and a number of other residents who live near Grand Boulevard, criticized the city over the change, saying that officials did not communicate with residents when they learned that the work would move to Grand Boulevard.
The residents contend that the change will negatively impact businesses on or near the boardwalk — mainly Beach Local Café and Danny Mac’s Ocean Bar & Grill — as well as parking. And with nearby New York Avenue closed, they say, the work will reduce beach access and lead to overcrowding, especially because Grand is a rotating surfing beach.
“It’s one of the most dense beaches, so now people have to move to Lindell [Boulevard],” said James Lynch, a resident of the Walks. “…Everybody knew that New York was going to be closed for the entire year. I called the Army Corps and spoke with [the state Department of Environmental Conservation], and everyone wanted to go west, because that was the initial plan. But the city decided to go east without even communicating with residents. With the beach being closed, it hurts businesses in the West End where people would generally walk to.”
Lynch added that based on his discussions with officials overseeing the project, he did not believe that the creation of haul roads in the West End would have had as much of an impact as city officials had claimed.
“The arrangement allowed for less beach closure,” said Dan Falt, an Army Corps project manager. “We try to accommodate the local stakeholders as much as possible, if it doesn’t interfere with the construction schedule or cost. We’re working right now on the schedule for the upcoming work. Work is still scheduled to be completed in the spring.”
Mirando emphasized that he met with Fiore and other residents, as well as business owners in the area, immediately after the decision was made to discuss their concerns.
“There are issues we can resolve to make it less painful for people on Grand, and the contractor will work with us to do that,” he said. “My job is to make sure that the least amount of beaches are impacted, and that the project moves along as quickly as possible, and that that contractor is out of here before next summer.”
Mirando added that the change would not affect events such as beach movie nights and the city’s summer concerts*, but he acknowledged that the construction would likely impact the surfing schedule at Grand beginning Aug. 5.
“It wasn’t the kind of thing where you can have a public discussion on first before you make a decision,” he said, noting that only 50 feet of beach east of the Grand Boulevard jetty would be fenced off. “We suggest that people move over to Lindell. People will have access from the boardwalk and New York Avenue. They can access the beach either way.”
*Note: The city's Department of Parks and Recreation said on Facebook that Wednesday's beach concert would be held at Lafayette Boulevard due to a mistake, but added that moving forward, the summer concerts will continue to be held at Grand Boulevard.