The Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance is a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving Coney Island’s beautiful and historic wood boardwalk. This 93-year-old icon has endured through two World Wars, numerous political administrations, and the ravages of nature’s wrath for nearly a century, but it may not survive the myopic stewardship of the very agency to whom its care is entrusted. If the Parks Department has its way, the Boardwalk will be turned into a concrete and plastic sidewalk! Their explanation for this choice is the citywide dictate to limit the use of rainforest wood, as well as their projection that the use of these materials will incur less maintenance costs and provide superior durability.
This explanation avoids highlighting why the Coney Boardwalk’s wood boards are in the terrible state of disrepair that they have been in for many years. It is emphatically not the pedestrian traffic on the Boardwalk that is responsible for this, contributing as it does, only negligibly to wear and tear. Were it only people walking on it, it is estimated that the wood on the Boardwalk would last fifty years or more before needing replacement.What is most responsible for the decimation of the Boardwalk, and the dangerous condition that it now presents for anyone who wishes to use it, is the Parks Department’s intransigence with respect to its insistence on using multi-ton vehicles rumbling up and down the Boardwalk at high speeds. This prioritization by the Parks Department of vehicles over people, in combination with over the course of many years, it’s doing little to no maintenance and repair of the damage to the Boardwalk that it has caused, is the sole major factor responsible for its demise. Whether the use of plastic and concrete would cost less and be more durable is arguable, and in the end largely irrelevant in any event. One would never suggest that the trees be uprooted and replaced with plastic ones, and that the Great Lawn in Central Park be paved over in concrete so that maintenance costs could be ameliorated. This projection by the Parks Department is not universally shared. The concrete sections that have already been installed, have proven, from months after their installation, that maintenance will be an ongoing issue no matter the material used, given that they were subject to immediate and substantial necessary repairs. With respect to durability, an openness on the Parks Department’s part to running their multi-ton vehicles on the streets adjacent to the Boardwalk or along the beach, would go a long way toward maximizing the durability lifespan of the wood being used. The resultant savings in maintenance and replacement costs would be substantial, thus making any differences between cost and durability projections between the use of odious non-boardwalk materials such as concrete and plastic, as opposed to traditional wood, negligible, at best. Further, one would think that the Parks Department would wish to be consistent with respect to its alleged stated goal of environmental care. Were that the case, they would never consider the use of concrete, whose production process contributes significant damaging greenhouse gases into the environment.
There are in fact, many other perfectly viable options available.
The choice is not between saving the rainforest and saving the Boardwalk — the correct choice is to do both! For the surface decking, the part that we all see and on which we walk, stop the use of non-sustainable tropical rainforest wood, and replace it with sustainable rainforest wood, or with one of the available domestic hardwoods such as black locust. This design would be both cost-effective and desirable, and, most importantly, would preserve the basic elements of what makes the wondrous Coney Island Boardwalk a boardwalk. A 1988 study performed by the Columbia University School of Engineering at the request of the Parks Department, concluded that aside from tropical (rainforest) wood, whose properties clearly are best for an oceanfront boardwalk, domestic black locust wood is an excellent alternative, offering many of the same properties. In recent years, the Parks Department has made the claim that, although black locust wood might be a viable alternative, finding a viable source for it, given the quantity and quality that they would need, was impossible. We demonstrated that the Parks Department was either inept, or was intentionally dissembling on this, when we brought the head of a large timber company based in Virginia up to New York and had him testify at a New York CityDesign Commission hearing, saying that he would be happy to provide the large quantity of black locust that might be needed, and that he could meet both the quality and quantity constraints that are dictated by the Parks Department, if they were to work with him by providing a reasonable lead time for such an order.
Better still would be the use of Forestry Stewardship Council certified sustainable tropical wood. The largest rainforest protection group, the Rainforest Alliance, in concert with the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), have developed protocols for companies and local rainforest communities that grow and sell their wood, in order for that wood to be given their highly respected seal of approval and their certification as having been sustainably grown or sourced. This means that those communities and companies have taken care to only harvest a certain minimal percentage of their land at any given time, to replant those areas for replacement growth, to follow a specific set of rules for an appropriate chain of custody from the time of planting and harvesting until it reaches its destination market, in concert with a host of other safeguards. Taken together, these strict protocols ensure that the rainforest always remains healthy, that there will be a continual supply of wood that can be produced for use worldwide with no claim of environmental harm, and that also, importantly, it yields long-term and perpetual benefits for the local rainforest communities that produce it. Here is a link for the Rainforest Alliance which can give you more information: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/business/certification-verification . Thus, it is not reasonably refutable that there is an excellent way to use rainforest wood that does no damage, but rather, is a win for the community that is producing and selling it, as well as for the recipient community. Any statement to the contrary would seem to be made in the willfully blind service of a predetermined agenda.
Virtually every other boardwalk community that we have contacted along the eastern seaboard, has been desirous of having and maintaining a traditional wood boardwalk, one (Ocean City Maryland) even converting back from concrete to wood. The agencies that are responsible for these communities boardwalks, have all been able to design reasonable and responsible plans to effectively make that happen. Thus, it is a matter of will, not possibility, that makes maintaining a wooden Coney Island Boardwalk both policy and reality!
***POST-HURRICANE SANDY UPDATE***
IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE CONEY ISLAND BOARDWALK EMERGED FROM THE STORM VIRTUALLY UNSCATHED, MAYOR BLOOMBERG CALLED FOR AN END TO ALL WOOD BOARDWALKS. CONEY-BRIGHTON BOARDWALK ALLIANCE REFUTES FALSE CLAIMS MADE BY BLOOMBERG’S DEPUTY PARKS COMMISSIONER LIAM KAVANAGH
The last thing that Rockaway residents need, as planning for Boardwalk and beach reconstruction begins, is to be given misleadingly incomplete and factually false information by public officials, such as that contained in the recent letter published in the New York Post (12/25/12) from Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh. Mr. Kavanagh’s claim that the more than a mile long concrete section of boardwalk installed last year, “…held up, with minor movement and a few damaged planks”, whereas “the wooden boardwalk was ripped from its supports and in many cases splintered and damaged too badly to be reinstalled”, fails to mention some crucially important facts: This mile section of concrete was afforded the protection of being in a groin field (protective rock jetties), with 150 feet of duned beach in front of it, both factors that acted as barriers between it and the pounding waves of Superstorm Sandy. Both these protective elements were lacking in the case of the wooden boardwalk. In fact, the wood section was practically in the ocean at high tide, for many months leading up to the storm. This wood section that was so devastated lies along some of the most severely eroded beachfront in the United States. Further, the Rockaways wood boardwalk joist and carriage bolt infrastructure was built in 1926 with a life span of 60 years, but had never been replaced. Even its timber deck, although refinished in the 1980’s in most sections, was already nine years past its useful prime at the time of the storm. Every carriage bolt in the infrastructure was completely rusted through.
CHECK OUT OUR REPORT ON THE DESIGN COMMISSION HEARING, MARCH 12, 2012.
Please sign this petition to tell the NYC Parks Department that the people of New York as well as visitors from around the world deserve the continued enjoyment that only the Boardwalk provides and that no sidewalk can ever replace!
If you have any questions, want more information, or want to get involved in helping to save Coney’s boardwalk, please contact Rob Burstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Christianna Nelson (email@example.com)