Wood is good! Coney and Brighton pols hope to crack concrete Boardwalk plans

Separate and unequal: Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance President Rob Burstein is furious that the city is repairing the Queens boardwalk with wood, but paving over Brooklyn’s seaside walkway with concrete.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Timber!

Two Southern Brooklyn councilmen are calling for the Parks Department to abandon its plans to replace the wooden planks of the Coney Island Boardwalk with a strip of concrete.

Freshman councilmen Chaim Deutsch (D–Brighton Beach) and Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) have penned a letter to the city, arguing that Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the protective superiority of a wooden walkway — and demanding the city stop using a string of so-called “pilot projects” to turn sections of the promenade into concrete and faux-wood decking.

“What we learned from Sandy is that the Boardwalk is a part of our infrastructure, and if you look at the areas where the city has installed concrete, the impact of the storm was magnified,” said Treyger.

In recent years, Parks has been replacing damaged parts of the Boardwalk with concrete and synthetic boards, referring to sections of new materials as “pilot projects” — which critics complained allowed the agency to avoid having to do studies on the potential consequences of the change.

In 2011, the city proposed a plan that would turn all but the four blocks of the promenade bordering the amusement district into a concrete sidewalk, and argued that no studies were necessary since the structure of the Boardwalk would remain the same, even if its substance changed.

But after Hurricane Sandy, this paper reported that areas of the beach beneath the wood suffered only minimal erosion, while the shorefront along an experimental stretch of concrete near Sea Breeze Avenue had tons of its sand washed up onto Ocean Parkway.

Councilman Deutsch argues that the concrete conversion must be called off until the potential dangers to nearby neighborhoods have been assessed.

“We have to listen to what the community is telling us. They have experience living on the waterfront, and they saw what happened during the storm,” said Deutsch. “We’re asking for a moratorium on concrete until the studies have been done. At the end of the day, the safety of the residents is the most important.”

Deutsch also made a historical and aesthetic argument for sticking with good old-fashioned lumber.

“The Boardwalk is called the Boardwalk and that’s what it’s always been. If you use concrete, it’s not the Boardwalk that people come to the waterfront communities to enjoy,” said Deutsch.

Longtime lumber advocates applauded the pols’ move, and were hopeful that Mayor DeBlasio’s Parks Department would take a different position on the Boardwalk than Bloomberg’s.

“I think with the new administration, we’re hopeful that this moratorium will be put in place,” said Robb Burstein, president of the Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance, which filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the concrete in 2012. “The materials they are planning to use have not been fully tested, and in terms of safety, there are better alternatives.”

Burstein’s group has long pushed the city to use black locust or pine wood hardened through a process called Kebony to replace damaged sections of the Boardwalk, rather than concrete or traditional rainforest hardwoods.

Deutsch’s and Treyger’s stance is a complete turnaround from the position of the previous local leadership. Former Coney councilman Domenic Recchia was an avid advocate of transforming almost the entire walkway into concrete and plastic planking. Community Board 13, on the other hand, voted against the artificial materials last year.

“We’re really pleased that we finally have local representatives as well who are representing the expressed needs of the people in the community,” Burstein said.

The Parks Department declined to comment.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Straddling the line: Intrepid reporter Will Bredderman demonstrated the different impact the Sandy storm surge had on the concrete and wooden sections of the Boardwalk.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

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