A boardwalk without boards

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The Rockaway boardwalk was shredded by Sandy. The damage between 110 Street and Beach 88th Street was overwhelming.

I was stunned to stand at Beach 99th Street across from the St. Camilus school gym. For the past five years I’ve participated in a February “polar plunge” there to raise money for cystic fibrosis. But the boardwalk at Beach 99 Street is now hardly recognizable. So much of the wood is gone with the wind, and concrete pillars still stand with nothing to support.

This year there will be no plunge, due to the devastation.

The boardwalk will no doubt be rebuilt. But it will not be the same, if Mayor Bloomberg gets his way. For one thing, the boardwalk won’t be made of boards. The mayor says only a concrete structure can survive another storm like Sandy.

And a judge recently cleared the way for the city to use plastic and concrete in rebuilding the Coney Island boardwalk.

That seemingly makes sense, since the most resilient parts of the structure that survived Sandy were the cement pillars underneath it.

But some critics say, not so fast. They claim that both wood and concrete were damaged by Sandy, and that the real necessity is to build more jetties along the water.

In fact, according to local residents, a jetty at Beach 86th Street seems to have stemmed the damage in that area. The logic is that the jetties hold onto the sand, and sand helps stop the surging storm. But more jetties mean more money, and there is not a lot to go around.

Runners love running on boardwalks, but concrete is notoriously hard on the knees, and would no doubt send many off the beaten path.

The Rockaway boardwalk is five-and-a-half-miles long and has a history that dates to the 1920s. Many amusement parks popped up in the area, including the iconic Rockaway Playland at Beach 97th Street, which had one of the most fearsome roller coasters in the tri-state area.

Rockaway Playland disappeared in the 1980s, but the neighborhood surrounding the boardwalk endures. Sadly, we don’t know what the beach will look like when Memorial Day rolls around.

Could the boardwalk be rebuilt by then? Maybe not entirely. But it will surely be a symbol of revitalization of the peninsula.

The people of Rockaway have made it clear: they will be back. But we all await the return of the boardwalk, be it wood, concrete or plastic. When it returns, Rockaway will be on its way back.