A 20-year-old naval midshipman from Rockaway Beach, who was on his way home, is among the seven people killed after an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night, according to reports.
Justin Zemser, who was on leave, as a cadet at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland was on his way home to visit family in Rockaway.
The academy confirmed the death of Zemser, who was a sophmore midshipman third class. He was a member of the 17th Company at the academy, an English major and academic honor student. Zemser was also on the Navy Sprint Football Team, the Jewish Midshipman Club, and the Semper Fi Society.
“Justin was a talented, highly respected young man with a tremendously bright future. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Zemser family, and our extended USNA family, during this very difficult time,” said Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Walter “Ted” Carter.
Zemser’s parents released a statement on a Facebook page created in memory of their son, who was valedictorian at Channel View High School and finishing his second year at the academy. The page, titled “RIP Justin Zemser” garnered over 3,000 likes and features a profile photo of the young man with his mother, who lost her only child.
“He was a loving son, nephew and cousin, who was very community minded,” the statement said. “This tragedy has shocked us in the worst way and we wish to spend this time grieving with out close family and friends.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo, whose district covers the Rockaways, sent out his condolences to Zemser’s family and called the young man a “good Rockaway neighbor.”
“My deepest condolences and prayers go out to the family of Justin Zemser, a Rockaway resident who passed away as a result of the Amtrak train derailment Tuesday night. News of his passing was reported by the media. I understand Justin was returning home from his studies at the U.S. Naval Academy,” Addabbo said. “Many in Rockaway, including my staff member Sandee Doremus, had known Justin since he was a child and knew him to be a good Rockaway neighbor. Justin’s commitment to serve our country is still and always will be greatly appreciated.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich, who represents the Rockaways, also sent out his condolences to the family of the cadet, who was a former intern at his office.
“Today, the Rockaway community mourns the death of Justin Zemser, a local resident and former intern in my office, who lost his life last night in the tragic Amtrak train derailment. Justin was truly a bright, talented and patriotic young man,” Ulrich said. “My deepest prayers and sympathy go out to his family and friends who are grieving during this very difficult time. He will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him.”
Zemser was also an intern at Councilman Donovan Richards’s office, who expressed his sadness upon hearing the news of his death.
Justin Zemser and Councilman Donovan Richards. (Photo courtesy of Councilman Richard’s office)
“I was greatly pained by last night’s train derailment, a pain that quickly intensified when I recognized one of the victims,” Richards said. “Justin Zemser showed great commitment and initiative as an intern in our office, well before he dedicated his life to our country by joining the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a rising star that will be greatly missed by the Rockaway community. His family is in my prayers and my office is always open if there is any way in which we can help.”
According to reports, the Amtrak train, which had left Washington and was heading to New York, derailed around 9:30 p.m. in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia.
More than 200 people were wounded, including the train’s conductor.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life from Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 that derailed north of Philadelphia Tuesday evening,” Amtrak said in a statement.
Emergency responders are on scene and the investigation is still ongoing to determine the cause of the derailment.
The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Wednesday the train was traveling at more than 100 mph, double the speed limit, as it was entering a sharp curve before derailing. Before entering the curve, the speed limit is reportedly 70 mph.
Service will be provided between Washington and Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and New York and Boston, according to Amtrak. There will be no Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia, but New Jersey Transit will honor Amtrak tickets between New York City and Trenton.
Anyone with questions about friends or family on the train can call the Amtrak Incident Hotline at 800-523-9101.
Move over, Manhattan — Queens is the must-see U.S. destination of the coming year, according to a leading travel guidebook company.
The borough has made it to the top of the list of Lonely Planet’s Best in the U.S. 2015. Selected by Lonely Planet’s authors and ranked by its U.S. editors, the list consists of 10 perennial favorites, places with timely reasons to visit and understated destinations that are ready for their time in the spotlight.
“I’ve seen how Queens has transformed from one of the forgotten boroughs to one of the exciting places to visit,” said Regis St. Louis, coordinating author of Lonely Planet’s USA and New York City guidebook.
This year was the first time that Queens made the annual online list, which was released on Wednesday. The rankings expand on Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2015” guidebook, which came out in October, and chose Washington, D.C., and Rocky Mountain National Park as its top city and regional picks among world destinations.
St. Louis, a 14-year New York City resident, who currently lives in Brooklyn, was one of several authors to nominate Queens for the Best in the U.S. 2015 list.
It was clear from our passion and our feedback about Queens that it should be number one on this list,” he said.
Rounding out the top 10 are Western South Dakota, New Orleans, the Colorado River region, North Conway, N.H., Indianapolis, Greenville, S.C., Oakland, Calif., Duluth, Minn., and California’s Mount Shasta region.
What made Queens stand out among those destinations were reasons obvious to anyone familiar with the borough, such as its diversity, Rockaway Beach and its art institutions.
As St. Louis writes on the Lonely Planet website, Queens is “New York’s meltiest melting pot,” and that is not only reflected in the number of languages that are spoken there, but also in its culinary offerings.
“It’s something that has always been there, but it’s something that people are just beginning to discover,” he said about the diversity.
He also highlighted Rockaway Beach’s growing trendiness and the borough’s burgeoning arts scene, noting the Queens Museum’s recent makeover and the newly christened Kaufman Arts District in Astoria.
“You don’t have to stay in Manahattan anymore. You can come base yourself in Queens now,” St. Louis said.
That sentiment applies to both residents and tourists, as another advantage Queens has to offer is its boutique hotels, which have been growing in number.
Anyone looking for something that is not in the average guidebook should try Queens’ microbrewery scene, said St. Louis.
Microbreweries have exploded around the country, he said, and it’s surprising that so many of them have made their way to Queens.
“People are looking for the next thing and there are some really interesting things happening in Queens,” St. Louis said. “There are so many great secrets … you never run out of things to do and see.”
To mark Queens topping the Best in the U.S. 2015, Lonely Planet is giving away the Queens chapter from its recently released New York City guide as a free e-book until Feb. 1, 2015. To get the free download, visit www.lonelyplanet.com/queens-ebook.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s New York City chapter plans a cleanup of Beach 116 in the Rockaways on Sunday. They have done it twice before this year, but the trash just keeps piling up.
The cleanup is open to the public and anyone can volunteer. Volunteers will meet on the boardwalk off Beach 116 under a Sea Shepherd Jolly Roger flag by 2 p.m.
They will clean the beach until 4:30 p.m. and spend the next hour sorting the trash on the boardwalk so passersby can see what is thrown away at the beach.
“During our earlier cleanups, we have found soda bottles, empty alcohol bottles, plastic cups, paper products from fast food places nearby and metal bottles,” said Ethan Wolf, coordinator for the society’s New York City chapter. “In the summer months, we have also found pieces of clothing.”
Once, his team found a plastic box filled with rusty nails. “That was the weirdest thing,” he said.
The most harmful thing to discard in the beach is plastic, Wolf said. “Plastic doesn’t go away,” he said. “It breaks down into smaller particles. The marine wildlife eats it, even the birds eat it, and then their stomach gets filled with plastic. They then cannot eat the food they need to sustain themselves.”
Sea Shepherd now has a plan for all that plastic. The organization has teamed up with Bionic Yarn to convert the plastic trash found on the beach into fiber. The project is still in its initial stages as both sides have yet to figure out which type of plastic can actually be used.
Wolf said that this is the last cleanup of Rockaway that the organization has planned for this year, since usually, not much trash accumulates on the beaches during the winter. However, volunteers will continue to check the beaches during the winter, and if they feel it’s necessary, they will organize another cleanup.
The building on Beach 92nd Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard was “the hardest hit” library in the borough by Hurricane Sandy, according to a Queens Library spokeswoman, and has yet to reopen after nearly two years.
Service has been operating out of a trailer since January 2013, but officials are securing permits and bids to complete reconstruction and hope to open the library by early 2015.
“Beginning to rebuild the permanent library was delayed while we worked with FEMA and the city to establish how to proceed,” a representative for the library said. “Since this library had been scheduled for a complete redesign and renovation prior to the storm, we are taking this opportunity to present the community with a greatly enhanced library.”
The rebuilt library will include a larger multipurpose room for public use, which will allow for community events and meetings even if the library is closed.
There will also be a new adult reading area, children’s room and teen area with furniture and computers. Modern customer service equipment will be added, including exterior machines to return books at any time. And a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system will be added throughout the building as well.
Officials expect the Department of Buildings to issue permits in a matter of weeks making way for reconstruction to begin.
The Queens Library is collecting bids until Oct. 6 for a contractor to provide mechanical, plumbing and flood barrier renovation work, according to city documents.
In June, Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder announced that he secured more than $700,000 through the Public Library Construction Grant Program to help renovate the Ozone Park library and the Peninsula library. Goldfeder said $582,654 was awarded to the Peninsula library reconstruction.
Anthony Weiner is helping to restore the Rockaways, but not as a politician.
Instead, he’s launching Rockaway Restoration Kitchen, a nonprofit agency that aims to “operate a healthy, sustainable restaurant in a hard luck community to provide training, on-the-job apprenticeships and placement in the culinary and food service sector for unemployed New Yorkers,” according to its page on Idealist.org.
Hurricane Sandy damaged much of the peninsula, and the restaurant, which was first reported to open by the Rockaway Times, is looking to help out the still-suffering residents there.
“Our goal is to provide a comfortable neighborhood restaurant with healthy, locally sourced food that satisfies the hunger of Rockaway residents, attracts visitors and serves up dignity and self-sufficiency by serving as a hands on training ground to provide skills, real experience and job placement in the culinary industry,” the restaurant says on its website.
Weiner, who virtually ended his political career in a sexting scandal back in 2011 and then mounted a failed mayoral campaign that was marred by another sexting discretion, represented the Rockaways for more than a decade.
He told the Daily News this project is something that the area needs.
“Large swaths of the peninsula are lacking in quality, sustainable, nutritious food,” he said. “It’s also sadly true that many residents need help developing skills to lift them out of unemployment.”
The Kitchen is currently looking to fill an executive director position. This person will be in charge of the management and operation of all aspects of the social enterprise as well as the nonprofit corporation, multiple food-service based lines of business and the youth training program, according to the listing.
The $75 billion budget the City Council approved on Thursday had $2 million for the extension of ferry service through October but after that there is no more funding.
“I am severely disappointed in Mayor de Blasio and the Economic Development Corporation for ignoring the transit needs of southern Queens and Rockaway families,” Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder said in a statement after the budget was approved. “Like every other borough in the city, we deserve an affordable, efficient and reliable means of transportation.”
The ferry service began after a bridge connecting the A train and the Rockaways collapsed in Superstorm Sandy. In a letter signed by all five borough presidents before the budget was approved, the politicians urged the City Council to put more funds in the service to make it a “major form of transportation.”
A local summer festival is getting ready to officially rock the beach for the first time.
The eighth annual Rockstock and Barrels Festival, a free event at Rockaway Beach featuring live music, a surf competition, skating demonstrations, beach games and vendors, will move from the boardwalk to the sand this year, according to co-founder Jimmy Dowd.
Held on Saturday, June 28, starting at 10 a.m., the day-long festival kicks off the summer and helps the local community.
“It has been doing a lot of good things for the neighborhoods,” Dowd said.
Proceeds from the event, through the nonprofit organization Rockaway Beach Surf Club, are used for projects in the community, such as for construction at the skate park at 90th Street, located next to the beach where the event is held, and other causes, including sending inner city children to surf camp and introducing martial arts to kids through the mentoring program STOKED.
Since that time the event has grown, but “it’s finally really catching some headway,” Dowd said, and in the last two years it’s starting to get recognized by larger corporations.
Co-sponsored by the city’s Parks Department, it’s the largest event the department holds in the Rockaways, Dowd said.
According to event organizers, this year in particular shows the recovery of the community and how it has rebuilt after Sandy.
Dowd sees the move to the beach as “a celebratory thing,” as they are finally getting the sand that they’ve been promising. U.S. Army Corps of Engineer crews have been placing sand onto Rockaway Beach to help repair and restore the area following Superstorm Sandy.
“We can actually utilize the beach,” he said.
This year attendees will be able to enjoy beach games, such as volleyball and possibly horseshoes.
Though the beach has not been the center of previous Rockstock and Barrels Festivals, it has played an important role through the surf competition.
Sponsored by the Atlantic Surf Federation, “people come from far and near for this event,” Dowd said.
The festival, which was attended by almost 8,000 people last year, attracts visitors from all over the city and beyond. To service them, OvRride will have special “luxury buses” with pick-ups and drop-offs in Manhattan and Williamsburg, according to Dowd.
Rockstock and Barrels will additionally feature companies that come to share their goods, and the event is still accepting vendors and seeking more sponsors.
To find out more about the festival, and vendor and sponsorship opportunities, click here.
“We just want to see the event grow… to bring awareness to how amazing this beach is,” Dowd said.
Inspired by the tent colonies of the 1900s, the idea to bring “glamping” — a mash-up of glamour and camping — to the shores of Queens is the brainchild of New York-based designer and founder of Milktrout LLC, Kent Johnson.
Camp Rockaway, a chic “tent-hotel,” combines “beach camping heritage with modern amenities,” according to the project’s Kickstarter website.
It will feature safari-style canvas tents on a landscaped campground overlooking Jamaica Bay and just a short walk from the beach. Each tent is fully furnished, with real beds, crisp, white linen sheets and summer-weight blankets. Amenities include private fire pits, outdoor showers and hot tubs overlooking the bay.
Johnson hopes Camp Rockaway will aid in the community’s efforts to restore the beach following Superstorm Sandy.
That vision includes a team of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and proficient installers of green-building strategies, which aims to help restore and protect the site’s native environment.
The team has been researching, designing and trying to find support for the project for more than a year, and Johnson has just set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 to make Camp Rockaway a reality.
Those who pledge $25 or more will receive a gift, ranging from a Camp Rockaway friendship bracelet to a private stay for 20 friends during the soft-launch phase.
A portion of pledges will also go toward sponsoring a kid participating in STOKED, a mentoring program that for almost a decade has been teaching low-income kids in New York City and Los Angeles to surf and skateboard, for a one-night stay at Camp Rockaway.
The beloved Madelaine Chocolate factory is up for sale, following a brief comeback after Sandy.
The Rockaway Beach sweet spot suffered over $50 million in structural damages and loss of sales after the superstorm and was forced to shut down for about a year. They partially reopened in October 2013, but as of last week, the facility is on the market, said co-owner Jorge Farber.
“Considering the extent of the damage, there was only so much we have been able to do,” Farber said. “We are sitting on a 200,000-square-foot facility and only utilizing 50 percent of it.”
Madelaine Chocolate officials listed the site with real estate firm CBRE for an undisclosed amount of money. Interested buyers have the option of taking over the unused half or the entire four-building complex.
“There are all kinds of options we need to explore,” Farber said. “We’re going to relocate only if we can sell it. It’s a long, long process.”
The organization does not yet have a relocation space in mind, but one thing is for sure—their chocolates are here to stay.
“Our customer base has remained intact considering we were out for a year,” Farber said. “I’m just sitting on excess real estate.”
After Sandy, Madelaine Chocolate received a $250,000 grant from National Grid and $6.9 million from Empire State Development to retain its 315 employees. The Small Business Association also loaned the company close to $13 million.
They were able to rehire 120 people and partially operate on four of the 14 chocolate production lines.
But despite assistance, the complex at the foot of the Cross Bay Bridge is on the market. Before the storm, it was one of the biggest local employers in the region and had 315 full-time employees.
“The Madelaine Chocolate Company is not only a community gem, but has been one of the largest employers and supporters of our community for decades,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder after the reopening.
At its peak, the 65-year-old chocolatier group produced 20 million pounds of chocolate annually and garnered $40 million in total sales. Its eight kitchens produced about 100,000 pounds of chocolate a day.
Advocates for the proposed 3.5-mile QueensWay park along the abandoned rail line addressed those with reservations about the project and vice versa on Monday in Woodhaven.
Ed Wendell, WRBA president, brought a new idea to the table. He said the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway that currently runs through Forest Park has been “a problem for 20 years,” and QueensWay officials should use this space as their “lab experiment.”
“Why don’t we focus on cleaning up the existing greenway,” he said. “Show us what you can do, and the community will be much more receptive.”
Alexander Blenkinsopp, a WRBA member, called this idea “brilliant,” and offered an additional option for “each community to decide what they want done with their stretch of the tracks.”
The old rail line runs up 98th Street from the Rockaways to Manhattan.
“If the people of Forest Hills really want the QueensWay, let them have it in their neighborhood,” he said. “And if it’s so wonderful, the residents of Woodhaven will see how great it is in Forest Hills and will eventually welcome it into their community as well.”
Wendell echoed many people when he said one main concern to address before moving forward with building a new park is security in existing greenspaces such as Forest Park.
“We see women jogging in the morning using flashlights,” Wendell said. “How terrifying is that? That they have to do this.”
He said that park officials as well as cops in the 102nd Precinct should be given proper resources to patrol the park before more acres are added via the QueensWay, which would connect to Forest Park.
A feasibility study to determine the possibility of creating the new park is currently underway, and QueensWay supporters noted it is “just a study” and “there really is no plan yet.”
However, residents doubt a QueensWay study would show the QueensWay is not feasible.
“Any proposals that come back are going to have to take into account a lot of people’s concerns,” Wendell said. “There are a whole lot of emotions and feelings on it.”
The heated race for City Council District 32 is coming to a close.
Councilmember Eric Ulrich, the incumbent, has represented District 32 in the City Council since 2009. He stood with Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, South Ozone Park, South Richmond Hill and Woodhaven through natural disasters and hard-pressed community issues.
“I am proud of my campaign and my work in the City Council over the past four-and-a-half years. I am running on my record of accomplishments and my ability to deliver real results for my constituents,” Ulrich said.
However, Lew Simon has not been far behind. He said he worked tirelessly through Sandy to ensure the safety of the district.
“The support we’re getting on our calls and door to door campaigning is phenomenal – people want change and they don’t feel like they’re being represented in City Hall on issues from schools to street lights to Sandy rebuilding,” Simon said.
Simon suffered a setback earlier this month when he received a stent due to partial heart blockage. He now said he’s spending every day “making sure every voter turns out” on Election Day.
The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation unveiled its plans to rebuild the boardwalk after it was destroyed by Sandy almost a year ago. The plans, however, do not include a seawall along Rockaway Beach – something the coastline community has been requesting for years.
“The first priority must be the safety and security of our families and homes,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder. “Our community has been demanding protective ocean barriers, including dunes and rock jetties for too long.”
Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers is performing a Rockaway Protection Study, including long-term protection measures, using a cost/benefit analysis to determine how to rebuild the devastated area. Now, Goldfeder and Senator Charles Schumer are calling on the group to expedite the study so these measures, such as a seawall and jetties, can be put in place as soon as possible.
Schumer said there is a “real concern” about coordinating long-term storm protection between Parks and the Army Corps and that a new, federally-funded boardwalk is able to accommodate these protection measures.
Additionally, if the Parks Department does include a seawall in its recovery plans, the Army Corps cost/benefit analysis will conclude that jetties and dunes are not needed for protection, said Schumer.
“Rockaway and its residents must not be left vulnerable in the event of a future storm,” Schumer said. “Now that New York City’s plans for the Rockaway boardwalk are underway, the Army Corps should fast-track their study so that New York City is aware of what protections will be put in place.”
The Army Corps’ study is underway along the shoreline from Beach 149th Street to Beach 19th Street, with the objective to find a long-term, cost-effective solution, potentially including dunes, stone-groins and other protective measures. The study is funded by federal money.
Currently, over 600,000 cubic yards of sand are being added to provide flood control between Beach 89th Street and Beach 149th Street.
Reconstruction of the boardwalk could start as early as later this year or early 2014, said the Parks Department.
Skyrocketing flood insurance rates could “do more to destroy the community than any storm has ever done,” say hundreds of residents who came out to protest the looming costs.
In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which called on agencies such as FEMA to change the way the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is run.
Through the act, the NFIP will be required to raise flood rates to reflect “true flood risk” for a policyholder, according to FEMA.
“They say it’s going to be $400 this year, and $12,000 next year,” said Dorothy McClusky, a 33-year Howard Beach resident. “If the insurance rates go up that high, we’ll have to move.”
Residents said that over time, their rates could get as high as $30,000 a year.
Rallies protesting the price hikes were held nationwide on September 28. In the borough, people from Breezy Point, Rockaway Beach, Belle Harbor, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach and Broad Channel packed tightly into Broad Channel’s American Legion to participate.
“We’re brought together by a common thread of this outrageous legislation,” said Dan Mundy, Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association. “[This act] basically will decimate your biggest savings.”
“FEMA is the agency that is going to enact this. FEMA also couldn’t find this island for two weeks [after Sandy],” Mundy said, met by resounding cheers.
The act will over time eliminate all subsidized flood insurance rates for those in participating areas and can increase those rates by two to 10 times their current cost over a five-year period, according to Councilmember Eric Ulrich’s office.
New FEMA flood maps additionally place many more residents into Zone A and Zone AE – Biggert-Waters designated areas.
“Areas that have never flooded will now be required to carry flood insurance,” said Roger Gendron, president of the Hamilton Beach Civic Association. “Homes would become virtually unsellable.”
Last week, the City Council passed a resolution calling upon Congress to amend the legislation.
“Sandy was a 700-year storm event,” Mundy said. “Nature took its best shot at us, but we were able to stay here.”
“We didn’t survive the 700-year storm to be destroyed by FEMA,” he said.
As the clock ticks closer to city primaries on Tuesday, September 10, The Courier would like to provide you, the reader and the voter, with a fair, detailed guide of who is running. Here is a list of the City Council District 32 primary candidates (Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, South Ozone Park, South Richmond Hill and Woodhaven), who they are, what they stand for and what they want to continue to do if they go on to the general election in November.
Name: Lew M. Simon
Occupation: Private school teacher, Assembly District Leader
Personal Info: Simon was born and raised in Rockaway. He has been a community and civic leader for over 30 years. He works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, helping all who need help.
Platform/Issues: To secure funding and build much-needed schools. Make school safety and stopping bullying a priority. Reduce busing and keep siblings together in neighborhood schools. Establish an HOV lane on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards during peak hours. See that every community has a good community hospital with a well-equipped emergency room. Will continue to fund all senior centers, Meals-on-Wheels and Access-A-Ride. Will increase funding for volunteer fire and ambulance departments. Increase the staffing levels so that each community board will have a building inspector. Will continue to fund the fight for additional firefighters and police officers. Support direct mass transit service to midtown Manhattan in less than 30 minutes (Rockaway Beach rail line). Clean up graffiti in Woodhaven and Ozone Park.
Name: William Ruiz
*The campaign for this candidate did not submit a profile as of press time