YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz announced today that he will withdraw legislation he introduced in the Assembly earlier this month that would transfer oversight of a swath of sand at Brighton Beach and Coney Island from the state to New York City.
Cymbrowitz did not credit the decision to opposition from environmentalists who worried the Parks Department, less constrained by the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s more stringent oversight, would botch the job, as first reported on Sheepshead Bites. Instead, the Sheepshead Bay-Brighton Beach legislator said he did it because he himself had mounting concerns over Parks Department decision-making in light of the controversial new boardwalk comfort stations.
“I believe that giving the city any additional authority of the area near the boardwalk is a mistake. The state Department of Environmental Conservation should continue to have oversight and this legislation will not move forward this session,” Cymbrowitz said in a strongly worded letter to the mayor, according to a press release.
The bill, which can be read here, would have transferred oversight of 250 feet of sand immediately south of the 2.5-mile Riegelmann Boardwalk. It was sponsored in the Assembly by Cymbrowitz and co-sponsored by Alec Brook-Krasny. Diane Savino introduced it in the Senate.
When asked about the legislation earlier this week, Cymbrowitz told Sheepshead Bites that plans to create an already funded bicycle path adjacent to the boardwalk had been stalled for nearly eight years. Cymbrowitz said that the DEC had denied the Parks Department’s application, as well as other attempts to build community resources on the beach, and that he had hoped to free Parks from DEC’s yoke.
That upset activists who said that the DEC had more stringent standards for a reason: they serve as a watchdog over would-be projects that can contribute to beach erosion and other environmental risks.
The Parks Department told Sheepshead Bites that they did not request the bill, nor had any input into it.
Cymbrowitz has now changed his tune, saying that the plan is nixed because he has lost faith in the Parks Department’s ability to meet residents’ needs, citing the new boardwalk comfort stations as the turning point. Residents from the Oceana Condominium complex have protested the new bathrooms and comfort stations adjacent to their facility, claiming that they obstruct views and attract vagrants. Cymbrowitz sided with the residents, even sending a letter to the Parks Department.
His concerns have escalated alongside the mounting missteps of the comfort stations’ installations, according to his press release:
His appeal fell on deaf ears and, despite several well-publicized protests by Oceana residents, the original plan prevailed. During installation, the piles hit solid granite and seawater and the borings couldn’t go through, delaying the process. The Parks Department then devised an alternative construction plan that involved pouring concrete in the sand. Environmentalists and FEMA have already deemed this method unsafe, according to Assemblyman Cymbrowitz.
The legislation, however, was introduced on May 3 – at least a month or more after Cymbrowitz sent his critical letter to the Parks Department opposing the comfort stations.
Sheepshead Bites could not reach Cymbrowitz for comment on this article. We will update this post if we hear back from him.
UPDATE (4:28 p.m.): Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff, executive director of the Natural Resources Protective Association, which vocally opposed the legislation, is celebrating the withdrawal as a victory for the community.
“It just goes to show there’s no limit to what you can do when you shine a light on the darkness. And just the fact – politics is all about looking good – and just on the basis that this was being done so quietly raised a lot of red flags,” said Sanoff. “This would have had far reaching impacts on all the people who live and work along the shoreline. This would have put hundreds of thousands of people who would have been put at risk. This is a victory.”
She added: “Sometimes these things are resurrected in a slightly different form. I can assure you that we’re going to be very, very vigilant. We’ll keep a close eye on any piece of legislation that’s proposed that has anything to do with the shoreline … There are no secrets along the shore. If it doesn’t come out in the wash, it’ll come out in the rinse.”