Coney Island's Sea Gate Still Defenseless After Sandy — By Its Own Choice

To Get Help, Private Neighborhood Would Have To Open Beach

Still the Same: Pinny Dembitzer walks along the Atlantic Ocean in the Sea Gate section of Coney Island. A year after Sandy struck, the neighborhood is as unprotected as ever, but the reasons for its continued exposure are surprising.
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Still the Same: Pinny Dembitzer walks along the Atlantic Ocean in the Sea Gate section of Coney Island. A year after Sandy struck, the neighborhood is as unprotected as ever, but the reasons for its continued exposure are surprising.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 29, 2013, issue of November 01, 2013.

(page 4 of 4)

In a report issued after the storm, the Bloomberg administration called that bulkhead “substandard.” In addition to the Army Corps’ pre-Sandy plan for fixing the erosion problem, the mayor’s report called for a major new study by the Corps that would essentially implement in Sea Gate what the neighborhood chose to skip in 1990.

“We can’t leave Sea Gate itself as an open vulnerability,” said Dan Zarrilli, the city’s director of resiliency. The city’s broad plan for mitigating floods in South Brooklyn can’t just skip over Sea Gate, Zarrilli said. A gap there in protection from the sea might leave other neighborhoods vulnerable.

The city hopes that the Army Corps will look at Sea Gate as part of an ongoing study due to be presented to Congress in 2015, said Zarrilli. Any actual work would then require Congressional approval — and approval from Sea Gate.

Dembitzer declined to say whether he would support opening the beaches if the city were to put the question to the association board. Others, however, said they would not.

“We would never open,” said Garofalo.

The growing power of the Hasidic community here, drawn in part by the promise of seclusion, could bolster opposition to the reconstruction deal. “I think the Hasidic community has more investment in that gate than anybody else,” said Suben. “I do believe that you’re going to find that community is going to fight more strenuously than any other element of the community.”

In lieu of fast action from the city on a new protection plan, all that Sea Gate is doing is building new sea walls. Engineers are working on proposals right now, according to Dembitzer.

Even when the new seawall gets built, Dembitzer knows it won’t keep another Sandy from wiping out the neighborhood. The seawall built by the association will only protect portions of the neighborhood’s shoreline; the rest would need to be built by individual owners. And the walls, as Sandy showed, can’t protect against the most powerful storms.

Next to one missing house on Beach 47th Street, the shirtless man on the second story porch watched the waves. The road, which now ends in front of his home, used to extend another 50 feet toward the water. His house had five feet of sand in the basement after the storm and had to be entirely rebuilt. The man said that he rented his apartment, but that the owner and her family had been there for generations.

“When you grow up like this,” he said, gesturing out towards the Verrazano Bridge, “where do you go from here?”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com Follow him on Twitter @joshnathankazis



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