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Orchard Beach: The Puerto Rican Riviera?

An Aging Beauty Could Get a Needed Nip and a Tuck


October 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Orchard Beach, once famously known as the Riviera of the Bronx, is shrinking. Acres have been lost to erosion since the 1930's, when Robert Moses oversaw the creation of the crescent-shaped beach that gave Bronx residents an accessible summertime retreat. No new sand has been added since 1964.

But now, steps are being taken to reverse that loss. The Army Corps of Engineers has completed a plan to bring in 300,000 cubic yards of sand by barge, probably from South Amboy, N.J., to restore the beach. The additional sand would add 12 acres of beach to the current 25 acres at high tide, and eliminate dangerous underwater drop-offs that have also been caused by erosion.

The restoration is crucial, said Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern, because the beach has become more popular in recent years. On summer weekends, the place is so packed that some beachgoers have to set up chairs on the promenade instead of the sand.

"It's blanket to blanket," said Olga Quintana, describing the summer scene. She should know: a retiree who lives in Soundview, Ms. Quintana visits the beach with friends almost every day, year round. (As temperatures approached 80 degrees on Wednesday, she wore an orange bikini and sported a stellar late-October tan.)

In February, the Army Corps of Engineers will present its plan to rebuild the beach, including economic and environmental impact assessments, to state and local officials. The plan would be submitted for public review in the spring.

Money for the next step, design of the rebuilt beach, is already set aside. The total cost would be $7 million or $8 million, said Anthony Ciorra, project manager for the Corps of Engineers. Some $2 million in federal funds has already been set aside for the construction phase.

Financing is complicated because the Corps of Engineers cannot use its own money for projects that are mainly recreational, and federal funds must be matched by state and local agencies.

"This is not a done deal, but I am optimistic," Mr. Ciorra said. Restoration of the beach could begin by September 2003.

"We want to make it a normal, pretty beach again, the way it was when it was a youngster," Mr. Stern said. "It's certainly showing signs of age, and it's been subject to the ravages of the wind and the waves for two-thirds of a century."

Ms. Quintana and her friends like the plan, although Leo Vazquez, who lives in the north Bronx, and who refers to the beach as the Puerto Rican Riviera, had a few additional suggestions. "It needs some palm trees, and a bar called the Hungry Soldier," said Mr. Vazquez, 75. "That would make you feel like you were in Puerto Rico."   


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