2001-07-28 / Front Page

Toxic Sludge Slated for Jamaica Bay Borrow Pits

By Howard Schwach

The fate of Jamaica Bay may have been sealed at an "invitation-only" meeting of the State Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee on July 12.

The committee met to discuss "the status of borrow pits in the New York Harbor area," and, according to Bernard Blum, the president of the Friends of Rockaway, the hearing "limited public input" on the issue of using the borrow pits as a depository for toxic sludge dredged from the bottom of New York Harbor.

There are a number of borrow pits at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, particularly at its Eastern end.

Those pits were dug years ago to provide clean fill for the extension of John F. Kennedy Airport.

The committee and the Army Corps of Engineers are now contemplating filling those borrow pits with the sludge from the harbor bottom, according to Blum and other environmentalists. The plan is to deepen the ship channel into the harbor by dredging the bottom and depositing the resulting sludge and silt elsewhere. There are a number of borrow pits in the ocean that have been used to take sludge in the past, but environmentalists forced a halt to that process several years ago.

That is why they are back to the Jamaica Bay plan, according to Blum.

""The Army Corps of Engineers may have already started to test Norton Basin in Bayswater biologically, chemically and physically for the disposal project," Blum Says. "

There are borrow pits in the bay at Grassy Bay, Little Bay and Norton Basin, all nearby the Bayswater shore.

According to Blum, the likely sequence for filling the puts would be Norton Basin first and then Grassy Bay (see map).

The Army Corps of Engineers argues that the harbor has to be dredged and that the fill, while toxic, would be covered by a cap of clean fill and would not disturb the ecology of the bay in any way.

They also argue that the borrow pits are helping to destroy the ecology of the bay by changing the flow pattern and that the pits need to be filled in any case.

A decision on utilizing the borrow pits for the dumping of harbor sludge will be made "only after an investigation process to insure that it would not impact the bay in any way," a spokesperson for the Corps of Engineers says.

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