2002-01-12 / Columnists

Sprayview Sticks and Stones

By Environmental Reporter Bernard Blum

By Environmental Reporter Bernard Blum

The national estuary program grew out of a 1987 amendment to the Clean Water Act. The aim of the act was to "identify, restore and protect nationally significant estuaries in the United States."

Estuaries are places where rivers meet the sea. The tidal, sheltered waters of estuaries support unique communities of plants and animals, especially adapted for life at the margin of the sea. Estuarine communities are among the most productive on Earth, producing more food per acre than the richest Midwestern farmland, due to mixing of nutrients from land and sea.

There are at least 28 nationally significant estuaries in the United States and it was in 1998 that the New York and New Jersey harbors were designated as "significant."

I attended one of the early (if not the first) informative meetings for the program and have all of the weighty material that was given out. Since Jamaica Bay and the waters around Rockaway were not designated as "significant," it was only by 1993 or 1994 that a return to the meeting cycle was necessary to take on the various agendas of the powers in the USEPA-administered program that involved Rockaway and the Jamaica Bay.

Eugenia Flatow has been a powerhouse on coordinating policies and attempting to obtain funding for the program and to maintain the economic competitiveness of the harbor. She deserves a lot of credit for her efforts. She does deserve medals for all of that whirlwind activity, though slowed by a cane at present. To repeat, however, there is lots of disagreement on Jamaica Bay issues that impact on Rockaway.

Jamaica Bay is a tributary of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and the Hudson River is a major river that impacts the harbor. There are other rivers, such as the Passaic in New Jersey that is ballistically contaminated with a chemical dioxin (known carcinogen and hormone disrupter) and so is the Hudson River (with PCB’s. which are also harmful).

There is a lot to contend with in dredging and safely disposing of those sediments poisoned by these chemicals from the river waters and sediment flows into the rivers. Industrial chemicals come from other sources (storm water runoff services, storm sewers, treatment plants, air deposition, etc.) and, given the population density and the development history of the region, there is a lot of crud at the bottom of the estaurine food factory we are all the stewards of! It is a big aquarium that we all should get to know better and so should our new mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

In 1984, I led a group of Rockaway people and bureaucrats such as Frank Papay of the Parks Department, on a tour of Dubos Point prior to the point’s dedication in 1987. There was another tour of Dubos Point in August of 1989, with a picture of a much younger me making like a bulldozer evacuating into the Earth at the periphery of the area. Walter Ward (then our Councilman) is looking on, as is his assistant, Al Marcel. Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer’s responsive hand gesture was a hopeful sign of a resolution to the problems then faced by Dubos Point.

There was hope, at least on my part, that the Dubos Point (located at Beach 63 Street and DeCosta Avenue) dedication would spur Rockaway and its civic and political leaders to be better stewards of Jamaica Bay’s natural resources and open spaces. This does not preclude development as the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan stewarded by the USEPA does not preclude the New York-New Jersey nationally significant harbor.

Councilman Ward and Assemblywoman Pheffer had been holding meetings on mosquito control and a specialist from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation came to one of the meetings with an article from the "Conservationist" explaining that if blocked creeks are opened up in impounded wetlands such of Dubos Point, these will thrive and mosquito larvae are washed away into the mouths of the killi fish and that they can also swim in to feed more. With the exchange of tides, there is much less stagnant water for mosquito breeding as well.

While nobody seemed to realize that fact, not even the community board succession of managers, including Jonathon Gaska and sanitation committee chair Mario Russo, I still persevered with numerous letters to bureaucrats of the estuary program, especially because mosquito control is linked to restoring wetlands – they grow better with the exchange of the tides. The large, tall reed grass seen around the bay overgrow impounded wetlands, but they have other benefits and are valued, although debatably so.

So, the bulldozing of topsoil and living vegetation as part of Community Board 14’s mosquito – weed control program held sway and I pushed on. That left a vast tonnage of valuable topsoil and fill dirt missing and the mosquitoes still in place. Hopefully, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has heard the plea, however, and by 2004 the Dubos Point creeks hopefully will be opened.

The member agencies that deal with Rockaway in relation to the bay and the harbor have shown an absence of concern about our peninsula. This has led to more ineffective bulldozing and dirt disappearance. It has led to new housing on land with a high water table and the filling in of bulldozed trenches around the point. Mosquito magnets cannot hide the issue of whether the new administration will treat the Rockaway aquarium with more sensitivity and respect. Chemicals such as Malathion and Anvil are harmful and are less needed if the management we recommended for restricted, impounded wetlands such as Dubos Point are followed. This is a public health issue that must be addressed.

Next time, more scratching for answers.

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