Toxic Jamaica Bay
By Howard Schwach
The on-again, off-again plan to place toxic dredge spoils into the east end of Jamaica Bay, off Bayswater seems to be on again.
A meeting to discuss the "background and status of the Norton Bay Study" by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is on the agenda for a meeting of the Jamaica Bay Task Force that will be held on Thursday, September 26 at 6:15 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Cross Bay Boulevard, just north of Broad Channel.
The DEC has been looking for a place to dump the toxic dredge spoils for many years. At one time, the spoils, taken from New York Harbor and other sites that needed deepening, were dumped at sea. A federal law changed all that.
The DEC plan and that of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that would actually do the work, is to fill several "Borrow Pits" with the toxic spoils and then cover those pits with clean fill.
The borrow pits were created when sand was dredged from the bay to create new runways at John F. Kennedy Airport nearby the bay.
The DEC and others are convinced that the deep borrow pits are devoid of life and that they impede the flushing action of the bay. Many in those agencies believe that that disposing of the toxic spoils in the borrow pits would have a positive effect on the bay rather than a negative one.
Local environmentalists, however, are not buying that idea.
"The thought is that the deep pit water was not flushing and that the pits were being poisoned and degraded of marine life," says Bernard Blum, the president of the Friends of Rockaway, a group that has been involved with Jamaica Bay issues for two decades. "So, a 'spin' was generated that the pits were so 'dead' that doses of toxic dredge spoils would cure the problem when covered with a layer of not so clean sand."
"They even call this disposal project some sort of 'restoration,'" Blum argues.
The restoration plan would impact Norton Basin, Little Bay and Grassy Bay, all right off the Bayswater shore.
"Agencies like the Corps of Engineers are under a lot of political pressure to dredge the harbor and to dispose of the dredged material, which is all toxic," Blum says. "Rockaway is a likely site because we are usually a pushover and the people in Brooklyn provide more of an opposition."
Blum points out that the Natural Resources Protective Association of Staten Island used underwater photography last year to see if the borrow pits were indeed dead.
The Wave was at a meeting late last year where the video of those dives was presented by the organization and the evidence was clear that the pits were teeming with marine life.
Several years ago, a similar plan to dump toxic dredge spoils in Jamaica Bay was defeated when elected officials and community activists put political pressure on the Corps of Engineers.
Blum urges all those interested in defeating the plan to attend the meeting on September 26.