2003-03-29 / Columnists

Sprayview Sticks Stones

by Environmental Reporter Bernard Blum
Sprayview Sticks Stones by Environmental Reporter Bernard Blum

At March Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting, Dan Mundy, President of Ecowatchers takes notes as Dr. Frame explains dredged spray for restoring wetland islands.At March Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting, Dan Mundy, President of Ecowatchers takes notes as Dr. Frame explains dredged spray for restoring wetland islands.

Coastal geologists explain the irregular shorelines of south shore bays (like Jamaica Bay) behind barrier beaches (islands, sand spits like Rockaway, etc.) are due to "over-wash" of huge volumes of sand that gigantic storms have pushed over the beaches as they migrate landward in response to rising ocean levels. Bulkheads, beach-fills, groins, etc. interfere with the natural process. Breezy Point in early 20th century charts used to hook towards Barren Island (Floyd Bennett Field) as the long shore current brought available sand to the Rockaway Inlet where it entered the bay as another source of sand to keep the now disappearing wetlands islands sufficiently supplied.

It has been thought too much dredging of channels and borrow pits has interfered with a natural equilibrium (natural sand/silt equilibrium means particles added equals particles leaving) surrounding the disappearing wetland islands and there has to be a way to restore it! If they go, as Eugenia Flatow (see previous column) tried to prevent me from explaining at a previous Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting, there will be no buffering of stormy floodwaters so Rockaway will flood more from the bayside!

So it certainly is critical for the agencies involved to get going on an effective plan. The Army Corps of Engineers may have to dike some islands supplied with sand and other sediments (like dredge spoils) as conditions worsen.

At the March Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting, Dr. George Frame (Chief Gateway Scientist) gave a presentation about a Louisiana technique of dredge and spraying bay bottom sediments to stabilize wetlands. Dan Mundy, Ecowatchers President and Chair of Community Board 14 Environmental Committee commented and thought it a good idea. Both gentlemen can be contacted for details on a pilot project.

When the Ecowatchers pointed out that after sludge from sewage treatment plants was dried by huge centrifuges at the 26th Ward and Jamaica Plants, and centrates rich in nitrogen (fertilizer) began to enter bay waters by state permits in addition to the normally permitted nitrogen levels, more and different algal blooms were noticed. All Eugenia Flatow commented was (that to paraphrase), "they had no idea there would be such an impact." This stinks to me since she and associates were key players on the Department of Environmental Protection Agency’s Sludge Management Disposal Advisory Board that located the centrifuges on Jamaica Bay in advisory capacity!

One of her associates is Albert F. Appleton, then Commissioner of the agency and now Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association (a think tank on regional developmental issues). Whenever Flatow is mentioned in this column, most of the time just think ‘and Mr. Appleton.’ They both do a good job on regional approaches, except for Rockaway and Jamaica Bay.

In relation to the nitrogen fertilizer impact in the bay I do take credit for Friends of Rockaway pointing out that the news releases about the Blue Ribbon Panel, assembled by the National Park Service at Gateway, never mentioned the potential for impacting the wetlands island grasses ecology. Both Ida Sanaff of the National Resources Protective Association of Staten Island and I thought of the incapacity of the plant over time to metabolize so much fertilizer and maybe marine fungus blight was encouraged to do harm when the centers of the islands do not drain.

Both Ida and myself have expressed concern at meetings of the Harbor Estuary Program that toxic dredge spoils not be used for filling borrow pits or stabilizing the wetlands islands. And in this connection, to her credit, Eugenia Flatow did appeal to Colonel John O’Dowd of the NY District Corps of Engineers (last DIMWIG meeting) for use of clean sand from the Ambrose Channel (where big freighters anchor in the horizon off Rockaway) for borrow pit and channel filling.

And the change of bathsymetry of Jamaica Bay (recontouring or shallowing) is found in the early 90’s in Commissioner Appleton’s Jamaica Bay Plan’s action for speeding up the flushing of pollution out of the Jamaica Bay. This would save money by avoiding the technology of reducing the nitrogen fertilizer levels - plant retrofitting for biological nitrogen reduction (another column showed a gizmo in a pilot project).

The Commissioner of DEP now is a former environmental manager at the Port Authority that needs a disposal site for toxic dredge spoils, and he has to fund this biological nitrogen removal reduction. Good luck!

And it’s a greater fertilizer tangle with the little buggers in micro form again….Bacterial and fungal action is the way to go for the reduction in big tanks…It’s just been discovered that southern wetlands deteriorate in highly fertilized waters when snails graze on them. The grazing promotes fungi growth and the marsh grass blades die. They die faster with more nitrogen added to test cages. It’s an interesting situation for a Jamaica bay study....what a tangle of interconnections....highly fertilized….

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