2004-02-27 / Community

Borrow Pit Report Due Out In March

By Brian Magoolaghan

About 45 people attended last week’s Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting held at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Brooklyn. Seated in the front row are Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian and American Littoral Society Chapter Director, center, and Bernard Blum, president of the Friends of Rockaway, right.About 45 people attended last week’s Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting held at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Brooklyn. Seated in the front row are Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian and American Littoral Society Chapter Director, center, and Bernard Blum, president of the Friends of Rockaway, right.

A report detailing the three-year study of Ja maica Bay’s borrow pits including a recommendation on whether to leave them alone or fill them in with dredged material will be made public late next month.

The $1.2 million study, which represents the work of numerous city, state and federal agencies with overlapping jurisdiction in the bay, is complete, according to Stephen Zahn, New York State Department of En vironmental Conser va tion Program Manager, Marine Habi tat Protection.

In the coming weeks, each agency will submit their findings and comments to the DEC. Then, hundreds of pages of information will be condensed into the report titled the "Jamaica Bay Borrow Pit Evaluation Project," Zahn said at last week’s Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting in Brooklyn. Copies of the report will be sent to Floyd Bennett Field and the Wildlife Refuge for public viewing, ac cording to Zahn.

The borrow pits, lo ca ted in the eastern section of the bay, have become a hot topic among local environmental and civic groups – who fear that the pits will one day be filled in with contaminated dredge material from the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailed a plan in 1999 that suggested filling the pits as part of a "sequence of small-scale, localized and comprehensively monitored projects," using relatively clean material at first, that could prove that pit restoration is not only feasible but beneficial. That plan concluded that "extensive" baseline tests of the Norton Basin and Little Bay areas of Jamaica Bay were needed before any further action. The release of the evaluation project report marks the end of that preliminary investigation into the conditions of the borrow pits.

Zahn said the report would make a recommendation on whether to continue with the next phase of study, which would model the changes that would take place in the pits if sediment was introduced.

"On the fastest track possible you couldn’t put a thing in those pits for at least two years," said Zahn. The more likely time frame would be about four years – allowing for a review of the report and public comment.

"No decisions will be made until everyone has had the chance to review this information," said Zahn.

Some local groups, who have been keeping a watchful eye on the issue, have vowed to protest any plan to put sediment into the borrow pits.

Jamaica Bay’s borrow pits were created when the bay was dredged to produce fill for what is now JFK Airport. They became an issue several years ago when the USACE released the details of a federally mandated plan to deepen access channels to the Port of New York and New Jersey to 50 feet. That plan calls for dredging millions of cubic yards of sediment, which will have to be relocated – and that’s where the borrow pits could come in.

The USACE has cited a number of "habitat creation, enhancement and restoration" uses for the sediment in its "Dredged Material Management Plan," or DMMP, released in 1999.

The USACE says the borrow pits are a "degraded" section of the bay – possibly because it takes longer for water to flush through them. And, they say, filling them in "appears potentially beneficial at select pit locations."

But some locals say the USACE is more interested in dumping the dredge material – no matter what the risk to Jamaica Bay is.

"The Army Corps of Engineers will claim that the pits are dead and support no life but the National Park Service and the American Littoral Society have conducted independent research and determined that normal life is living and thriving there85 the reason this site is being considered is that it is illegal to dump [in the ocean]," said Ed Raskin, president of the Bayswater Civic Association.

"The dredged material contains high concentrations of heavy waste," said Elisa Hinken a local environmentalist and columnist for The Wave.

The USACE says the dredged material is naturally accumulated sediment that is excavated from the sea floor, and has not been characterized as hazardous or radioactive. Any hazardous dredge would be "regulated by the appropriate responsible agencies and disposed of at a properly permitted hazardous waste facility," the USACE says in the DMMP, adding that much of the material contains "some contaminants at varying concentrations."

The USACE concedes that a large amount of the material does not meet federal standards for unrestricted ocean dumping – but notes some can be put in an ocean area south of Rockaway and west of Sandy Hook, New Jersey that has been used for dumping in the past, known as the Historic Area Remediation Site. They refer to that material as HARS suitable.

Then there’s HARS unsuitable material: "This indicates that some contaminants may be present at concentrations that result in an unacceptable risk of toxicity in test aquatic organisms or have the potential to accumulate to unacceptable concentrations within the tissues of these organisms," according to the DMMP.

The DMMP, again dating back to 1999, calls for depositing HARS suitable material in Norton Basin and then monitoring the area – with the eventual goal of filling Little Bay with HARS unsuitable sediment capped with HARS suitable sediment. Many who have followed the issue told The Wave that they expect to see some variation of this plan recommended in the new report.

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