2004-09-24 / Community

Panel Recommends Borrow Pit Modeling

By Brian Magoolaghan

  • The N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation has released a report that recommends taking another step towards filling Jamaica Bay borrow pits in Norton Basin and Little Bay with contaminated sediment dredged from New York Harbor.
  • A multi-agency panel of researchers, who completed a three-year study at the end of last year, found that the “pits in the southern portion of Norton Basin and in Little Bay are sufficiently degraded” and could benefit from re-contouring – raising the bottom with dredged material. The pits were formed when areas of the bay were dredged to provide fill for JFK Airport and are between 40 and 60-feet deep.

    After a public meeting this fall, the next step will be to conduct a computer model comparison of the affects of different degrees of re-contouring, according to Stephen Zahn, DEC Marine Program Manager. Restoring a bay-to-bay channel through Edgemere is also being considered.

    “The hope is to start the modeling work this winter,” said Zahn. There will be no public comment period until an actual project is designed and the environmental impact assessment begins. That could take a year or more.

    Behind the move to fill the borrow pits is the US Army Corps of Engineers plan to deepen New York Harbor. Putting the dredged sediment in the borrow pits, some of which is contaminated and creates a toxic risk to aquatic organisms, is the front-runner among very limited options.

    Despite cries from local environmental activists, the agencies say filling the pits could actually help the bay. Their hypothesis is that water does not circulate through the deep pits like it does in the rest of the bay and that, as a result, they are “impaired” aquatic wastelands.

    A three-year investigation of conditions in the pits, measuring the presence of life forms, water and sediment quality and water flow, began in 2000. Professionals from the USACE, DEC, National Fisheries Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Parks Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and NY Department of Environmental Protection formed a technical review panel and collectively agreed that re-contouring was an option worthy of continued consideration.

    More information on the study is contained in a report titled Findings of the Technical Review Panel, Jamaica Bay Borrow Pit Evaluaion Project, which will be available for viewing at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge visitor’s center next week, according to Zahn.

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