2004-09-24 / Editorial/Opinion

Killing Jamaica Bay With Kindness

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is wonderful to Rockaway. The agency often gives the city Department of Environmental Protection permission to dump tens of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into Jamaica Bay whenever one of our treatment plants has a problem. It prohibits residents from enjoying its water resources by promulgating tough laws for wetland use and it pushes heavy fines for those who live nearby the bay. It oversees a program that will allow KeySpan Energy more than 10 years to clean up a Class II Toxic Waste Site in our midst. It often seems as if individuals are punished for the slightest incursion into the bay while agencies of all stripes can do whatever the want. Now comes the final indignity. The DEC plans to solve the bay’s problems by dumping millions of tons of toxic dredge spoils into the borrow pits at the eastern end of the bay. If that plan sounds familiar, it should. The Army Corps of Engineers has been trying to dump the toxic sludge into the bay ever since the federal government told the agency that its sludge was too toxic to dump into the Atlantic Ocean. The Army Corps and the DEC have a problem. Toxic sediment builds up on the bottom of New York Harbor. Its dredging program is necessary to keep the harbor open. We can all understand the need for keeping the harbor open not only to container ships, but also to cruise ships. The question remains, however, as to where to put the highly toxic sludge that is dredged up. It is too toxic to dump at sea. It is too expensive, the mantra goes, to treat it and send it elsewhere. Why not Jamaica Bay? Not only that, why not make the dumping look as if we are helping the bay rather than polluting it? The borrow pits are depressions in the bay floor that were mined for fill material to create the new runways at JFK Airport. The DEC says that the pits are void of life and are causing some of the ecological problems in the bay, such as the loss of marsh grass over the past two decades. Environmental groups, however, have provided proof that the pits are alive with sea life. The DEC and Army Corps of Engineers are once again beginning the process that will eventually put the toxic, dangerous material off the shore of Bayswater. The time to stop that the process is now, before time becomes a major consideration.

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