2004-10-22 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

Back in 2001, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers (ACOE) issued a news statement, titled “Clearing the Record on Borrow Pits”. This document stated that the ACOE has no plans to place any sediments in borrow pits off Coney Island and Staten Island. Ida Sanoff, Vice President of the Natural Resources Protective Association immediately read through the lines. Here, she provides a short summary of facts as to what the ACOE has in store for Jamaica Bay.

FACT: The ACOE is ACTIVELY INVESTIGATING the filling of a borrow pit.

Studies began in the summer of 2001 on a pit in the eastern end of Jamaica Bay - Norton Basin, with the objective of determining if the pit is “degraded” and in need of “restoration” (you NOTICE how the ACOE made this determination BEFORE investigation? Wouldn’t you question the objectivity of any outcomes after making such a statement?). According to recently released results, that determination has been made. Now starts the public information meetings and a process begins which can ultimately lead to the filling of the pit with “clean” material.  Norton Basin is the “test pit”. If filling it is “successful” then that sets the stage for the process of studying the other pits as a prelude to filling them. Again, the ACOE says that it has no plans to fill borrow pits. So why is all of this time and effort being expended to “test” Norton Basin?

FACT: The West Bank, Hoffman/ Swinburne and Jamaica Bay pits REMAIN on the Army Corps’ Dredged Material Management Plan (DMMP).

The ACOE claims that it was only “studying” these pits to see if the habitat within is “degraded” and in need of being “restored” by filling. Local fishing enthusiasts know that these pits provide essential habitat for both recreational and commercial fish. Furthermore, a 2001 symposium on borrow pits at the New York Aquarium noted that the pits provide shelter for fish during dredging operations and storms.

FACT: The West Bank, Hoffman Swinburne and Jamaica Bay (Jo Co Marsh, Grassy Bay, Little Bay) borrow pits are clearly listed in the Army Corps’ Dredged Materials Management Plan (DMMP) Management Options , with their Earliest Projected Availability and Existing Capacity clearly noted.

The Material Type (for subfill placement) in the borrow pits in Jamaica Bay and between Brooklyn and Staten Island is specified as “F”. Type F, as we well know, is “non ocean placement” a.k.a. contaminated material. That means that under Federal law it’s too toxic to dump into the ocean. But those regulations do not apply to our near shore waters. So, it’s okay to dump this toxic material in our bays and right off our shoreline. Just when we are spending million’s of dollars on bay restoration.

What about creating further insult to injury with the disappearing marshes and rising water levels? What about the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations? Do we throw all that away? Will our houses in the middle of the block become waterfront property?

These pits are Option Preference 3 “Uncertain Option - Options that require more analysis regarding technical and economic feasibility but warrant continued consideration because of their potential to beneficially reuse dredge material”. That means that the ACOE can decide to pursue filling these pits at ANY TIME. If the ACOE truly has “no plans to place any sediment into borrow pits off Coney Island and Staten Island” why are these still listed as Option Status 4 - “Pending Evaluation and Design” instead of being changed to Option Status 5  - “No Longer Under Consideration”?

FACT: The borrow pits provide a cheap way to get rid of contaminated dredged material. That’s what makes them so attractive to the ACOE and other agencies.

This is all about money! Methods of reusing and processing dredge material exist and some have been implemented quite successfully. Projects such as the Pennsylvania coalmines remediation should be applauded and encouraged. But these methods cost far more than just dumping contaminated muck into the nearest borrow pit. The desirability of the borrow pits can be summed up in one word: CHEAP. 

FACT: Type F material contains toxins such as PCBs, dioxin (Agent Orange), lead, mercury, petroleum products and others.

These toxins have been associated with reproductive abnormalities, neurological problems and elevated cancer risks. These substances can bioaccumulate in marine organisms such as the liver of lobsters and crabs and in invertebrates such as worms and clams, which are then consumed by the fish we eat . Toxins accumulate in the marine food chain and ultimately in the people who consume contaminated fish and shellfish. For example, bioaccumulation of PCBs in Striped Bass is well documented.

FACT: The majority of material that will be dredged from the Harbor is contaminated.

Take a look at the ACOE’s own documents.... Dredged Material Management Plan for the Port of New York and New Jersey, September 1999 , Page 4.... “...overall annual maintenance volume calculated from 2000 through 2040, is currently estimated at 2.3 million cubic yards (MCY) of HARS unsuitable material and 1.4 MCY of HARS suitable material. (Note that the long term average annual maintenance volume for HARS unsuitable material is somewhat higher (2.7MCY) due to increased sedimentation in deeper channels.)” 

What this means, in plain English is that approx. TWICE as much contaminated (non HARS suitable) material than non contaminated (HARS suitable) will be dredged in the next 40 years. If you exclude rock and look solely at the sediments, over 40 years, there is still more HARS unsuitable (107.8 MCY) than HARS suitable (99.8 MCY), assuming that contaminant levels remain the same.

Remember that HARS suitable material means that it can be used for ocean placement. HARS unsuitable material is too dirty for the ocean. But it CAN be dumped into our near shore waters.

FACT: Despite New York’s attempts to track down contaminants at their sources, (the CARP program) we still don’t know WHEN we will actually have sediments that will not present a disposal problem.

Stopping pollution at the source is an admirable goal. But exactly WHEN will we see the much heralded “cleaner sediments”? Five years? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? One hundred? When this question was asked at a DMMIWG (Dredged Materials Management Integrated Work Group) meeting in the Spring of 2001, the answer was that there was NO IDEA as to when New York would actually begin to see cleaner sediments. This past summer, the water quality and turbidity was poor compared to the previous summer.

Approx. $65 million was allocated to New York and New Jersey for the purpose of coming up with a solution to the “dirty mud” problem. New Jersey has actively pursued technological methods for “inactivating” the toxins in the dredged mud and reusing it. New York has spent millions on the CARP (Contaminant Assessment and Reduction Program). What is to be done in the meantime? What are we supposed to do with the millions of cubic yards of contaminated dredged mud that is planned to be excavated right now ?

FACT: Approximately $200 million taxpayer dollars will be spent to stop toxins from entering the western end of Jamaica Bay while at the same time, the ACOE is planning on dumping the SAME toxins into the eastern end of Jamaica Bay. A plan to grade and seal the Pennsylvania Ave. and Fountain Ave. landfills in Brooklyn is well underway. The objective is to stop leachate of toxins such as dioxin and PCBs from the landfills into Jamaica Bay. This long awaited project has used processed , amended dredge material, a use that environmentalists support.

So, why is New York spending $200 million taxpayer dollars to stop leachate on one end of Jamaica Bay while at the same time, the DMMP endorses the possibility of dumping dredge material with the SAME CONTAMINANTS into pits on the Eastern end (Norton Basin and Little Bay) of Jamaica Bay? If the objective is to stop PCBs and other toxins from entering the Bay, why is it okay to dump the very same toxins into the Bay under the guise of “restoration and remediation” of borrow pits?

FACT: Environmentalists will continue to fight Army Corps of Engineers plans to defile and contaminate our waterways by filling borrow pits with toxic waste.

This struggle began thirty years ago and won’t stop until ALL of the borrow pits and the habitat they provide are protected. By the way, there is a public information meeting presented by the Jamaica Bay Task Force coming up on Thursday, October 21st at 7:00 p.m. in the Education Building (Bldg 272) at Floyd Bennett Field to discuss this very issue. Folks, it is time to join forces and fight against filling the borrow pits. The Jamaica Bay Task Force is a sounding board for exchanging ideas and keeping the lines of communication open, so take some time out of your schedule and attend this meeting.

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