2004-11-19 / Community

Blum Urges Jamaica Bay Sediment Check

Bernie Blum thinks that there is a rather simple solution to the mosquito problem at Dubos Point in Arverne as well as the disappearing wetlands in Jamaica Bay.

“It’s simple enough,” says Blum, the President of the local environmental group, Friends of Rockaway, “to patch a worn section of lawn with peat moss and grass seed, so it should not seem so remarkable to achieve a good level of success in restoring wetlands islands with sprayed-on bay sediments using wetlands grass seeds or seedlings!”

Blum says that there has been a successful expenditure of $450 thousand dollars to restore the Big Egg Marsh wetlands section in the bay, nearby Broad Channel. He adds that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon direct the Rockaway Inlet channel maintenance sand dredge spoils towards the flooded Elder’s Point wetland island restoration project.

He argues that an alternative to spraying is the use of geotextile (porous plastic) bags to keep dredge spoils from washing out. The 6.5 million dollar expenditure will be monitored for future success for 12 to 18 months and, “here is hoping similar success.”

“Such projects have been deemed necessary since President Dan Mundy and the EcoWatchers in Broad Channel noticed significant wetlands island acreage loss in Jamaica Bay and since the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation investigative team was persuaded to unveil findings that supported the observations,” says Blum.

“And,” he adds, “whether there is a combination of causes or a primary one, the approach taken demonstrates not enough marine dirt is being supplied to sustain wetlands island integrity. So intervention has become necessary lest the islands disappear and waterfront damage from storm tides and flooding is increased.”

The Lamont Doherty Lab at Columbia University has pointed out the sedimentary budget problem for these islands (requiring more investment sediment from outside sources) and the facts that Grassy Bay off JFK Airport is a major sink for such sediment So watershed development dredging has interfered with natural sediment supply to the islands and little reaches the islands to sustain them. Indications are that sea level rise may be a factor in flooding these islands suffering a sediment deficit. Yet whatever the cause of the acreage losses, Joco Marsh off JFK has become an example of a thriving wetlands island and more research is necessary to determine why.

A rather shocking finding, Blum says, was brought out at the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee public hearing on the islands loss problem on October 21, is that according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation – the same agency willing to study introducing toxic dredge spoils into Jamaica Bay borrow pits – has been allowing the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to continue to emit ‘total mean daily loads of wastewater treatment plant effluents pollutants’ at much greater levels than is advisable such that Jamaica Bay Water Quality is on a significant decline.

“We knew NYC Department of Environmental Protection has been a nitrogen polluter in the bay,” says Blum, “and so that even the sea lettuce beds (over-fertilized by sewage sludge dewatering nitrogen addition to plant effluents) have been cited as a cause of island loss when floating onto an island center and smothering it with low oxygen conditions, but not this!”

The Natural Resources Defense Council also brought the problem of urbanization and hardening of surfaces in the Jamaica Bay watershed thus sending more polluted storm water runoff into the bay before it can be cleansed by infiltration into topsoil and lower soil levels.

The National Park Service complained about the problem of large projects and urbanizing impacts in the watershed and the need for coordination in of agencies in the permitting process. Don Riepe, the Bay Guardian, also called for coordination and the cross communication of agencies at the Jamaica Bay Task Force. Blum added the existence of such communication at the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program but obviously more is needed if Bay problems are ever solved.

Blum’s testimony, the last on the list, was interrupted by the chair, Councilman Gennaro, for continuity but cited were urbanization issues like Arverne and the Idlewild Storm Sewer as well, as the nitrogen pollution from sewage treatment plants.

He says there is a need to monitor the sediment quality for island restorations and borrow pit-filling operations.l

Blum says he was surprised to find that Dubos Point (a.k.a. Mosquito Point) in Arverne had been funded to the tune of $350,000 through the efforts of Councilman James Sanders, Jr., not just to grow grass but for ecological mosquito control. Sanders showed up and acknowledged the achievement and his constituent Blum.

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