2005-07-29 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

Imagine watching something wash away; taken away slowly but surely. Agonizing over each inch, each foot, one at a time. The terrible sense of helplessness and frustration due to the inability not only to find the cause, but come up with a solution. I’m sure that’s how Dan Mundy feels when looking out his door. The marshes that protect his property and family are disappearing before his eyes. One man looking at thousands of acres of important components to our environment. His environment, home and family.

Though I’ve met Dan Mundy at a meeting, I know nothing else about the man except what I’ve read in past WAVE columns and stories. My take on Dan Mundy is this: here is a man who chose to stay and fight instead of selling and moving. He “pushed the panic button” to garner the eyes and ears of politicians and community activists. His plight is much more than just personal. The “personal” part I am sure drives his passion. Beyond that, his common sense drives him even farther.

Due to the efforts of people like Dan Mundy, Don Riepe, Ida Sanoff and Bernie Blum, Jamaica Bay is now garnering the respect of regulatory authorities and politicians on local, city, state and national levels.

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law a City Council bill that its backers hope will turn concern into concerted action to save the marshes. “Today marks a turning point in the health of the bay, one of the city’s most cherished natural resources,” said Councilman James Gennaro (D-Queens) at the bill signing. The new law requires the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to formulate a protection plan for the Jamaica Bay watershed by Sept. 1, 2006. It also provides for the appointment of a seven-member advisory committee of experts to help the DEP commissioner prepare the action plan.

Gennaro, chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and was the chief sponsor of the law, considered it so significant that he literally didn’t let a broken arm and collarbone stop him from attending the signing ceremony.

Bloomberg described Jamaica Bay, which covers 91,000 acres bordered by the shores of southern Brooklyn, Queens and the Rockaway peninsula, as “one of the largest coastal ecosystems in the northern United States.” He called the new law “a step in the right direction,” but cautioned that the input of “a wide range of stakeholders” will be needed to implement it.

The saltwater marshes along the coastal parts of the bay, including its small islands, are said by environmentalists to be a richly productive ecosystem that nurtures fish, birds and other wildlife, helps counterbalance urban pollution and protects coastal properties from storm and wave damage.

But the marshes shrunk by 51% between 1924 and 1999, and continue to disappear at the rate of 40 to 50 acres a year.

According to a Council report, many possible causes have been cited, including excessive inland development, such as that at nearby JFK Airport, rising sea levels, land erosion, storms, pollution from sewage and storm water, illegal dumping and even excessive growth of mussels.

“If nothing is done to address the bay’s environmental threat, in 25 years the entire bay’s ecosystem could collapse and this natural resource could be lost forever,” said Gennaro, who added that the new law will help generate “a detailed road map” for restoring and preserving the bay.

So, onward and upward. Finally, people and organizations are rising to the occasion. Thanks to one man who pushed that panic button.

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