Here's The Scoop On Backhoes In Jamaica Bay
The cranes drew The Wave's curiosity, too, and we recently took to the water to find out what's going on out there. We learned that the heavy equipment is part of a $28.6 million, multi-phase marsh restoration project that will eventually use about 370,000 cubic yards of sand and about 850,000 marsh grass plugs to build 92 acres of marshlands in the bay.
The 24/7 operation kicked off at the end of May.
The project is the most aggressive step ever taken to fight an estimated 1,400 acres of marsh loss in the bay since 1924. Dan Mundy, a local environmentalist and founding member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, estimated the current marsh loss at about 45-50 acres per year. The Department of Environmental Conservation says that if that trend continues, all of the marshes could be gone in 30 years.
"The marshes are such an important part of the ecosystem that if they go, so goes the rest," Mundy said as he gave a Wave reporter a tour of the entire work zone.
The areas being replenished during this phase are Elders Point Marsh and Yellow Bar, which are located west of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Elders Point is easily seen from the Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge connecting the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Howard Beach.
"The restoration plan for Elders East and Elders West includes restoring the existing vegetated areas and the sheltered and exposed mudflats, by placing [sand] material up to an elevation that is suitable for low marsh growth," the USACE says.
The project is somewhat similar to a pilot restoration project at Big Egg Marsh in 2003. Four thousand cubic yards of sand was used in that project to replenish two acres of marsh.
The sand being used now - dredged from Rockaway Inlet and stored at Floyd Bennett Field - is pumped to the work area though an underwater pipe network that is more than three miles long. It is currently being sprayed out at Elders Point East, where it is spread out by tractors. The sand is retained at the edges by coir logs, rolls of coconut fiber that are used to prevent erosion, which are being kept at a work staging area at the northeastern foot of the North Channel Bridge.
While the underwater pipe network is somewhat of an engineering marvel, it also presents a potential danger to boaters. Depending on the tide, sections of the pipe are in water that is shallow enough to be hit by even a small boat's propeller or keel. There are only a handful of unlit buoys marking the submerged pipe, and a chart showing its location on the bay floor has not been published.
The USACE awarded the $13 million Elders East portion of the project in March to Galvin Brothers of Great Neck, Long Island. More information about the project will be available after July 6, when the USACE will conduct its own tour with reporters.