City Wants BC Marina Out
By Brian Magoolaghan
The operator of a massive marina on acres of city-owned land in Broad Channel was temporarily evicted by the Sheriff's Office this week in an effort, the city said, to prevent further damage to adjacent marshlands and Jamaica Bay.
Schmitt's Marina, located at the western end of West 19 Road in Broad Channel, was shut down Monday in what the city is suggesting is its death-blow in a 17-year battle with marina operator John M. Schmitt. But Schmitt told The Wave he's been facing pollution accusations since the mid-1970s and eviction since 1990.
What's significant now is that it's the first time he actually had to suspend business - for about eight hours - and the city says it's not backing off. "This is the first time they actually got me off [the land]," Schmitt said this week.
The city announced Monday that Federal courts have ruled the Schmitt family repeatedly violated State and Federal law by dumping tons of fill - concrete, asphalt, brick, and household items such as sofas, mattresses and chair cushion foam - on city-owned land in a protected Jamaica Bay marshland area known as "The Hook" and in underwater areas at the marina.
"The resulting ecological damage included the destruction of an estimated nine acres of natural tidal marshland in the Big Egg Marsh and the polluting of Jamaica Bay waters with gasoline, sewage and other toxic waste products," the city's announcement said.
Schmitt says the marina property was filled in the same way that many other parts of the island were. "I'm no more on tidal wetlands than anyone else in Broad Channel," he told The Wave. He also says he doesn't face a single violation from the Department of Environmental Conservation on a small part of the land that he did lease from the city (the city stopped collecting rent, so it could pursue eviction, he says). Schmitt also says he tried to buy the land from the city and that he's the only person who was barred from buying land in the Channel when that finally became a possibility during the Koch administration.
A source familiar with the marina's history told The Wave that Schmitt infuriated residents of West 18 Road when he extended his floating docks into their canal space. Sources also alleged that for years the marina's water supply has come from a fire hydrant at the end of the road.
The city said its plan is to clear the property of the hundreds of boats that are being stored there and then turn it over to the Department of Parks and Recreation. But it will be years before that can happen. Schmitt has already obtained a temporary stay in court and says he isn't planning on giving up the fight. He's claiming squatter's rights on all of the property except a 40,000 square foot piece he agreed to lease.
The theme that emerged among sources for this story was Schmitt's uncanny ability to stay on the land.
Even the man who handled the lawsuits for the city was impressed with Schmitt's staying power. "They lost every court decision, yet they defied the judicial system, as well as the will of the owner of the land - the City of New York - and refused to leave," said Assistant Corporation Counsel Warren Shaw.
If the city's eviction holds, it will take months for boats and docks being winter-stored to be inventoried and/or claimed by their owners. An unknown number of derelict boats will also have to be disposed of, and there are several large shipping containers and structures on the property. Anyone with property there is asked to call the Department of Citywide Administrative Services at (212) 669-3154.
The biggest question would be how long it would take for the city to determine the extent of the damage to the property and what it would do to remedy it. If the tons of fill dumped in the 9 acres of marshland has to be removed the cleanup costs will reach into the millions of dollars.