2007-10-12 / Community

Weiner Calls Jamaica Bay Restoration An Environmental Emergency

By Miriam Rosenberg

Congressman Anthony Weiner announces a four-point plan to save the ecologically fragile Jamaica Bay marshlands. The map shows how the marshes have been disappearing since the 1950s. Photos by Miriam Rosenberg Congressman Anthony Weiner announces a four-point plan to save the ecologically fragile Jamaica Bay marshlands. The map shows how the marshes have been disappearing since the 1950s. Photos by Miriam Rosenberg Jamaica Bay is in trouble. Everybody agrees on that fact, from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, which has responsibility for the bay habitat, to the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which dumps tons of wastewater into the bay from its water treatment plants to locals who use the bay for recreation.

From 1951 to 2003, nearly two thirds of the marshlands of Jamaica Bay disappeared. At a press conference on October 5, Congressman Anthony Weiner presented a four-point plan to save the Jamaica Bay marshes before they vanish completely. A new study indicates that they could disappear as early as 2012.

"This is part of a very fragile ecosystem that [had once] sustained 330 species of birds, 80 some odd species of fish and a fragile ecosystem of wildlife right here in the middle of the largest urban center in the world," Weiner said.

Jamaica Bay's marshlands are home to hundreds of species of animals and act as a buffer zone to protect homes in case of a storm. The marshes are in danger of disappearing by 2012. Jamaica Bay's marshlands are home to hundreds of species of animals and act as a buffer zone to protect homes in case of a storm. The marshes are in danger of disappearing by 2012. Every year, 33 acres of tidal wetlands are lost. This rate of decline is twice what it was seven years ago.

"It is time to treat this as the environmental emergency it is," said Weiner, as he stood in front of the marshes on 6 Road in Broad Channel.

Weiner's plan includes doubling New York City's sewage storage capacity by 2011.

When rainwater overflows current sewer and plant storage capacity, it goes directly into the bay and threatens the marsh ecosystem.

"This is leading to a circumstance where the wildlife in this area are being [destroyed] by the waste [produced by the people] of the City of New York City," said Weiner.

Industrial plants dump more than 250 million gallons of treated wastewater, with 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of nitrogen, into the bay each day.

"We're dumping nitrogen into the bay, and only now are we fully understanding that that nitrogen is decaying wildlife [and marshes] in the region," explained the congressman.

Dan Mundy Jr. of Eco Watchers shows Weiner some of the marshland that has vanished since 1951. Also pictured is Lisa Eckert, the superintendent of Gateway's Jamaica Bay Unit. Dan Mundy Jr. of Eco Watchers shows Weiner some of the marshland that has vanished since 1951. Also pictured is Lisa Eckert, the superintendent of Gateway's Jamaica Bay Unit. It is Weiner's plan for the levels of nitrogen in the bay to be reduced by 20 percent in the next three years and by 60 percent in the next ten years.

Weiner also wants to immediately double the funding to $15 million, to expedite marsh restoration projects to completion in eight years.

Finally, within the next year, Weiner believes an emergency task force, made up of the 25 government agencies that have jurisdiction over Jamaica Bay, should be formed to oversee the efforts to restore the bay.

These agencies include the State Department of Environmental Protection, the City Department of Environmental Conservation, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corp of Engineers and the National Park Service.

"We need to bring all these parties to the table and sound the alarm," said Weiner.

Joining Weiner at the press conference is Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society and Dan Mundy Jr. of Eco Watchers. Joining Weiner at the press conference is Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society and Dan Mundy Jr. of Eco Watchers. Weiner likened the crisis facing Jamaica Bay to the one that once threatened the Florida Everglades.

"When it became clear the Everglades were disappearing at an alarming rate not only did Congress act quickly, but Congress allocated $20 billion to try to solve the problem," explained Weiner.

The U.S. representative's announcement came on the heels of a report by the city's DEC about the disappearance of marshes in Jamaica Bay.

"I think the DEP is recognizing the city bears responsibility here," said Weiner about the city report. "I'm a little bit concerned that the city's [plan] doesn't do enough quickly enough. We need to go into crisis mode."

Dan Mundy Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers called the DEP's report and suggestions "too little, too late. They're not taking it on as an emergency."

Mundy explained one marsh in the bay is more than 1100 years old.

"It's the oldest in continuing living organisms in this section of the country," said Mundy. "If it has survived for 1100 years and is degrading at this rate, [something must be wrong]."

Weiner pointed out that the marshlands are not only home to hundreds of species of animals, they also act as a protection for those living in the area.

"Rockaway is the most densely populated barrier island in the world," explained Weiner. "If we are concerned about the infrastructure of New York surviving a storm, our best allies are the inanimate grasses sitting behind us."

In layman's terms, Don Riepe, of the American Littoral Society and the Jamaica Bay Guardian, called the marshes "a buffer zone."

"Think of it as a sponge," said Riepe. "It holds excess water and breaks the wind."

When asked about funding for his initiatives, Weiner said the state could apply for money available from the federal clean water act. There are also monies from water taxes collected by the DEP.

"This is one of the reasons we need all agencies of government at the table to pool our resources," said Weiner.

Weiner also added he would "step up to do what is necessary" if more funds were needed.

He also told The Wave he would introduce any special legislation, like measures needed in the Everglades situation.

"A lot of these things have to do with the city…if the city says we need x, y or z to make this happen, I'm available," said Weiner.

Also joining Weiner at the press conference was Lisa Eckert, the superintendent of the Gateway Jamaica Bay unit.

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