Standing Room Only At Jamaica Bay Task Force Meeting
More than 150 people attended a meeting of the Jamaica Bay Task Force on Tuesday, January 29th, at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Representatives from city, state and federal agencies charged with Sandy response and post-storm recovery spoke to the gathering at the Refuge’s Visitors Center .
A standing room only crowd which overflowed into the hallway listened attentively as Jamaica Bay Task Force co-chairs Dan Mundy Sr. and Don Riepe opened their first meeting of the year and the first since the storm. Riepe directs the American Littoral Society’s Northeast chapter. Mundy heads the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers. The Task Force is a joint effort of both these groups.
Speaking for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, Commissioner Carter Strickland gave an overview of the city’s efforts during the storm and their part in clean up, including getting water treatment plants back up and running.
Addressing long term impacts and planning, Strickland stated, “Whatever you think of climate change, it is an indisputable fact that in the past 100 years water levels have risen.”
He did point out however that so far Sandy was “an outlier” as far as East Coast storms go. Comparison data from 1920 to 2012 showed only two extreme storm events, one in 1962 and then Sandy.
According to Strickland super storm Sandy’s wave heights were 3-4 times above the height of the 1962 storm.
Superintendent Lisa Canzanelli, speaking for the National Park Service, outlined the damages to and the recovery plans for Gateway National Recreation Area. GNRA, which spreads across parts of Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey, also includes Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden in the Rockaways. Both are currently still closed to the public.
She advised that efforts are underway to try and safely re-open areas such as Fort Tilden as soon as is practical.
Army Corps of Engineers Project Managers Dan Falt and Lenny Hou- ston detailed the Corps’ Bay projects underway before Sandy, which included major work on marsh island restoration.
After the storm, among other things, the Corps took charge of debris disposal at the Riis Park parking lot.
They also spoke about long term rebuilding and mitigation plans to be undertaken for the Bay and the Atlantic shore.
NYS Department of Environmental Region 2 Director Venetia Lannon spoke next. Along with DEC Supervisor Steve Zahn, she addressed DEC’s work in managing clean up operations, monitoring air quality and making sure all storm debris was safely handled, destroyed and/or disposed of. Relating some recovery facts and figures, Lannon noted for instance that DEC had pumped out approximately 307,000 gallons of residential oil and contaminated water from 1,077 homes, mostly in the Rockaway/Broad Channel area.
Lannon echoed all participants at the meeting in saying, “The silver lining of this storm is the amazing collaboration between (city, state and federal) agencies.”
Most speakers indicated that recently approved Federal Sandy relief funds would greatly speed the process.
Zahn stated DEC is working to expand a general permit (GPS-2-12-002), which now allows for the swift replacement of existing bulkheads and docks and removal of storm debris.
They are looking to expand the permit to also cover replacing and rebuilding homes.
Each speaker took questions from the audience on a variety of topics after their presentations.
Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder and Queens Borough Deputy President Barry Grodenchik also spoke to the gathering.
Said Goldfeder, “Jamaica Bay was a big part of protecting us during the storm. If we can’t protect Jamaica Bay, we can’t protect our neighborhoods and our families.”
Closing the meeting, Mundy stated, “This was the greatest amount of information disseminated at any task force meeting.”
Both Mundy and Riepe invited all to attend upcoming meetings and look for future events sponsored by the task force.