2013-08-16 / Front Page

Bay Of Plenty

Rockaway’s Backyard To Be World Changer
By Kevin Boyle

Mayor Bloomberg is joined by (left to right) Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, Jon Jarvis of National Parks, and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Photo by Malcolm Pinckney, NYC Parks Department Mayor Bloomberg is joined by (left to right) Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, Jon Jarvis of National Parks, and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Photo by Malcolm Pinckney, NYC Parks Department Rockaway’s often forgotten backyard – Jamaica Bay – will be front and center in the City’s ambitious goals to meet challenges presented by climate change. Just last summer, the City and the National Park Service announced a cooperative agreement that would allow joint management of more than 10,000 acres of parkland in and around Jamaica. It now seems the agreement is spawning significant action.

On Monday, August 11th, in a news conference held at Riis Landing (near the ferry dock behind the Coast Guard Station), Mayor Bloomberg announced the formation of a consortium that will launch and operate a Science and Resilience Institute. The institute aims to be a world leader in matters of ecosystem research and management of urban coastlines. “Lessons learned here will also help other cities around the world as they face challenges of a changing climate,” Bloomberg said.

The mayor also announced the formation of the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy which will be chaired by Tom Segunda, a Bloomberg friend and co-founder of Bloomberg LLP. Secunda is a philanthropist and longtime supporter of the National Park Service.

The conservancy will be a public-private partnership that will raise funds for the planning and development of the Jamaica Bay park lands and waters. Although park conservancies around the city have mixed results as far as fundraising and effectiveness, it is expected that this new conservancy will be a major factor in the area’s future. In addition to Secunda, a billionaire, the conservancy will be supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and other highprofile groups and individuals. Secunda, called a visionary by Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, is known to favor Jamaica Bay as a recreation destination for tourists and day trippers.

NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica White emphasized the inclusion of “Rockaway Parks” in the conservancy’s name to indicate its reach will extend beyond the bay and eventually include the beach side of the peninsula.

The event itself suggested this is no ordinary undertaking. Bloomberg and Secunda were joined by two Presidential Cabinet members, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Rounding out the “allstar group” as they were called by Bloomberg were Congressman Gregory Meeks, Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Chief Operating Officer of the Rockefeller Foundation Peter Madonia CUNY Chancellor William Murphy, and Army Corps of Engineers Commander of the New York District, Colonel Paul Owen.

In addition to funds already contributed by the City and Rockefeller Foundation, more money will come via the Department of Interior. Secretary Jewell announced that her Department would be launching a $100 million dollar grant competition seeking “real creativity and good science” to learn from Sandy and help shape the future of the bay.

As of now, the actual site of the Institute has not been determined. However, Madonia of the Rockefeller Foundation, said some of the money the foundation will steer towards the Resilience Institute will be for “bricks and mortar” –a unique use of money for the Foundation — because the Institute will be “the first of its kind.” Madonia added that he is a Long Beach resident and has a deep personal interest in the project. “Believe me,” he said to a Rockaway resident, “I know. We all went through the same stuff.” White of Parks said the Mayor has already set aside $3 million in the City’s Parks Department budget for the establishment of a physical plant.

The City University of New York (CUNY) will play a major role in the Institute and will lead a scientific collaboration with other academic partners in research projects and efforts to better understand climate change. They will be joined by teams from Rutgers, Columbia, Stony Brook, Stevens Institute of Technology and others. CUNY was selected to lead the effort after a competitive process, according to White.

Secretary Jewell called the bay a “great and living laboratory” that will provide lessons for coastline communities around the world. HUD Secretary Donovan said, Jamaica Bay studies will have direct impact on management of coastal areas from Virginia to Maine. Donovan and others emphasized the importance of developing “green infrastructure” (such as the use of sea grass and dunes) because such measures may potentially be more effective than “gray infrastructure,” or traditional means of storm protection.

To start, there will be a sea grass nursery established at Floyd Bennett Field. It is expected that acres of sea grass grown there will help in coastline resiliency efforts.

Secunda was the only one on the panel not to address the crowd of media and interested locals but did tell The Wave, “New York City’s parks are essential to ensuring not only our quality of life but also our city’s sustainability. With the support of our critical public-private partners, we will be able to provide New Yorkers with an unparalleled green space while working to enhance the resiliency of our communities.”

Recognizing that his term is in its final months, Bloomberg said it is his intention to make sure the Resiliency Center and Conservancy have “footings that are in place and this is not just be a press release.”

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