City promises to preserve Jamaica Bay

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The mayor speaks about the city’s $115 million project to reduce the amount of pollutants in wastewater dumped into Jamaica Bay. Photo by Ivan Pereira

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By Ivan Pereira
Thursday, March 4, 2010

After years of pleading and activism from the borough’s environmental groups, the city announced last Thursday that it would be taking significant steps to prevent Jamaica Bay’s marshland from going the way of the dodo.

The city Department of Environmental Protection is pledging $115 million over the next 10 years to prevent the decay that has caused 70 percent of the ecosystem to be lost over the last couple of decades and to restore some of the marshland.

Dan Mundy, a member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, an environmental group that has fought for government assistance for the bay, said the city may have taken a long time to take direct action, but it was worth it.

“It’s historic. This is a great accomplishment for everyone,” the 71-year-old lifelong Broad Channel resident said of the city’s agreement.

Some $100 million of the funds will be used to upgrade wastewater treatment plants located around the bay so that they discharge lower amounts of nitrogen, which causes deoxidizing in the water and has slowly ruined the saltwater marshes. The plants, located in Coney Island in Brooklyn and Rockaway, currently expel 40,000 pounds of the chemical a day into the 31-square-mile ecosystem, according to DEP Commissioner Cas Halloway.

The upgrades, which Halloway said would start in the spring, will include new technologies that will remove nitrogen from the discharge.

“The investments we are committing to today … will reduce nitrogen by an estimated 50 percent over the last 10 years,” he said. “It will have an overall impact on the bay’s ecology.”

The earliest the upgrades will be completed is 2015 and they will continue until 2020, according to the commissioner.

The remaining $15 million will be used to restore the marshland that has been lost over the last 80 years. The money is designed to recreate roughly 100 acres of greenspace to add to the nearly 100 acres that were recreated in previous restoration projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The bay is home to more than 400 species of birds and fish and is one of the city’s largest and oldest ecosystems.

Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has advocated for environmental assistance for the bay, said the efforts to save the bay could help give New Yorkers a new awareness of the marshland.

“By cleaning it up, we can make Jamaica Bay a greenspace that everyone comes to love,” he said.

A study issued by the Natural Resource Defense Council in 2007 found that if nothing was done to stop the decay, the marshlands would be completely gone by 2012. For years the state Department of Environmental Conservation and nonprofit groups have been pushing the city to do more for the environment.

In October, the DEP and DEC began negotiations to eliminate $45 million in penalties for not upgrading the city’s wastewater plants with nitrogen-reducing technology. The city’s new plan allowed the city to avoid those fines, according to Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler.

“Sometimes it’s easy to fight and it’s harder to work together, but we worked together,” he said.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at 10:23 pm and is filed under Breaking News, Jamaica Bay, Print Articles, TimesLedger. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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