2001-05-19 / Front Page

Jamaica Bay Mystery Remains

Jamaica Bay Mystery Remains

Despite ‘Expert’ Investigation

By Howard Schwach

Despite a gathering of experts called together by the National Park Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the mystery of why Jamaica Bay is losing its marsh grass at an alarming rate remains a mystery.

The only thing that the experts could agree on is that about a third of the bay’s 9,000 acres are losing marsh grass at an alarming rate and that the development threatens the entire ecosystem of the bay.

That view was shared by dozens of scientists from around the nation that gathered in Brooklyn after touring the bay. They then discussed their findings at a conference that ran from May 1 to May 3.

The dozens of scientists had dozens of reasons why the marsh grass was disappearing at an alarming rate.

Some of the scientists blamed the loss on repeated channel dredging and the gouging of large "borrow pits" on the bay’s bottom. The borrow pits were created when sand was taken from the bay to create landfill for runway extensions at John F. Kennedy Airport, just a short distance away.

The theory is that the pits disturb the water flow in the bay and the spread of sediment upon which the marsh grass depends for sustenance.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been trying for years to fill the borrow pits with toxic silt dredged up from New York Harbor. Environmentalists have fought that plan a number of times in the past ten or twelve years and have been successful.

Other scientists blame the release of tons of nitrogen and phosphorus from the four water treatment plants around the bay, including the plant on Beach 108 Street in Rockaway.

Still others blamed the overgrowth of mussels along the banks of the bay, preventing the natural drainage from flowing off the marshes.

Still others said that it might be any or all of the causes.

"When on problem sneezes, the whole ecosystem catches cold," Representative Anthony Weiner says.

Retired firefighter and long-time Broad Channel resident Dan Mundy brought the problem to light

He and other residents noticed the reduction in marsh grass and did their own study before turning the problem over to the professionals.

"Myself and others noticed that the islands in the bay were disappearing about five years ago," Mundy says. "We are now losing them at an astounding rate."

The two agencies will now experiment with a solution by piling sediment on one of the depleted islands and then by planting them with new marsh grass.

They hope that the grass will hold this time around.

Weiner has another idea. He wants to fill in the massive borrow pits.

"It’s not going to be cheap, he says, but the bay is part of an important national park."

Environmentalists are not so sure. "Filling in the pits is a good idea," one Rockaway environmentalist says. "As long as it is not filled in with toxic sediment.

There is agreement on one further item. If nothing is done, the marsh grass will all be gone within 25 years.

A final report is due in late July.

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