Oct 13, 2007

Weiner seeks help to save Jamaica Bay's marshlands

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens) examines a map of Jamaica Bay's disappearing salt marshes.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens) examines a map of Jamaica Bay's disappearing salt marshes.

Rep. Anthony Weiner challenged the city on Friday to treat Jamaica Bay's vanishing marshlands as an "emergency" - or face the heavy hand of the feds.

Weiner, advocates and a City Council member all slammed the Environmental Protection Department's plan to protect the bay, released earlier last week, saying it was too little, too late.

An alarming new study suggests the fragile saltwater marshlands could disappear by 2012 - or 12 years sooner than previously predicted, said Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens), who proposed an aggressive four-step remedy.

"The city's plan doesn't do enough quickly enough," he said. "What we need to do is to realize that we have to go into kind of a crisis mode here."

Each day, the bay is flushed with 250 million gallons of treated wastewater, which raises the nitrogen content, ultimately killing fragile marsh roots, research has shown. Roughly 33 acres of marshland were lost last year, Weiner said - twice the depletion rate of seven years ago.

Dan Mundy Jr., vice president of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers, said the city has chosen to tighten its purse strings rather than safeguard the bay.

"The DEP's plan falls short. It's too little, too late. They've basically chosen not to take the necessary steps to save the bay," Mundy said.

Weiner is calling for the bay's nitrogen levels to be reduced 20% by 2010 and 60% by 2017. To prevent untreated sewage and storm water from washing into the bay, he wants the city to double its sewage capacity by 2011.

"It is time to start to treat this as [the] environmental emergency that it is," Weiner said as he unveiled his strategy.

To bankroll his proposals, Weiner said the state could tap into federal dollars through the Clean Water Act, or the city could dip into its "enormous wellspring" of water-tax revenues.

Last week, the DEP released its long-awaited Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan. It includes nitrogen-control measures at two wastewater treatments plants. It also recommends ways to restore habitat.

But Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who authored legislation in 2005 mandating bay-protection measures, criticized the city plan for its lack of specific goals and timelines.

"This is a plan for a plan," he said. "Unfortunately, it is not clear exactly what DEP will do or when and how it will do it."

A DEP spokeswoman disagreed, calling the agency's framework "a very comprehensive plan that represents the diverse interests of Jamaica Bay." But Weiner said the city can no longer drag its feet.

"If they don't solve this problem quickly, the federal government and federal agencies are going to force them to solve it quickly."

No comments: