To curb potentially hazardous materials from being poured into Jamaica Bay, local watchdog groups and legislators are working together on legislation that would prevent such materials from entering the bay in the future.
According to Dan Mundy Jr., vice president of local bay watchdog group Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, the problem centers around a longstanding issue of using of sub-quality dredge material to fill borrow pits in the bay.
According to the Dredged Material Management Plan for the Port of New York and New Jersey, dredging is outlined as a necessary process in order to maintain safe navigation channels in the shallow, 19-foot New York/New Jersey harbor for oil tankers, bulk vessels and container ships, some of which require depths exceeding 45 feet for passage. This, the plan explains, would keep the harbor economically viable.
While the dredge material is not considered hazardous under the Dredged Material Management Plan designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers—which outlines how much material has to be dredged in order to maintain a water channel and how such material will be managed— federal regulations prohibit the dumping of such material into federal waters.
Type I sediments meet ocean disposal criteria, and have no risk for toxicity or bioaccumulation— the accumulations of organic chemicals within living things—for nearby water life. While Type II meets disposal requirements, it may still have potential for bioaccumulation to occur; Type III, which fails requirements in both categories, can’t be dumped in the ocean.
However, state regulations do not pose the same limitations that federal laws do regarding the disposal of Type II and III sediments into New York State waters.
While the Army Corps has, during 1980s and 1990s, proposed storing the Type II and III sediments at the borrow pits within the bay— created by past dredging which hold earth that can be used as fill at another site—the proposal was rejected by environmental groups such as the ecowatchers and other nearby residents who feared the bay would be contaminated with the presence of the sediments.
However, the bay’s watchdog group has been concerned as of late that the idea might be making a comeback, with Mundy noting that a number of requests in the last several months have come across his group via the Army Corps of Engineers to store Type II and III sediments in the bay’s pits.
“Like a bad dream, it keeps coming back,” Mundy said, adding that if such material is not good enough for federal waters, it should not be anywhere near Jamaica Bay. “You can’t even put this stuff in the ocean, and you want to put it here where we swim and fish?”
Since that time, the eco-friendly group has partnered with state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway) in writing draft legislation that would prevent future disposal of such potentially contaminant material into the bay. If passed by the state legislature, the act would expressly prohibit the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from allowing the dumping of Type II and III dredge materials into the bay’s borrow pits, save for the eco-friendly Type I material.
So far, the bill is still in the early stages and has not come up before the legislature for a vote, as it is still being finalized.
Both Mundy and Goldfeder herald the legislation as a step in the right direction towards preserving the quality of the bay for years to come.
The Army Corps of Engineers was contacted for comment, but did not return requests for comment by press time.
By Jean-Paul Salamanca