The National Park Service (NPS) is asking the public to weigh in on what should be done with West Pond, formerly a freshwater lake at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, but says restoring the pond to the way it was before Hurricane Sandy may not be the best solution.
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy ripped open a breach between West Pond and the bay, connecting the two and allowing sea water to flow into the pond. The NPS and the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division are conducting an environmental assessment before the groups move forward with addressing the damage due to the breach.
Daphne Yun, spokesperson for the NPS, said the environmental assessment will be used to outline the pros and cons of possible alternatives for the future of the pond. It is expected to be a long term process, taking about a year to complete. But, Yun made it clear that it is important to take as much time as needed to find the solution that will be the most resilient to future storms.
“We do not want to rebuild the pond the way it was and have there be another storm,” she said. “The breach is one of the really obvious lasting impressions after the hurricane.”
Options for the pond include filling the breach, allowing the pond to become fresh water again, or building a bridge over the breach so park goers can walk around the perimeter of the pond like they were able to before Hurricane Sandy.
“People want the pond to be returned to the way it was, but it is about education,” Yun said. “We are working on this and returning it to the way it was might not be the best option.”
But the Birders Coalition for Gateway, a group of bird watchers coming together to protect the environment, feel differently. They created an online petition on change.org that is urging the Gateway National Recreation Area, which is overseen by NPS, to restore the pond to its original freshwater state to preserve the habitat for waterfowl and coastal birds. The petition has garnered 6,138 signatures as of Wednesday.
The New York City Audubon is one of the organizations that signed the petition. Harry Maas, president of the Audubon, said West Pond is the only freshwater pond in New York City and would like to see it restored to its original state while making it more resilient to future storms at the same time. This could be done by installing taller berms around the pond and making the body of water smaller with more freshwater moss.
“It would reduce the diversity of wildlife that shows up there if you do not restore it to freshwater,” Maas said. “On a winter day when the ducks use the pond, you’ll find at least 10 or 12 species that use freshwater that will not use salt.”
Maas said the Audubon organization plans to submit the petition to the NPS and the Gateway National Recreation Area by July 18.
The wildlife refuge is used mostly by visitors who want to go bird watching and walk nearby the pond, especially during the spring and fall months when migratory birds are present in the area. The pond and the refuge were created by Robert Moses more than 50 years ago.
By Ashley Helms