Jamaica Bay Task Force Meeting — 12/3/2013

A capacity crowd of stakeholders was at the meeting of the Jamaica Bay Task Force on the evening of December 3, 2013, at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The Linnaean Society of New York was well represented.

Among the presenters at the meeting were Jen Nersesian, the new superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, and Dave Avrin, the district chief at Gateway. Superintendent Nersesian, a New Jersey native educated at Rutgers, talked about her background and her vision for Gateway. She began her Park Service career in the Pacific Northwest regional office before moving on to Yosemite National Park and, recently, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. She acknowledged that since she became superintendent of Gateway several weeks ago she has been learning about the various components of the park as well as meeting with the local communities and concerned groups. She pointed to the special nature of Gateway as an urban park and the unique opportunities to engage the city’s diverse population in stewardship of the park’s historical and natural resources. More to the point, she noted that unlike most other NPS areas where the natural process is left alone to prevail, in Gateway habitat and wildlife resources need careful management.

Dave Avrin spoke more specifically about the plans for the West Pond at the refuge. He pointed out that the trail and the benches around the West Pond have, for the most part, been repaired—keeping in mind that the trail itself around the pond is incomplete due to the breach. He said that the NPS had begun an environmental assessment of the West Pond (WPEA) with a private consulting firm in early November. According to his timeline, in July the NPS and GNRA will release a draft of the WPEA; in August there will be public meetings; the public comment period will close in September; and by December 2014 the final plan for the West Pond will be in place. Questions were raised as to why the WPEA was begun more than a year after Hurricane Sandy and why it will take a full year to work out the design and review of the final plan. Further, if allocated federal Sandy funds must be spent by the end of 2015, concerns were voiced as to the constricted amount of time after the adoption of the WPEA to fully implement the rehabilitation of the West Pond. A one-year construction schedule for the West Pond area would limit the alternatives to quick fixes rather than significant restoration of a freshwater site. Avrin evaded these issues and questions citing necessary governmental procedures.

Regarding the East Pond, Avrin noted that the drainage system was now working well. The salinity is at present high, possibly due to the low amount of rain in the last few months. The NPS and New York City Transit are planning to install a new water transfer structure. The East Pond also breached during the hurricane but this was due to the pond overfilling with rain and water from the bay that then forced its way out as the hurricane receded. The new water transfer structure would allow built-up water to be quickly released from the East Pond. In answer to a question Avrin said he did not know what had caused the West Pond breach: water rushing in or water rushing out.

Avrin concluded by pointing out that removal of debris continues at the refuge. Federal highway funds are actually being used for the removal of marine wreckage material. He also said that the decision regarding the General Management Plan for Gateway (alternative A: do nothing; alternative B: increased recreational opportunities; alternative C: enhanced habitat and wildlife protection) will be made public in mid-January.  Avrin’s remarks were at times inconsistent with comments made by Nersesian and NPS Commissioner Joshua Laird when the coalition of concerned wildlife groups met with them at Federal Hall a few days ago (see below). Despite all of the talk from NPS officials it is still unclear as to what schedules are in place, when allocated funds must be utilized, how decisions are made, and who makes the decisions regarding Gateway in general and the West Pond in particular.

Andrew Rubenfeld
Chair, Conservation Committee