West Pond Status — 4/4/2014

According to Dave Avrin, chief of resources at Gateway National Recreation Area, “we are still on track to begin public meetings regarding West Pond breach options in early June.” In addition, the decision by the National Park Service regarding the GNRA general management plan is still expected in mid–May.

West Pond Status — 2/21/2014

Under the headline “Environmental Group Proposes Options for Breached Pond at Jamaica Bay,” on February 11, 2014, New York Times reporter Lisa Foderaro described how Hurricane Sandy changed the ecosystem of the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge from freshwater to saltwater. She interviewed only two people as to what should be done: Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audubon, and Dave Avrin, chief of resources at Gateway National Recreation Area. Phillips stressed the critical importance of freshwater habitat in the Jamaica Bay ecosystem whereas Avrin promoted saltwater habitat, of which there is no lack in the area. Media coverage about rehabilitating GNRA and JBWR is important, but the Times article failed to take into account the ecological complexity of the issue as well as the involvement of other groups and individuals. Nowhere in the article was there mention of the Birders’ Coalition for Gateway (of which the Linnaean Society is a key member) that has been working closely with New York City Audubon for several months.

The National Park Service has received pressure from local Congressional representatives in addition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service objections concerning the General Management Plan’s alternative B (recreation) (see “Gateway Management Plan Delay”). To date three members of Congress have written to NPS director Jon Jarvis; others are expected to do so. Dave Avrin assured New York City Audubon and the Coalition that the GMP will be rewritten so that a hybrid version can take into account many of the aspects of alternative C (wildlife). The rewrite will delay release of the GMP until April (or later) depending on discussions between NPS and FWS about threatened and endangered species. NPS cannot move forward with a large project such as the rehabilitation of the West Pond while the final GMP is pending. Apparently this delay only affects the public participation part of the West Pond project. Avrin says that even with the delay the project is still on or close to schedule (see Birders’ Coalition for Gateway Follow-Up) and that an extension for the West Pond project can be obtained. At present the consulting firm (Parsons) is continuing to work on an environmental assessment as well as alternate designs for West Pond restoration.

New York City Audubon, with detailed input from members of the Coalition, has prepared a report of restoration recommendations for the West Pond, to be submitted to NPS/GNRA shortly. Restoration of a freshwater pond and freshwater marshes, higher berms, surrounding saltwater marshes, and the creation of a semi-accessible Terrapin Island (by bridge over what is now the breached area) are key features. Remember that this map (below) is a concept, not a final design. It will be submitted by NPS/GNRA to Parsons but there is no requirement that the consulting firm must actually consult it. Coalition members have agreed that the essential objective is the restoration of a freshwater habitat at JBWR. There is no point in debating now important secondary issues such as a boardwalk over the marsh or how to keep terns and terrapins protected from raccoons; these issues can be worked on and worked out later in the design process. The freshwater pond first needs to be approved, then monies must be allocated, and construction has to be started.

Proposed Restored West Pond by NYC Audubon

The Birders’ Coalition for Gateway is also working on several other fronts to ensure a viable freshwater habitat at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It is hoped that Ms. Foderaro of the Times will write a more detailed and balanced follow-up article. Other elected officials will be contacted. Senator Schumer was not particularly receptive to the Coalition’s environmental concerns—except regarding the potential loss of federal Sandy funds should the project go beyond the deadlines set by Congress. But it still needs to be unequivocally determined (the Coalition has not received clear answers) as to what are the deadlines for applying for and spending allocated Sandy monies. NPS/GNRA need to be prompted to apply before the end of the federal government’s fiscal year for Sandy implementation funds. Senator Gillebrand will be approached for her potential support. (Linnaean members: write to these two senators!) BirdLife International and other global birding/conservation groups will be contacted to determine if those organizations can provide top-down pressure. Finally, an on-line petition is in the process of creation; more on this to come.

Andrew Rubenfeld
Chair, Conservation Committee