Coalition Response to West Pond Environmental Assessment — 11/7/2015

This is the letter that the Birders' Coalition for Gateway sent to Jennifer Nersesian, superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, as part of the public response to the environmental assessment.

Dear Superintendent Nersesian,

The Birders’ Coalition for Gateway, including most of the active local birding and environmental organizations along with a few committed individuals, formed over two years ago to respond to the General Management Plan for Gateway and to advocate strongly for the full restoration of the West Pond that was sadly breached during Hurricane Sandy, resulting in the destruction of this vital freshwater habitat that is otherwise almost completely lacking in the once vibrant Jamaica Bay ecosystem.

We of the Coalition are substantially in agreement with the National Park Service’s Preferred Alternative and are all pleased to be now looking forward to the restoration of our beloved West Pond rather than wondering if and when it would ever be rebuilt. We have all learned a great deal during this process. We of the BCforG have certainly gained great admiration for the perseverance and dedication of yourself and the Gateway NRA staff, and we have a new appreciation of how much work is involved in satisfying the rigorous demands of complying with laws and regulations of federal, state and city governments with their multiple agencies.

We hope the Gateway NRA administration now has a better appreciation of the need for healthy freshwater habitat for the many species of birds that regularly migrate through, breed in or overwinter in this the historically abundant Jamaica Bay watershed ecosystem.  We also hope the NPS has a greater appreciation of the value of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for the international community of birders, and the prestige that accrues to the National Park Service and New York City as caretakers of this internationally recognized Important Bird Area. The presence of high-quality natural habitat in our metropolitan landscape can set a standard for the world to follow as the planet becomes increasingly urbanized.

There are a few points we would like you all to keep in mind during the actual implementation of the Preferred Alternative:

  • Care should be taken to insure that there is adequate depth in the finished pond, with a variety of depths provided for the diversity of wildlife dependent on the pond.
  • It is understood that the pipe and valve governing the water levels will be large enough to fill or empty the pond during a storm surge in order to prevent another breaching condition. As it is useful for shorebirds that there be some exposed edge during spring and fall migration, could a smaller, more easily manipulated, pipe and valve also be installed to accomplish this management of the water level?
  • Many are concerned that restoration of habitat within the freshwater areas of the West Pond is not included in the project. Much of the vegetation that provided protection from the prevailing northern and western winds has died since the saltwater inundation of the pond. The vegetation that formerly had been there provided much-needed wind protection for resting waterfowl. Restoration could also protect this vulnerable area against erosion.
  • We support either proposal to supply freshwater to the West Pond rather than the third alternative of relying on freshwater replenishment by precipitation and runoff alone.
  • When fresh water is supplied to the ponds would it be possible to have a small stream, channel or basin from the fresh water source, perhaps near or within the gardens?  Many birds, including small land birds, favor even a small patch of water for drinking and bathing.
  • An important component of a successful wildlife area is professional management, including enforcement of regulations (both on the ground and in the waterways) and monitoring of habitat conditions so that developing problems can be addressed early. Inadequate qualified management has, in the past, been a source of facility breakdowns and habitat degradation.
  • In the Phase 2 plans, boardwalks must be installed in such a way that they do not enclose an area of habitat - this insures that nesting and foraging birds are not threatened.  Walkways should extend out into habitat to the viewing areas and visitors would use the same walkways to return to the main trail.
  • Please consider a viewing tower as part of this second phase if such a structure is feasible and does not impact wildlife.
  • When Terrapin Point is restored in Phase 2, please consider a system to prevent the incursion of raccoons, feral cats and other “subsidized predators” which threaten the nesting birds and terrapin eggs there.

Thank you for including us in the long process of developing this West Pond Environmental Assessment and providing this opportunity to weigh in once more with our thoughts. We look forward to the happy day we celebrate, with you all, the reopening of the West Pond.

The Birders’ Coalition for Gateway


New York City Audubon
The New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA)
The Linnaean Society of New York
The Littoral Society
The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers
The Brooklyn Bird Club
The Queens County Bird Club
Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
South Shore Audubon Society
Douglas Futuyma
Andrew Baksh
Peter Post