By Ivan Pereira
For years, polluters have turned the environmentally sensitive Jamaica Bay ecosystem into a graveyard for abandoned barges. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) unveiled last Thursday a multi-step plan he would like to implement to crack down on the dumpers and save the wetlands.
Weiner said his plan would complement recent efforts by the National Parks Service, which oversees the bay, to penalize people who threaten the environment.
“Jamaica Bay ought to be a place of refuge for residents, not a junkyard for abandoned boats. Pulling these boat wrecks out of the bay is a giant step toward keeping our water ways clean,” he said in a statement.
In May, the National Parks Service started “Operation Clean Bay,” the goal of which was to remove nearly 180 abandoned barges from Jamaica Bay. Under the program's guidelines, once a boat is removed, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation works with the park service to track down the boat's owners and fine them up to $37,500.
Although 48 boats have been removed from the bay since the operation began, Weiner wants stricter punishments for the dumpers.
He proposed a $25 million federally sponsored grant program for states and cities for the removal of abandoned barges and an increase in Operation Clean Bay's maximum penalties to $52,500.
The congressman said the parks service could use the extra money from the fines to create a clean-up fund.
“Increasing fines and creating a special clean-up fund will help us remove the boat wrecks that present environmental dangers and give law enforcement the tools they need to go after someone who dumps their boat in Jamaica Bay,” he said.
Last year, a report issued by the Jamaica Watershed Protection Plan Advisory Committee, a seven-member group chosen by the city to help the National Park Service study the ecosystem, said the bay has lost 70 percent of its marshland over the last 50 years.
The study also warned that if nothing was done to prevent the mass lost, all of the wetlands would be gone by 2012.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.