By Madina Toure
At a news conference announcing that the barges in Flushing Bay have been removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said his office is offering a $10,000 reward for anyone who can locate the perpetrators who abandoned boats in Flushing Creek that polluted the water.
The operation was completed by 5 a.m. Monday, according to an Army Corps spokesman. A hydrographic sweep survey of the locations was then undertaken to confirm no underwater hazards remained in the area where the barges were removed, the spokesman said.
Speaking at the World’s Fair Marina Monday morning, Crowley had asked the Army Corps to work on removing the barges in December and called for an investigation to identify the bad actors responsible for leaving the boats.
“The U.S. Treasury was robbed of almost a million dollars to remove this debris and that’s criminal,” Crowley said.
Before starting the operation, the Army Corps conducted an extensive search to figure out who left the barges, but the owners could not be identified. The Army Corps then got approval to do the work.
Over the last few months, the barges released Styrofoam blocks and other materials into the water, polluting the bay and nearby shores.
The barges arrived in the bay in the summer of 2011. Styrofoam is put into empty holes in barges to keep them afloat. When barges are abandoned, the metal rots and Styrofoam bursts out of the holes
The complete removal was expected to take between 14 and 21 calendar days, pending suitable weather conditions. It was performed at night when LaGuardia Airport’s operations were reduced so the equipment being used to lift the barges out of the water did not affect aircraft using the airport.
The overall cost of securing and removing the barges was estimated to be between $850,000 and $1.1 million.
The Army Corps’ New York District will continue routine dredging of the channels within the Flushing Bay and Creek Federal Navigation Project as conditions warrant and funding allows, the Army Corps spokesman said.
Col. David Caldwell, the Army Corp’s New York District commander who led the dredging project, said the barges slipped into the Federal Navigation Channel.
The barges are a navigational hazard for the channel and also pose environmental and visual challenges for the surrounding communities, he said.
“Following the storm (January snowstorm), we were able to secure the authorization to remove the barges,” Caldwell said.
During a media boat tour, individuals were shown the DonJon Tug Sarah Ann, which was used to move the crane barge Michigan and deck barge Barnegat Bay around to work sites to complete the removal operations.
Crowley met with Friends of Flushing Creek, a nonprofit organization that wants the creek to be restored, in August 2015 and with Riverkeeper, a watchdog organization that works to protect the Hudson River and its tributaries, in September 2015.
“As advocates and users, we can scream all we want but it was Congressman Crowley that took our fight to Washington and to the Army Corps and worked with them,” said Alex Rosa of Flushing Willets Corona Local Development Corporation and Friends of Flushing Creek.
Former City Councilman James Gennaro, deputy commissioner for New York City sustainability and resiliency at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Joshua Kogan, coordinator for the Trash Free Waters Program for Region 2 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, were also in attendance.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour