Queens lawmakers continue fighting to protect Jamaica Bay after Cuomo vetoes legislation

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Photo by Todd Maisel

Two Queens lawmakers and community leaders are continuing the fight to protect Jamaica Bay after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation to protect the bay from dredge material contaminants brought in to fill deep portions of the bay. 

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato were joined by Assemblywoman Jaime R. Williams and community leaders Tuesday morning at the Cross Bay Kiteboarding Launch Area in Broad Channel. 

State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

The lawmakers are planning to reintroduce the legislation that would extend a bill that was put in place in 2014 that corrected the longstanding problem of the use of sub-quality dredging material to fill in the borrow pits of Jamaica Bay, which is expected to expire on June 30, 2022. 

“Since we’ve done the protection of Jamaica Bay marine life has certainly improved,” Addabbo said. “The unique marine life are here only because of the quality of this bay and if we think about it in terms of a time frame that’s even after Hurricane Sandy decimated the bay around surrounding communities.” 

Borrow pits, also known as a sandbox, is an area where material such as soil, gravel or sand has been dug up for use at another location. In his Dec. 27 veto statement, Cuomo said the legislation would change the criteria for fill Jamaica Bay borrow pits to comply with the federal criteria for the unrestricted ocean dumping of dredged material, which is not applicable to Jamaica Bay. 

Under the bill, the Department of Conservation (DEC) would be required to utilize more restrictive, and costly federal ocean dumping criteria to test the materials instead of DEC’s existing standard, and further, the legislation would make the enhanced standard permanent. 

(Photo by Todd Maisel)

Disappointed and surprised by Cuomo’s decision to veto the legislation, Dan Mundy Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association and vice president of the Jamaica Bay Eagle Watchers, said they’re hoping to persuade the governor to save the environment. 

“After 30 years of work, Jamaica Bay is the cleanest we’ve ever seen,” Mundy said. “This summer we had a humpback whale inside the bay, right now we have a resident seal population. Our group conducts scuba diving operations out here on a regular basis and we have a 70-foot-deep amazing shipwreck that we’re exploring.” 

Betty Braton, chair of Community Board 10, said the governor’s decision to veto the bill was “very shortsighted” and she hopes he reconsiders. 

“For many of us here, it’s been a lifelong work to make sure that this bay comes back to what it once was. You know, history tells us some bad decisions were made over the years. It had a very serious impact and people were working very hard to turn that around,” Braton said. “I hope that our legislators will continue the work they’ve been doing, which has been outstanding getting this bay back to what it once was: a jewel.” 

Meanwhile, Amato said they’re going to work with the DEC to come to a compromise. 

“I’ve been honored to take this to the next level. The veto was very disappointing and this is why we’re here today, we’re going to dust ourselves off and come to an understanding of what we need in the community and how to protect Jamaica Bay. The fight won’t stop,” Amato said.