After Cuomo’s veto, Queens lawmakers will reintroduce measure to protect Jamaica Bay

Photo by Mark Hallum

Jamaica Bay is flourishing with the cleanest water in decades, drawing marine life including a humpback whale and a new seal population, and two Queens lawmakers are refusing to allow that trajectory to change.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato will reintroduce legislation that would further protect the natural habitat, measures that Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed in 2019.

“In the past, the waters of Jamaica Bay were polluted and devoid of marine life,” Addabbo said. “The bill that was implemented in 2014, as well as the incredible work by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), helped to create a drastic change in the health of the water, so much so that wildlife — such as dolphins and whales — has been sighted there for the first time in decades. Because of the success of the 2014 bill, I want to see the sunset clause removed so the bill would be permanent and we would not need to renew the protections every few years.”

The legislation corrected the longstanding problem of the use of sub-quality dredging material to fill in the borrow pits of the bay, which is expected to expire in June 2022. A borrow pit, also known as a sandpit, is an area where material such as soil, gravel or sand has been dug up for use at another location.

In his 2019 veto statement, Cuomo said the legislation would change the criteria for filling in the Jamaica Bay borrow pits to comply with the federal guidelines for the unrestricted ocean dumping of dredged material, which is not applicable to Jamaica Bay. Under the legislation, the DEC would be required to utilize more restrictive and costly federal ocean dumping criteria to test the materials instead of DEC’s existing standard. Furthermore, the legislation would make the enhanced standard permanent.

“We have made so much progress protecting Jamaica Bay, the bill passed by the legislature in 2014 and partnership with the DEC have turned the bay into an ecological miracle,” Pheffer Amato said. “We cannot dial down the efforts, or compromise our standards and relinquish all the hard work that’s been put in to get us here. These bills are only going to strengthen and further protect the bay, and we must remove the sunset clause permanently, so we don’t have to renew them. Senator Addabbo and I will continue to work with the DEC and the community activists to further protect the bay.”