Legislation to protect Jamaica Bay goes to Cuomo’s desk once again

Photo by Mark Hallum

Just last month, state Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato reintroduced legislation that would protect the waters of Jamaica Bay that was vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. The measures have already passed both chambers of the state Legislature and are heading back to Cuomo’s desk once again.

These Jamaica Bay bills would permanently extend the current law that was put into place in 2014, which corrected the longstanding problem of using sub-quality dredging material to fill the borrow pits of the bay. That law is set to expire on June 30, 2022.

The bill also seeks to improve the standards evaluating the condition of the bay.

“I know the current and future conditions of Jamaica Bay are important issues for many of my constituents. The bay has seen a resurgence of marine life since laws were enacted to protect the waters from unfit dredging materials and other contaminants, and is healthier than it has been in decades,” Addabbo said. “The delicate and unique ecology of the Bay demands that we implement permanent protections to safeguard against any actions that may result in a loss of wildlife, compromised water quality, or other negative consequences.”

With water quality the cleanest it has been in decades, marine life including a humpback whale, dolphins, and a new seal population have been drawn to the natural habitat.

“Jamaica Bay has been a successful result of what happens when government and community come together to protect our environment,” Pheffer Amato said. “ We have made so much progress bringing wildlife and an ecological system to the Bay that hasn’t been seen in generations, and we have to ensure that we keep this progress going. Senator Addabbo and I are ready to keep working with the Governor’s office to get it done, and the passage of this bill is a great first step.”

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

“There is no legitimate reason to ever bring in contaminated fill and place it in the deep portions of the bay,” Dan Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers said. “In addition, recent research that we have been conducting indicates how critical these deep holes in Jamaica Bay are to the marine life that inhabits and visits this bay. Seals, sharks, and even whales have been in the bay. An event that would have been unheard of only ten years ago. The waters of the bay are the cleanest they have been in over 100 years and it is unconscionable to consider any plan that includes contaminated fill. We are grateful to have such proactive legislators as Senator Addabbo and Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato to fight for legislation to protect this great natural resource.”