BILL to Address Marine Debris in Jamaica Bay

New bill would create office to handle trash, abandoned boats on city beachesBy Danielle Muoio 

03/28/2019 05:00 AM EDT

Council Member Costa Constantinides is introducing a bill on Thursday that would require Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a new office to recycle and dispose of trash and any other debris that washes up on public beaches.

Called the Office of Marine Debris Disposal, the new group would be tasked with developing a plan to dispose of marine debris, set coordinated cleanup dates with volunteer groups and take steps to remove debris that is abandoned or dumped along the shoreline. The office gives new funding and manpower to a cleanup process that has traditionally been handled by volunteers and would also be tasked with taking steps to issue violations against those responsible for the debris.

Although the legislation is designed to tackle all kinds of trash, the main intent behind the bill is to better address the long-standing issue of abandoned boats in New York City waterways. The boats can pose safety and environmental hazards, and their size makes them difficult to dispose of for the average volunteer group. 

“Jamaica Bay has seen so much improvement in the last few years, yet debris still washes ashore on a regular basis — as have scores of abandoned boats,” Constantinides, chairman of the Committee of Environmental Protection, said in a statement. “This bill will give the Crown Jewel of Queens the proper polishing it deserves.”

Traditionally, boats that are deserted in the water are removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or United States Coast Guard, depending on where they are located. But boats closer to the shoreline don’t fall under either of those agencies’ purview. 

Volunteers have removed hundreds of boats that have washed up on shore in the last decade, said Dan Mundy, president of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, a local environmental group. The problem has only grown following Superstorm Sandy, which resulted in a lot more debris making its way into the water.

But there’s a disconnect between Jamaica Bay’s role in New Yorkers’ lives and the current level of effort the city takes to keep it clean, Mundy said.

Jamaica Bay is seeing a “renaissance” as more people take the trip to Rockaway Beach using the city’s expanded ferry service, Mundy said. And it is home to the city’s only wildlife refuge run by the National Park Service. 

“At the bare minimum, let’s keep it clean,” Mundy said. “Can you imagine if you went out to Yellowstone or the Blue Ridge Mountains and there was junk lying around? No one would stand that. For some reason we’ve allowed that for years.” 

In recent years, the city Department of Environmental Protection has assumed responsibility for abandoned boats on the shoreline. The DEP temporarily halted those efforts this winter due to coastal storms, but plans to restart the cleanup process in April, said DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza at an unrelated City Council hearing earlier this month. 

Constantinides said his bill will bolster the DEP’s efforts by ensuring there is permanent funding for debris removal. The measure will be introduced on Thursday at the City Council’s stated meeting and is co-sponsored by Council Member Eric Ulrich, who represents Rockaway Beach and Breezy Point.

“There are a lot of derelict boats or boats that wash up on our local shorelines,” Sapienza said.

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