Thursday, July 01, 2010

Elder's Point Marsh Restoration

You know, back in March, I went to a really excellent presention on NYC's Working Waterfront at the South Street Seaport Museum. It was an interesting and informative presentation with some very good speakers and I had sat there scribbling notes, taking pictures & absolutely champing at the bit to get home & share all the information.

Unfortunately, during the post-presentation chatting, I overheard a speaker who'd given an absolutely marvelous talk about the current state of shipping in the area make a comment about horses on highways. I was so upset about hearing that old thing dredged up again that instead of coming straight home & posting a rave, I came home & posted a rant.

Unfortunately I never got back to the originally intended rave.

Here's a bit of that now!

I'd particularly enjoyed the presentation given by a gentleman from the Army Corps of Engineers. He started out interestingly enough with an explanation of how his organization came to be in charge of the sorts of waterways management they handle.

He talked some about the fleet of boats they use to keep the waterways clear for navigation, like the drift collection vessel Hayward (seen here at last year's fantastic City of Water Day on Governor's Island) -

I was already enjoying his presentation thoroughly - but then he moved on & spent the last half of his allotted time talking about a topic of particular interest to me & all my clubmates at Sebago - none of whom were there! I'd mentioned the evening on our Yahoo group, but I had no idea that one of the the high points was going to be a thorough rundown on marsh restoration in Jamaica Bay. D'oh!

I'd first seen evidence of the marsh restoration back on a full moon paddle that my friend Ilene had invited me to join in July of 2006, launching from Sebago, a few months before I ended up taking refuge there when my old home base at Pier 63 got shut down. It was a glorious evening & I came home & did a trip report. I think that was the first mention here of Sebago - little did I know!

Here's an excerpt from that post:

(Jamaica Bay is) a beautiful place, but ailing. Over time, the islands and marshes of the bay have been shrinking. Our course around Ruffle Bar (one of the islands) took us past this odd-looking barge. This turned out to be a relay station for the marsh reclamation station that's now underway - they are pumping sand to replace some of what's been lost. The New York Times just happened to have a great article by Nicholas Confessore about the project yesterday, perfect timing to make me really enjoy seeing this!.

For those who might not be registered, or read this after the article has gone into the archives, here's a quote and some statistics from the article:

The project had to overcome some significant early resistance. During the 1990's, residents of Broad Channel, the island neighborhood that sits in Jamaica Bay between Howard Beach and the Rockaways, began noticing that the marshes they considered their backyard were shrinking. State environmental officials, however, were initially slow to agree.

"It took an enormous amount of arguing with the powers that be to convince those of us in government that there was a problem," Mr. Weiner said.

Satellite photography in the late 1990's showed conclusively that the marsh islands — there are 16 left in Jamaica Bay — were ebbing away, and that Elders Point would most likely go next. (Elders Point, once a single island of 132 acres, is now two islands totaling about 21 acres.)...

The restoration plan is financed by the Corps of Engineers, in connection with a $1.6 billion project to deepen New York Harbor, and by the Port Authority.

Yearly marsh loss: 50 acres
Time until marshes are gone, at that rate, with no action: 15 years
Cubic yards of sand (if I'm getting this right, the sand is coming from the harbor deepening project) added to Elders Point since start of project: 120,000
Number of acres of marsh to be added over next 2 years: 70 (ok & this is where my inner number cruncher is going "that's still a net LOSS of 15 acres a year" & feeling like it's better, but still...)
Length of sand-pumping pipeline from Floyd Bennett Field (where the sand is stored until mixed with water & pumped) to reclamation site: 3 miles
Number of marsh plants to be planted by hand over next 2 years: 900,000 (WOW).
Cost of project: $13 million.

I'd remembered that barge, and I found it fascinating to hear more about how that phase of the restoration worked. The sand was a re-use of material dredged from harbor shipping channels - so practical, we have too much sand here, and not enough there, let's make this work! The dredge tailings were stored at Floyd Bennett Field (the guy had excellent photos of the mountains of sand on the runway). When it was time to move the sand, it was mixed with water into a pumpable slurry. The barge shown here was one of the pumping stations. The site to be filled in was prepared by having the perimeter outlined with big rolls of coconut fiber called "coir logs". The slurry was pumped into the area thus defined, the logs holding the sand in place while the water drained out. In the meantime, spartina grass taken from other marshes in the bay (to ensure the proper strain) was being cultivated. Once the fill was completed, marsh grass plugs were planted. As the spartina fills in, the coir logs gradually biodegrade, and the gentleman from the corps said that in the end, a random person happening by would have no way of knowing that the marsh they were looking at hadn't been there forever.

John & I had set out on Sunday with no particular direction; I suggested that we start by going over to see in the ospreys were nesting at Canarsie Pol this year, which they were (didn't go close enough to see if there were babies because that would be way too close & freak out the parents), then John asked what the orange netting over towards Elder's Point was. That reminded me of the talk so of course I just had to go take some pictures over the fence. Here's some of the spartina -

It's a little hard to see in this picture, but over on the land that's above the high-water mark (where the construction equipment is), they've planted saplings -

Give it a few years, and I imagine you'll have something very much like this:

BTW, if you are out in the bay, although it is interesting to see, I would now probably recommend against checking this out for yourself unless you're up for getting yelled at by irate construction workers. There weren't any signs that said "No landing", and I assumed that the fencing marked the boundaries of places where they didn't want people to go but thought it wouldn't be a problem to walk up to them & look in. As we were looking at the work, though, 4 jetskiers came riding up yelling - at first we thought they were just noisy jetskiers looking for a spot to pull out for a second, but then we realized that their leader was screaming AT us - "THIS IS MY SITE! I GOT EQUIPMENT HERE! YOU CAN'T BE HERE!"

I think I did eventually convince him that we seriously had no interest in his equipment whatsoever - told him I'd seen a presentation & thought the restoration project was interesting & I was genuinely just curious to take a look at it & since I didn't see any "no landing" signs I had no idea it would be a problem. Eventually he simmered down, said "It's bullshit, but I get paid for it" & we parted ways with no further ugliness - but if anyone else thinks it might be fun to check it out themselves, well, just be warned that the contractors are extremely protective of their equipment!


O Docker said...

Fascinating story. In the Sacramento River delta, thousands of acres of marshland were eliminated in the late 19th century when artificial islands were created for farming by building elaborate levee systems. There are now modest projects to restore some wetland habitat here.

Does anyone know why the marshland there is disappearing?

At what point do they start planting the marshmallow bushes?

bonnie said...

We're actually fortunate to have what we do - apparently at one point Robert Moses had decided that the bay would be the perfect location for a giant marine transfer station. He usually got his way, I don't know what the story behind his being thwarted this time was but I should look into it, I'm sure it's interesting.

I don't think anyone knows the cause of the dissappearing marshland. The bay in general hasn't made the same level of dramatic recovery that the Hudson did after the Clean Water Act - several things going against it, like a couple of sewage holding facilities on the shores that dump when overwhelmed by rain (we've got one right in the Paerdegat, there is work being done that will improve things but we will probably never be able to do rolling and rescue demos at our own dock), a major international airport that creates a lot of chemical runoff, and then a lot of recreational use (there was a period when jetskis were banned because of the amount of fuel the standard 2-stroke engine puts in the water, but the ban was never enforced & was eventually watered down to the point of pointlessness). Plus it's just a relatively closed system - there's one very narrow entrance to a fairly large bay, so there isn't anywhere near the same thorough tidal flushing that NY Harbor gets. Could just be that all of that may be more stress than the marshes can absorb.

Still, there has been improvement & there's work being done today that is supposed to help speed that up. I guess that the hope is that the marsh restorations will hold things long enough for that to happen & for the water quality to get back to whatever minimum threshold it needs to reach for the marshes to begin holding their ground on their own again.

Didn't see any marshmallow bushes. Dang. Should've asked our friends on the jetskis - they would've loooved that! :D

PeconicPuffin said...

Bonnie, are you doing nothing but posting on Frogma? I just took a look and if I'm not mistaken you've written a quarter of a jillion words in the last week. Lots going on!

Have you sorted out your LI circumnavigation leg for this year? Launching by Georgica etc? Inquiring windsurfers want to know.

bonnie said...

Lots of words, but aside from writing up the mermaid parade gallery & today's post, it's all just announcements of events. That's not writing.

The LI circumnavigation has gotten a little discombobulated this year. We've all got the Georgica to Napeague leg to do; we were going to do that as day trips in groups of 2 or 3 at a time, as people could pull it off. But then at the last planning meeting, it ended up being decided that we should all treat the Montauk to Orient Point crossing the same way. That puts us back to where we were supposed to be at the end of last year. September 10th - 12th, the whole crew starts at Orient Point & starts heading back towards NYC.

bonnie said...

Aw heck!

I wish I could do the last south shore leg on Saturday!!!

Sat...W winds around 5 kt...becoming SW in the afternoon. Seas 1 to 2 ft.

Perfect. :(

Baydog said...

The sight of marshes make me mallow

bonnie said...

hee hee.

Would be even better if the sight of marshes made you make marshmallows!

clairesgarden said...

what an amazing project. glad the workers are earning their $13,000,000 ( is that enough zeros of taxpayer money?) by having lots of time to zoom about on their company(probably) jetskis.
it might be cool to get to travel to work by jetski.
or better by kayak.
or pony.

Carol Anne said...

You might be interested in this organization: Climate Adaption Knowledge Exchange. Rather than arguing about whether climate change is human-caused or what measures should be taken to stop it, this organization acknowledges that climate change IS HAPPENING, and is looking at measures to reduce the harm it might cause.

It just seems like such a sensible approach.

Carol Anne said...

Oops, typo ... that should be "Adaptation," not "Adaption."

moonstruck said...

Back in the late 50 ies, when there were only wood row boats in Jamaica Bay, there was no marsh island erosion. Only explanation for the erosion of the islands must be "Kayack Blight" The wakes from all the Kayacks are doing the evil deed.

Dennis G