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Army Corps Restores Marsh Islands in Jamaica Bay N.Y.

New York District Public Affairs
Published Sept. 13, 2012

It is estimated that approximately 1,400 acres of tidal salt marsh have been lost from the marsh islands in Jamaica Bay, New York since 1924, with the system wide rate of loss rapidly increasing in recent years. From 1994 and 1999, an estimated 220 acres of salt marsh were lost at a rate of 47 acres per year.

With the Manhattan skyline less than 10 miles to the north, the eight by four mile marsh islands complex is an integral part of the Bay, which has been targeted for restoration by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service (Gateway), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the National Resources Conservation Service and the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program.

To quell further erosion of the islands, and adding to an already impressive list of habitat restoration projects in the Bay, the Army Corps commenced the placement of sand from the Harbor Deepening Project’s Ambrose Channel contract in August 2012 to restore Black Wall and Rulers Bar marsh islands.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is leading a community based planting effort with the Littoral Society, EcoWatchers and Jamaica Bay Guardian to vegetate the marsh after sand placement.

The District maximized the beneficial use of dredged material for the last sand contract of the New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project.  Over 125 acres of wetlands at Elders East Marsh Island in 2007, Elders West Marsh Island in 2010 and Yellow Bar Marsh Island in 2012 have been restored. Black Wall and Rulers Bar Marsh Islands were both funded 100 percent by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

"The Army Corps has a strong commitment along with our partners and stakeholders to restore critical habitat within Jamaica Bay, maintain the ecological integrity of the New York and New Jersey Harbor Estuary, with the economic benefits of deepening the Port of New York and New Jersey," said Col. John R. Boulé II, the Army Corps' New York District Commander.  "The region continues to work together to achieve our vision of a "World Class Harbor Estuary" for future generations."

“Leveraging programs and maximizing restoration opportunities should be seized at every opportunity - especially when funds are limited”, said Lisa Baron, Project Manager.  “We hoped to reduce construction costs of 35 more acres of wetlands in the Bay at these two additional islands since the Corps was in the field constructing Yellow Bar.  Agencies were able to take advantage of already mobilized dredges and sand placement infrastructure (pipeline) which was expected to result in a cost savings to the overall program.”

The Gateway National Recreation Area is at the heart of Jamaica Bay and is a highly productive habitat that supports more than 300 species of birds, and over 100 species of fish, marine animals and reptiles. These species breed and use the area as a nursery for juveniles, and hundreds of migratory birds that reside in the area during winter, and migratory birds that stop-over during fall, and ‘fly way’ spring migrations.

“Wetlands loss is a major concern in the Bay,” added Baron, “We are very proud to be in a position to work with other organizations and with New York State to begin the monumental task of creating, restoring and conserving these habitats that are critical to our marine resources.”

The complex has experienced greater wetlands loss than almost anywhere else in the Bay and marsh island habitat continues to disappear at a rapid rate.

“These habitats are at the very core of a healthy marine system and it is critical to not only stop losing wetlands, but also start to rebuild them where they have disappeared,” said Baron. “This type of restoration project is essential if we are going to continue to enjoy the incredible marine resources we have in the Bay.”

According to Peter Weppler, Chief, Coastal Ecosystem Section, using lessons learned from Elders East, Elders West and Yellow Bar marsh islands are being used to construct Black Wall and Rulers Bar marsh islands through the beneficial use of dredged material. "One hundred and fifty-five thousand cubic yards of sand from Ambrose channel will be used to restore Black Wall resulting in 22.2 acres of marsh and 95,000 cubic yards of sand to restore Rulers Bar Marsh Island for an additional 12.2 acres of marsh," said Weppler.

“There is a considerable amount of engineering construction that goes into a project like this, but the method has a proven success at Elders East, West, Yellow Bar and others,” said Melissa Alvarez, Project Biologist. “The Bay is a particular area of concern, but we are committed to turning the tide on habitat loss there and restoring it to its full potential.”

Jamaica Bay and the Hudson Raritan Estuary is home of the first urban National Park, a key component and focus of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative. The Bay is recognized as a coastal habitat deserving preservation and restoration, which contribute to sustaining and expanding the region’s native living resources. The overall Hudson Raritan Estuary was designated in 1988 as an Estuary of National Significance, and more recently designated as a ‘Great Water’ within the National “Great Waters” Campaign, and is one of the Army Corps’ priority ecosystems of national significance.

“To maximize benefits, partners and funding we are using the sand from the HDP to remediates, restore and protect the invaluable infrastructure within the estuary.  After Black Wall and Rulers Bar sand placement are completed, the pipeline will be moved to Plumb Beach, New York to stabilize the shoreline and protect the Belt Parkway,” added Baron.

The Army Corps is just one of many partners in this collaboration of Federal, New York State, New York City, environmental, and private organizations to revitalize the Hudson-Raritan Estuary in order to advance the goals and targets of the broader Hudson Raritan Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan.