West Pond’s Living Shoreline Comes to Life

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 The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge’s West Pond Loop is back and better than ever thanks to the hard work and dedication of several partners and volunteers that wanted to ensure it remains for years to come. On Friday, November 19, Gateway National Recreation Area and the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy celebrated the completion of the Living Shoreline Project and re-opening of the West Pond Loop Trail.

When government agencies, organizations and individuals work together, they can accomplish great things. That was the main message at Friday’s ribbon cutting for the Living Shoreline Project around the West Pond Loop that took just six months to complete. After Hurricane Sandy flooding breached the freshwater West Pond, the trail was repaired in 2017. This latest project now gives the trail, the pond and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge even more protection against future storms.

Planning the design for this project took 18 months and was completed in the fall of 2020. The $4 million in funding for the project was acquired quickly from the Nitrogen Settlement Fund. Once the design was set and funding was in place, no time was wasted in making it a reality. Construction began in May, and it was completed in November.

What does this massive project entail? The living shoreline covers 2,400 linear feet of shoreline in Jamaica Bay outside West Pond that was restored with 50,000 cubic yards of sediment. Nine new acres of habitat were created and 14-acres total habitat was restored. Oyster shells collected through the Billion Oyster Project and bagged by volunteers at Governors Island into 5,000 biodegradable bundles were installed to create 38 breakwater systems along the shore. Volunteers planted 200,000 native plants around the Refuge that will hopefully grow and be monitored by the Science and Resilience institute at Jamaica Bay. Rockaway residents contributed to this project when they donated their old Christmas trees last year. One hundred trees were installed to stabilize the shoreline. Fifteen coconut fiber coir logs were also installed to stabilize the shoreline and limit erosion. Lastly, the historic outfall on the north end of the pond was repaired and upgraded, allowing water levels in the pond to be lowered with less maintenance required.

The project was led by the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy with community partners: the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers and American Littoral Society, and funding partners: NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, NYC Department of Environmental Protection and NYS Attorney General’s Office (on behalf of the Nitrogen Settlement Fund) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The design, permitting and construction management was done by Dirtworks Landscape Architecture, Rippled Waters Engineers and Great Ecology. Galvin Bros. Inc. and Madhue Contracting Inc. were the contractors. State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato were also thanked for their advocacy for this project to make sure it got done.

Representatives from all partners gathered on a windy, chilly Friday morning to celebrate the momentous completion of the project. Jennifer Nersesian, the Superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, led the program. “It has been quite the journey to get here since Hurricane Sandy breached the pond just over nine years ago. With support, we were able to repair the breach. We did it knowing with climate change and sea level rise, it might not last forever, but for the millions of people that it would serve in the interim, it was worth the investment,” Nersesian said. “Today’s celebration symbolizes something even greater. It moves us beyond coming back to where we were before the hurricane. It propels us into the future. The Living Shoreline Project shows that rather than trying to fight nature, we’re learning to embrace it.”

Alex Zablocki, Executive Director of JBRPC, said, “These projects don’t happen through chance, they happen through hard work. We’re a small but mighty team and we get big things done and today is a good day to celebrate. This is an innovative living shoreline Project—green infrastructure, all nature-based features helping to protect this incredible trail. It’s been rediscovered during covid or discovered by so many new people here in New York City. We’re seeing this parking lot fill on weekends like we’ve never seen before. It’s a testament to how wonderful this place is that people keep wanting to come back here.” Zablocki spoke about the details of the project and pointed out that the elements have already been working, as the work has already sustained two hurricanes.

“When you put the pieces of the puzzle together, the city, the state, the federal agencies, all these groups, all the volunteers, what a great picture it creates, and that’s what we did and that’s the way government should work,” Senator Addabbo said.

Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato applauded the effort but added more still needs to be done to protect Jamaica Bay. “This has been a great opportunity it work together. The word resiliency is always my favorite word because that’s who we are. Knowing this breach has survived now two hurricanes, we’re in great shape but what we need to do is recommit ourselves to always preserving Jamaica Bay and our next step is to make sure the governor signs our legislation to Jamaica Bay and not fill our borrow pits.”

In a phone call to The Rockaway Times, Dan Mundy Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers further explained the funding for the project. The Ecowatchers worked with JBRPC to come up with a plan for the Living Shoreline Project. When Tom Secunda, the Chairman of JBRPC expressed concerns over acquiring funding for the project, the Ecowatchers suggested they tap into the Nitrogen Settlement Fund, which was established after a 2009 federal lawsuit against the City, spearheaded by the Ecowatchers. With the help of the NYSDEC, which oversees the Fund, and Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato, Mundy says they were able to quickly secure the money for the project. “Overnight we got the four million and the project was fast-tracked, and it was amazing,” Mundy said.

 By Katie McFadden

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