Assembly District 59 covers a large span of waterways – more than any other assembly district in the entire city, so it seems fitting that an environmentalist like Assemblywoman Jaime Williams is the elected official representing some of the neighborhoods surrounding Jamaica Bay, an area that is home to over 300 bird species and over 100 species of marine wildlife.
Assemblywoman Williams is passionate about keeping our waterways clean. Constituents who live on the water in Mill Basin may be familiar with an area called Four Sparrow Marsh, a marshy area behind the vacant Toys “R” Us building on Flatbush Avenue which has become a dumping ground for storm and construction debris, as well as man-made pollution. During storm surges, old weathered docks have washed up into the marsh, causing pollution and potential harm to the marine life that need the marshland to thrive and grow. The unsightly mess, estimated at 3 tons, can be viewed when driving over the Mill Basin Bridge on the Belt Parkway, something the assemblywoman has noticed and has vowed to do something about.
With the pandemic putting a lot of causes on hold, plans to clean up Four Sparrow Marsh are about three years in the making. The Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy (JBRPC), a nonprofit whose mission is to clean up parkland around Jamaica Bay and the Rockaway Peninsula, recently launched the Jamaica Bay Wetlands Fellowship, a six-month paid program for young adults who will be trained in wetland maintenance, restoring and monitoring the bay.
These wetland fellows were tasked with the responsibility of removing large debris from the marsh, but the problem is that it’s very hard to access Four Sparrow Marsh and even harder to lug out the debris. From the Toys “R” Us parking lot, it’s a very long, uneven walk to the marshland, so going by boat is the best approach.
The fellows found two old floating docks, which are used to load up the heavy debris. Then, it must be transported to a dry area underneath the Mill Basin Bridge, but the only way to do that is the old-fashioned way. Dressed in waders, during low tide, the fellows push and pull the dock along the waterway, often fighting the incoming current and walking through muck and whatever else lurks at the bottom of the bay, until they reach the dumping site.
The assemblywoman had to see this for herself, so she scheduled a cleanup day for Friday, April 28th, with JBRPC and the Wetland Fellows. Plans to travel there by boat were canceled due to high winds. Talk about diving in deep and getting your feet wet! Outfitted with her own waders, Williams helped pick up and pile heavy debris onto the floating barge, then while wading through Jamaica Bay with the Wetland Fellows, she helped push the dock to the unloading area where she helped unload the debris.
As part of the fellowship program, the fellows work 21 hours per week. For the Four Sparrow Marsh cleanup, as of April 28th, they worked three days per week, for two weeks, making an average of four to five trips per day to remove garbage from the marsh.
JBRPC and Assemblywoman Williams have been working with NYC Parks to find a way to remove the trash. Christopher Haight, Environment and Planning, NYC Parks, joined the crew that day and shared some good news. He managed to secure one container to remove the debris, possibly scheduled for the following week.
“The ongoing maintenance and management needs for wetlands around Jamaica Bay are monumental,” said Terri Carta, JBRPC Executive Director. “This project at Four Sparrow Marsh demonstrates the positive impact of collaboration between agencies, community and elected officials when everybody comes to the table with something to offer. We’re grateful to the Natural Resources Group within NYC Parks for their partnership and contributing vital resources to get this project done.”
Assemblywoman Williams wants to spread awareness about the importance of keeping the environment clean for future generations and is working to get more funding for projects such as these. More manpower is also needed. “We need more people getting involved with groups like the Wetland Fellows – and a real barge to carry the debris through water, so the fellows don’t have to manually walk it out,” she told the Canarsie Courier. “Our waterways can’t clean themselves, and we are very fortunate in the 59th Assembly District to have the beautiful thriving Jamaica Bay.”
Those interested in getting involved can contact JBRPC at firstname.lastname@example.org or email Elizabeth Stoehr directly at Elizabeth@jbrpc.org.