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Queens Chronicle

Feds feel out ideas for West Pond fix

National Park Service seeks public comment on whether to close breach

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Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:26 am, Thu Jul 31, 2014.

The National Park Service released four proposed options last week on what to do with West Pond in the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and is asking the public to comment on what they would like to see done.

The formerly freshwater pond just west of Cross Bay Boulevard was destroyed when Hurricane Sandy tore a breach at the south end of the basin that opened up a deep channel into Jamaica Bay. Saltwater filled in the pond and a large permanent canal was cut.

Besides destroying the water quality of the pond — an important habitat for shorebirds — the breach also cut off the nature trail that looped West Pond and was a favorite of birders and hikers.

The NPS is proposing four possible options. The first is to leave it as it. In that option, the NPS would repair benches on the trail that was destroyed in the storm, but leave the breach so that the trail would no longer circumnavigate the lake. West Pond would over time become a saltwater lagoon.

The second option is to maintain the breach, but reconnect the trail by building a bridge over it. That would leave West Pond as a saltwater lagoon, but would rebuild the entire trail.

The third option would fill in the breach completely, which would require a lot of work because the breach is deep enough to sail a boat through — in some sections it’s believed to be deeper than the pond itself. But some observers who came to offer comment on the proposals at the wildlife refuge during a public comment session last Thursday were surprised to see that option leaves West Pond “in a semibrackish condition.”

Don Riepe, president of the American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter, said filling in the breach completely would not immediately allow West Pond to return to freshwater.

“It would take time,” he said. “First all the saltwater would need to be pumped out, but there still would be salt left behind that would flush out over time.”

The fourth option, favored by the New York Audubon Society, would leave the breach, creating a saltwater habitat on the south end of West Pond. It would have a connection in the north to Jamaica Bay, allowing water to flow through. The eastern and northern portions of West Pond and some of the space closer to Cross Bay Boulevard would become a new freshwater pond.

The trail would need to be redesigned as the new pond would be built on what is now part of the trail bed.

That option would require extensive engineering and construction.

Riepe said he favored the third or fourth option, but some members of the public who left comments said that they wanted West Pond to be completely restored to way it was.

“The freshwater habitat is vital,” Riepe said.

Dan Mundy Jr., of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, said he doesn’t believe leaving the breach as is is a viable option because, at the very least, he feels the trail needs to be rebuilt.

“Whether they put a bridge or fix the breach, I’m not sure, but the trail is important,” he said.

Mundy didn’t have an immediate favorite proposal, but said the NPS would be seeking input from his group.

The plans are still in the early stages. Taylor Houston of the Parsons Corp., the firm that has been contracted to conduct the environmental study on the fixes, said the public comments will be key to the impact study.

“We will take these comments and study the environmental effect of these options, especially the favored ones,” he said.

The NPS will release the environmental impact assessment early next year with another public comment period planned for next spring, before a remedy is decided next summer. Work may not begin until 2016 at the earliest, according to several sources.

The public can comment on the plans online at parkplanning.nps.gov/gate by July 30.

East Pond, a larger freshwater pond on the east side of Cross Bay Boulevard, was also breached in the storm. But that cut was refilled by the MTA so it could rebuild the subway tracks over the bay.

Nevertheless, Riepe said restoring that pond back to freshwater is taking time.

“They have the pipe hooked up that is pumping the water out, so hopefully soon it’ll start getting back to normal,” he said.

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