The National Park Service is asking for the public’s input on what to do about West Pond, the former freshwater lake just west of Cross Bay Boulevard in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge that became connected to the bay when Hurricane Sandy opened a breach in October 2012.
Along with the Federal Highway Administration’s Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, the NPS is preparing an environmental assessment in support of a proposed project to address damage that resulted from the breach.
The federal agency, which oversees the Gateway National Recreation Area, including the refuge, is asking the public to help define both the natural and cultural values that are key to the pond and the surrounding area. West Pond was circumnavigated by a trail that was cut off when the breach occurred.
“We know that this is one of the most visible reminders of the damage from Hurricane Sandy in Jamaica Bay,” said Gateway Superintendent Jennifer Nersesian. “An environmental assessment will help us make the smartest choice for the West Pond and what future storms may bring.”
According to several sources, the NPS is planning on either closing the breach and repairing the trail to the way it was before the storm, leaving the breach — which is several feet deep at its widest — and building a bridge over it, or splitting the pond in two, making the south end where the breach is a lagoon and the north end a freshwater pond.
The E.A. will address any potential impacts to natural or cultural resources that may result from the proposals, the NPS said. The agency added that it will gather input from park staff, other agencies and the public to consider the potential effects of the proposed project.
West Pond is a favorite spot for birders, who come to see the shorebirds and other wildlife that utilized the freshwater of the lake.
“I think they should make it a freshwater pond again somehow and not leave it open,” said Don Riepe, president of the American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter and a resident of Broad Channel. “They have to fix the trail though. Whether they do it by bridge or close [the breach], it’s OK, but I know birders want the pond to be freshwater again.”
Another lake, East Pond on the other side of Cross Bay Boulevard, was also breached during the storm. At least two passageways were cut into the bay under the A train subway tracks which run along a narrow strip of land between the pond and the bay. When the MTA restored the tracks, it closed the breaches, allowing East Pond — the larger of the two ponds — to become freshwater again.
A public hearing on West Pond will be held July 17 from 6 to 8 p.m in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel.
Public comments about the proposed project may be submitted electronically through July 30, at the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment web site: www.nps.gov/gate/index.htm
The public will also be able to offer comment during a 30-day public review following release of the EA.