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Queens Chronicle

A boardwalk on the wild side

In Broad Channel, notorious marina reopens next month as Sunset Cove

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2019 10:30 am

Sunset Cove is the eco-evocative name officials came up with for the new park that is set to open next month in Broad Channel.

But the spot at the foot of the Cross Bay Bridge is known as Schmitt’s Marina to anyone who has lived in the neighborhood for more than a few years.

It’s difficult to find anyone who was not happy to see the marina closed by the city and state in 2007 — even if most longtimers felt bad for “Big John” Schmitt, who fought in court for more than 20 years to keep a grip on it.

Schmitt, from a third-generation Broad Channel family, inherited the marina from his father in the mid-1980s. He was not exactly — as the ecologists might say — a watchful steward of the land where his business was located.

The former cop pleaded guilty in 2008 to illegally dumping construction debris into Jamaica Bay as landfill. The extra frontage on the water allowed him to expand the marina from one modest dock to nine.

By the time the federal government and the then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued him, Schmitt was keeping as many as 250 boats at the marina.

Schmitt was booted off the land 10 years ago and his two buildings torn down.

Notably, when Big John died in January at age 67, not a single mention of his legal saga was in two Rockaway papers that wrote obituaries for him. All was forgiven, it seems.

It took nearly a decade and $14 million to clean up the 12-acre site at the foot of West 19th Street and build what may be one of the most unusual parks in the city.

“There’s no place in New York that really allows you to get out over the wetlands,” said Dan Mundy, head of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, which partnered with the Parks Department, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the American Littoral Society to develop the land.

The idea was designed to meet a number of agendas.

First and foremost, it is a restoration of the wetlands in the center of the bay, an area where fish, crabs and other sea life can spawn, birds can feed and nest and the waters of the bay can be cleansed.

The open land is also intended to serve as storm protection for some of the 900 homes in Broad Channel.

“I think what really makes Sunset Cove a unique project is that we are taking a site that was filled and polluted, and restoring it to its natural function,” said Elizabeth Jordan, the Parks Department’s ecological project manager, who is overseeing the project.

“This is a natural area in Jamaica Bay with an amazing view of New York City, but it has been closed to the public for a decade.”

“The problem,” said Mundy, “was how do you build a wetlands park but allow people to have access?”

The answer is a boardwalk, 8 feet wide, built out over the park and ending at a pergola near the water’s edge.

It will be constructed with recycled hardwood rescued from the wreckage of the Rockaway boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy.

“The boardwalk is going to be the jewel of this park,” said Mundy.

It will take another year, however, to finish building the 300-foot boardwalk, he said.

An official opening date has not been set yet, but it should be sometime in late June, officials said.

Before then, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Park Conservancy is looking for volunteers to help plant marsh grass at the park, as well as elsewhere around the bay, in early June.

Volunteers can sign up at jbrpc.org/mvp to be notified by email of the exact dates.

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