Brash: Sandy could be a boon to Jamaica Bay
In the wake of superstorm Sandy, Jamaica Bay stands poised for rebirth. Gateway National Recreation Area, a national park made up of Sandy Hook in New Jersey, Great Kills on Staten Island, and most of Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn and Queens, has essentially been neglected since its creation in 1972. With recovery funds now available, willing hands are ready to help remake Gateway.
Work began before Sandy, in 2010. Under the leadership of Sen. Charles Schumer, the National Park Conservation Association and the Regional Plan Association came together with local community groups and the borough presidents of Brooklyn and Queens to craft a new vision for the Jamaica Bay portion of the park. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an agreement by which New York City and the National Park Service combined their lands around Jamaica Bay and vowed to comanage the newly formed park together. They also pledged to help launch a new conservancy to increase support.
The havoc brought by Sandy demonstrated the value of well-designed waterfront parks, which blunt the force of storms. Jamaica Bay's marshes dissipated waves, its open spaces absorbed stormwaters, and areas with engineered embankments held back rising seawater.
The Sandy aid bill signed into law in January and the complementary proposals outlined by Bloomberg's $20-billion storm protection plan provide the building blocks to re-envision the region's waterfront in a more resilient way.
Can Sandy, which came as a cloud, prove to be a silver lining for Jamaica Bay and Gateway? As the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilds beaches and dunes of the region, the Department of the Interior should support these efforts and use its funding to build a modern, storm-resilient utility grid, stimulate private-public partnerships, and work with the city to provide better public transportation to the park.
We now have the opportunity, finally, to make Jamaica Bay Park one of America's most iconic urban national parks, accessible to all. With thoughtful investments, it will protect and enhance the region, stimulate the economy and provide incredible recreational opportunities -- fishing, boating, beach access, camping, ballfields and more -- to millions.
Alexander Brash is Northeast senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.