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Oil spill damages wetlands

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Laboring by hand to wipe clean each rock along the shoreline of Little Neck Bay, dozens of workers have spent the past week soaking up a mysterious oil spill in northeast Queens that stretches from the Udall’s Cove wetlands preserve in Little Neck to Bay Terrace.

Federal, state and city agencies have been working since March 28 to clean up the spill and to pinpoint its origin. Representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard and the city Parks Department said Monday the source of the oil was unknown.

Workers from a Long Island company contracted by the Coast Guard to assist in the cleanup used special absorbent fabrics to clean each individual rock along the shore of Little Neck Bay. They also put absorbent material into the water to soak up the oil. Special barriers were used to contain the spill and protect areas that the Coast Guard described Monday as already mostly clean.

Lt. Eric Allen of the Coast Guard said Monday the oil spill had spread throughout the lower end of Little Neck Bay — along the east and west shores of Douglas Manor, a peninsula that reaches out into the bay, to Udall’s Cove, Alley Pond Park, Bayside and Bay Terrace just south of Fort Totten.

Allen said the spill in Little Neck Bay came from a different source than oil contamination found on the north shore of Long Island a few weeks ago.

“It wasn’t part of the same spill,” he said of the Little Neck Bay contamination. “We don’t know where it’s coming from — it just showed up last week.”

Udall’s Cove is a wetlands preserve on the eastern edge of Little Neck Bay that is bordered by Douglaston on its west side, Little Neck on the east, Great Neck, L.I. on the northeastern side and Northern Boulevard in the south.

Sitting directly in the North Atlantic Flyway, which is the name for the migratory path of birds on their way to Canada, Udall’s Cove acts as an important breeding and feeding ground for several different types of birds.

A spokeswoman for the city Parks Department said the oil spill could affect both the birds that stop at Udall’s Cove as well as their food supply.

“This could go on for decades,” said spokeswoman Jane Rudolph. “Once the oil is there, it starts to erode the shoreline. We’re hoping to do a really good restoration.”

Rudolph said oil contamination also hinders the land’s ability to rejuvenate itself.

According to the Parks Department, the heavy oil that has filled the lower end of Little Neck Bay has destroyed hundreds of mussels, mallards, swans and osprey.

Ralph Kamhi, president of the Udall’s Cove Preservation Committee, said he saw a harbor seal covered in oil on the beach in Douglaston and swans affected by the oil as well.

“The heavy oil hangs around for quite a while,” he said.

Kamhi said Tuesday night that while the Parks Department had not pinpointed the source of the oil spill, the contamination seemed to eminate from the western edge of Little Neck Bay, near Bayside. The Parks Department could not be reached for comment on Kamhi’s explanation.

Arthur Kelley, a longtime Douglaston resident and member of the Udall’s Cove Preservation Committee, said he thought the damage to the cove was minimized by the Coast Guard’s quick clean-up response.

“I would say the damage was considerably lessened,” Kelley said. “We won’t really know until later on.”

A spokesman for Trade Winds, the Bay Shore, L.I. company contracted by the Coast Guard to help clean up oil spills, said workers have been using special material to sop up the crude oil and barriers have been placed throughout Little Neck Bay to contain the oil.

Christopher Tomasello, the project manager for Trade Winds, said the company puts out absorbent material that includes polypropylene to collect the oil and replaces it as it soaks up the pollutants.

More than 20 workers in yellow jumpsuits could be seen working on the shoreline of Bay Terrace just south of Fort Totten Monday, where a long stretch of barrier was placed to help contain the spill. On the Douglaston/Little Neck side of the bay, several trucks and a Coast Guard trailer had set up camp in Memorial Field as workers continued to soak up oil from that area’s wetlands.

While both Allen and Rudolph said the cleanup could take several more weeks, Allen said four of the six sections of the contaminated area were mostly clean as of Monday.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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