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New 22-ft. boat to help preserve Jamaica bay

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It took five tries last week for the bottle of champagne to finally break on the brick that was firmly duct-taped to the deck of the new 22-foot-long boat in Broad Channel.

But suddenly there came a crack, followed by the sound of the champagne dripping onto the wooden dock and then cheers from city and state officials there to celebrate the birth of a boat that will be the key element in conserving Jamaica Bay.

"I think this is a happy moment for Jamaica Bay," said Don Riepe, director of the American Littoral Society's New York Chapter based in Broad Channel that is funding the Jamaica Bay Guardian program to help protect the bay. "We are going to be a presence out there."

The boat, christened Oystercatcher I on May 7, will play an integral role in the guardian program, which aims to heighten the public's awareness of the problems facing Jamaica Bay, Riepe said. He said he hopes the pilot program will be a catalyst for increased coordination among conservation efforts at the bay as well as initiate political pressure to preserve the natural ecosystem.

Riepe, the Jamaica Bay guardian, said he bought the $37,700 boat with state Department of Environmental Conversation grant monies given to the Littoral Society last year as part of a two-year pilot program to coordinate conservation efforts for Jamaica Bay. He said the guardian program has a total budget of $310,000.

The boat has a 204-horsepower Pro-line Honda engine that Riepe said is less polluting, quiet and fuel efficient. He said the boat's size will enable him to perform research projects in the field on water quality, the health of fish in the bay and the composition of sediment from the floor of the bay.

"Now all I got to do is learn how to drive the darn thing," Riepe said. He said he plans to use the boat to explore the bay several times a week.

State DEC funds for the Jamaica Bay Guardian program were given to the American Littoral Society following a legal settlement in a Brooklyn court case, society member Barbara Toborg said. The funds were earmarked to be given to a conservation program involving Jamaica Bay and eventually the American Littoral Society, she said.

      The American Littoral Society is an environmental organization dedicated to issues that affect the littoral zone: that area on the beach between low and high tide. The ALS is a national, non-profit, public-interest organization comprised of 6,000 professional and amateur naturalists.

Some of the issues that Riepe, the Littoral Society and other concerned groups are taking on in Jamaica Bay are how to account for the disappearance of salt marshes, solutions to limiting development in the area and how to stop the dumping of sewage into the body of water.

Two part-time assistants have been enlisted to help Riepe and the society in their endeavors to raise public awareness and ensure the program continues past its initial two years of funding. Natalie Stiene, one of the workers and a grant writer for the society, said she is hoping to enlist the help of local corporations and organizations to generate funds.

"Unfortunately, it is a really hard time to get money," said the lifetime visitor to the bay. "I've been coming here since I was a little kid and it is probably my most favorite place on the planet."

Riepe and all those who attended the christening ceremony said they believe the boat is just the start of good things to come for Jamaica Bay.

"Not only will we work within the bay itself, but we will also look at the larger bay ecosystem," said Riepe, who hopes to get another boat and name it Oystercatcher II. "We hope to be a resource for the people who live around the bay."

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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