Coming on the heels of a well-attended public hearing in Brooklyn last month, DEP will hold a hearing in Queens on Thursday, Feb. 9, at York College in Jamaica.According to John McLaughlin, director of ecological services in DEP's Bureau of Environmental Planning and Assessment, the meetings are primarily designed to foster awareness about the issues facing the bay."It's a very important issue," McLaughlin said. "The bay is a significant ecological, recreational and cultural resource that needs to be protected."He said the bay is imperiled largely because its watershed has changed so significantly over the last two centuries. The watershed, which essentially acts as a buffer - protecting the bay from pollutants by acting as a natural filter, was once forested and comprised a network of streams and grassland. Now, because of development, it is impervious.In July, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Local Law 71, which recognizes the ecological importance of the bay and requires DEP to produce a protection plan by Sept. 1. The law also created the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Advisory Committee, a panel that is currently working with DEP on the plan.McLaughlin said it is too early to determine what strategies the plan, which is due in draft form by July, might contain for improving the bay. One member of the committee, however, did point to some specific steps that can be taken to the improve the bay. Manuel Caughman, a community liaison in state Assemblyman William Scarborough's (D-St. Albans), said that increasing the capacity at water treatment plants and improving the sewers in southeast Queens are two proposals that the committee would examine as it drafts the protection plan.The status of the bay is also expected to get a boost from a recently signed agreement between the city and state that requires DEP to reduce the amount of nitrogen contained in waste water at several sewage treatment plants, including four on the bay."The watershed is primarily a paved area," McLaughlin said. Wetlands within the bay have also been eroded, McLaughlin said, as development occurs closer and closer to the shoreline.Reach Reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@times
©2006 Community News Group
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