Obama cabinet member takes tour of Jamaica Bay

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The U.S. secretary of the Interior paid a visit to Jamaica Bay Monday and borough elected officials said they hope his trip will have a positive impact on the future of its environment.

This is the first time Ken Salazar visited the 31-square-mile ecosystem and got up close with its fauna and flora, according to U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), who accompanied the secretary during the tour.

“There are a lot of, ‘Oh, wow,’ moments when you visit Jamaica Bay,” the congressman said.

Salazar, who was touring several Gateway National Recreation Area sites, including the Statue of Liberty, walked the path of the bay’s wildlife refuge and took a boat tour of the bay along with park rangers, Weiner and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica).

Park experts explained to Salazar how Jamaica Bay’s environment is closely tied to the nearly 400 species of birds, fish and other wildlife that populate the area. The ecosystem serves as a home to many of the animals during their migratory patterns, according to Barry Sullivan, the superintendent of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

“It’s unbelievably important to the ecosystem, not just for the city ... but also for the entire Atlantic coast,” he said.

Leaders and environmentalists say the bay’s importance to the area means it should qualify for more preservation projects.

Its saltwater marshland has been dissipating for decades and more than 70 percent of the ecosystem has been lost. Over the last 10 years, city, state and federal governments have been providing funding, planning to stop the decay and restoring some of the lost marshland.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been restoring several sections of the marshland, including Elders Point West. In the winter, the city announced it was dedicating $100 million over the next decade to enhance its wastewater treatment plants around the ecosystem so the facilities discharge less nitrogen, which causes the plants to decay.

Dan Mundy Jr., a member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, an environmental group that has been advocating for protecting the bay, said projects are coming along well.

“The results for the sites of growth´╗┐ are doing very good so far,” he said.

Weiner said he thinks Salazar’s visit will help bring more funding and attention to the environment since the secretary has had a hands-on experience with the bay.

“So much about the [restoration projects] is about oiling the squeaky wheel. This is not a well-known park,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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