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Wal-Mart to help save Jamaica Bay marshes

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Jamaica Bay is getting another financial boost from one of the nation’s largest corporations to help improve its dying ecosystem, but despite praise from the city, watchdog groups are calling the act of charity foul.

Wal-Mart announced last Thursday the allocation of $100,000 to the Jamaica Bay Salt Marsh Restoration as part of its Acres for America charity program. The bay has lost thousands of acres of the marsh over several decades and the city, state and federal governments have conducted several programs to stop the ecosystem decay and return it to its former state.

“We are excited about the opportunity to help revitalize priority wildlife habitats in New York City and bring the Acres for America program to life for our associates and customers,” said Jennifer May-Brust, Wal-Mart vice president of realty.

Cas Holloway, commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, said the grant would be used to restore several acres of marshland to the 31-square-mile bay. The ecosystem is home to 100 fish species, 325 species of birds and hundreds of other mammals, reptiles and insects, all of which need that´╗┐ greenspace to thrive, according to the commissioner.

“This Acres for America grant will help us restore 25 acres of marsh islands, improving water quality in Jamaica Bay and restoring natural habitat for hundreds of species of shore, seabirds and waterfowl migrating along the Atlantic flyway,” he said in a statement.

But not everyone has been thrilled about Wal-Mart’s charity.

Walmart Free NYC, a group of small business owners, community leaders and labor unions, called the donation a cheap incentive to get the public on its side for a possible opening of a Wal-Mart store in the five boroughs.

The group has contended that if Wal-Mart sets up a branch in New York, it would not only kill small businesses in the area but also hurt potential employees with its low wages.

“Writing checks for the cameras is easy for the world’s richest retailer. The real question is: Will Walmart commit to making long-term investments in our communities, or is this just another attempt to buy its way in?” Walmart Free NYC spokeswoman Stephanie Yazgi said in a statement.

Dan Mundy, a lifelong Broad Channel resident and member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, agreed and said the money from the chain was only a drop in the bucket for the ecosystem.

“I’m glad to see them stepping up to the plate, but I wish they could have given more money. It takes $500,000 to $750,000 per acre to restore marshland in Jamaica Bay,” he said.

The Wal-Mart money, however, is a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city, state and federal governments have allocated to restore the bay.

Last year, DEP announced that it would upgrade the four wastewater facilities around the bay and have the amount of nitrogen discharged into the water significantly decreased. The excess amount of nitrogen kills the marshland from the roots.

DEP is also conducting alternate plans to oxidize the water, including introducing eelgrass and oysters. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently working on restoration projects and planting new marshland seeds.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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