Natural Resources Protective Association: Protecting the marine environment since 1977

What They Didn’t Tell You

“Clearing the Record on Borrow Pits”. This document stated that the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has no plans to place any sediments in borrow pits off Coney Island and Staten Island.

Here’s what they DIDN’T tell you!

By Ida Sanoff

FACT: The ACOE is ACTIVELY INVESTIGATING the filling of a borrow pit.

Studies will begin this summer on a pit in the eastern end of Jamaica Bay – Norton Basin, with the objective of determining if the pit is “degraded” and in need of “restoration”. If that determination is made, a process will begin which can ultimately lead to the filling of the pit with “clean” material. Norton Basin is the “test pit”. If filling it is “successful” then that sets the stage for the process of studying the other pits as prelude to filling them. Again, the ACOE says that it has no plans to fill borrow pits. So why is all of this time and effort being expended to “test” Norton Basin?

FACT: The West Bank, Hoffman/Swinburne and Jamaica Bay pits REMAIN on the Army Corps’ Dredged Material Management Plan (DMMP).

The ACOE claims that it is only “studying” these pits to see if the habitat within is “degraded” and in need of being “restored” by filling. Local fishing enthusiasts know that these pits provide essential habitat for both recreational and commercial fish. Furthermore, a recent symposium on borrow pits at the NY Aquarium noted that the pits provide shelter for fish during dredging operations and storms.

FACT: The West Bank, Hoffman Swinburne and Jamaica Bay (Jo Co Marsh, Grassy Bay, Little Bay) borrow pits are clearly listed in the Army Corps’ Dredged Materials Management Plan (DMMP) Management Options, with their Earliest Projected Availability and Existing Capacity clearly noted.

The Material Type (for subfill placement) in the borrow pits in Jamaica Bay and between Brooklyn and Staten Island is specified as “F”. Type F, as we well know, is “non ocean placement” a.k.a contaminated material. That means that under Federal law, it’s too toxic to dump into the ocean. But those regulations do not apply to our nearshore waters. So it’s OK to dump this toxic material in our bays and right off our shoreline!

These pits are Option Preference 3 “Uncertain Option – Options that require more analysis regarding technical and economic feasibility but warrant continued consideration because of their potential to beneficially reuse dredge material”. That means that the ACOE can decide to pursue filling these pits at ANY TIME. If the ACOE truly has “no plans to place any sediment into borrow pits off Coney Island and Staten Island” why are these still listed as Option Status 4 – “Pending Evaluation and Design” instead of being changed to Option Status 5 – “No Longer Under Consideration”?

FACT: The borrow pits provide a cheap way to get rid of contaminated dredged material. That’s what makes them so attractive to the ACOE and other agencies.

This is all about money! Methods of reusing and processing dredge material exist and some have been implemented quite successfully. Projects such as the Pennsylvania coalmines remediation should be applauded and encouraged. But these methods cost far more than just dumping contaminated muck into the nearest borrow pit. The desirability of the borrow pits can be summed up in one word: CHEAP.

FACT: Type F material contains toxins such as PCBs, dioxin (Agent Orange), lead, mercury, petroleum products and others.

These toxins have been associated with reproductive abnormalities, neurological problems and elevated cancer risks. These substances can bioaccumulate in marine organisms such as the liver of lobsters and crabs and in invertebrates such as worms and clams, which are then consumed by the fish we eat. Toxins accumulate in the marine food chain and ultimately in the people who consume contaminated fish and shellfish. For example, bioaccumulation of PCBs in Striped Bass is well documented.

FACT: The majority of material that will be dredged from the Harbor is contaminated.

Take a look at the ACOE’s own documents ….Dredged Material Management Plan for the Port of New York and New Jersey, September 1999, Page 4…. “…overall annual maintenance volume calculated from 2000 through 2040, is currently estimated at 2.3 million cubic yards (MCY) of HARS unsuitable material and 1.4 MCY of HARS suitable material. (Note that the long term average annual maintenance volume for HARS unsuitable material is somewhat higher (2.7MCY) due to increased sedimentation in deeper channels.)”

What this means, in plain English is that approx. TWICE as much contaminated (non HARS suitable) material than non contaminated (HARS suitable) will be dredged in the next 40 years. If you exclude rock and look solely at the sediments, over 40 years, there is still more HARS unsuitable (107.8 MCY) than HARS suitable (99.8 MCY), assuming that contaminant levels remain the same.

Remember that HARS suitable material means that it can be used for ocean placement. HARS unsuitable material is too dirty for the ocean. But it CAN be dumped into our nearshore waters.

FACT: Despite New York’s attempts to track down contaminants at their sources, (the CARP program) we still don’t know WHEN we will actually have sediments that will not present a disposal problem.

Stopping pollution at the source is an admirable goal. But exactly WHEN will we see the much heralded

“cleaner sediments”? Five years? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? One hundred? When this question was asked at a DMMIWG (Dredged Materials Management Integrated Work Group) meeting this spring, the answer was that there was NO IDEA as to when New York would actually begin to see cleaner sediments.

Approx. $65 million was allocated to New York and New Jersey for the purpose of coming up with a solution to the “dirty mud” problem. New Jersey has actively pursued technological methods for “inactivating” the toxins in the dredged mud and reusing it. New York has spent millions on the CARP (Contaminant Assessment and Reduction Program). What is to be done in the meantime? What are we supposed to do with the millions of cubic yards of contaminated dredged mud that is being excavated right now?

FACT: Approximately $200 million taxpayer dollars will be spent to stop toxins from entering the western end of Jamaica Bay while at the same time, the ACOE is planning on dumping the SAME toxins into the eastern end of Jamaica Bay.

A plan to grade and seal the Pennsylvania Ave. and Fountain Ave. landfills in Brooklyn is underway. The objective is to stop leachate of toxins such as dioxin and PCBs from the landfills into Jamaica Bay. This long awaited project will use processed, amended dredge material, a use that environmentalists support.

So why is New York spending $200 million taxpayer dollars to stop leachate on one end of Jamaica Bay while at the same time, the DMMP endorses the possibility of dumping dredge material with the SAME CONTAMINANTS into pits on the Eastern end (Norton Basin and Little Bay) of Jamaica Bay? If the objective is to stop PCBs and other toxins from entering the Bay, why is it OK to dump the very same toxins into the Bay under the guise of “restoration and remediation” of borrow pits?

FACT: Environmentalists will continue to fight Army Corps of Engineers plans to defile and contaminate our waterways by filling borrow pits with toxic waste.

This struggle began almost thirty years ago and won’t stop until ALL of the borrow pits and the habitat they provide are protected.