Jamaica Bay is one of the region’s most incredible natural gems, with more than 30 miles of diverse coastline including sandy beaches, tidal marshes and tributaries – like Paerdegat Basin, Spring Creek and Brant Point – some 10,000 acres of parkland, historic sites, marinas and bulkheaded areas with residential, commercial and industrial development. More than 300,000 people live within a 20 minute walk of the bay and the Belt Parkway, Kennedy Airport and other critical infrastructure line the shore.
However, like the rest of our urban coastline, Jamaica Bay and its waterfront communities are severely threatened by increasingly frequent and severe storms. Superstorm Sandy – which destroyed waterfront neighborhoods and infrastructure, causing at least $50 billion in damage and killing more than 100 people -- made painfully clear that flooding and storm surge pose a serious threat to our communities, economy and way of life.
In Canarsie, Bergen Beach and other communities around the bay – most of which are in critical evacuation zones -- flooding is now a regular occurrence; in Broad Channel, an island community at the bay’s center, even high tides cause problems. Sandy devastated many of these neighborhoods, leaving residents without homes, businesses, power and other services for weeks, and in some cases months.
The time has come to restore Jamaica Bay to improve wildlife habitat, parks and public access, to benefit water quality and to create a more resilient shoreline that can better protect coastal communities from flooding and storm damage. Restoring tidal wetlands and stream tributaries, creating marsh islands, and improving other natural features around the bay will help provide jobs, open space, recreation opportunities, and other community benefits while also absorbing flood waters and storm surge, reducing the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
For the NY-NJ Harbor region and waterfront communities around Jamaica Bay to be greener, more resilient and truly thriving, we must encourage President Obama, New York Gov. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bloomberg to continue working together to restore our urban shoreline by investing in projects – like the restoration of Jamaica Bay, its tributaries and marsh islands -- that provide multiple community and flood protection benefits. We urge our leaders to join forces across bureaucratic and political lines to invest funding Congress provided after Hurricane Sandy to transform this critical section of waterfront and help build a stronger, safer and more sustainable urban coastline.