Thursday, September 11, 2008
Addabbo Calls on DEP to Clean Up its Act
Residents, Elected Officials Angry Over Lack of Action
By Patricia Adams
Angry residents of Howard Beach gathered with Councilman Joe Addabbo on Monday afternoon at a press conference to address the dead fish that have been washing up in Shellbank Basin for the past two weeks. Some at the conference have lived on the canal for more than four decades and insist the problem has never been anything like this.
Addabbo was joined by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, CB 10 chairperson Betty Braton and Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio. “We’ve seen the same problem for several weeks in a row,” said Councilman Addabbo. “That’s more than twice than it has ever occurred in the history of the area. Obviously something is wrong.”
Addabbo went on to express his sentiment that the situation was definitely not part of a naturally occurring phenomenon and that immediate action must be taken.
“I have sent letters to both the DEP and the DEC demanding a site meeting immediately,” said Addabbo. “We don’t want to meet with these agencies in our offices. We want to meet them right here where they can experience the same disgusting smell we’ve been forced to endure for weeks.”
Don Sclafani says he has been boating and using the canal since he was a teenager. Now more than 40 years later, the Howard Beach resident says the DEP still clears their tanks by dumping them every August leaving what he claims is a slick that resembles anti-freeze at the surface of the water.
“First they dump and then the fish die,” said Sclafani. “The DEP is lying to us. I have spoken to a retired DEP employee who confirmed for me that they [DEP] dump chlorine and chemicals in the water when they clean their tanks. I can’t give you his name,” Sclafani said, “I promised I wouldn’t give him up.”
Elected officials and residents agree that resolving the problem begins with dredging the mouth of the canal. Because the water at the mouth of the canal is very shallow and at the top of the canal is much deeper, dredging it would begin to fix the problem by making the water depth more even. The diverse layering of the water leads to problems with oxygenation, resulting in the fish kill.
“If the water was stirred up and the oxygen was distributed more evenly throughout the canal, there would definitely be a great benefit in dealing with this problem,” said Betty Braton, chair of CB 10 and a resident living on the canal for 50 years. “Dredging would not eliminate the problem completely, but it would certainly be a vast improvement,” said Braton, “in addition to which it would make it much easier and safer for boaters who use the mouth of the canal to navigate in and out of the waterway.”
Braton says that as a resident she has been sickened for the past weeks, trying to clear dead fish from her dock and boat. “I care for my 102-year-old mother and the only fresh air she gets is outside in her back yard. She has been in the house for the past few weeks because the odor here is so unbearable.”
And Braton is certainly not alone in vocalizing her disgust over the situation. For weeks, residents have been gathering at the parking lots of CVS and Starbucks, both of which overlook the most troublesome parts of the canal, to share their woes over the mess surrounding their homes. Many attended the press conference holding photos of the hundreds of dead fish they took from the decks off their homes.
Bob Giallanzo, a resident who lives on the canal was toting the photos of hundreds of fish that had washed up on the beach. “I called DEP to complain so many times. I even got routed to DEP in another state. Obviously they are an agency that needs to be supervised.”
Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer was quick to point out that in addition to area residents who must deal with the nauseating odor, there are also major consequences for business owners. “How is an establishment like Starbucks, where people want to sit by the water and have their coffee, supposed to deal with this,” Pheffer questioned. “In a community like this, where many businesses, especially eateries, use the waterfront as a selling point, there is a real problem. This situation has severe economic ramifications and is a major contributor to a decline in the quality of life for our residents.”
Among the areas of concern to those pushing for the meeting with DEP and DEC are whether or not the temporary de-stratification system is operational now and has been working through the summer, the current status of plans to construct a permanent facility and the protocol for timely cleanup should there be a similar event in the future.
Councilman Addabbo assured residents that he will not rest until the appropriate measures are taken to remedy the problem as quickly as possible. “I want an explanation from both DEC and DEP as to what is going on here, and I want this cleaned up now. Whether or not this fish death is a natural thing, the residents don’t care. We just want it cleaned up. Now.”
Councilman Addabbo donned rubber gloves to give the “reel feel” approach to the problem of dying fish in Shellbank Basin. Addabbo has promised residents that he will press the DEP and DEC for answers and results.