Thursday, September 4, 2008
Something's Fishy in Howard Beach
DEP’s Temporary Facility Fails to Save Fish
By Patricia Adams
The sight and smell of what appeared to be thousands of dead fish in Shellbank Basin, the waterway which runs parallel to Crossbay Blvd. in Howard Beach, angered and upset local residents during the long Labor Day weekend.
City Councilman Joe Addabbo reported that a constituent, who had called 311 to report the problem, notified him on Friday after business hours via his 24 hour live hotline.
“That constituent was upset by being told a clean up would be in 10-14 days. That's not acceptable,” Addabbo said, “I responded by immediately going myself to the Starbucks vicinity to see the problem firsthand.” Addabbo then called the mayor's office, which responded by sending out DEP to clean up fish within 48 hours. "I'm thankful a constituent called my 24 hour service and that the mayor's office and DEP responded. I believe now we need to get answers from the NY State DEC as to how the situation occurred and how it can be avoided in the future."
That DEP was on scene and cleaning up was confirmed by Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton. “My home abuts Shellbank Basin,” she said, “DEP's boat and personnel were there working throughout the holiday weekend.”
Similar occurrences in the past have been blamed on a lack of oxygen in the water, causing fish to die. One contributing factor is that the depth of the water in the northern end of Shellbank Basin is considerably deeper than it is further south in the waterway.
Braton also reported that the Community Board office had informed DEP, both by phone and letter; over two weeks ago that some water discoloration and odors were present; usually precursors to a lack of oxygen in the water. “We felt that perhaps the temporary destratification system was not working properly and asked them to investigate," she said.
A number of years ago the NY City DEP initiated a temporary facility located at 158-35 Crossbay Blvd. and tested to see if a destratification system, essentially an aerator powered by a compressor, would increase dissolved oxygen levels. The agency thought a compressor introducing air into the water through tubes laid on the bottom at the deeper end of the canal would aid in preventing the de-oxygenation that periodically occurs.
The temporary system did help, according to local residents, and the instances of discolorition, foul odors, and fish kill lessened in recent years. As a result DEP sought to erect a permanent destratification facility. They selected a site located in the southern section of the Starbucks parking lot to install the system.
The city's planned acquisition of that site was approved by Community Board 10 in April 2007, by the Queens Borough President, Helen Marshall, in May 2007, and by the City Planning Commission in July of that year. Councilman Addabbo also supported the planned permanent facility.
According to Community Board 10, its District Manager, Karyn Petersen spoke with DEP officials on Tuesday. At this point DEP has not determined the cause.
At this point, some local leaders think the problem may be that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has not yet approved necessary permits to allow construction to start or has prevented the temporary facility from being operation during the interim. If that's the case, as one waterfront resident aptly commented, “It stinks and they better fix it.”
In another phone call with DEP on Tuesday afternoon from CB 10, DEP indicated that the temporary facility is in operation at this time. As of Wednesday afternoon, it appears however that there is still a major problem with a foul smell emanating throughout the neighborhood and thousands of dead fish floating on top of the water and washing up along the shores of the basin.