Thursday, November 20, 2008
Beach Trashed During Religous Ceremony
Congressman Pushes for Enforcement at Jamaica Bay
By Conor Greene
When a local congressman arrived at a beach at the foot of the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge, he expected to take part in a cleanup of the typical debris found along the waterfront. Instead, he was surprised to find the area littered with garbage left behind from religious ceremonies performed there on a regular basis.
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens) organized the cleanup on the beach, which is along the Jamaica Bay and is part of Gateway National Park, last Friday. When he arrived, he found that the problem extends far beyond discourteous fishermen or beachgoers. Instead, the beach was littered with red and yellow flags, dozens of coconuts and other remnants from religious ceremonies performed by Hindus and other groups.
After hearing from local residents that such ceremonies take place on a regular basis, especially during certain times of year, and being told of headless goats being left beneath the bridge, Congressman Weiner decided that a combination of education and enforcement is needed to curtail this activity.
“There has to be some sense that this is a national park. We want people to enjoy it, but there has to be a balance,” he said, adding that individuals who leave trash behind are “abusing their rights as visitors to the park.” He called upon park police to begin “regular enforcement,” including issuing tickets to offending visitors. “The people are not the issue,” he added, wondering aloud, “Is it legal to cut the head off a goat in a national park?”
Residents on hand for the cleanup, who say the activity has been going on for several years, suggested placing signs in the parking lot informing visitors of the rules. Edgardo Castillo, a park ranger with the National Parks Service, said there are plans to install gates across the parking lot enterance to prevent late night visitors at the beach area.
“We need a combination of education and enforcement,” said Weiner. “At the end of the day, enforcement needs to be done.” He admitted that prior to his visit, he “didn’t fully grasp that there are chronic offenders” who are leaving behind a “shrine of garbage… in the name of religion.”
For local residents, efforts to punish those who leave trash the on beach could not come soon enough, said Barbara Toborg, a Broad Channel resident and member of the American Littoral Society. She told Congressman Weiner that park police “are not interested” in issuing summonses to beachgoers, something the lawmaker now hopes to correct.
Patti Reilly, acting superintendent for the Jamaica Bay section of the Gateway National Recreation Area, told the Daily News that crews have a difficult time keeping up with the amount of garbage left behind.
“We’ve been working with the communities, trying to have them better understand and educate them about the impact of leaving articles from their religious ceremonies,” she told the paper. “From time to time, we have seen animal carcasses and have removed them quickly… None of that is permitted,” she said.
While the religious followers believe they are making offerings to the sea, Congressman Weiner had a different view. “They are essentially throwing garbage into the water,” he said, holding up a handful of debris.