Bulkhead showdown in the Bay
A half-dozen federal, state and city agencies appeared before the Assembly Environmental Conservation Subcommittee on Shoreline Protection last week, in an effort to find out which agencies are actually responsible for the maintenance of Sheepshead Bay.
The answer: all of them, and none of them.
The special meeting convened at the Menorah Home, 1516 Oriental Boulevard, came in response to persistent complaints from longtime residents that condo development along Emmons Avenue is threatening the integrity of the bulkhead.
Many also warn that the bay itself has grown increasingly inaccessible to emergency vessels.
“It is time to examine who is responsible for what,” Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz said. “Development puts additional stress on our natural resources.”
The bulkhead on the south side of Sheepshead Bay partially collapsed about two years ago. The city’s Economic Development Corporation is in the midst of making ongoing repairs.
Part of that process included the partial inspection of the north side of the bay, as well.
But while the EDC determined that the section of the bulkhead it is responsible for checked out, a long section of the bulkhead stretching from Tucker Driscoll Park to the end of Emmons Avenue remains largely unexamined.
“Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen a pedestrian bridge spanning Sheepshead Bay collapse and found much of the bay’s southern bulkhead in need of immediate major repair,” Cymbrowitz said. “I don’t want to wait for something else to happen before we respond to the needs of our community’s beautiful waterway.”
Last October, Assemblymember Alan Maisel led members of the City’s Small Business Services Dockmaster Unit on a visual inspection of the privately-held section of the bulkhead.
Two property owners were cited for having an illegal pier and for making illegal alteration to the bulkhead as a result. Both cases are pending in court.
The tour never would have even happened, however, had Kathy Flynn – president of the Sheepshead Bay Plumb Beach Civic Association – not made a boat available to the city inspectors.
The New York City Department of Small Business Services Dockmaster Unit does not possess a vessel of its own.
Councilmember Mike Nelson, who also participated in the inspection, said he had high hopes for last week’s hearing.
“We’ve been frustrated through the years,” he said. “I was hoping this meeting today would come up with some sort of game plan.”
Maisel urged a follow-up inspection as soon as possible, while Cymbrowitz called on the city to provide a detailed map of the bulkhead properties to determine which agency had jurisdiction.
That can’t come soon enough for Sheepshead Bay residents like Flynn, who testified that the rush to develop luxury housing along Emmons Avenue has caused flooding to the existing housing stock, damaged foundations and exposed the bay to toxins.
“I live on the other side of Emmons Avenue and I might end up with waterfront property if these sink holes and collapses keep happening,” she added.
Owners paying big bucks to live on the banks of Sheepshead Bay might be surprised to learn that state and federal agencies consider the body of water a “dead end bay” and “no man’s” land” that lies outside their immediate jurisdiction to maintain.
The Army Corps of Engineers does oversee a narrow channel entering the mouth of Sheepshead Bay, but the federal agency cannot move to actually dredge the rest of the bay without Congressional approval.
Possibly dredging Sheepshead Bay is just what many in the area have been advocating ever since an FDNY vessel ran aground responding to a blaze at 3030 Emmons Avenue a few years back.
Lieutenant Joseph Dilorenzo of Marine Company 9 reported that pilots under his command have complained that “unless the tide is at ultimate high” they would not even attempt gaining entry in the bay, and even then, would attempt it “only on direct orders, and very cautiously.”
“We have failed to save the heritage and character of our fishing village,” Flynn warned. “We hope you can make it safer.”
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