By David Brand
A marsh lives in Dutch Kills — for the first time in 100 years.
On Wednesday, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and various local environmental organizations gathered to celebrate the restoration of tidal wetlands in Newtown Creek at Dutch Kills.
According to the DEP, the wetlands will help improve water quality and provide a habitat for wildlife while serving as a vibrant and aesthetic landscape for the community.
“After completing a pilot wetland project at Dutch Kills in 2015, we have discovered that wetlands can not only survive in Newtown Creek, but they can potentially thrive,” said DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza. “Wetlands play a critical role in our ecosystem and they help to improve the health of waterbodies, which is why we are building them wherever we can in the five boroughs.”
Newtown Creek’s wetlands were stripped more than a century ago as the region become a hub for shipping, manufacturing and industry. Over the years, Newtown Creek became one of the most polluted waterways in the U.S., earning it a designation as a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency.
By the mid-1800s, the DEP said, the creek was one of the busiest industrial routes in the world, crammed with ships importing raw materials and fuel and exporting oil, chemicals and metals. More than 50 industrial businesses — including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills and coal yards — lined the banks of Newtown Creek and dumped contaminants into the water.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) hailed the project as “a victory for the environment [that] will help preserve the ecosystem of western Queens.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Long Island City) attended the event and praised the hard work of local environmental organizations in restoring the natural character of the area.
“Our wetlands and waterways are essential to the landscape and urban environment of our City,” Van Bramer said. “The planting of this 10,000 square feet of new wetlands in Dutch Kills shows the resilience of our waterways and how with the work of a few creative people, we can bring about real and lasting change in our community. We must work to clean this waterway as quickly as we can.”
Wetlands serve a vital function for communities by trapping pathogens in the marshy sediment and improving overall water quality. In addition, the dense vegetation provides a source of oxygen.
The project is just the first step in restoring Newtown Creek to full health, Newtown Creek Alliance Program Manager Willis Elkins told the Queens Daily Eagle.
“There is still much to do to protect Newtown Creek, including the reduction of combined sewer overflow and removal of toxic sediments at the bottom of the Creek through the Superfund cleanup,” Elkins said. “These will take many years to achieve, but there is a lot that can be done now. This includes reducing water consumption during rain events to reduce sewage overflow, creating more green infrastructure to absorb rainfall before it goes into the sewer system and reducing the amount of litter and illegal dumping that still happens.”
Elkins encouraged Queens residents to visit the Newtown Creek Alliance to learn about tours and events along the vital waterway.