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Saw Mill Creek & Surrounding Community Remain Vulnerable to Storms & Flooding; Marsh Area Was Hard-Hit By Superstorm Sandy & Currently Littered with Waste, Overrun By Invasive Weeds

Schumer Calls on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to Approve NYC’s Proposed Saw Mill Creek Mitigation Project; Coastal Resiliency Project Will Restore & Protect 68 Acres of Degraded Wetlands 

Schumer: In Wake of Sandy, We Must Not Pass Up Any Opportunity to Make Shoreline More Resilient

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to expeditiously approve the proposed Saw Mill Creek Mitigation project on the west shore of Staten Island. The proposed project will clean up, restore and protect approximately 68 acres of severely degraded wetlands which have been littered with waste and overrun by invasive weeds. The area was severely flooded during Superstorm Sandy, with some locations sustaining more than six feet of water. Once restored, the surrounding area—nearby the West Shore Industrial Business Improvement District and the West Shore Expressway--- would be better protected in the event of a future storm. Schumer said that, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, we must not pass up any opportunities that strategically invest in shoreline resiliency. Therefore, Schumer is urging USFWS to work with New York City to approve this critical environmental and resiliency project.

Schumer was joined by Assemblyman Michael Cusick; Steve Grillo, VP of SIEDC; Lonnie Barron, Director of the West Shore BID; Cesar Clarro, CEO of the West Shore BID and local business leaders.

“With hundreds of nearby businesses and thousands of residents in the surrounding West Shore community, the Saw Mill Creek marsh land must not only be beautified but also fortified to protect against future storms,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. “As it stands, the Saw Mill Creek marsh is being used as the local dumping ground. The Saw Mill Creek Mitigation project is a win-win because it will not only clean up this degraded wetland but also restore it into a natural buffer. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service should approve this project in our effort to make the shoreline more resilient.”

“Superstorm Sandy revealed many areas where Staten Island’s coast was vulnerable to massive flooding. Not only do flooding events lead to environmental degradation, but they threaten the viability of area homes and businesses as well. While much of the East Shore has seen improvements, including a much-needed seawall project on the way, our West Shore has not been granted the same amount of attention. Saw Mill Creek Marsh is a natural barrier for storm surge, with the potential to protect businesses, roads, the West Shore Expressway, and homes as well. Furthermore, years of industrial and illegal dumping in this area have severely degraded the quality of the marsh. Securing this funding and gaining approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service is crucial toward restoring this area to its former state and will make Staten Island a shining example of man and nature working in harmony with one another,” said Assemblyman Michael Cusick.

“The Mitigation Bank project is one of our most innovative strategies for advancing vital industrial development while simultaneously restoring the wetlands that provide protection during extreme weather events,” said NYCEDC President Maria Torres-Springer. “I want to thank Senator Schumer for his leadership on making sure this project receives the support that it needs to move forward and promote both equitable development and responsible environmental stewardship.”

“Hurricane Sandy vividly demonstrated the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change.  That’s why the City and its Federal and State partners embarked on this innovative wetland mitigation banking program – to restore a diminished ecosystem resource in Staten Island that enhances the resiliency of adjacent neighborhoods and also provides for a new mechanism for implementing coastal investments across the harbor,” said Daniel Zarrilli, Senior Director for Climate Policy and Programs in the New York City Mayor’s Office. “We applaud Senator Schumer’s leadership on this issue.  It is critical that this innovative ecosystem restoration move forward as quickly as possible.”

Saw Mill Creek empties into the Arthur Kill.  According to New York City, the Saw Mill Creek marsh area has been threatened by illegal dumping and portions are covered with over ten feet of fill material, paved with asphalt and overrun with invasive vegetation. As a wetland, the area is capable of retaining stormwater and minimizing upland inundation during storms and flooding.  

New York City proposed using over $12 million in federal CDBG Sandy funds and $2.5 million in city and state funds to transform the Saw Mill Creek marsh into a fully-functioning tidal wetland. The proposed project would convert filled uplands, including a parking lot, into tidal marsh and tidal creeks. In addition, the project would remove debris and invasive species and instead, plant native vegetation and measures to discourage future dumping. The proposed project would better serve as a natural buffer in the event of a future storm and better help protect the 200 businesses that are located within one half mile of the marsh area and the over 20,000 residents who live north and east of the marsh area.

Analysis provided by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and reviewed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has indicated that the type contamination that USFWS currently fears or the reoccurrence of such contamination is not a significant consideration in determining whether to restore the Saw Mill Creek wetland. Additionally, there continues to be extensive cleanup efforts occurring up stream that further reduces contamination risks.

Schumer is urging USFWS to work with New York City and approve the proposed Saw Mill Creek Mitigation project. Schumer said the USFWS rejecting this mitigation project will impede the cleanup of various contaminants that currently exist at the site and prevent it from becoming a high functioning wetland. Schumer explained that the chance to beautify the marsh and protect the surrounding community from flooding is an opportunity we cannot pass up.