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Jamaica Bay Restoration Puts a Transformed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Spotlight

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with numerous partners, is working to restore the New York-New Jersey Harbor EstuaryAs part of the U.S. military’s broad adoption of sustainability principles, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been undergoing a historic mission shift.  In the past, the Corps performed remediation as a sidebar to other projects.  Now it is now focusing its considerable resources on environmental restoration for its own sake, including an all-out push to save the marsh islands of Jamaica Bay in New York City from disappearing.


The deployment of military resources for proactive environmental restoration has already enabled the Corps and its numerous partners (including The Conservation Fund) to build up a rich store of experience in marshlands restoration, which could play a key role in helping the Gulf state coastal communities preserve their remaining marshlands,  recover from the disastrous BP oil spill, and determine the course of their economic future.

Jamaica Bay

Jamaica Bay, for those of you unfamiliar with New York City, is an astonishment.  Contained within one of the great urban capitals of the world and ringed by sewer outfalls, landfills, and the massive John F. Kennedy International Airport, this rich ecosystem has survived centuries of development, neglect and abuse.  However, the end is in sight.  The Bay’s signature marsh islands have been disappearing and will likely be completely submerged within just a few years – unless somebody takes action.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Jamaica Bay

That’s where the Corps stepped in.  A few years ago, it began partnering with other agencies to restore marsh islands such as Elders Point East and Elders West.  The strategies included restoring the land to its proper height with dredged sand and mud, removing phragmites (a notorious invasive marsh plant), and re-contouring certain areas to prevent erosion and to let saltwater pass through.  The saltwater helps prevent phragmites from growing, and enables diverse native grasses and plants to thrive.  The restoration plan also involved replanting and reseeding.  A similar project to restore marsh and coastal grassland in nearby Marine Park began last December.  This year, the Corps formed an ambitious partnership with more than 60 other government agencies, environmental groups and other stakeholders to restore a “mosaic” of habitats in the entire 1600 square mile New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary.

A Restoration Blueprint for the Gulf Coast

A key focus of the Harbor Estuary plan is to improve public access to the restored areas with nature trails and other amenities that encourage people to visit, enjoy, and appreciate, recognizing that more public contact translates into more solid and consistent public support for long term environmental preservation.   Improved public access can also provide a boost for local economies by creating jobs in nearby communities.  Florida recognized this on a grand skill years ago, when that state made a decision to promote its tourism and fishing industries rather than permit oil drilling off its coast.  Its neighbors went in another direction and are now faced with an enormous challenge, but also an opportunity to create a new future that reduces risk and shares rewards.

Image: New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary by duluoz cats on

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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