The community, which is defined by the USEPA as an Environmental Justice Community, was not consulted prior to the green-lighting of the project by the NYS DEC, and a public hearing was said to be not warranted. This is despite the receipt by the DEC of 1,700 letters, from both community members and concerned citizens, scientists, and politicians from around the country. It is also despite the fact that the Census showed a population of less than 5,000 residents in the area, making the number of letters received over one third of the number of residents.
While trees have already been cut down by the developer in the wetland, the battle is not over. Several court cases, for which an injunction was not granted, are still winding their way through the court.
Gabriella Velardi Ward of Staten Island Coalition For Wetlands and Forests has provided an update to the public, including things you can do and how to get involved. Their Facebook page contains further updates of planned actions by the coalition to save this natural area from being destroyed to bring a BJs Wholesale to the area.
BJs Wholesale, while being a place that many people go to, would not really help the residents of this area. As some elected officials have stated, there is a food desert in this area. This is a matter for debate, but even if it were the case, a BJs would not help this issue much, if at all.
As an EJC, most of the residents are unable to afford their basic necessities, let alone a store that requires a membership fee for every family. A regular supermarket (like the Western Beef supermarket less than a mile from the proposed BJs location) would be more appropriate than a membership-based store to solve food desert issues.
These arguments assume that the residents want a new food store, or any kind of development, in pretty much their only park that is not a Superfund site, such as the Mariners Marsh Park. Aside from that, there is a lake that you can walk around, and a tiny quarry park that is about the size of two blocks.
This community might actually want the wetland to remain there, albeit in a cleaned-up state. This natural area has been dumped in for many years, with tons of garbage in areas within it. You can find tires, old kids toys, clothes, shoes, and even playpens and other large items. Since it is not a part of the NYC Parks Department, it is not subject to the same clean-up projects that other parks are in Staten Island.
So, the fight to save the wetland is not over yet. SICWS and other environmental groups are hopeful that the court will decide in their favor, due to several egregious issues with the handling of this project. These include the fact that the developer was allowed to base their environmental impact study on a developed property with a smaller building, and not with no development, which has also been legally challenged.
As stated earlier, many of the trees have already been cut down. Once the trees are gone, it no longer can be saved. Perhaps new trees can be planted, but that is quite expensive, and is unlikely to occur. Check out their Facebook page for details on future events that they are having, and how you can get involved.
Header Image Caption: Staten Island Coalition For Wetlands and Forests at the People’s Climate Movement in NYC September 2020. Image Credit: SICWF