The long-awaited cleanup of Sheets Creek is once again under way. Town of North Hempstead (TONH) Supervisor Jon Kaiman said, "Slowly and methodically we will see this through to the end, working as fast as resources permit."
First, a little history. Discussions about cleaning up Sheets Creek first began over 30 years ago. In the fall of 1998 a major effort was mounted by the TONH, together with marina owners on Manhasset Bay and Waterfront Advisory Commission, assisted by the county and other individuals and groups. At that time more than 200 tons of debris were removed from the creek and disposed of by the TONH Solid Waste Management Authority (SWMA). Items found and disposed of included barges, old metal cranes, floats, marine equipment, pilings, and even a tugboat; one single piece weighed approximately 20 tons. (For more details, see the article Port Washington News November 12, 1998, which is also available on line at www.antonnews.com). Over the next few years, there was some cleanup activity, primarily with volunteers supported with some resources from TONH. During 2002, there was another major thrust (Port Washington News January 9, 2003, also online). At that time, more than 26 tons of debris were removed, with some assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers.
There were (and are) many challenges to the implementation of the cleanup: legal, logistical, financial, and environmental. The situation is further complicated by the existence of overlapping jurisdictions. One of the legal challenges, a suit brought against TONH, the Village of Manorhaven, and Supervisor Kaiman, by a local resident named Ronaele W. Darress was decided in favor of the town. The resources for the recent initiative came from a three-way agreement among the county, TONH, and some of the upland owners who for decades have been utilizing filled-in land. In return, for a consideration of $250,000, ownership of certain lots was transferred to the upland owners. These funds are financing the current effort. Kaiman said, "We are excited to get this project going again. "We are trying to do this in a way that doesn't cost the taxpayers a lot of money." He added, "The entire board was behind this effort." Fred Pollack, town board member representing Port Washington, said, "We are going to do all we can to make the bay clean and vibrant. It is the most beautiful harbor that I have been around."
Three cranes and a pile driver are among the debris that has been removed by DiNapoli Construction (no relation to our assemblyman). "It was very dangerous out there." Said Kaiman, "We're excited to get the project going again. We are trying to maximize the effort with a minimum amount of money." In that vein, Kaiman said that the next step will most likely be a volunteer effort to pull out the floating debris. Kaiman was not certain when this will take place.
Both Kaiman and Pollack pointed out that, during the visioning process, it became clear that the cleanup and restoration of the harbor and improvement of and access to the waterfront are high priorities for the residents of the peninsula. Pollack, who has been a strong advocate for enhancing the bay and the waterfront for over 10 years, said, "It is important not only for environmental reasons, but also for economic reasons. People come here, moor their boats, eat in our restaurants, and shop in our stores and supermarkets."
There is a consensus that the bay needs to be dredged, although there is not complete agreement as to the extent to which it should happen. A major issue is how to dispose of the material that is removed (the "spoils") in a way that is financially feasible and environmentally sound. Kaiman said that TONH has hired consultant engineers to advise on dredging and bulkheading. One possibility, he said, is that the spoils could be deposited in the town landfill, which had been capped. TONH has applied to the DEC for permission to do that.
Pollack said that one of the next steps is for the TONH to hire consultant advisers to make a comprehensive plan for Manhasset Bay, coordinate and manage the efforts and determine the best way to approach all aspects of the project. In addition, he said, they are planning to hire appraisers to tell us how much the land is worth. The land, he said, is owned by the town, adding, "We are not selling it; we just want a reasonable amount of rent." He added, "We want to re-establish ownership of the land to encourage appropriate water-related uses, and discourage inappropriate uses"
Kaiman and Pollack agreed that, for a variant of reasons, "It has taken a long time," but both are determined that the enhancement and improvement of our beautiful harbor will be brought to fruition.