Still time to save the Graniteville wetlands and our homes (commentary)
By Ed Szczepanski and Paula Segal
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — If you lived on Staten Island when Hurricane Sandy hit, you will never forget the devastation. Those who lived in Graniteville likely remember feeling relieved that their homes were mostly unscathed, our streets never flooded.
It wasn’t just luck that spared the neighborhood. The Graniteville Swamp and wetlands shielded the community from the horrific storm. Tall trees helped block the winds and absorbed the rising water. Nature protected Graniteville.
But if developers and shortsighted politicians have their way, the wetlands that saved Graniteville will soon be destroyed to make room for a strip mall and big box store and gas station. In a neighborhood that increasingly is being invaded by unchecked and poorly planned development, developers are planning to build a BJ’s store — plowing down the very trees that saved Graniteville from Sandy.
Without the natural buffer of the Graniteville wetlands, homes will be at risk during the next big storm. There is no doubt that waters will rise and flood our community. If, as a result, FEMA redraws the flood plain maps, residents are forced to get flood insurance that currently isn’t required, homes will suddenly be unaffordable for many neighborhood residents.
One condo community, City West, estimates that flood insurance for the common areas and building exteriors would run about $1,000 per unit per year. That would add up to $206,000 and a special one-time assessment charged to residents along with a monthly increase to their condo fees! That’s on top of the cost for unit owners to insure the inside of their homes, which is estimated at $500 for a two-bedroom unit.
It’s not too late to turn things around. While the City Council voted to allow re-mapping of streets and changes in the zoning that are needed to allow the developer to build as proposed, the City Council does not have the final word here. New York state has jurisdiction over the wetlands — not the city.
To build in the wetland, the developer will have to get permits from the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). These permits have not been issued — or even applied for. Once the developer applies, there will be a public hearing and the DEC will have the obligation to accept testimony from anyone who offers it and the power to deny the owners permission to pave the wetland.
Together, Staten Islanders can stop the strip mall construction. But we need your help.
We encourage Staten Island residents, especially those on the North Shore, to join us in petitioning the developer to withdraw its plans to build and BJ’s to withdraw its plans to use the buildings. The Coalition to Save Graniteville Wetlands and Forests is organizing weekly events to raise awareness and to pressure the state to stop the BJ’s project. On weekends, some residents are passing out leaflets at the BJ’s in Linden, N.J., where many Staten Islanders shop. BJ’s management has not yet committed to the Graniteville site. The developers are counting on them as tenants. If they pull out, the project should collapse.
The coalition is holding rallies and educational forums to raise awareness. Even if you’re not able to attend an event, you can raise your voice by signing the petition to stop the strip mall.
If you’re thinking that it’s too late, you’re wrong. In fact, now is exactly when we need to join together — before the developers even apply for permits to build in the wetland.
We can pressure the developers who want to rent to BJ’s to withdraw their plans. We can make sure that the state knows we oppose them. We can stand together, armed with the lessons we learned in Superstorm Sandy, to keep our protective wetlands intact.
United, Staten Islanders can beat back the attack on our wetlands — which ultimately threatens our homes and our way of life.
We can save the Graniteville wetlands and adjacent forest — but only if we stand together and demand that our public officials prioritize the needs of our community over the profits of big businesses.
(Ed Szczepanski is president of the City West Condo Association and has lived there for 25 years; Paula Segal is with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center and represents Staten Island residents fighting to save the Graniteville wetlands)
Why we need to save the “Graniteville Swamp”
and stop the proposed construction project
1. Flooding: The Graniteville Swamp is of great benefit to the surrounding area. Swamps
and salt marshes absorb a great deal of water during storms or hurricanes. This was
evidenced when Super Storm Sandy hit Staten Island. Many areas on our Island were
flooded, homes were destroyed and people died. Our Graniteville swamp protected us by
absorbing the storms rising waters. We were not harmed by flooding.
The forest adjacent to the swamp also absorbs water, provides cooler temperatures for the
surrounding areas and absorbs carbon dioxide emissions from passing cars. Without this
swamp and forest, Graniteville will see some very troubling times.
2. Flood insurance: If the community loses the Swamp, residents will be forced to buy
flood insurance for our homes at great cost. Renters will have to buy interior flood
insurance to protect their personal belongings and the two condominium communities,
Regal Walk and City West will be in danger of bankruptcy due to the necessary purchase
of flood insurance for their Condominium Associations. In addition, our zoning will be
changed from Zone B to Zone A. In the event of a storm or hurricane we may be forced
to evacuate, with the possibility of loss of our personal belongings and/or pets.
3. Traffic: If this construction proposal is approved, the already congested traffic situation
along South Avenue, Lisk Avenue and Forest Avenue will be significantly increased. This
will make it difficult if not dangerous to enter or exit the main streets to or from our local
streets, especially during peak hours.
The increased traffic and changed traffic patterns will render South Avenue unfriendly
and unsafe to walk or drive. It is already dangerous to exit Regal Walk and City West by
car onto the main streets. And it will be even more dangerous for school children and the
elderly to navigate these streets on foot.
BJs is proposing 838 at grade parking spaces on the filled in swamp. This number gives
us an idea of the increased congestion on our streets on a regular day. And we can
probably expect even more congestion during the periods of major holidays.
4. Health Effects: With increased automotive congestion, we can expect increased CO2
pollution, especially since more than 1,700 trees will be cut down. Without the forest to
absorb the CO2, we may be looking at increased incidence of respiratory illness, cancer
and other illnesses.
Currently, this area, Graniteville, has substantial fuel contaminants in the air from other
sources, the refinery across the river, from Newark Airport as well as from the Staten
Island Expressway. Why is it that these proposals, that impact our health, come so
frequently to the North Shore? Is it environmental racism? Is it environmental classism?
Or is it the assumption that the people of the North Shore will not protest?
5. Noise: This area already has plenty of noise coming from Newark Airport and from the
Staten Island Expressway. Now add to this existing condition, the noise from large tractor
trailer trucks making deliveries late at night. With all of the reasons mentioned above,
what will happen to our property values?
6. Environmental concerns: With the addition of a second gas station with its attendant
supply pipes and the danger of spills and leaks, the ground water in this area will be
A salt marsh is one of the most productive pieces of land on earth. That is where fish
spawn, where birds nest and where diversity of the natural world thrives. It is an eco-
system that lives in total balance. Without human interference, it is self-sustaining and
needs nothing added or subtracted. With human intervention (construction, gas spills or
leaks) this eco-system cannot exist and we will lose all of its benefits of a salt marsh
when it is destroyed.
7. Where will the animals go? Many don’t realize that there are animals in the wetlands, in
the Graniteville Swamp. We in Regal Walk and City West already know the possums,
skunks, raccoons, doves and many other species of birds and the occasional deer that visit
our community. With the destruction of their habitat, we will see more of them around our homes.
Raccoons and deer will be driven out of the forest by the construction. Will they
become a traffic hazard? Will they become a health hazard to our residents and pets?
Why do they not have a right to be? Why must they loose their habitats for the sake of
profits that will not even remain in our neighborhoods?
8. Of what benefit is this to us? What do the residents of Graniteville have to gain by the
loss of one of the only open and green spaces in our area? Why is it that we who are poor,
working class, struggling middle class and/or of color have to absorb all that is not
wanted elsewhere? We do not have to accept this as a done deal!
For more information about the proposed project and future events contact us at SICWF2017@gmail.com