Parties Agree Phragmite Extermination is Not the Answer for Piermont Marsh

BY JANIE ROSMAN

unnamedWhile the Environmental Protection Agency slashed Clean Water Revolving State Fund loans for the bridge replacement project — a decision Governor Cuomo recently appealed — last month, it allowed $29.1 million for five projects.

One of these is reducing invasive species in the Piermont Marsh, whose 1,017 acres is more than one-quarter (about 275 acres) covered by phragmites and wetlands vegetation.

The state DEC backed down on its plan to spray herbicides while not ruling it out after public outcry last spring, and instead outlined a long term plan for the marsh via four public meetings hosted by Betsy Blair of the DEC and Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Ed McGowan of the NYS Parks-PIPC last week,

After attending the first two meetings, PMA and Sparkhill Creek Watershed Alliance member Margaret Grace wasn’t impressed. “They showed us how little the DEC and the PIPC know about the Piermont Marsh,” she said. “They presented information that was inconclusive and did not justify their pre-conceived plan to eradicate an existing ecosystem where phragmites has been dominant since the 1990s.”

The first meeting in September detailed long term management plans that could include developing alternative methods to using herbicide.

In response to concern about severe pollution in the Sparkill Creek, and its potential effect on both the residents of Piermont and the health of the marsh, last week’s second meeting focused on water quality.

The two significant environmental problems that were discussed were “What is the status of the water quality in and around the marsh (focusing on Sparkill Creek,” and “Is the water quality either harming the marsh or is it somehow affecting the phragmites?” Stuart Findlay, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explained.

Findlay felt these two issues have somehow joined to become one because some believe the nature of the water quality of Sparkill Creek is what caused the marsh to be covered with phragmites.

“From a scientific point there is not strong evidence for this site that there is a cause and effect relationship.  From a practical point, there’s a permit for the bridge that must mitigate the project’s impact to the marsh proper,” he said. Neither of these problems can be addressed without funding. “While the project has to mitigate damage done to the marsh as the result of construction, most of these actions are not directly targeted at water quality delivered from the Sparkill watershed.”

Grace noted Riverkeeper, Inc.’s striking findings “show extremely high levels of Enterococcus bacteria (probably related to sewage) all along the Sparkill Creeks’ 11-mile stretch on a consistent basis. In fact the Sparkill has some of the worst bacterial pollution of any tributary in the entire Husdon River watershed.”

The third meeting in January will focus on the Marsh’s role during severe storms. “While phragmites do not reduce flooding, they do absorb the force of the waves during a storm, thereby reducing the destruction from both waves and floating debris which it did during Hurricane Sandy,” Grace said.

A fourth meeting on management techniques will discuss methods being considered to carry out the DEC’s Plan to eliminate phragmites, including the possible use of herbicides.

The Piermont Marsh Alliance opposes the use of herbicides in the Piermont Marsh which will only increase the pollution. Instead the PMA would like to see these funds, which are being borrowed under the Clean Water Act, be used to address and mitigate the pollution in the Sparkill Creek and Piermont Marsh.