USA — STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Staten Islanders living near brush-fire-prone areas have a new weapon to battle the threat: Permission to use power tools to trim flammable phragmites up to 100 feet from the wall of their homes.
Thats a big change from the recent state-imposed restrictions, which only allowed a 50-foot buffer zone and prohibited the use of electronic trimmers.
The news was announced yesterday by Borough President James P. Molinaro at a press conference at the Knights of Columbus Hall in New Dorp Beach.
Officials and residents alike heralded the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, although in its infancy, as the most action taken to reduce the threat of wildfires on the Island in years.
This administration is about environmental protection without a question and economic development, said Venetia Lannon Region 2 director of the DEC. It is about rational regulation, and I think that this issue could not be more emblematic of the need for rational regulation.
Phragmites are also used as a cover for illegal dumping or drug use, said Oakwood Beach resident Joseph Monte, who has been very involved with this issue. News photos — Wednesday, May 25, 2011″The last five to seven years the fires have been extremely worse,” Oakwood Beach resident Joseph Monte said.
The last five to seven years the fires have been extremely worse, Monte said. Im extremely happy that Mr. Molinaros office persuaded the DEC to allow us to cut back 100 feet. Im all for just eliminating them and replanting native Staten Island plants.
Phragmites are not native to Staten Island, Monte added. We can let people go to bed at night in safety knowing that their lives and property wont be jeopardized, and if there was a fire, it would be far enough away for the fire department to get there and control it, said Molinaro. Im glad were all working together. Were going to accomplish something.
The National Park Service has stepped in to work with state and local officials by offering guidance in properly managing these wetlands areas.
We need a plan with options, one of those options is the Marshmaster, said Barb Stewart, fire communications specialist with the Park Service.
The Marshmaster is a $150,000 piece of equipment capable of chopping down large swaths of phragmites in sensitive areas without damaging the wetlands below its tracks.
It could even benefit, for example, migratory birds in their hunting patterns, Lannon added.
Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) has put money aside to purchase at least one of the vehicles, Molinaro revealed.
It is a new day, Oddo said. Were going to have a comprehensive plan, and were going to make life down here just a little bit safer.
Other options that could be included in a finalized plan might be prescribed burning in some areas or future Eagle Scouts earning that designation by cleaning up these areas, Stewart explained.
None of us wanted to be part of environmental degradation, said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore). This is where environmental consciousness met environmental zealotry.
Another benefit of having a protection plan in place is that it could be used as a way to secure federal or other funding for these areas, Stewart added.
There have been 7,389 reported brush fires on Staten Island in the past 14 years, and 192 of them have been all hands, fires requiring all fire houses on the Island to send assistance, according to information from the New York Fire Department.
Last year alone on Staten Island we responded to over 400 calls for brush fires, said FDNY Division 8 Commander Richard Howe. This plan will help us reduce the stress of our department resources, which will benefit this city as a whole.