Staten Island gets federal funding to curb phragmites, a persistent fire hazard

Staten Island gets federal funding to curb phragmites, a persistent fire hazard

30 November 2011

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USA — Phragmites mitigation got a monetary boost yesterday with the announcement of $110,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Interior to Gateway National Park.

In the past 14 years, some 7,389 brush fires have been reported along the East and South shores, including a 2009 Easter Sunday blaze that destroyed homes in Oakwood Beach.

The funding, announced by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, will permit mitigation — the removal of the flammable weeds — to begin on the federal portion of land at Gateway once a collaborative Staten Island Community Wildlife Protection Plan is completed by city and state agencies.

The Wildlife Protection Plan will be an assessment of local firefighting capability, defensible space around houses and land management of the area.

While Schumer urged swift completion of the plan, the senator’s office could not immediately say when the Protection Plan might be done. Nor could Borough Hall, which has been on top of the issue.

The funds can also be used on the non-federal portion after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York City Parks Department and the New York City Fire Department finalize the Wildlife Protection Plan.

“With these funds, we can finally take a whack at the devastating phragmites problem that has plagued Staten Island residents,” said Schumer (D-N.Y.). “They have faced the threat of these fires for far too long, but [now] we can finally say, ‘Help is on the way.'”

Borough President James Molinaro hailed Schumer, saying he “demonstrated the importance of this safety issue two years ago when he helped us obtain a permit that would allow homeowners to cut back overgrowth on their property.”

Earlier this year, Staten Island’s state delegation got signed into law a 100-foot permissible perimeter for homeowners to remove phragmites; it had been 50 feet.

And earlier this month, Borough Hall tried out an on-loan Marsh Master machine in Oakwood Beach, which sliced through phragmites along Kissam Avenue, that it hopes to be able to use in future.

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