USA — With the wildfire season of 2012 under way, the government agreement to begin chopping down fields of weeds across Staten Island comes not a moment too soon.
Mowing of phragmities will begin on May 1 on city and private lands under a deal announced by Sen. Charles Schumer and Borough President James Molinaro.
They obtained agreement between the National Park Service, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The deal freed a $110,000 federal grant to be used not only for National Park Service land in Great Kills, but also for public and private property elsewhere.
This is a huge victory for Staten Island residents who, for far too long, have been living in fear of brushfires, said Mr. Schumer (D-N.Y.). With brushfire season well under way, it was absolutely essential to begin mowing phragmities on Staten Island ASAP.
The fact is, Staten Island is the fourth most active brushfire location in the entire United States. The peak danger season comes during early spring.
From 1996 through 2010, Staten Island was hit by 7,389 brush fires, many of which went to multiple alarms, according to the Fire Department. In 2010 alone, 405 brush fires fed by phragmites scorched the East Shore.
The current risk to Staten Island was underlined on April 9 by the huge smoky fire at Fresh Kills.
With the very dry winter that occurred and the five-alarm brushfire at the former Fresh Kills landfill, the proposed phragmites mowing program in the high-risk areas along the Islands South Shore has become more than ever a necessity, said Mr. Molinaro.
A tall, invasive, non-native type of grass, phragmities flourish on Staten Island on hundreds of acres of parkland and other low-lying open space, especially on the East Shore and the South Shore.
The federal funding for Hazardous Fuel Reduction cleared the way to allow phragmites mitigation to begin at Gateway National Park, which is actually less vulnerable to brush fires than many other locations.
The vital agreement calls for phragmites mowing (up to 100 feet from the face of any house and, on vacant lots, 50 feet from the edge of the streets widening line) to take place in other public and private high-risk areas.
Work on non-public land will be performed under the jurisdiction of the existing phragmites removal permit on private property from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The permit is administered through the borough presidents office.
Mr. Molinaro is sending registered letters to all private property owners in the high-risk areas requesting their cooperation in allowing the National Parks Service to mow phragmites, especially on those lots that are vacant.
Mr. Schumer, Mr. Molinaro and the government offices they lobbied are to be commended for agreeing on a life-saving plan to fight brushfires on Staten Island.
We urge all Islanders to follow their example, to co-operate in the firefighting campaign and to stay vigilant.