On the waterfront
Coalition calls for greater public access to NY Harbor
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Jul 15, 2012 | 2375 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RARE SIGHT – This Jersey City man was spotted fishing in the Hudson River in August 2011.
RARE SIGHT – This Jersey City man was spotted fishing in the Hudson River in August 2011.
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Look – but don’t boat, fish, or swim. That’s what the federal government seems to tell residents who live in the waterfront communities of Hudson County and New York City, according to a nonprofit organization that’s trying to increase access to the local waterways.

According to the NY-NJ Harbor Coalition, the New York Harbor is home to the busiest port on the East Coast, historic national parks and landmarks, and more than half a million acres of shoreline, and critical habitat. Despite this, the coalition organizers argue that public access to the water is limited, iconic parks and landmarks are crumbling, maritime commerce is impeded, and the region’s biodiversity and ecology are suffering.

When taken together, these factors make it difficult for local residents to fish, boat, or swim, as is common in other waterfront communities.

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On Saturday, July 14, the alliance was scheduled to hold a free City of Water Day.

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Most residents of such communities as Jersey City, Bayonne, the Bronx don’t think of themselves as “shore communities,” according to NY-NJ Harbor Coalition President Roland Lewis, largely because they have very little interaction with the waterways that surround them every day.

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Thus, the NY-NJ Harbor Coalition – a New York City-based coalition of 11 regional organizations – is now trying to get local residents to pressure federal legislators to back laws that will restore the New York Harbor. The coalition is currently circulating a petition.

“What the Harbor Coalition intends to do is to knit together common interests [among our] Congressional delegation and U.S. Senators and have an agreed upon platform that will get greater funding for the area from the federal government,” Lewis stated.

The waterway as backyard

The New York-New Jersey Harbor Coalition formed to galvanize public support in the fight to secure the federal dollars needed to fund water and shoreline restoration projects. Lewis said that similar resident-led campaigns were successful in securing millions of dollars in federal money for environmental projects in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound regions.

For those who doubt that a revitalized harbor is possible in the filthy waters of, say, the Hudson River, the Kill van Kull, the Harlem River, or the Gowanus Canal, Lewis points to ongoing work that is already being done by the member organizations that form the coalition.

Various coalition members are currently hosting a summer long series of boating and catch-and-release fishing events the New York Harbor to introduce residents to the local waterways. The events include kayaking, canoeing, “hidden harbor tours,” paddle boating, and cruises. There are even a few swimming events; earlier this month, for instance, there was an “Eight Bridges Swim” in the Hudson River that began at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge near the Catskills and finished at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, one members of the coalition, also has an Open Waters Initiative, through which the organization is building accessible public docks so local residents can have greater access to the water. As a companion to the new docks, the alliance is also creating a database of educational, commercial, and historic boats that use the New York Harbor.

And on Saturday, July 14, the alliance was scheduled to hold a free City of Water Day – essentially a waterway festival – that featured music, boating, food, and fun along the in the harbor from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

“With the new Community Eco Docks and vessel database, the alliance’s Open Waters Initiative is going to transform waterfront neighborhoods that for years have not had access to the water,” said John Watts, chairman of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, said recently.

Changing perceptions

“The hope is that we are able to change people’s perceptions about the local waterways and their relationship to the waterway so they begin to enjoy it as an extension of their backyard and start to demand that our coastline be preserved and better protected,” said Lewis.

NY-NJ Harbor Coalition is led by a steering committee of 11 advocacy and membership-based organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Hudson River Foundation, Ironbound Community Corp., New Jersey Audubon, NY/NJ Baykeeper, NYC Environmental, Justice Alliance, Regional Plan Association, Trust for Public Land, WEACT, the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and National Parks Conservation Association.

To learn more about the coalition’s work to revitalize the New York-New Jersey waterway and increase public access to local waters, visit www.HarborCoalition.org.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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