Coalition for Wetlands and Forests
Staten Island, New York
In Staten Island, Old Place Creek begins in the forested wetlands of Graniteville Swamp Woods, meandering toward the northern end of the Arthur Kill next to Goethals Bridge, providing a tidal salt marsh hosting many varieties of fish, birds, and insects. Wading birds forage extensively on the plentiful supplies of fish and invertebrates found within the marshes, including bluefish, striped bass, and young winter flounder. The creek, and the wetlands that surround it, helped protect area residents in 2012 from the deadliest floods of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York City and killed 43 residents, more than half of them in Staten Island. Unabated development, combined with sea-level rise, make residents increasingly vulnerable to future hurricanes.
Gabriella Velardi-Ward co-founded Staten Island’s Coalition for Wetlands and Forests (CWF) to protect the diverse, environmental justice community of Graniteville. Sitting next to a 30-acre natural wetland that includes tidal and freshwater marshes, the community of mostly black and brown residents, economically and environmentally fragile, is located in a high-risk flood area. When she discovered a developer’s plan to build a BJ’s Wholesale Club and 800-car parking lot on 18 acres of the wetlands, “coming out of the ground 5-8 feet above street level,” Velardi-Ward had to get to work.
While the developer’s permits were granted, CWF, working with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, is suing the state Department of Environmental Conservation to redo its Environmental Impact Statement, claiming that it was “totally inadequate and flawed.” The lawsuit argues that the right to build on the land was never guaranteed, and that regulators should have compared the impact of the project with that of unbuilt land, versus an alternative version of the development.
CWF has started a campaign to convince Gov. Cuomo to acquire the land and turn it over to NY State Department of Parks and Recreation. Rep. Max Rose, Assembly member Nicole Malliotakis, State Senator Diane Savino, Assembly member Michael Cusick, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, as well as 1700 letter-writing residents all echoed the calls for a public meeting to discuss the proposal.
Support in the form of grants from organizations such as The Rose Foundation, The Citizens Committee New York, and Anthropocene Alliance has enabled them to continue community organizing work.Gabriella Velardi-Ward
“Joining Anthropocene Alliance has made a big difference for us. We may not have gotten as far as we have without them. With their help, we have received pro bono analysis from a wetland scientist and pro bono legal help.”
Written By Kerri McLean
Additional Allies in Advocacy:
- North Shore Waterfront Conservancy
- Natural Resources Protective Association
- Friends of Mount Manresa
- Sustainable Staten Island
- Mariners Harbor Civic Association
- Richmondtown Civic Association
- Preservation League of Staten Island
- City West HOA
- Regal Walk HOA
- NY/NJ Baykeeper
- National Resource Defense Council (NRDC)
- The Environment TV
- Sierra Club New York