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Ecology of the South Bay, A Symposium

A significant, forward-looking development for the South Bay took place yesterday at Space 360. It was a forum on the ecology of the South Bay, past and future with 4 presenters, a moderator, and over 25 invited stakeholders.  A lot can be said about what transpired.  For the moment, I'll simply provide the highlights.  Perhaps others on this list who attended can add their perspectives. The significance of yesterday's meeting has several aspects: 1) Who was in the room, 2) Focus on current conditions in the South Bay ecosystem toward a program of restoration, 3) Consensus on immediate next steps. 1)  Who was in the room. There was a broader spectrum of stakeholders than any previous waterfront-related event since the inception in the LWRP process in 2006. One would have to go back even further to the Vision Plan for a comparable range.  Attendees included political leaders (Mayor Scalera, Don Moore and several Common Council members), Cheryl Roberts, representatives of Holcim and O&G, Linda Mussmann, Bonnie Devine of the NYS DOS Division of Coastal Resources, a number of citizen advocates for the South Bay and a good mix of other interested parties (e.g. Peter Paden of the Columbia Land Conservancy, Redmond Haskins from Representative Scott Murphy's Hudson office, Steve Resler of the Department of State (retired) and a key player in the evolution of the Hudson LWRP process). 2) Focus on the South Bay ecosystem At last, an entire discussion over 2 1/2 hours focused exclusively on the South Bay as a biological and ecological system! Presenters included Fran Dunwell (NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program), Dan Miller (Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve), Erik Kiviat (Hudsonia) and Stuart Findlay (Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies).  The formal presentations dealt with restoration design, biodiversity and ecological functioning in the South Bay. Given the concentration of ecological knowledge in the room (among attendees as well as presenters), it's fair to say that everyone learned something they did not know prior to the meeting.  In many instances, there was a good deal that was new, interesting and relevant to making South Bay restoration a reality. 3) Next steps A half hour was allotted for discussion. In that short time, members of the FoH-initiated Task Force were able to obtain agreement from the invited experts that studies of contaminants and hydrology (especially the movement of water within the Bay) had the highest priority. A third, more discretionary area of study that also met with broader approval would focus on fish habitat. We were able to report that the Army Corps of Engineers is capable of undertaking at no cost to the City a reconnaissance study of toxics that need to be identified before any restoration program can proceed. This development came in the form of a clarifying communication by ACE's Karen Ashton emailed to the Task Force the day before the symposium. (See below as well as my report "Army Corps of Engineers Visits the South Bay" on our April 27 meeting with the ACE posted on InFoH on 5/8/10). A few commentsSome might ask why such a meeting hadn't occurred previously as part of the LWRP process itself.  Good question. The short answer is, we weren't ready for what is now blindingly obvious.  Chalk it up to maturation as a community.  It's clearer now that a real vision of the South Bay can only proceed with such consensus building.  There's no there there in the current LWRP as far as restoration planning is concerned until broader agreement on goals, grounded in actual knowledge and restoration expertise, has occurred. The experts by themselves cannot drive this process.  They can serve a support function, as resources to help and guide us, but they can't create the vision. Only we can create the vision. There are a number of ideas on the table:  the South Bay as an ecological park, as a restored habitat for fisheries, as a buffer against rising water levels from climate change, as a resource for managing storm water runoff in a more cost-effective way.  How we prioritize and sequence such ideas and map the intermediate steps toward their attainment is the life blood of planning.  This may be the moment. We have to credit our allies at Scenic Hudson for initiating this exercise (with a good deal of input from others including Friends of Hudson).  Yesterday they did a very astute thing in giving center stage to the Hudson River Environmental Society, a more neutral party better positioned to attract the broadest range of participation.  Bob Daniels of HRES was an effective moderator. We need to build on that model for a follow-up session focusing on the specifics of an authentic vision for the South Bay. Attending from FoH and the South Bay (LWRP)Task ForceChristopher ReedSusan FalzonMeg CarlonPatrick DoyleTimothy O'ConnorMichael O'Hara