Staten Island Advance: Ecosystem, homes at risk in Graniteville

Staten Island Advance letter to the editor by Gabriella Velardi Ward and Paula Segal

By Gabriella Velardi Ward and Paula Segal
February 21, 2019

Staten Islanders know that the borough is a unique hybrid of urban amenities plus natural resources and wildlife. The Graniteville area is one of the best examples of this; it’s a great city neighborhood straddling the Graniteville Wetlands and Forest. During Superstorm Sandy, those wetlands and trees were all that stood between neighborhood homes and devastating destruction. The trees provided a buffer against punishing winds, while the ground soaked up flood waters. The morning after the storm, homes across from the Graniteville Wetlands were virtually unharmed by water, sustaining almost no damage.

That natural area is more than a buffer to keep storms at bay; the Graniteville Wetlands also are home to flora and fauna and support a complex ecosystem right here in the heart of Staten Island. From deer to turtles, fish to waterfowl, the Graniteville Wetlands and abutting trees are a sanctuary for wild animals who peacefully live alongside their human neighbors.

Up until now, we’ve coexisted. But, if a shopping center that includes a gas station, a massive parking lot and a big-box store is built on top of the wetlands, much of the wildlife will be forced out. And we humans living nearby will likely see our homes damaged or destroyed come the next big storm.

A group of residents and environmental advocates has been working to permanently protect the natural area. New York State and the Army Corps of Engineers already recognize that it includes a protected wetland. New York state must issue a permit for any construction on the site and has requested that the aspiring developers do a comprehensive study of the area as habitat for an endangered turtle species. The state has ordered the developers to determine if the rare Eastern Mud Turtle lives in the Graniteville Swamp and Wetlands.

The wetlands and forest are important natural resources. The Coalition to Save Graniteville Wetlands and Forest would like to see the area added to Staten Island’s park system, extending the adjacent parkland area. New York city and state should work together to protect this land permanently by making it part of Staten Island’s parks system. That’s the only way that we can be sure that the homes of Staten Islanders and the natural habitats of wildlife, possibly including an endangered species, will be preserved.

This letter to the editor is from the Staten Island Advance.