Thursday, May 12, 2011

Week of May 9, 2001

Bill would enable Staten Islanders to remove phragmites from their property without obtaining state permit

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2011, 9:49 AM

By Mark D. Stein

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Two Staten Island politicians passed legislation in the state Senate last week that will help protect borough residents from phragmites-fueled fires.

The bill (S.4377), sponsored by state Senator Andrew Lanza (R-South Shore) and Assemblyman Lou Tobacco (R-South Shore), authorizes the unfettered removal of phragmites by property owners in the City of New York.

The legislation could change Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) policy, which currently makes it illegal for homeowners to remove phragmites from their property without first obtaining a permit.

The bill would amend the general city law and the environmental conservation law, and provide property owners in the City of New York with the unrestricted ability to remove threatening weeds from their property.

"This new legislation would prevent the DEC from thwarting property owners the right to protect their property," said Lanza. "Homeowners should not have to ask permission of the DEC to protect their homes and lives. This bill will empower private homeowners with the ability to remove this dangerous weed from their properties without waiting on the 'OK' from DEC."

"Current DEC policies and the weeds' propensity for fueling summer fires has put the lives and property of Staten Islanders in jeopardy while forcing local first responders to risk their safety to battle these often fierce blazes," said Tobacco.


"By allowing homeowners to completely remove this hazard from their property and by replanting our wetlands with native vegetation," he added, "our legislation will greatly reduce summer fires and protect the lives and property of Staten Island homeowners."

Lanza and Tobacco have also reintroduced legislation (S.4265) which would require DEC to remove phragmites from infested wetlands in all instances where more than five continuous acres of phragmites exist.

While the Senate failed to pass this bill last year, Lanza, now in the majority, is optimistic about passage.

"How many life-threatening phragmite fires must Staten Island endure before DEC does something about this?" asked Lanza. "It is absurd that these weeds are being protected while homeowners continually have their property put at risk, and residents and firefighters have their lives endangered."


The lawmakers noted that for too long, DEC, which regulates all designated wetlands, seemed more concerned with protecting these non-native invasive weeds than enacting policies which protect residents and their property – despite the department's own admission that phragmites pose a serious fire hazard.

"It is time that DEC stop putting dangerous weeds ahead of the people and property of Staten Island," said Lanza.

"This legislation is a direct response to the DEC's failed environmental policies on Staten Island," said Tobacco, noting that he's confident these bills will address the serious issue.

He hopes new DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens will work with borough officials to resolve this matter sooner.

"It is in the best interest of the department, the environment and Staten Island residents to come up with a responsible solution to this matter sooner rather than later," said Tobacco.

Read the full story at link.