Volunteers are wanted for Goldsmith cleanup

08/19/2010 12:00 AM |

Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic once had a swift enough current that a mill was built at its edge to take advantage of the water’s energy.

It was once wide enough that speedboats laden with gin and whiskey easily navigated its entrance to provide illegal libation for the drink-starved masses during Prohibition.

These days, Goldsmith Inlet is little more than a trickle. On Monday morning, a man easily walked across the three-foot-wide entrance and promised his golden retriever that he would find her another place to swim.

The clogged-up inlet is not a new problem. Several years ago, a group of local residents banded together to raise public awareness and fight to save the inlet from its three main foes: lack of tidal flushing caused by a closed-off entrance, stormwater runoff and invasive species clogging its shoreline.

The Group to Save Goldsmith Inlet has spent its time studying the inlet’s problems, planning solutions and seeking funding to pay for them. This Saturday, it will hold its first public cleanup project at the inlet.

The group is urging members of the public to come to the inlet this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the end of Mill Road. Southold Town has suspended the parking permit requirement for members of the cleanup crew. The group also plans a phragmites removal project for the west side of the inlet in the near future, not far from a site where the group removed 80 tons of wood from the inlet last year and now a few wispy spartina seagrasses have begun to take hold.

“If you give nature half a chance, it’ll heal itself, but you’ve gotta give it half a chance. That’s my philosophy,” said Lillian Ball, one of the group’s founders.

Many of the problems facing the inlet are the direct result of the fact that only one jetty was reconstructed in 1964, after jetties on both sides of the inlet fell apart in the mid-1950s. The imbalanced motion of sand plugged up the entrance. Tidal flushing of the inlet is so weak that, in 2009, fecal coliform levels were 17 times the acceptable level in the farthest spot from the entrance. The inlet has been closed to shellfishing for 10 years.

Ms. Ball was quick to point out that the group is not affiliated with either the Peconic Sound Shore or the Kenney’s Beach associations, both of which have been embroiled in lawsuits over the lack of a second jetty. She said, though, that both groups support the inlet’s health, but have different goals when it comes to protecting their pieces of the Sound shore.

“They are the beach people. We are the inlet people,” she said.

Working with a group of ROTC members from nearby schools — but not any public volunteers, as they will this Saturday — the group last year pulled 80 tons of driftwood including telephone poles and trees out of the inlet, where they’d lodged after storms. They didn’t ask the public at large for help because they didn’t want anyone to get hurt moving the heavy logs. But tiny pieces of plastic refuse, pounded to a nearly unrecognizable pulp by the logs, still litter the entire shoreline. This year, the group needs all the helping hands it can get.

“A lot goes in, but not a lot goes out,” said Ms. Ball, adding that town planner Mark Terry, who helped out with last year’s unpublicized cleanup, found a parking ticket from New Haven, Conn., among the debris.

Adding to the inlet’s problems is a culvert installed as a mosquito control device connecting the inlet to neighboring Autumn Pond about half a century ago. That pond is downhill from farm fields that send nitrate- and pesticide-rich runoff into it and then the inlet.

Hugh Switzer, a member of the group who was raised near the inlet, gasped at the state of the pond on Monday, where the air was filled with the stench of decaying algae. Phragmites, poison ivy and small locust trees were crowding in on the pond.

“When the tidal flow is working in the inlet, it keeps it much cleaner. This is about as bad as I’ve seen it,” he said.

The group partnered with the town on an emergency dredging of the inlet last winter, but the sand was put on the beach to the west and quickly filled back in.

“Most of what was dredged went back in the next day,” said Mr. Switzer. “Every year the town takes out the sand bars and it fills in within days.”

The group learned late last year that it and the town had received a $220,000 matching grant from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund for an exhaustive study, to be conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension, of the best solutions for the inlet’s water flow problems. They have not yet received the money because of the long time the Legislature took to approve the state budget.

A separate proposal by the town to remove one-third of the existing jetty is currently undergoing State Environmental Quality Review Act review.

“We don’t have a position on what goes on with the jetties,” said Ms. Ball. “We’re not positive that will be the best decision, but hydrological engineers will determine that.”

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