Municipalities at the local, county and state level have formally joined forces — and pooled resources — to protect the Peconic Estuary in the face of a variety of challenges including stormwater runoff, outdated septic systems and nitrogen pollution.
On Nov. 4, representatives from all East End towns and villages, Suffolk County and the state Department of Transportation signed an agreement to form the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee. In doing so, officials hope to address the estuary’s needs in a more collaborative, efficient manner.
The committee will meet monthly and will serve as a formal political extension of the work of the Peconic Estuary Program, which initiated the idea of an intermunicipal agreement and offered initial funding as it was developed, said PEP director and committee vice-chair Alison Branco.
“There’s a lot of things that they all want to work on that can be done much more efficiently and cost-effectively together,” she said.
In total, 11 municipalities will send members to sit on the committee, and each also made a specific financial commitment. The villages of Greenport, North Haven and Sag Harbor each paid $1,800; the towns of Brookhaven, East Hampton, Riverhead, Southampton and Southold each paid $6,000; the state DOT paid $1,800; and Suffolk County paid $15,000.
County Legislator Al Krupski said the committee is “more advisory” than, say, the county’s subcommittee on ticks, which was created last year, or New York State’s Pine Barrens Commission, which makes land use decisions and comprises representatives from various levels of government.
At last Wednesday’s ceremony, Mr. Krupski called the formation of new committee “really historic.”
Under the agreement, the maximum budget is $100,000, according to Southold Town engineer Michael Collins, who will serve as committee chairperson.
“This shows the financial commitment to keep PEP moving forward,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. “This brings us all together at the same table at the same time.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter echoed that sentiment.
“This bonds us together,” he said. “It’s not just a committee at this point. Before, there was a committee that had representatives from all the towns. It was a very loosely held alliance. Now, we’re all tied at the hip financially and with staff members.”
The committee outlined various goals in its 2015-16 work plan, including creation of a Geographic Information System clearinghouse to provide nitrogen-loading modeling in Peconic Bay.
The first initiative on the plan involves stormwater runoff, and the committee will share resources and jointly apply for grants to improve runoff management and relevant education to the public.
Ms. Branco said it would be a waste for each town on the East End to pay for its own stormwater runoff education campaign.
“For each town to do that separately is a bit silly — it’s the same information,” she said.
Mr. Collins said he hopes the coordinated effort will assist in a battle Southold Town has been waging independently with the state Department of Environmental Conservation about whether some waterways are being closed not because they’re necessarily impaired, but because the agency hasn’t yet had time to assess them.
“Hopefully, it won’t just be our town raising objections” to the DEC’s methodology, Mr. Collins said.
Additional reporting by Julie Lane
Photo: A view of the bay and Shelter Island from Pepi’s Restaurant in Southold, near Port of Egypt Marine. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)