Update: Town Board discusses Goldsmith Inlet watershed management plan

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The effort to save the Goldsmith Inlet led to a presentation at Southold Town Hall Tuesday.

The town, several environmental groups and a number of other organizations are pulling on their boots to try to save Goldsmith Inlet.

The inlet, on the Sound in Peconic, has suffered from environmental degradation for years, due in part to the layout of its entrance, which regularly fills with sand, choking off tidal flow. Sections of the inlet also have extremely high coliform bacteria counts.

Further complicating the issue is the presence of a drain pipe that brings in water from neighboring Autumn Pond, which is surrounded by landscaped lawns and private cesspools.

During Tuesday’s Town Board meeting principal planner Mark Terry and Group to Save Goldsmith Inlet organizer Hugh Switzer discussed the watershed management plan the town has been working on for the past two years.

“We started with debris cleanups and they’ve really made a beneficial impact,” said Mr. Terry. “But the tide is always going to bring in debris. The amount of debris is astounding. There’s confetti-like plastic in the littoral area, tiny particulates of plastic.”

Mr. Terry said he even found a parking ticket from New Haven, Conn., among the debris, which gave the inlet’s stewards some sense of where at least some of it originated.

The town has been working with the Group for the East End on designing a project to remove reed-like phragmites. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has recently issued a permit allowing cutting of that invasive plant through 2016.

Cutting phragmites would make room for native sea grasses, a key part of the coastal ecosystem, to grow in its place. Also in the works is the creation of a wetland filtering area around the outlet from Autumn Pond.

Suffolk County has also recently agreed to fund an $85,000 study of the inlet’s tidal flow and the town plans testing of the coliform bacteria DNA to determine its source.

“Is it from geese? Is it human?” said Mr. Terry. “We don’t know the input. We’ve got to get a better handle on that.”

Mr. Switzer told the board Tuesday that this past winter the entrance to the inlet was successfully cleared, but the inlet is still clogged with sand further back from the entrance, beyond where digging was done.

“The dredging is the best that was ever done, and the sand has not come back,” he said. “It’s been a world of difference.”

But despite a wider inlet mouth crated by the dredging, there is only one rock wall, on the western side, at its entrance. That causes sand to repeatedly return to the inlet during winter nor’easters.

“There was a lot of publicity about the sand that was taken away from the shoreline” during the post-Christmas nor’easter, Mr. Switzer said. “But an equal amount of sand is back in the inlet from that storm. It’s just a funnel that drives stuff in.”

The town plans to fund the initial steps of the county-sponsored flow study with reimbursement from the county later this calendar year, said Supervisor Scott Russell.

The county-funded study, which will be conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension, relies on “level loggers” that measure water depth at different tides in different sections of the inlet. Town Board members said Tuesday that they hope to have the level loggers installed during this summer and fall.

“It’ll give us a scientific basis for changes to Army Corps and DEC permits,” Mr. Russell explained.

“It will help make the case for the county to come all the way through the inlet with a dredge,” added Councilman Al Krupski.

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