There are environmental activists, people who champion the preservation of the region’s natural resources and still unspoiled lands, both on and away from the coast, and then there are the Stoutenburghs.
Long before the term “environmentalist” had any real meaning, and decades before the benefits and need for preservation gained traction in local government, Cutchogue’s Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh fought to prevent the East End from following the same destructive developmental patterns that forever changed the rest of Long Island.
They were among the environmental pioneers who in the 1970s successfully opposed the former Long Island Lighting Company’s plans to construct twin nuclear power generators along the Sound bluffs in Northville. Through the Stoutenburghs’ efforts, we have the luxury of taking for granted the views of productive farmland and pristine woodlands that grace that stretch of Sound Avenue today and will even decades from now.
For 50 years the Stoutenburghs worked together to produce the “Focus on Nature” column for The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. (See separate story on page 1A.) The title describes much more than a newspaper article; it defines their life’s work — work that in no small measure helped preserve and maintain the North Fork’s unique character.
That goes far beyond saving the piping plovers, for example. The Stoutenburghs worked to save the human environment as well.
Given the number of people who’ve fled the West End’s concrete canyons for a better life out east, their avocation has paid dividends to people who may never have seen a piping plover.
For all they’ve done on so many fronts for so many years, Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh are our People of the Year.
“I can’t think of any couple who deserve that honor more than they do,” said Bob Feger of Greenport, a former president of the North Fork Environmental Council, which the Stoutenburghs helped found. “Everyone who’s ever been involved in anything environmental has always been about to go to them for counsel, for advice or for help. They’ve just always been there.”
The Stoutenburghs were among those honored by the NFEC during its 35th anniversary in 2007.
“It started as the Eastern Long Island Wetlands Association,” Mr. Stoutenburgh recalled at the time. “And when we got everyone rallied about the groins that were proposed for the Sound [in Northville] it then evolved into the environmental council.”
The groins he talked about were to be similar to the rock walls along each side of Mattituck Inlet. The groins were to line a new man-made inlet, drawing water from the Sound into the proposed nuclear complex to cool the reactors. The state rejected that project and eventually took title to the land, some of which was sold to local farmers.
The Stoutenburghs were among those who pushed and prodded Southold into adopting its first wetlands code. Paul entered politics briefly, serving one term as a town Trustee.
“Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh left their mark everywhere on eastern Long Island,” said Bob Wacker of Greenport, who with his late wife, Ronnie, was a member of the NFEC’s early core.
Councilman Al Krupski, himself a former town Trustee and president of that board, enthusiastically endorsed the couple’s selection as People of the Year.
“They were a real team,” he said. “He and Barbara were so enthusiastic about the natural world and they raised the community’s level of consciousness.”
Paul first suggested that Mr. Krupski run for a Trustee’s post, which he won in his early 20s.
“Paul and Barbara were a big influence on me, and a lot of other people,” the councilman said. “Once people realized what they were saying, it became normal to talk like they did 30 years ago. That there are natural resources still left to protect is their legacy, and it’s a great legacy.”