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2012 Civic People of the Year: Group for the East End

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca speaking during a forum on groundwater protection.

The Group for the East End, founded 40 years ago as The Group for America’s South Fork, has hit its stride on the North Fork in the past year as an active advocate for the environment.

For years, South Fork residents have been accustomed to seeing the group’s president, Bob DeLuca, at nearly every public meeting where a controversial environmental subject is up for discussion. Mr. DeLuca now lives in East Marion and the organization moved its office to Southold in 2007, which has helped give it a much greater presence on the North Fork.

And for those efforts, Group for the East End’s staff are our Civic People of the Year.

In the past year the group has become as ubiquitous a presence here as it had long been on the South Fork. From the future of Plum Island to the campaign to keep a YMCA from being built along a rural stretch of road in Aquebogue to their input into Southold’s comprehensive plan update, Mr. DeLuca and the organization’s environmental advocates and educators have become familiar faces on the north side of Peconic Bay.

The group has also expanded its educational programs and those available through Eastern Suffolk BOCES are now included in curricula at the Aquebogue, Oysterponds and Southold schools.

This year, the group was among the founding members of North Fork Clean Water Action, a consortium of environmental groups devoted to finding solutions for the rapid decline in water quality in East End bays.

The group’s longtime community outreach director, Kate Fullam, left her post in November to work at Southampton Hospital, but still considers her old work crew to be family.

“They’re a close-knit group of nine or ten people who work really hard,” Ms. Fullam said.

She said the group has expanded on the North Fork by doing what it has always done best: helping provide resources for other grassroots organizations also committed to guarding the environment and providing a conservation perspective on regional issues.

“In 2007, when the organization was 35 years old, the board took a look at all our services and realized that much of the work done over the past 35 years was regional in nature, from the Peconic Estuary to the Broadwater natural gas storage facility proposed, but never completed, for Long Island Sound off Wading River,” said Ms. Fullam. “The Group for the East End’s work was really spanning toward the North Fork in a natural way anyway.”

The group has helped organize cleanup parties for the Group to Save Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic and supported Southold resident Lillian Ball’s “Waterwash” project to keep road runoff out of Mattituck Inlet, a project they’re helping to repeat at Spring Pond in East Marion. The group was also part of the successful effort to stop the Suffolk County Water Authority from bringing public water, and with it the potential for new development, to Orient.

In 2011, the organization began working on inventorying and repairing osprey poles on the North Fork, a project it’s pursued on the South Fork for years.

“That’s going to continue this year,” said Ms. Fullam. “Bob DeLuca and vice president Aaron Virgin are working on a grant to expand that further and re-establish data collection. In the past, the DEC collected information on ospreys, but since they’re no longer endangered they don’t have to continue it. But it makes sense to keep tabs on the species. They’re now kind of a symbol of the East End.”

South Jamesport Civic Association president Georgette Keller has also been very involved with the group for the past several years, most recently through her work with the group “Save the Main Road,” which organized this past year to oppose a planned YMCA on a residential lot on Route 25 in Aquebogue.

“They and the North Fork Environmental Council came out and immediately supported us in our work,” Ms. Keller said. “The group provided a vital link so community members could make donations through the Group for the East End. They handled all of that for us. They did a tremendous amount of work and counseled us when we needed a little bit of a lay of the land. They’ve been around for a long time and they do a lot of great work.

“They’re a wonderful bunch of people to deal with. Everyone is reachable,” she added. “You can talk to anyone and everyone. Whoever you need, they’re there to help you. It’s really wonderful that our civic and community groups can go to them.”

Ms. Keller just joined the North Fork Clean Water Action group and said she’s excited to become more active with the group and a growing consortium of environmental organizations.

“We’re bringing together community and civic leaders to work together on clean water,” she said.
Ms. Fullam said the coalition-building approach has long been a hallmark of the work of both Group for the East End and other environmental organizations.

“A lot of conservation efforts come down to organizing people on the grassroots level and coming together in a wider coalition,” she said. “That’s what the group is based on. That’s what the group does best.”

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