East End partnership forming to protect Peconic Estuary

A view of Peconic Bay from Mattituck Beach. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
A view of Peconic Bay from Mattituck Beach. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

An East End partnership is in the works that will take a regional approach to managing the harmful effects of stormwater pollution on the Peconic Estuary, one of 28 nationwide that’s considered to have “national significance.”

In coming weeks, the Suffolk County Legislature is likely to vote on a resolution to join the Peconic Estuary protection committee, thereby entering into a voluntary intermunicipal agreement with 10 East End towns and villages that have signed on to contribute funding to improve water quality and reduce pollution to comply with federal Clean Water Act regulations.

The Peconic Estuary comprises water bodies that lie between the North and South forks, including Flanders Bay, Great Peconic Bay, Little Peconic Bay, Shelter Island Sound and Gardiners Bay. It was designated an “estuary of national significance” in 1992.

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency approved a comprehensive conservation and management plan, developed by the federally funded Peconic Estuary Program, that set long-range goals for improving the estuary.

The PEP plan identified five major issues facing the estuary: brown tide, nutrient pollution, threats to habitat and living resources, pathogen contamination and toxic chemicals — many of which are connected to stormwater pollution. The protection committee was proposed in 2008 to help towns and villages meet stormwater management requirements, said PEP director Alison Branco.

The committee, said county legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who has supported the resolution, will help towns find efficient and cost-effective ways of meeting those goals by taking a regional approach. Last week, the measure was tabled in the county’s environment, planning and agriculture committee. According to Ms. Branco, county attorneys are still working out details of the language that will be included in the agreement.

“There are so many common issues. It is good to be able to speak to the county or the state with one voice,” Mr. Krupski said. “They will treat the area more as a region instead of as individual towns and villages.”

Working together on the committee would also allow its members to apply for grant funding cooperatively, according to the legislation, which specifies that no more than $100,000 in funding for the initiative will be solicited each year from participating municipalities as a group. The county will kick in up to $25,000 annually.

Ms. Branco said regional issues like training municipal officials, Canada goose management and public outreach, can be dealt with more effectively as a team effort.

All five East End towns, plus Brookhaven, have already signed on to collaborate for the cause, as have the villages of Greenport, Dering Harbor, North Haven and Sag Harbor. All have also passed resolutions to provide funding for the committee, which will be established officially with the passage of the resolution, Ms. Branco said.

The committee has been meeting informally several times a year since 2011, Ms. Branco said, though no funding has been collected to date from its participating municipalities.

At an April 8 meeting, the Southold Town Board agreed to contribute $6,000 toward the salary of a committee coordinator, who would paid about $60,000, Supervisor Scott Russell said

In August 2013, Riverhead agreed to contribute up to $7,500 in dues for 2014, Southampton agreed to contribute up to $10,000 and Greenport Village voted to provide $3,000 annually toward the effort.

The state Department of Transportation will also be represented on the committee, though it will not contribute to funding.

“There’s a lot of drainage [going into the estuary] that’s involved with state roads, so it was important to have them on board,” Mr. Krupski said.

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