Editorial: Is the Peconic Estuary protection group really necessary?

A recent intermunicipal agreement among several layers of government — from villages to New York State — that’s intended to support and protect the Peconic Estuary is being hailed as “historic.”

The East End is at a critical point environmentally and the health of the estuary, the environmental resource that binds the entire region, is essential to its future. Scenic vistas and open space draw hordes of visitors each summer and fall and, as years go by, more and more people take advantage of the area’s natural resources. That has led to more stress on the environment — through nitrogen issues, deer overpopulation and more — and degradation of the very resources that bring people here in the first place.

The East End abounds with nonprofits dedicated to protecting the environment and working with local governments to improve and maintain it. Suffolk County has an environment, planning and agriculture committee and a Council on Environmental Quality. The Peconic Estuary is one of only a couple dozen across the county to earn “national significance” status through the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which limits what can and can’t be done there and also requires certain upgrades, such as the $20 million project currently in progress at Riverhead’s sewer plant.

On one hand, it’s encouraging to see local leaders come together to maintain something everyone should hold dear. But on the other hand, some specific questions must be asked: Aren’t there existing avenues through which the East End can act to achieve the goals local leaders espouse? Has the existing power structure failed to address environmental problems in the Peconic Estuary or have we just failed to use it properly? Are we adding a layer that will facilitate real change for us?

Strength in numbers is generally a good thing and that seems to be the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee’s greatest value. Whether it’s to share resources or use a collective voice to invoke change, at least the towns and villages of the East End can formally come together to rally around a resource that belongs to everyone.

Hopefully, this latest effort will produce some real results.