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Town: Water quality improving at local water bodies closed to shellfishing

Over the past year, Southold Town’s engineering department has had “unprecedented” access to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s shellfish lab, allowing for additional water quality testing that could show some previously closed water bodies will be suitable for shellfishing, according to town engineer Michael Collins.

The department has been able to test as many as six water sample per month, in contrast to the previous two years, when “we basically got zero,” Mr. Collins said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. As a result, he said, when the DEC’s annual reports become available in July, water bodies that were previously deemed impaired could be found healthier.

The DEC had closed certain shellfishing spots out of concern that stormwater runoff had carried bacteria and other pathogens into surface waters.

The engineers are hopeful that more access will be allowed to Richmond Creek in Southold, which is currently open only half the year, and that portions of Hallocks Bay in Orient could be opened as well.

They will continue sampling after heavy rainfalls, he said, in an effort to reopen parts of Hashamomuck Pond, Goose Creek and Jockey Creek as well. Those test results will be available next year.

Mr. Collins and town engineer Jamie Richter had to make sure the samples went to the right person at the lab otherwise the samples might not be tested. Mr. Collins said he is in constant contact with the DEC after it rains to try to secure lab space.

Councilman Jim Dinizio said Mr. Collins and Mr. Richter have done a “stellar job.” Councilwoman Jill Doherty noted community effort as well, as John Bredemeyer, chairman of the town’s shellfish advisory committee, organized the its members to be trained to take water samples.

“It’s been a lot of progress over the last year — a lot more that we’d had in the previous three years,” Mr. Collins said. “Unfortunately, it’s not leading to regulatory progress. The agency still is kind of in a quagmire in revising its regulations, but if we can get access to those creeks for shellfishing, that’s a win in and of itself.”

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Photo: Richmond Creek. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)