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Board of Trustees candidates weigh in on environmental issues

Five candidates will compete this November for three seats up for grabs on Southold Town’s Board of Trustees, two of them currently held by incumbents.

The Trustees are tasked with overseeing activity within 100 feet of the town’s wetlands and underwater lands.

The Suffolk Times asked each of the candidates — Republican incumbents Mike Domino and John Bredemeyer, first-time Republican committee nominee Greg Williams and Democratic candidates Elizabeth Smith and Derek Bossen — for their views on environmental issues in the town.

The candidates had similar responses to the question of how climate change is affecting the area and what should be done to tackle nitrogen pollution in local water systems. Overall, candidates said that they think outdated septic systems should be upgraded or replaced when asked how the town should address nitrogen reduction in groundwater.

Each candidate acknowledged that the threats of climate change and rising sea levels will create challenges. In addition, Mr. Domino noted that with increased temperatures and worsening storms, it is vital to develop town policies to deal with those issues.

Mr. Williams, a member of the Southold Town conservation advisory committee and owner of Country Time Cycle in Mattituck, noted that effects are difficult to predict and said the town “needs to be cautious in proactively moving forward with this issue and developing policy.”

Mr. Bossen, a 13-year member of the Southold Town tree committee and past member of the conservation advisory committee, said the North Fork will likely experience increasing coastal erosion and flooding of roadways, such as the causeways to Nassau Point and Orient, which have already seen significant impacts from storms.

Rising temperatures will lead to the spread of invasive plant species and well as water quality problems, said Mr. Bredemeyer, current Board of Trustees vice president. The Trustees’ science-based decision-making and permit requirements reflect “best environmental management practices,” he said.

He and Ms. Smith noted increases in tick-borne diseases due to temperature change. Ms. Smith, an environmental economist and Greenport Village Conservation Advisory Council member, also mentioned seasonal changes that affect pollen and mold, which aggravate allergies and asthma.

When asked to identify the No. 1 environmental issue facing the town, Trustee candidates cited a range of concerns.

Mr. Domino, the current Board of Trustees president, said the most important issue for him is preserving a philosophy that has worked well for the town and that its representatives have worked hard to maintain.

“All environmental indicators show we made the right choices years ago when we approved two-acre zoning, open space acquisition and, more importantly, did not, like other towns, dissolve our Board of Trustees,” Mr. Domino wrote in his response.

Mr. Bredemeyer, a retired Peconic Estuary Program researcher and current chair of the shellfish advisory committee, pointed to “legacy environmental degradation” of the town’s lands and waters due to the lack of science-based information at the time when large portions of the town were developed. That has led to unintended consequences such as excess nitrogen in ground and surface waters and harmful algal blooms, as well as “nuisance deer and geese” that have put the community at risk, he said.

Mr. Bossen said that the destruction of habitat thanks to the overpopulation of white-tailed deer is an issue, as is “their appetites for the undergrowth of our natural lands.” Because of this, our existing forests are not able to support a healthy natural environment, which leads to the proliferation of invasive plant species, as well as increased tick populations and coastal erosion, Mr. Bossen said.

Ms. Smith wrote in her response that if she could highlight one issue, it would be the health of surface and ground waters. “Our surface waters are part of the foundation and history of this community; and our groundwater, which is our main source of drinking water, links water to the health of the entire community,” she wrote.

Mr. Williams also discussed the health of open waters, including the need to reduce nitrogen infiltration and prevent of harmful algae blooms to keep waters clean and creeks open.

The candidates each noted that, while bulkheads are necessary to provide stability for waterfront properties, they do have environmental impacts. Those include altered ecosystems and fragmented fish and bird habitats, said Ms. Smith, adding that rising sea levels and storm damage require thoughtful consideration of the use of bulkheads to protect property.

“Every shoreline property is unique and has its own challenges,” Mr. Bossen said. “Not everyone has the space to build a revetment or provide extensive vegetative planting to absorb the impact of wave action.”

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Courtesy photos from top: Greg Williams, Mike Domino, John Bredemeyer, Derek Bossen, and Elizabeth Smith.