A drainage project at the Suffolk County-owned North Fork Preserve that started last Monday has sparked controversy with local conservationists.
The $200,000 project, expected to take about six months to complete, is to stop flooding from the 307-acre preserve onto Sound Shore Road by building three large sumps inside of it. To the north of the road is the Long Island Sound.
County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said that it’s the county’s responsibility to try and fix the problem.
“If you have stormwater flowing into the Long Island Sound, it’s full of sediment, nutrients, and pathogens,” Mr. Krupski said. “We keep getting from the health department alerts, beach closings all the time. We just got a bunch of them in the past couple of days. And that’s because of the pathogens in the stormwater. So we’re trying to clean up the environment, basically.”
However, Eric Lamont, president of the Long Island Botanical Society who lives near the preserve, said the project is harmful to the wetlands inside of it.
“Suffolk County’s ‘drainage improvement’ project at North Fork Preserve County Park had no public input, no public meetings, and was approved behind closed doors,” he said. “The project will alter the delicate balance of natural water levels of the 60-plus acres of freshwater wetlands on-site and includes bringing heavy machinery into wetlands, destruction and removal of wetland vegetation, and digging deep holes in and around wetlands.”
Mr. Lamont and others said they knew nothing about the project before heavy equipment arrived at the site last Friday. Mr. Krupski said, however, that the project has had numerous attempts at public outreach over the past several years. The county Legislature in 2014 formed an advisory committee of local civic, environmental and recreation organization representatives to make recommendations to the county parks department regarding the development and future use of the park.
“In 2015 we started to address it,” Mr. Krupski said. “We spawned a citizens group that met for a year. And one of the things that was discussed was the drainage on the property. So there has been numerous public outreaches over the years. I think the problem with this project is that it’s taken so many years. It’s not like there was a public committee and then action was taken right away. Three years go by, and here we are. It’s just a part of the problem; it’s just the time factor.”
Last summer, the Suffolk County Legislature issued a determination pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. It found the proposed work would not have a significant negative impact on the environment.
Mr. Krupski said the project is not meant to be harmful to the wetlands, but after hearing residents’ concerns he said he has asked the county Department of Public Works to reconsider some of the work being done.
The Department of Public Works has agreed to take a look at the three sites inside the preserve, he said.
“We look at almost 400 years of history here, and all of the roads were drained to run into our estuaries. And they carry all of the things that negatively impact the estuaries. And I’ve worked at improving water quality for over 30 years. And it costs money and time. But long term, you’re gonna have people with more access to shellfishing and boating and no more beach closures. So, long term, it’s worth doing,” Mr. Krupski said.
Photo caption: The $200,000 project is to stop flooding from the 307-acre preserve onto Sound Shore Road. (Photo courtesy of the office of County Legislator Al Krupski)