Town commits to three-year contribution for Peconic Estuary projects

The Town of Southold entered into a formal agreement at Tuesday’s meeting with Peconic Estuary Partnership for a three-phased contribution from the general fund for water quality projects in town. 

The resolution follows a request for the contributions from PEP executive director Joyce Novak at a work session earlier that day. The town had agreed to provide the funding last summer, along with other East End towns, but Ms. Novak said the partnership hadn’t received the funds yet. 

The town had agreed to contribute $24,500 in 2021 and $36,750 in 2022, and is scheduled to contribute $49,000 in 2023.

“It is a requirement of the federal grant award for the National Estuary Program that we match that locally,” Ms. Novak said. “So New York State and Suffolk County match this, but it was always the idea when the Community Preservation Fund came into play that that would also be sort of the third section of a whole pie.”

Southold opted to not use CPF funds and to pass it as a budget amendment last year, she said. “I’m looking to talk about realizing last year’s contribution and then the addition of this year’s contribution,” Ms. Novak said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said at the work session the funding was accounted for as a “general budget mod,” which should have sped up the process. “Frankly, we should have been the first one to pay it,” he noted. 

“Last year, we didn’t allocate for it because they had come after the budget had already been adopted. But we thought the $24,500 was not that consequential, that we can cover that,” he added. “We put in for this year, the budget for this year’s amount, again with the presumption that $24,500 is going to be paid before the end of the fiscal year.”

The 2021 contribution, which had not yet been received “due to contracting delays” according to PEP, is meant to be used for program office support, including staff salaries, outreach support and undergraduate student internship programs. 

The 2022 contribution will go toward homeowner and school rewards programs and a Peconic-wide mini-grant program to promote climate resiliency.

The homeowner rewards program offers up to $500 to homeowners in the Peconic Estuary Watershed — which PEP defines as “the area of land that drains into the Peconic Estuary and water bodies included in the Peconic Estuary” — to offset costs of installing green infrastructure such as rain gardens, native plantings and rain barrels. 

The partnership also plans to work with two schools this year to “assess costs and mechanisms” to roll out a school-based program that would “work with schools throughout the estuary to design and implement stormwater management controls using rain gardens, pollinator-friendly yards, install rain barrels, etc.,” PEP says in agenda packet documents.

Between 2021 and 2023, scheduled contributions to PEP are expected to total $445,725 from East Hampton; $61,425 from Riverhead; $26,775 from Shelter Island; and $930,825 from Southampton.

The funds were discussed as part of a three-year phase-in to match U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contributions to the Peconic National Estuary Program. 

The estuary, one of 28 deemed nationally significant by the EPA, has been part of the National Estuary Program since 1992. The Peconic Estuary Partnership, officially commenced in 1993, “represents citizen and environmental groups, businesses and industries, academic institutions, and local, state and federal governments,” according to documents included in the work session agenda packet. The partnership works in conjunction with the five East End towns, including Southold.

State funds to the partnership are partially used to operate three water quality monitoring stations in Orient, Riverhead and Southampton. The data was used as a primary source for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 bay scallop die-offs, annual harmful algal bloom monitoring, the 2015 fish kill in Riverhead and Southampton, and is used for decisions made throughout the estuary. 

PEP also contributes to the Suffolk County Marine Water Quality Monitoring Program. 

Other PEP initiatives include outreach, a critical lands protection strategy, horseshoe crab protection and restoration, Narrow River/Broad Meadows restoration, collaboration on solutions to bay-scallop die-offs, Paul Stoutenburgh Preserve Habitat restoration and a living shoreline demonstration in the Town of Southold.