Village trustees draft letter of support for Widow’s Hole Preserve restoration

The Village of Greenport is working on a letter supporting the Peconic Land Trust’s project to restore Widow’s Hole Preserve. 

Addressed to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a draft of the letter indicates support for a permit modification and dredge permit application submitted by the land trust for the project. The Peconic Land Trust is currently engaged in Phase Two of the project, improving a “living shoreline” to protect against erosion and add educational signage. The second phase was recently granted $250,000 from the Regional Economic Council Initiative.

“A series of storms late in 2019 identified a vulnerability of the WHP shoreline to wind-driven waves from the northeast. Consequently, an expanded revegetation and re-enforcement plan was developed to address this issue and to continue restoration of the shoreline,” the letter says. 

The letter includes proposed modifications, including strategies to address increased erosion since the original plan was implemented, such as strategic boulder placement and native plantings, and the installation of a public walkway to the water for improved accessibility. 

“Dredging of the mouth of Widow’s Hole for small vessel navigation and aquaculture operations is also planned,” according to the village letter. Dredge materials will be used for beach replenishment and habitat restoration. 

Village trustees plan to further discuss the letter over the next few weeks before sending it to the DEC, potentially in May. Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said the word “modification” raised a “red flag” for her, at an April 21 work session.

“For my part, I know everyone along there. I know what’s going on, there’s been local discussion about the project in some positive and negative ways,” she said, asking for more time to review the letter. “I just want to cross the t’s and dot the i’s.”

Mayor George Hubbard also said he heard from a neighboring property who expressed concern about the dredging potentially hindering their aquaculture operations. 

ExxonMobil donated the 2.4-acre Widow’s Hole Preserve on the southeastern corner of Fourth and Clark streets to the Peconic Land Trust in 2012. An easement was simultaneously granted to the Town of Southold and Village of Greenport. 

The site had been environmentally remediated in 2002, after serving as an ExxonMobil storage facility throughout the mid-twentieth century. According to the Peconic Land Trust, however, “erosion at the site continues at a disconcerting speed” and “the upland area of the preserve is overcome with invasive plant species.”

“If left as is, the preserve is vulnerable to sea level rise and the impacts of future storms, which are increasing due to climate change,” the trust says on its website.

Initial work cutting all exposed pipes and seawalls on the northeast side of the property to at least four feet below grade was completed by Costello Marine during the summer of 2016. The Peconic Land Trust and Cornell Cooperative Extension, with funding from the Peconic Estuary Program, implemented a “living shoreline” in 2019 with native plants and materials intended to protect the shoreline from erosion. 

Prior to the ongoing Phase Two, Phase One included replacing invasive non-native plants with native plant species. The Peconic Land Trust and CCE worked together during this phase to “reduce habitat fragmentation, provide foraging and breeding areas for wildlife, and protect water quality by reducing erosion and sedimentation and filtering out contaminants before they reach the waterways,” according to the Peconic Land Trust website.