Suffolk County officials last week unveiled a $4 billion plan they say will serve as a blueprint for transitioning away from traditional cesspools, which have been identified as a main culprit of nitrogen pollution in ground and surface waters. READ
Suffolk County officials last week unveiled a $4 billion plan they say will serve as a blueprint for transitioning away from traditional cesspools, which have been identified as a main culprit of nitrogen pollution in ground and surface waters. READ
Protecting our surface and ground waters is L.I.’s public issue number one. The L.I. Clean Water Partnership has done a great job in increasing public and political awareness. But we must avoid the trap of oversimplifying both the problem and the solutions. (more…)
To the editor:
I remember when platinum-based catalytic converters were first proposed. Comments were split between “it will bankrupt the automakers” and “no one will be able to afford new cars.” The same thing happened each time substantial improvements were mandated to reduce auto pollution and improve fuel economy. Somehow, we’re all driving much cleaner and more efficient cars. (more…)
Democratic Trustee challengers took aim at their Republican opponents Tuesday on the issues of water pollution and public beach access at a candidates’ forum sponsored by The Suffolk Times and hosted by Peconic Landing in Greenport.
Democratic challengers Geoffrey Wells, Joseph Finora and William Funke are opposing incumbent Republican Town Trustees John Bredemeyer and Mike Domino and Republican challenger Charles Sanders for three open seats on the board.
Here’s what the candidates had to say about the issues.
All the candidates agreed that water pollution, specifically nitrogen loading, is a major and ongoing issue facing Southold Town.
When nitrogen gets into streams, ponds, Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, it causes an overgrowth of algae, which sucks up oxygen in the water, the candidates said.
Mr. Bredemeyer and Mr. Domino said the board is keenly aware of groundwater conditions and, as a waterfront community with a strong agricultural industry, monitoring nitrate levels is a top priority.
Mr. Bredemeyer said the Trustees base permitting on science and work with sister regulatory agencies, such as the state Department of Environment Conservation, to control water contamination.
It’s a system Mr. Domino says doesn’t need fixing.
“Things are getting better in Southold Town,” he said. “We have to use scientific data to find out what we need to address first.”
Mr. Finora said he believes Southold Town does a better job than municipalities further west, but he suggested there’s room for improvement.
He and Mr. Wells said the primary source of Southold’s nitrate problem is not the farmer, but failing residential septic systems.
“Leaching is happening on a daily basis,” Mr. Wells said. “It is a very serious situation.”
Mr. Wells suggested that the Trustees revisit the manner in which town septic systems are monitored and reach out to other communities dealing with the issue of nitrate pollution, giving Cape Cod as an example. In recent years, several towns on the Cape have adopted legislation to oblige homeowners to purchase new septic systems to reduce nitrogen output, according to news reports.
While stating that nitrates are “the single worst problem” facing the Trustees, Mr. Funke said it would be unfair to ask residents to pay for expensive upgrades to their septic systems.
Mr. Finora disagreed sharply with his fellow Democrat.
“Little by little, we are losing the battle,” he said. “People will realize it’s better to have clean water than green grass.”
PUBLIC BEACH ACCESS
Where does waterfront beach property cross over to public land?
The Democratic challengers argued that the present town government hasn’t been doing enough to protect Southolders’ right to walk along local beaches.
The issue was brought to the forefront of the campaign two weeks ago, when the full slate of Democrats running for town offices — all currently all held by Republicans — purchased an advertisement in The Suffolk Times claiming that “some people” want to take away residents’ beach access.
During the debate, Mr. Finora said the ad was designed in response to an issue the public was bringing up “time and time again.”
The New York State Public Trust Doctrine says that anything seaward of the mean high water mark on the beach is public land and anything landward of the mean high water mark on the beach is private property. The wrack line, where debris washes up on the beach, is often considered an informal high tide mark, but it can change from day to day.
Mr. Finora and Mr. Wells said the town is responsible for drawing the line in the sand.
“We need to create a system where the community is involved in deciding were the mean high water mark is,” Mr. Wells said.
Republican hopefuls said the law is on the books and it is an enforcement issue outside the town Trustees’ purview.
“If you are doing something inappropriate, the bay constable should show up,” Mr. Bredemeyer said.
Mr. Funke said beach access “doesn’t seem like it is that much of a problem” and agreed with the Republicans’ stance on enforcement.
“I’m not sure what we can do with the wrack line, we certainly can’t monument it,” he said. “The people that are involved should just step down and stop fighting.”
TRUSTEE REPORT CARD
The current Board of Trustees is doing fairly well, according to hopefuls on both sides of the party line.
When asked to give current Trustees a letter grade, Mr. Wells gave a “B” rating.
“They uphold code and work hard,” he said. “However, they don’t reach out to the community.”
Mr. Wells feels the Trustees need to step up communication efforts with the public and make the process of applying for permits more transparent and easier for the average citizen to follow.
Incumbent Mr. Domino disagreed, saying members are accessible to the public and rewarding the board an “A+” grade.
“We hit all the bullet points in the mission statement,” he said.
Mr. Sanders echoed Mr. Domino’s response, while Mr. Finora and Mr. Bredemeyer said the voters would answer that question on Nov. 5.
Mr. Funke declined to respond.
“How am I supposed to know?” he said.
Pleasing to both the environment and the eyes, rain gardens are one way homeowners can take an active role in protecting the local aquifer while also creating a scenic backyard setting.
When rainwater from homes and properties flows into stormwater drains, it brings along the pesticides and pollutants it picks up along the way, said Sharon Frost with the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District.
That stormwater doesn’t get any filtration, she said, adding, “It’s all about stormwater remediation.”
Rain garden landscaping, also known as bayscaping, involves planting native shrubs, vines and trees in an area designed to catch stormwater runoff.
The native plants work as tiny filters that trap pesticides and pollutants in the stormwater runoff and prevent them from reaching groundwater, Ms. Frost said. They also help attract native butterflies, bees and birds, she added.
Plants and trees have deeper root systems than grasses, which helps aerate the soil. The water can then be absorbed and filtrated, she said.
“The great thing about native plants is that, once established, they are really very maintenance-free. Most are resistant to pests and tolerant of the local weather conditions,” said Anita Wright, assistant director of environmental education for Group for the East End.
Ms. Wright works with community groups and schools, including Shelter Island High School, where she helped build a rain garden last spring.
A rain garden needs to be planted in a shallow depression, which can either be naturally occurring or can be dug in an area near your home, Ms. Wright said.
“You want an area that is well-drained. An area where rain has completely absorbed into the ground within 12 to 14 hours,” she said.
“You don’t want stagnant water, which might attract breeding mosquitoes,” she cautioned. “Sand can be added below soils to help speed up absorption.”
The garden should be placed five to 10 feet away from the home’s foundation – and near a downspout. Homeowners can direct rainwater from impervious surfaces, like a roof, into the garden, Ms. Wright said.
“I have one in my yard and it is absolutely beautiful. There are so many native plants to choose from and local nurseries are carrying more than they used to,” she said. “They attract so many butterflies and bees – they can be really breathtaking.”
Many people also add stepping stones, benches or hammocks to their gardens so they can relax there when the weather is nice, Ms. Wright said.
What makes fall the perfect time of year to think about building this type of garden is that many of these native plants are on sale, said Danielle Raby, garden center manager at Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport. The nursery sells more than a dozen native species.
She recommends planting river birch, a tree that originates in the Northeast. “They are low maintenance and great in wet soil,” she said.
For shrubs, Ms. Raby said Clethra, also known as a sweet pepperbush, offers sweet-smelling white flowers in the summer and turns a golden yellow in the fall. It is native to Long Island, she said.
Residents in the Reeves Bay and Hashamomuck Pond watershed have an opportunity to earn cash for this type of conservation landscaping, thanks to a new rewards incentive designed by the Peconic Estuary Program, a public-private partnership focused on improving the quality of water in the Peconic Estuary system.
About 1,670 property owners are eligible to receive up to $500 each to build rain gardens or conservation landscaping on their property using native plants. The total reward depends on the size of the garden, which must be a minimum of 50 square feet.
“It’s on a first come, first served basis,” said Jennifer Skilbred, education and outreach coordinator for the program. “The more homeowners we get involved, the better.”
A total of $50,000 in federal funding has been secured for the program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she said.
For more information on the rewards program visit the program website.
Tips on building rain gardens — including a list of native plants — can be found on the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County website, www.ccesuffolk.org.
The significant issues surrounding Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic have led me to question the process of analysis and decision-making that has been in use to this point. I believe that if the community can focus on and accept the dynamic of a formal decision-making process rather than on the tactics of possible solutions, it will be able to arrive at a decision regarding the future of the inlet. Accordingly, this column is not about the various positions in this debate. My hope is that the community will be able to unlock the current impasse, because the heart of this issue is that the pond is dying.
I count maybe seven or more possible solutions for the pond: build a second jetty, shorten the existing jetty, eliminate the jetty, lengthen the jetty, do nothing, only address all natural and unnatural pollutants and various dredging solutions. And there are many permutations of these options. Therefore, the pros and cons of the variables must be parsed, and they fall into two categories: physical and biological.
Some of the physical variables are tide cycles and jetty effect, the characteristics of how the pond flushes, the depth of the pond, salinity and upland drainage and/or runoff. In addition the effects of storms, climate change and dredging must be added to this mix.
The biological variables are pathogen levels and both natural and unnatural pollutants. According to DEC records, the inlet generally has high coliform bacteria levels. However the records also state that insufficient data are available to determine the exact cause and effect of each point and non-point pollution source.
And that’s a problem. Insufficient data lead us to speculation — of which there is no shortage. For example, information on the possible impact of invasive plants, most alarming being the mile-a-minutes vine on Autumn Lake, lead residents to draw conclusions about how the vine threatens the inlet.
The third dimension of this decision matrix is the combination of human preferences and biases. The preferences of homeowners and the public run strong. Some residents and members of the public have concerns about the future of beach recreation, and of course the human danger presented by polluted waters. Others believe that nature should be left to take its course, and therefore to them, concerns about cost containment and tax hikes are moot.
The scope of possible solutions and their variables, makes the constraints under which eDesign Dynamics conducted their assessment too narrow to serve as the dominant analysis on which to base a decision. The computer model, DYNLET is a powerful model for assessing coastal problems, yet it is obviously not designed to model all variables. Consequently eDesign answered many questions from the community by saying, “we simply don’t know”. Former trustee Peggy Dickerson questioned the wisdom of their modeling a “steady state” by pointing out that the term, “normal dynamic state” should rather be used.
My point is that, unless we can rely on a range of unbiased scientific facts and sociological data to support all possible solutions, positive and negative, we will fall back on coalition-building, analysis-paralysis, groupthink and mythology. In the meantime, the pond slowly dies.
So what are the biases that we need to understand in order to not fall under their influence? Here are some that I have heard:
• The “sunk-cost trap” will bias the decision to not change the jetty. This bias will support the argument for no change. Why throw good money after bad?
• Another bias is the “anchoring bias” — in this case it is the estimated $1.5 million cost of the second jetty. Now, anything less will sound cheap at the price.
• Similarly, a “confirmation bias” would show how the littoral drift and tidal cycles always build sand bars on the facing side of the jetty — and erode the beach on the other side. Yet the geography is never identical, so can that conclusion be drawn?
These and other biases need to be acknowledged as influencers and not discounted. Once all the possible solutions and their variables have been subjected to science and analysis, and the biases have been weighed, the community will need to decide to decide.
So here are my parameters for a decision road map:
• Assess multiple alternatives. In progress, check that.
• Test all assumptions. Put that on the “to do” list.
• Foster vigorous debate and constructive conflict. No problem there — they are alive and well.
• Do not defer too strictly to the experts — question them, hold them accountable.
• Make decisions with a team of equals. There’s work that has to be done here.
• Question whether well-established norms have reached a tipping point — is it time to think outside the box?
• Encourage devil’s advocacy.
• Finally, take a comprehensive perspective on the issue.
Following a decision road map will not only help unlock the impasse, but a similar template for decision-making can also be applied to future complex problems that will arise as the town rides the tides of change.
Geoffrey Wells is a Democratic candidate running for Southold Town Trustee.
An environmental engineering firm has recommended that Southold Town consider building a second jetty at Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic to help reduce pollution.
Last year, the town hired eDesign Dynamics LLC of New York City, to measure tidal flow and the rate at which sand is being deposited in the inlet. During the board’s work session Tuesday morning, eDesign managing partner Eric Rothstein presented the board with its findings along with a list of recommendations to help alleviate pollution.
The study showed that the inlet’s water quality has continued to deteriorate, according to the presentation. The company said this is primarily due to large deposits of sand that severely limit tidal flow as well as the normal amount of flushing, which has historically kept the inlet healthy. Mr. Rothstein said annual “emergency” dredging does little to improve water quality. Instead, he said building another jetty is the most likely way of reducing sediment buildup and increasing tidal flow long term.
The proposed jetty would sit on the east side of the channel, opposite the existing jetty , Mr. Rothstein said. The option was the most expensive presented.
The company estimates the jetty would cost the town between $3,000 to $5,000 per linear foot.
The company also proposed a method of sand removal known as agitation dredging – a method that uses pressurized water to move sediment.
“You can get the fire department to go out during ebb tide, when the tide is going out, and you start blasting it with a fire hose to suspend the sand and get it to move out,” Mr. Rothstein said.
Other options included moving the location of the annual dredging site further away from the Sound.
The company plans to build models of each of the possibilities to give the public a better idea of how they could be implemented. All of the suggestions would need to be reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation before moving forward.
The board did not take any immediate action on the recommendations.
The community will have a chance to weigh in on the presentation during a community meeting scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. at the Peconic Community Center.
Growing sweet corn on the North Fork is an art form. It takes time, attention and plenty of fertilizer to ensure crops have enough nutrients to thrive.
The results are delicious, but the process can cause unintended harm to the environment, namely pollution from nitrogen that seeps into ground and surface water and feeds damaging algal blooms.
In an effort to achieve a successful harvest while protecting the environment, Suffolk County farmers are participating for the second year in a conservation project this summer to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers on sweet corn and potato crops. The technology, called controlled-release fertilizer, is designed to break down gradually according to the plant’s need for nutrients. The product would replace conventional fertilizers that can dissolve during heavy rains and enter local water systems.
Cornell Cooperative Extension and American Farmland Trust are spearheading the water-quality improvement project. CCE is working directly with 35 farmers to calibrate equipment to apply fertilizers at the correct rate. To test the product’s efficiency, samples will be taken from corn and potato crops produced with traditional fertilizer and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer to determine if both crops are receiving adequate nitrogen, according to AFT.
“Long Island farmers are well aware of concerns about drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary,” said David Haight, New York director of AFT. “Our project offers practical ways for farmers to sustain crop yields while reducing nitrogen entering the water.”
Last year’s program had 10 participating farmers, who were able to cut their fertilizer use by an average of 20 percent while sustaining farm productivity, according to AFT.
Marty Sidor, owner of North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue, said the product fits well in his planting and fertilizing plan.
“It’s very user-friendly,” Mr. Sidor said. “I have seen crops that store better and I have not seen one deficiency in the field through all this time.”
Fourth-generation farmer Phil Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead, is having similar success with the conservation methods.
“We practice very intensive agriculture,” he said. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.”
To regenerate the soils, Mr. Schmitt employs an integrated pest management approach to reduce his use of pesticides and spreads compost to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. As a part of this initiative, Mr. Schmitt is using controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn.
He made the switch, he said, “to do the right thing.”
To encourage participation, the program provides risk protection for farmers interested in reducing dependence on traditional fertilizers, but concerned about possible yield losses. The farmland trust and AgFlex, a private company that manage the risks farmers face when adopting conservation practices, introduced the protection policy to 10 Suffolk sweet corn growers in 2012. It pays farmers cash if a new conservation practice, such as switching to a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, reduces yields — and therefore income.
Becky Wiseman, CCE’s agricultural environmental stewardship coordinator who works with farmers on the program, said it addresses water contamination, one of the toughest issues local farmers have ever faced. The region’s aquifers, the sole source of drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, suffer from heightened levels of nitrogen, according to the farm trust.
Suffolk County long ago recognized that safeguarding agriculture involves safeguarding agricultural lands. Suffolk launched the country’s first farmland preservation program in the 1970s. Before that, aggressive real estate development reduced land in active farming from 100,000 acres during the mid-1900s to the current 34,000 acres. Without the action, Long Island would have lost nearly all of its farms, Mr. Haight said.
Today, agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Suffolk County ranks first in New York in annual farm sales, with more than $300 million in farm products sold in 2010, according to the trust.
“We hope Suffolk County will once again be a national leader by demonstrating that it’s possible to work with farmers to protect water quality while keeping farms economically viable,” Mr. Haight said.
To the editor:
Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, spends a lot of his money running foundations that provide tremendous benefits for the less well off in our society. Clearly, he put the wellbeing of the less fortunate on the front burner rather than simply catering to his own luxury.
Then there are the activists in Congress that receive buckets of money from lobbyists and hungry businesses looking for an edge, and they vote to raise student loan rates and cut food stamps and basic benefits for those barely getting along. Here we see people with narrow, personally directed interests who consider their own wellbeing as all there is.
Here in Southold we are now at two points that test our own interest in personal luxury versus a serious concern about the travails of the less well off. We’re bordered by two very important estuaries. We must stop our polluting activities because these estuaries are part of the nursery of oceanic marine life that feeds millions of the poor and hungry. This anti-pollution effort will not be free, but it is certainly necessary.
Also, we have an agricultural community that is undamaged by drought, flood or fire, producing marvelous fresh food. With world hunger all too visible around us, we must keep this food engine running. To trade our productive agricultural land for housing or business development must no longer be an option.
From an obviously highly moral and decent point of view we must save the estuaries and save agriculture. Just like Bill Gates, we too can feel comfortable with our world view. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to join those other, personally absorbed people who continue to worsen the situation of the poor and disadvantaged?
Let’s all join together and do the right thing.
Incidentally, stopping pollution and saving agriculture will increase our tourism potential and keep Southold in the marvelous and prosperous condition that we have all grown to love. This is actually a win-win.
Howard Meinke, Laurel
Don’t dump dredge spoil in eastern Long Island Sound.
That was the message some speakers had for the federal Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday at a hearing on finding potential sites to replace two existing dredge disposal sites in eastern Long Island Sound.
Others argued that dredging is necessary to maintain a water-based economy.
The meeting, held at Suffolk County Community College’s culinary center in Riverhead, was billed as a “notice of intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential designation of one or more ocean-dredged material disposal sites to serve the eastern Long Island Sound region.”
There are four such dredge dumping sites in Long Island Sound now, one dubbed the Western Suffolk site, south of Stamford, Conn.; one called Central Long Island Sound, south of New Haven; one called Cornfield Shoals, north of Greenport; and one called the New London site, just west of Fishers Island.
The Cornfield Shoals and New London sites are scheduled to be closed on Dec. 23, 2016, and the EPA is looking for new sites for dredge disposal, which was the subject of the hearing.
Most of what is disposed in these sites comes from Connecticut, according to the EPA. That’s because the dredge material from Long Island is mostly sand, and can be used for beach restoration, whereas most of the dredge material from Connecticut is fine-grained silt or clay and cannot be used for beach restoration.
The Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment doesn’t think any dredge spoil should be dumped in Long Island Sound, according to the non-profit group’s executive programs manager, Maureen Dolan Murphy.
That group opposed the designation of the two western Long Island Sound sites in 2004 and opposes designating new sites, as well.
“It did not make logical sense that after millions of dollars spent on restoring the Sound, we would designate it as a long-term dumping ground,” she said.
She said CCE agrees that dredging for navigation safety is necessary, but that open water disposal for dredge materials is not.
She said EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 agreed to phase out open water dumping and to develop a “Dredged Material Management Plan” before deciding on its next step.
But that plan has never been developed, Ms. Murphy said.
“CCE believes it is risky and ill-advised to proceed with a long-term designation of an open-water disposal site before the final development of a DMMP,” she said. “Particularly since the goal and intent of the DMMP was to reduce open water disposal.”
Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski, who is running for Suffolk County Legislature in a special election being held Tuesday, echoed those sentiments.
“If Long Island Sound is a federally designated estuary, how do we propose to use it as a dump site for toxic spoil?” he said. “It just doesn’t’ make any sense.”
The Fishers Island Conservancy also objects to any further open water dumping sites in Long Island Sound, and feels EPA should look to areas outside of Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound for dump sites, according to Robert Evans of the FIC.
“We’ve been concerned for many years about the damage caused by the large-scale disposal at the New London site,” Mr. Evans said. “The Conservancy was party to the 1995 lawsuit that resulted in a 2002 settlement providing for the EPA’s formal designation process for dredged material disposal sites.”
He said the last large-scale dumping in the New London site was seven years ago, when about 400,000 cubic yards of dredge material was dumped there.
“The lobster population was greatly harmed and few believe the damage was coincidental,” Mr. Evans said, adding that the waters near the site have very strong currents and shallow depths.
“Dumping spoil in those waters is akin to throwing dirt into a fan,” Mr. Evans said.
Daniel Natchez, who owns a Mamaroneck-based environmental waterfront design company, took the opposite side of the argument, saying that people need to consider the economic impacts of not dredging.
“If you don’t dredge, the material that everyone is concerned about just sits there, and you swim in it, or have recreation in it,” he said, adding that people won’t have access to waterways.
“These are things that are going to have an adverse effect to quality of life,” he said.
And Bill Spicer, who owns Spicer’s Marina in Noack, CT, near Mystic, also feels that dredging is needed for the economy.
“Connecticut has billions of dollars at stake on the waterfront,” he said.
He suggested the dredge disposal sites be put in Connecticut waters, since Connecticut uses them more often.