Officials celebrate past, look to Peconic Estuary Program's future

Tim Bishop, DEC, EPA,

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | From left, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Congrssman Tim Bishop, Joan Leary Matthew of the EPA, and Alison Branco, the Peconic Estuary Program administrator.

The Peconic Estuary Program, which is part of a network of 28 nationally protected estuaries, turns 20 this year.

Officials who helped to foster the program that put the Peconic Bays in the national spotlight renewed their pledge to protect the bays in the future, at a press event overlooking Flanders Bay at Hubbard County Park in Flanders Friday morning.

The event was organized by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who arrived late because he had difficulty finding the park.

“Nine months in, I’m still getting to know some of our resources,” he joked, before presenting a proclamation honoring the 20th Anniversary of the Peconic Estuary Program to the program’s director, Alison Branco, a marine biologist with the county health department’s office of ecology.

“This program has been critical to protecting the beauty of our way of life,” he said.

Attendees to the event included federal, state and local environmentalists and government representatives, many of whom played a critical role in convincing the federal government to place the Peconic Bays in the National Estuary Program in 1992.

The designation has made the bays eligible for funding at all levels of government for programs ranging from free boat pump-out service to storm drain installation to brown tide research and scallop restoration projects.

“This is a great day for Eastern Long Island and a great day for the Peconic Estuary,” said Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).

Mr. Bishop stressed that more work has to be done to keep the federal government at the table in protecting sensitive estuaries.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who was serving on the county Legislature when the county petitioned the federal government to make the Peconics a national estuary, recalled the Legislature’s efforts, as well as the efforts of Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy environmental group, which helped lead the charge to have the estuary included in the program.

Mr. Thiele echoed the theme of many public officials in attendance Friday, that the estuary is crucial to the tourism industry and the economy of Eastern Long Island.

He turned to look out the window of the building where the press conference was held, through the falling rain, at the salt marshes and the bay.

“I see a beautiful site, but I also see jobs,” he said.

DEC regional director Peter Scully pointed out that the state has invested in scallop restoration and other projects since the estuary was added to the national program.

“Good work begets good work,” he said. “This is a solid program.”

byoung@timesreview.com

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