Town Board hears proposals on surface water issues

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Town Board heard two presentations on surface water management Tuesday.

Water, water — how to manage it and protect it — was everywhere at the Town Board work session Tuesday.

The board heard two presentations, one reporting on its Watershed Management Plan, which is a comprehensive look at the Island’s surface water resources, and the other was an invitation to participate with other municipalities in a coordinated effort to ensure the protection of the Peconic estuary.

Over a period of months, the board had drafted the WMP, looking at everything from identifying the most serious environmental problems in the bays, creeks and harbors of the Island to finding solutions to building better septic systems or the problems of waste produced by geese and pets seeping into the water.

By putting a comprehensive plan on the record, grants and other sources of funding for remediation and capital projects will be easier to secure.

While the board was suggesting changes to an original draft in work sessions over the last several months, staff members of the Melville engineering and consulting firm, Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, were monitoring the deliberations.

On Tuesday , Carrie O’Farrell, senior partner at NP&V, presented a draft that included the boards recommendations and changes along with an “implementation strategy” that would give a road map to funding. It also included an explanation of regulations plus opportunities for collective efforts with other municipalities.

Ms. O’Farrell said the WMP is a planning document meant for the long term, at least for 20 years. “This is a tool box for this board and future Town Boards,” she said. “It’s to use at your discretion as to what type of things you would use [to improve] water quality.”

Ms. O’Farrell said the next step is to pull the sections, the recommendation part and the strategic part, into a single document and present it to the public for comment.

Following Ms. O’Farrell, the board heard Alison Branco, director of the Peconic Estuary Program, a coordinating group of government, environmental advocates, academic institutions and businesses interested in surface water policies.

Ms. Branco spoke about an inter-municipal agreement being worked out for municipalities that share the Peconic estuary, that includes the five East End towns and Brookhaven, the villages of Dering Harbor, North Haven, Sag Harbor, plus the county and the state agencies.

The idea is that a committee will be formed and each municipality will have a representative. Dues are to be paid annually — with the participants having the option of terminating the agreement every year — that will go to hire a coordinator.

“The coordinator will keep the effort moving forward,” Ms. Branco said. “And keep track of regulations and an eye out for grant opportunities. The goal is to get all municipalities working together.”

All towns will pay about $7,500 in annual dues, with the villages paying less and the county and state paying more.

Councilman Ed Brown asked why Brookhaven and Southampton, for example, towns much larger than Shelter Island were paying an equal share to the committee.

Ms. Branco noted that creating a scale of payment “gets very complicated very quickly,” pointing out that Brookhaven, though much larger than the Island, has only a small part of the Peconic estuary.

“If we do it by population we’re unfair to some and if we do it by area we’re unfair to some,” she said.

Councilman Peter Reich observed that no matter the size of the town, each got a vote. “Even though we’re much smaller that Southampton, our one vote carries as much weight as their one vote,” he said.

Resident Emory Briener noted that the Island has no borders with other towns and specific projects advocated by the committee in Southold, for example, would have no effect on Shelter Island.

“Water quality effects everyone” Ms. Branco said, and a specific water project anywhere in the estuary helps all participants.

Brookhaven and Southold have passed resolutions to join the inter-municipal agreement and other towns and villages are in the process of drafting resolutions.