The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association (EESMA) has unveiled a “Peconic Estuary Protection Committee” with Suffolk County to determine the condition of area waters and address remediation efforts when necessary.
The announcement came Wednesday at an EESMA meeting at the Southampton Social Club. Supervisor Jim Dougherty, chairman of the association, called the agreement “a wonderful blend of home rule and regional cooperation.”
Supervisors and mayors, along with Deputy County Executive Peter Scully and a representative from the New York State Department of Transportation, signed the agreement pledging mutual cooperation and financial support.
The goals of the committee are to:
• Improve water quality to standards for safe bathing, swimming, fishing and shellfish harvesting.
• Restore and enhance tidal wetlands that clean ecosystems and provide marine food production and wildlife habitat.
• Offer educational, research and recreational opportunities.
• Provide flood and storm protection and offer open space for aesthetic appreciation.
• Help control and reduce sources pollution and assist in meeting federal and state statutes and regulations in a cost-effective way.
The $100,000 budget for the current year’s operation broke down as follows:
• Suffolk County would put up 25 percent or $15,000.
• Each town — Shelter Island, Southold, Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton and Brookhaven — would put up 10 percent or $6,000.
• Villages — Greenport, North Haven and Sag Harbor — would each put up 3 percent or $1,800.
• The New York State Department of Transportation would put up the same amount as villages.
All signatories to the agreement, except Shelter Island, have paid their dues for 2015. Shelter Island hadn’t budgeted for the dues, Mr. Dougherty said. But at a November 4 Town Board meeting, he expected there would be a draft resolution to provide funds.
The Peconic Estuary Protection Committee is being served by a coordinator, environmental consultant Rachel Gruzen. She is expected to work with Allison Branco, administrator of the Peconic Estuary Program, an organization of governmental and environmental groups dedicated to improving impaired waters.
One of the first initiatives for the committee is the creation of a Geographic Information System clearinghouse to provide in data on nitrogen loading in Peconic Bay.
That’s an effort that got under way on the Island more than a year ago and is ongoing here, according to Town Engineer John Cronin. A year ago, the town hired a summer intern to chart aging and ineffective septic systems on could be contributing to increased levels of nitrogen and other pollutants in the water.
Shelter Island is the only town in New York State entirely surrounded by water, Mr. Dougherty said. Unlike other municipalities, it’s not served by the Suffolk County Water Authority and depends on well water that can be contaminated or infused with chloride that salts the water.
In its current budgeting plans for 2016, the town has included $37,500 to address the cost of water quality testing to be conducted by the United States Geological Survey.
Despite the Island’s independent effort, many issues affecting the Peconic Estuary are mutual for all the area’s municipalities, Ms. Gruzen said. The intermunicipal agreement is designed to avoid local entities independently conducting studies and taking actions that would be repetitive instead of sharing costs and results, she said.
Ms. Gruzen called the effort “essential to the environment.”
“Our very survival depends on the strength short- and long-term” of the Peconic Estuary, Mr. Dougherty said.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski of (D-Southold) called the agreement “really historic” and praised County Executive Steve Bellone for his support.
Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst called the Peconic Estuary the “heart and soul” of the East End and said alarm bells have been sounding in terms of the need to find a regional solution.
“There is nothing that is not reversible,” County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Southampton) said about the condition of the Peconic Estuary.