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Quality of water, quality of life: Board discusses pollution, affordable housing

COURTESY PHOTO |  The Town Board met in work session Tuesday.
COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board met in work session Tuesday.

At a brief Town Board work session Tuesday, two issues that have been discussed for more than a year were touched on again: the crisis of water pollution and the so-called “Hampton-ization” of Shelter Island.

On the agenda was the formation of a committee to explore the Island’s response to a recent state law allowing East End towns to allocate up to 20 percent of the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for water quality initiatives.

The CPF — collected by each town through a 2 percent tax on real estate purchases —has preserved more than 10,000 acres of land from development on the East End.

The new law, sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), would allow a portion of CPF funds to be used for programs addressing wastewater treatment, wetland restoration, anti- pollution measures and participation and funding of the Peconic Bay National Estuary Program.

To allot money from the CPF fund for water quality, each town must devise and approve a plan and go to the voters with a public referendum.

It’s estimated by the state that money ticketed for water protection programs could amount to $2.7 billion by 2050.

Tuesday Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he, Councilwoman Mary Dudley, Town Engineer John Cronin, Town Attorney Laury Dowd, Community Preservation Advisory Board Chairman Peter Vielbig and a member to be named from the Waterways Management Advisory Council would meet and “brainstorm” on the Island’s plan to allocate funds. Mr. Dougherty said he hoped to have a plan in place to put before the voters for November’s election.

The supervisor added that he would attend a meeting to be held next week in Riverhead by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC is working to develop a “Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan” (LINAP) to fight pollution of surrounding bays and creeks. Partnering with the Long Island Regional Planning Council, Suffolk County and Nassau County, the DEC’s plan is to determine nitrogen load reduction targets as well as strategies to meet those targets.

A draft of the plan will be discussed at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on East Main Street in downtown Riverhead. The event will take place next Tuesday, February 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. Those interested in attending have to RSVP to the DEC at [email protected] by tomorrow,  January 28.

According to the draft LINPA, “Rising levels of nitrogen in groundwater are a concern where such groundwater will be used as a drinking water source.” The document notes that some areas have nitrogen levels higher than drinking water standards permit.

Nitrogen, which is a beneficial component of water at certain levels, can also harm animals if the amount of nitrogen exceeds those levels, the DEC said. High levels of nitrogen cause algal blooms and increase aquatic weed growth, which then feed off the oxygen in the water, producing “dead zones.”

On the issue of the changing nature of the Island, Councilwoman Chris Lewis said she and Ms. Dudley had attended a meeting of the Community Housing Board Monday and the idea of affordable, or workforce housing has resurfaced.

There’s interest, Ms. Lewis said, of “regenerating” Shelter Island Housing Options (SIHOP), a nonprofit organization manned by a group of volunteers that became active about a 15 years ago to create affordable housing. Its aim was to improve both the number and quality of low-income dwellings, but has been inactive for years.

Discussed at the Housing Board meeting was an idea to place an ad in the Reporter to ask for volunteers to SIHOP.
Councilman Jim Colligan noted that “problems we’re experiencing on the East End where you have a work force” finding affordable places to live where they work have grown larger.

Ms. Lewis said another issue is that without reasonable housing prices, “we’re going to see the end of our volunteer services, the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.”

Without volunteers there will have to be paid first responders. “And if you’re worried about your taxes now, wait until you wake up and have to pay” for fire and ambulance services, Ms. Lewis said. “We’ve been allowed to get pretty smug and pretty greedy over the last 10 years. We’ve got to shape up or we won’t have this place.”