Featured Story

Supervisor suggests consultant to study Fresh Pond

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Supervisor Jim Dougherty
Supervisor Jim Dougherty

In the wake of tests revealing Fresh Pond is unsafe for swimming, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said it’s time to seek expert opinions on solving the problem.

Mr. Dougherty suggested, at the Tuesday’s town board work session, that some money from Community Preservation Fund (CPF) revenues slated for water quality improvement projects be used to hire a consultant to recommend remediation of pollution at the Pond due to fecal coliform bacteria that is over the limit set by the New York State Department of Health.

The CPF is funded through a real estate transfer tax on home purchases and is used mainly to fund open space for preservation. In a referendum last November, however, residents voted to allow up to 20 percent of the funds collected for water quality projects.

Meanwhile, the town’s Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board, formed recently to vet clean water projects from CPF funds, is discussing grants to offset costs of installing new and improved septic systems to remove excessive nitrogen discharge into Shelter Island’s ground and surface waters.

Mr. Dougherty told a room full of residents at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that the first step should be to determine the exact nature of Fresh Pond’s problems and potential solutions to cleaning up what Water Advisory Board member and Fresh Pond resident James Eklund called “a real crown jewel of the Island.”

Another source of funding could come from state and federal governments, an idea Councilman Jim Colligan said he will discuss with the town’s grant writer, Jennifer Mesiano Higham.

Peter Grand, a member of the town’s Water Advisory Committee, told the board he’s been organizing two groups — Friends of Fresh Pond, open to anyone interested in the issue, and the Shelter Island Fresh Pond Neighbors Association, which will meet on August 26 at 4 p.m. at Mr. Grand’s house.

“It’s probably a multi-pronged approach,” Mr. Colligan said, noting he agrees a public-private partnership between the town and those groups is wise and hiring a consultant is the right first move.

What is known from the recently completed tests is that the excess fecal coliform in the pond  is most likely emanating from two sources — geese droppings that land in the water and aged septic systems in some of the surrounding houses. But Mr. Grand also worries there is blue green algae in the water that could cause major health problems to swimmers. He speculated from his own investigation that about half of the 18 houses around Fresh Pond have aged sanitary systems that need to be upgraded.

But not all of the solutions depend on upgrading septic systems. Among them, Mr. Colligan said, would be planting vegetative buffers to keep roadway and landscaping runoff from entering the pond, finding a way to deal with water fowl and educating people about the problem.

“We’re beginning to address the problem,” Mr. Grand said. “I trust the board right now. I think you guys are going to do the right thing.”

The resident who has been most outspoken about problems at Fresh Pond, Vincent Novak, agreed that hiring a consultant is the right first step.

The Town Board also discussed creating permits to ensure there is a listing of the locations of septic systems throughout the town and what kind of systems are installed. Some of that mapping has been done in past summers by interns, but needs to kept updated, according to Building Permits Coordinator Lori Beard Raymond.

New Recreation Director Bethany Ortmann was on hand to share some of ideas to expand programs for adults and children. Among the possibilities are collaborative programs that could be shared between the town’s seniors and youths. She also wants to schedule more day trips during school holidays and provide more structured programs for young people.

Family events such as outdoor movies, summer concerts and an “Island Day” to celebrate the town are also on her agenda.

Two more seminars for architects, contractors and other builders is slated at the Shelter Island Library on Wednesday, September 27 on new green energy regulations. The first session scheduled on basic new codes runs from 8 a.m. to noon with a second session on high performance programs from 1 to 5 p.m. Lunch will be provided between the two sessions.

Anyone interested in attending either of the two sessions should phone Mary Ellen McGayhey at (631) 749-0772 to register. Only 30 people can be accommodated, and first preference will go to town residents, according to Ms. Raymond.

In other business, the Town Board:
• Tightened up language related to establishing site planning for commercial buildings
• Agreed to approve a special permit for Zach Vella, to add an observation room atop his two-story house that is being constructed on Shore Road at the site where the former Herrmann’s Castle stands. Approval is expected to come at Friday’s regular Town Board meeting
• Will set a hearing on a provision to provide for special event parking
• Will require owners of small boats, kayaks, canoes and similar vessels to label them with information on the owner’s name, telephone number and address so if they drift, they can be returned. A fee of $50 would be assessed for such crafts held by the town for 14 days or less and $100 to those the town has to store.
• Will approve Mr. Dougherty signing an agreement Friday to continue working with the auditing firm of Cullen & Danowski at an approximate cost of $43,400, representing an approximate 4 percent increase over the previous contract.