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Under state budget, Peconic Estuary Program to receive twice the funding

An organization focused on protecting the waterways and wetlands surrounding Peconic Bay is set to get a major boost in funding under the state budget.

The Peconic Estuary Partnership was awarded more than double the funding under the final budget, according to Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). The package includes $450,000 for the partnership, which received $200,000 in state funding last year.

“We’re absolutely grateful for the support,” PEP executive director Joyce Novak said Friday, noting that state funding has remained stagnant for the last decade. The increase, she said, stems from years of advocacy work by the organization’s  members.

“It was time for the state to raise their buy-in to the program,” Ms. Novak said.

She thanked  Mr. Thiele and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket) as well as state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) for their support and noted that the  increased allocation comes at a perfect time.

“We’re in a growth phase,” Ms. Novak said. “It’s a great slingshot for next year.”

The larger  allocation will help PEP continue its efforts toward environmental protection and programming and expand a partnership with Stony Brook University to study water quality and restore bay scallop populations  and eelgrass. “Those are our big priorities,” Ms. Novak said.

The Peconic Estuary runs from  the headwaters of the Peconic River at Brookhaven National Lab all the way to Block Island Sound between Plum Island and Montauk Point, including over 125,000 land acres and 158,000 surface water acres.

It was designated an “Estuary of National Significance” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 and is one of 28 estuaries in the national program.

According to Ms. Novak, PEP’s federal funding stream is also expected to increase from $662,500 to $700,000 this year and was reauthorized through 2026. The organization also received $206,000 from Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund and is working with other East End towns to grow.

In 2019, new state legislation allowed a portion of CPF revenues to be used for water quality projects.

Last fall, PEP unveiled its 2020 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, which will serve as a roadmap for the next decade. The plan had last been updated in 2001.

The document identifies clean water, abundant wildlife habitats, a thriving coastal economy and climate change preparedness as top goals and outlines a series of 35 objectives to aid in its implementation, noting  that pollution, harmful algal blooms and accelerated land loss are growing concerns. In a statement, Mr. Thiele noted that on eastern Long Island “our environment is our economy,” and thanked the Peconic Estuary Partnership for working to protect water, habitat and wildlife, and support coastal resiliency projects.

On the North Fork, PEP recently completed a living shoreline project at Widow’s Hole Preserve in Greenport and is working with Southold Town, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Ducks Unlimited on a wetland restoration project along Narrow River Road in Orient.

A habitat restoration project that will help manage stormwater runoff is also underway in Meetinghouse Creek in Riverhead.

“The work of the Peconic Estuary Partnership in protecting water quality on the East End has been unmatched, and this funding is essential to ensuring it can continue this vital work on behalf of our environment and our community,” Mr. Thiele said.