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Estuary Program seeks town funds

The Shelter Island Town Board will set a public hearing Friday, May 7, on allowing the use of some of its Community Preservation Fund (CPF) money to improving water quality through the efforts of the Peconic Estuary Program. Money for the CPF comes from a 2% tax that buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is used in turn to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.

The Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) has worked for years to improve and protect Peconic Bay waters. The Peconic Estuary, which runs from Gardiners Bay to Little Peconic Bay, is one of only 28 nationwide waterways to be declared an estuary of national significance by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate change and pollution are threatening the health of the water, Councilman Jim Colligan told his colleagues at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. If Shelter Island supports the effort as expected, it would allow the allocation of CPF money from the budget of the Water Quality Improvement Advisory Board in the amount of $5,950 this year; $8,925 in 2022; and $11,900 in 2023.

The five East End towns would be contributing a total of $700,000 in the three-year period. But before the Town Board can approve any allocation from the WQI money, other than for septic system upgrade grants, it must hold a public hearing.

Mr. Colligan, fresh from a three-day Peconic Estuary Partnership Biennial Conference last month, said a 2015 study revealed 5.3% of total jobs in Suffolk County were created by ocean-related businesses. At the time, there were 33,987 jobs with earnings totaling $983 million and $2 billion in goods and services.

PEP has four major goals:

• Maintaining strong partnerships

• Preparing communities to be prepared for the effects of climate change

• Cleaning and maintaining waters for ecosystem health and safe recreation

• Maintaining a healthy ecosystem that provides abundant and diverse wildlife

Shelter Island has already been affected by rising sea levels that have salted some wells in particularly sensitive areas. Both ferry companies have been investing heavily in raising ramps needed to board and exit boats safely, along with other infrastructure needs to counter changes.

“Our economy is based on the Peconic Estuary,” Mr. Colligan said. The Island could see a 21-inch sea level rise by 2055, he said, and must prepare now to meet the challenge.

Councilman Albert Dickson called the Island’s share of money “not a lot,” but said it is of “tremendous value” to spend the requested funds in support of PEP.