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Councilman campaigns for clean water program

“Mother Nature is winning the battle,” Councilman Jim Colligan told the Town Board about seizing the initiative to address climate change.

He was speaking at the Oct. 31 work session about the importance of continuing to support efforts by the Peconic Estuary Partnership  (PEP) and New York Sea Grant program to respond to sea level rises already affecting local waters. Mr. Colligan credited Police Chief Jim Read for being instrumental in getting North and South ferry companies to upgrade their landings to deal with rising sea levels.

Both companies were already invested in raising ramps to higher levels to ensure boats can dock in foul weather, especially during severe storms.

Mr. Colligan called on town officials to walk shorelines to see areas most in need of protection. For years, the councilman has been shepherding efforts to protect Reel Point from being lost to dangerous wave action that sweeps across from Point Judith, R.I., eroding the spit of land that protects the shores around Coecles Harbor. Now he’s not confident there is enough money, time or resources to beat back sea level rises in many areas around the Island.

But if there is hope, he said he’s convinced it lies with strong partnerships among East End towns and villages, and that lies with the PEP and New York Sea Grant programs.

On Oct. 18, the two groups met on Shelter Island with representatives from area towns about the need for resilient communities to prepare for climate change, vital steps to ensure clean water for the health and safety of the ecosystem, for safe recreation and to allow abundant and diverse wildlife to thrive.

Numbers already show a 6-inch rise in sea level, and by 2050, it’s expected to be 16 inches.

PEP has put forth a set of climate vulnerability goals:

• Habitat protection — Provide buffers for migration and recharge; protect existing habitat; identify areas of reclamation for habitat migration; and prioritize natural engineering resilient/sustainable infrastructure.

• Water quality protection — Reduce incidents of dissolved oxygen stress; prevent non-point source pollutant discharge into the Peconic Estuary; reduce incidents of harmful algal blooms; reduce pathogen loading; and reduce toxics and pharmacological products.

• Maintain and enhance species diversity — Promote biodiversity; reintroduce native species; and control non-native invasive species.

• Groundwater protection — Maintain existing and protect future buffers to prevent saltwater intrusion to the groundwater table and protect upland buffer zones.

• Recreational opportunities — Provide and protect recreational access and promote and protect such activities.

• Sustainable fisheries — Protect and enhance habitat and food sources and promote sustainability through public education.

• Renewable/environmental infrastructure — Fund project to sustain living shorelines and promote awareness through public education.

• Provide and protect cultural resources and promote and protect cultural activities.

Failure to meet those priorities in the face of increasing droughts and ocean acidification will affect the sustainability of shellfish, fish and other species.

Joyce  Novak, Ph.D., PEP Executive Director, is looking to put together a Core Assessment Committee of six people, one from each of the five East End towns and one from Brookhaven.

A workshop is being scheduled in January 2024 for this group and the next Town Board will need to nominate someone to serve on the Core Assessment Committee.