09/24/12 4:00pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop during a press conference Monday in the Village of Old Field. Federal and state environmental officials announced that 35 municipalities and community groups in New York and Connecticut will receive grants totaling over $1.6 million

Congressman Tim Bishop and other federal and state officials announced Monday that 35 municipalities and community groups in New York and Connecticut will receive grants totaling over $1.6 million to help fund projects aimed at improving water quality within the Long Island Sound.

The grants are awarded annually through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, a public-private grant program that currently pools funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Wells Fargo.

Officials said the 35 projects will open up water passages for fish, as well as restore 390 acres of fish and wildlife habitat along the waterfront. Fifteen grants totaling about $913,200 were awarded to groups in New York.

During a press conference in the Village of Old Field, officials announced that Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Peconic Green Growth, and the University of Connecticut were among the winners of the grant monies.

Mr. Bishop described partnerships between governmental entities and community groups as “critical” due to the current economic climate.

“The EPA and funding are under assault,” he said. “If we are going to proceed, as we must, we need to see to it that the environment we pass on is at least as good if not better than what we inherited. [To] protect the quality of life here on Long Island, both in our surface waters and our ground water, we’re going to need partnerships.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension received a $128,000 grant to help fund a nearly $330,000 project called “Engaging Vineyards to Implement Water Quality Improvement.” According to the proposal, Cornell Cooperative will develop a state-of-the-art pest and nutrient management pilot program aimed at improving water quality through reducing pesticide use at six wineries.

Becky Wiseman of Cornell said her group is in the process of finalizing a list of wineries that will participate in the program.

“We created this comprehensive idea for the vineyard industry, because it will dovetail nicely with other sustainability projects on Long Island,” she said.

In addition, Cornell Cooperative received a $95,000 grant to help pay for its “Marine Meadows Eelgrass Restoration Program.” The nearly $200,000 project includes organizing 400 volunteers to transplant eelgrass at different locations along the Sound.

The Peconic Green Growth, a not-for-profit organization focused on issues that integrate environment and community, received a $60,000 grant to help fund a nearly $150,000 decentralized wastewater treatment pilot project. The group has proposed that a solution to treating wastewater without the fear of high-density development is a “cluster” approach to sewering as opposed to a running a massive centralized system. The group is in the process of finding communities interested in taking part of a decentralized pilot program through Natural Systems Utilities, a New Jersey-based company that specializes in alternative wastewater systems.

The University of Connecticut received a $40,000 grant to help fund a more than $70,000 project to develop a management plan to remove invasive plants from seven acres at Great Gull Island, which is part of Southold Town, in order increase nesting habitat.

EPA officials said there is a review process associated with each project in order to monitor progress and success rates. Those reviews are expected to take place within the year.

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09/18/12 4:00pm

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister during his presentation onTuesday.

The state of nitrogen loading in Suffolk County’s bays has reached crisis proportions, says Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, who, as part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, announced plans to fight against major sources of groundwater pollution.

At a press conference at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge in Quogue Tuesday, Mr. McAllister and his attorney, Reed Super, announced that they just submitted a petition to the New York State DEC asking for modifications to 1,338 State Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (SPDES) permits for sewage treatment and septic systems in Suffolk County.

Mr. Super said these systems are under federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act because they are point source discharges to groundwater that is used by Long Islanders for their drinking water supply.

He said 79 of the sewage treatment plants and 796 of the septic systems that have SPDES permits in Suffolk County discharge directly to groundwater that is already not meeting drinking water standards. Four of the septic systems discharge directly to impaired surface waters and 70 discharge to groundwater that is directly hydrologically connected to surface waters.

Mr. Super said the septic system permits apply to systems with holding tanks of 1,000 gallons or larger, more than three times the size of the average residential system, and are used at large hotels, restaurants and other commercial establishments.

Mr. McAllister said the county’s Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan, released last year, was quickly shoved under the rug, despite the fact that it showed nitrogen concentrations are increasing exponentially in Long Island’s aquifers.

He said the study proved that 70 percent of the nitrogen in the Great South Bay was due to wastewater, and said he believes the same percentage is likely due to wastewater in the Peconic Bays, though other scientists have claimed the nitrogen levels were due to atmospheric deposition of nitrogen in rainwater.

Mr. McAllister added that the drinking water standard that requires nitrogen levels of less than 10 milligrams per liter is 20 times higher than the level needed to have a healthy marine ecosystem.

“This legal initiative is an attempt to get the State of New York to do its job,” he said, adding that he hopes the state will revisit the permits and ask the polluters to use new methods to control pollution, including the Nitrex and BESST small-scale sewage treatment systems, both of which are approved by the county but can be costly to install.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine, who was also at the press conference, said he has tried to get the county legislature to use part of the quarter-percent county sales tax for drinking water protection to fund grants to property owners who want to upgrade their septic systems. He said the legislature refused to consider the idea.

“We have huge challenges ahead and I fully intend to continue what I’m doing [on this issue],” said Mr. Romaine, who recently announced he is running for Brookhaven Town Supervisor.

“Not all of this county is going to be sewered, nor should it be,” he said. “We have to provide funding for people to replace their systems.

“Kevin’s absolutely right about the policies of Suffolk County. We’ve allowed the proliferation of inexpensive, inefficient sewage treatment plants.”

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