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More than 100 Gather in Riverhead to Celebrate Plan to Preserve Long Island’s Peconic Bay

Release Date: 10/30/2002
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(#02117) New York, N.Y. – Today at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, Long Island, more than 100 residents, elected officials, government leaders and environmental group representatives celebrated the 100,000 acre Peconic Estuary and the comprehensive plan recently adopted to clean up and preserve it. The plan – called a “Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan” (CCMP) – is the result of years of work by federal, state and local agencies, organizations and residents. It will protect and restore water quality and preserve the essential habitats the Peconic provides for commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish, and those of birds, turtles, mammals and other aquatic life. Event attendees included: EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Erin M. Crotty, Suffolk County Executive Robert J. Gaffney, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., State Assemblywoman Patricia Acampora, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, the supervisors of the towns of eastern Long Island and members of the Peconic Estuary Program’s Citizens Advisory Committee. To commemorate their public commitment to protect the Peconic, attendees released thousands of baby oysters, scallops and hard clams – provided by the Cornell Marine Lab in Southold, N.Y. – into the waters off of Indian Island.

“The Peconic has been called one of the ‘last great places,’” said EPA’s Jane Kenny. “With the CCMP, the Peconic has a plan worthy of that status – a plan with actions and recommendations that are detailed and specific to this estuary. It recognizes that the Peconic is not just an ornament or jewel to be admired, but a resource from whose bounties so many people, both directly and indirectly, derive sustenance and a livelihood.”

“The Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for protecting and revitalizing the Peconic Estuary and its watershed is vital to preserving the health and vitality of this critical ecological resource,” DEC Commissioner Crotty said. “The plan reflects the strong and unified commitment of New York State, Suffolk County and the federal government to mitigating past damage to the estuary, controlling pollution, restoring aquatic habitats and protecting water quality.”

“The Estuary’s importance to Suffolk County, both economically and environmentally, cannot be overstated,” said Suffolk County Executive Robert J. Gaffney. “Through the combined efforts of the County, town state and federal governments, various environmental organizations, and numerous concerned individuals, we will ensure that this nationally recognized area will remain a place of unparalleled beauty and importance.”

Prior to the mid-1980's, the Peconic Bay was the nation’s biggest single supplier of bay scallops, providing 28% of the nation’s annual catch. From 1982 to 1996, the harvest for bay scallops was reduced from more than 500,000 lbs. a year to just over 50, representing an economic loss of well over $1 million a year for the area. This drastic reduction in the Peconic Bay scallop harvest was due in large part to Brown Tide, a recurring algal bloom that appeared for the first time in 1985 and that may be due in part to increased nutrients being deposited into the Bay. It was the appearance of the Brown Tide and its devastating effects that brought residents of eastern Long Island and government together to develop a plan to deal with Brown Tide and other problems including: the closure of shellfish beds due to pathogenic organisms; declines in finfish populations; the loss and degradation of important breeding habitats for aquatic life; low dissolved oxygen levels in Flanders Bay (the western-most part of the Peconic Bay) and the loss of open space around the Bay due to population growth and increased development.

To preserve estuaries like the Peconic Bay, Congress established the National Estuary Program in 1987 for significant estuaries threatened by pollution, development or overuse. The Peconic Bay was added to the National Estuary Program in 1992, and the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) – comprised of the public, federal, state and local interests – was formed. The unflagging commitment of the members of the PEP led to the development of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, which includes major tasks to:

    • determine how to prevent or stop brown tide algal blooms and support continued funding of brown tide research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and New York Sea Grant Institute;
    • reduce the amount of nitrogen (a nutrient in aquatic systems) from the use of fertilizers on lawns, golf courses and farms, and from sewage treatment plants and septic systems;
    • protect critical natural resource areas by land acquisition, zoning changes and other means;
    • limit shoreline hardening structures, docks and piers, which eliminate intertidal habitats;
    • protect and restore key shellfish and finfish spawning, nursery and feeding habitats, especially eelgrass beds;
    • protect the nesting and feeding habitats of shorebirds such as terns and plovers;
    • reduce contamination by pathogens (such as coliform bacteria) from stormwater runoff, malfunctioning septic systems and vessels traveling the Peconic;
    • conduct a comprehensive public education program for everyone who lives, works or plays in the Bay and its watershed;• and reduce the use of pesticides on lawns, gardens and farms.
The CCMP tasks are being carried out by the members of the Peconic Estuary Program, which include: EPA; the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation, Transportation and State; Suffolk County Departments of Health Services, Planning and Public Works; the five east end towns of Long Island – Southold, Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead and Shelter Island; the Nature Conservancy; Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; New York Sea Grant Institute; the Association of Marine Industries; the Long Island Farm Bureau; the Peconic Baykeeper; and private citizens.

Since 1993, EPA has invested $7.14 million to develop and implement some of the actions of the CCMP, in addition to approximately $1.5 million in staff resources. Since 1996, New York State has provided nearly $12 million to protect and enhance the Peconic Estuary. It is estimated that $330 million, plus an additional $10 million annually, will ultimately be needed to achieve various goals of the plan.