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Whitman Puts Plan to Preserve Long Island’s Peconic Bay into Effect

Release Date: 12/03/2001
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(#01141) New York, N.Y. – EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has approved a comprehensive plan to clean up and preserve Long Island’s Peconic Bay – the 100,000-acre estuary separating the two "forks" of the eastern part of the island. The plan – called a "Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan" – is the result of years of work by federal, state and local agencies, organizations and residents, and once implemented, will protect and restore water quality and preserve the essential habitats it provides for commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish, and those of birds, turtles, mammals and other aquatic life. Administrator Whitman’s signature on the plan follows the concurrence of Governor George E. Pataki earlier this year, and launches the conservation and management program laid out in the plan.

"This plan is an excellent example of the commitment by the citizens of New York, in partnership with their state and federal governments, to the promise of cleaner water and better habitat for fish and wildlife in Peconic Bay," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "This undertaking will ensure that future generations have the same outdoor memories to cherish as we have today. I am pleased that this cooperative conservation effort will now move forward."

"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," Governor Pataki 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."

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 nationally 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 by signing, Administrator Whitman has formally put into effect. The plan includes following 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.
Many of the tasks mentioned above are already underway 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 Group for the South Fork; 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.

EPA supports the Peconic Estuary Program with annual grants of approximately $300,000. In total, EPA has invested $6.5 million thus far to develop and implement some of the actions of the CCMP. It is estimated that $330 million, plus an additional $10 million annually, will ultimately be needed from a number of sources to achieve various goals of the plan.

EPA supports the Peconic Estuary Program with annual grants of approximately $300,000. In total, EPA has invested $6.5 million thus far to develop and implement some of the actions of the CCMP. It is estimated that $330 million, plus an additional $10 million annually, will ultimately be needed from a number of sources to achieve various goals of the plan.