Boaters, Environmentalists Call For Change… And More Funding

TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, New York, Feb. 5

BY: Andrew Wroblewski

Typically, change doesn’t just happen – and usually it comes at a price.

On Jan. 29, as Town of Huntington officials, local government leaders, environmental experts and others gathered at the Northport Yacht Club to talk about Huntington and Northport water quality, Adrienne Esposito preached just that.

A crowd gathers at the Northport Yacht Club on Jan. 29 before a panel of speakers discusses water quality in Northport and Huntington harbors.
A crowd gathers at the Northport Yacht Club on Jan. 29 before a panel of speakers discusses water quality in Northport and Huntington harbors.

“Change isn’t cheap,” Esposito, director of nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said. “We have to pay for the change.”

That change is necessary, Esposito – one of the eight panelists assembled to speak at the water quality seminar – said, because the water found in Huntington and Northport harbors just isn’t up to snuff.

Excessive nitrogen delivery from the land – which can be caused by a long list of factors, but perhaps most severely by septic tanks – is causing toxic algal blooms and low oxygen levels in the waters of Northport and Huntington, experts said.

“The 2014 Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan notes the dramatic decline in our drinking waters and our surface waters, particularly with respect to nitrogen,” Suffolk County’s Director of Planning Sarah Lansdale – who filled in for County Executive Steve Bellone as he was ill – said. “Clean water is important to Suffolk County ecologically and environmentally… Last year, [Bellone] declared our ‘Reclaim Our Water’ initiative as his top priority of his administration.”

A county grant and loan to upgrade the Northport sewage treatment plant, which was completed last summer; $150,000 in funding for the Northport Community Sustainable Fisheries Initiative, which allows for the growth of muscles in Northport and Huntington harbors in bio-filtration efforts; and recent installations of advanced septic systems that can reduce nitrogen emissions by more than 50 percent, Lansdale said, are just a few of the ways the county and local governments have been stepping up to clean up the water – but there’s still more work to be done.

“I hope people [understand] that we’ve made some pretty good strides moving forward to improve the water quality, but there’s a heck of a lot more to do,”  said Jon Ten Haagen, a member of the yacht club and one of the people who coordinated the panel, which he is hopeful will become an annual event. “We need the people who use the water to be supportive of these efforts.”

Increasing public awareness to the issue is one of the means to finding a solution that panelist Ed Carr – also Huntington’s director of maritime services – spoke of during his time. Along with tidal flushing, storm water control, increasing bivalves and the elimination of illicit discharges, Carr said, there are ways to attack the issue from multiple angles.

As far as how the public can help out, Tracy Brown – director of Western Long Island Sound Programs, Save the Sound – touched on three topics: control land use by staying active and monitoring what is being built and how it may affect things like storm run-off; collect, publish and use data to educate others and identify and eliminate pollution sources; and be a “watchdog” by looking for the “low hanging fruit of water pollution.”

“Your enforcement people can’t be here all the time,” Brown said. “If you see evidence [of pollution]… call your local authorities, take a picture and send it [in]. This is something we all have to do… it’s an all hands on deck moment if this is going to be a sustainable community out here.”

Dorian Dale, director of sustainability for the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, speaks at the Northport Yacht Club on Jan. 29 as a part of a panel gathered to discuss Northport and Huntington harbors’ water quality.
Dorian Dale, director of sustainability for the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, speaks at the Northport Yacht Club on Jan. 29 as a part of a panel gathered to discuss Northport and Huntington harbors’ water quality.

However, one of the biggest roadblocks to water quality improvement is funding.

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone was hopeful that, with the crowd gathered at the yacht club – which consisted of several officials connected to the Town of Huntington – that roadblock will be a bit easier to maneuver.

“These are the people that can make it [improving water quality] happen,” Petrone said before the panel and the gathered crowd. “And, most important, [they can] help us look for funding.”

Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills
(Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015;  A6)

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