By Phil Corso

They’ve covered a lot of ground — and water — in their first year, but members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force are only getting started.

The all-volunteer Setauket Harbor Task Force, led by residents and cofounders Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman, held its first general meeting on Oct. 29, 2014, and meetings have grown to host nearly 100 residents. Since the first meeting, members of the group have become a known force for North Shore environmentalism, and their efforts have washed upon the shores of civic leaders, elected officials and beyond. The group has spent the past year studying the harbor, influencing the public debate surrounding it and garnering public support for its preservation and sustainability.

For their contributions to the North Shore’s environmental discussion, members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force have been named 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

On the ground level, civic members in the Setauket and Stony Brook communities have become big fans of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and have continuously teamed up with the group to help promote its mission of preserving the communities’ waterways. Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, said he stood behind the Task Force’s work with hopes that it could help bring back a strong and vibrant Long Island economy based on the sustainable harvesting of coastal shorelines.

“We have a sordid and shameful history of polluting our Long Island waterways,” Nuzzo said. “For years, scientists and environmentalists have been warning of the harmful effects of nitrogen and other contaminants in our water. But it is only relatively recently that the politicians have begun discussing remediating the situation, thanks in part to advocacy groups like the Setauket Harbor Task Force.”

The Task Force has been hosting regular walking tours of the harbor and its surrounding environmental beauties with hopes of reminding the community just how important it is to maintain.

Some of the group’s key concerns have included making sure the town pays attention to the road runoff retention basin that forms near the inlet at Setauket Harbor and maintaining park property just to the west of the area’s footbridge.

The Task Force also launched its first Setauket Harbor Day back in September — a free event held at the Shore Road dock, established to inspire the community to join the Force in its efforts to clean and preserve the harbor.

Since the group’s inception, members have been working hand-in-hand with elected officials from various levels of government, and so far their messages have been heard loud and clear.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has been a consistent voice in the North Shore’s environmental discussion, having held previous positions as a geologist and biologist before becoming a public servant. And with his expertise, Englebright referred to the Setauket Harbor Task Force as an epicenter of community pride that has made a tremendous impact on the North Shore.

“We have a sense of purpose now to work between our civic community and the town and the state — it’s just wonderful,” he said. “I guess everybody would hope that government would do all of this on its own, but the additional attention and focus being brought by citizens who have taken this initiative on is just terrific. So my sense is that by establishing the Setauket Harbor Task Force, and providing a forum where issues that relate to the overall health of the ecosystem in our harbor can be discussed, we have a matter of focus.”

The group has received support from Brookhaven officials as well. Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the Task Force represents the best of Brookhaven.

“These are citizens coming together and recognizing a common problem and looking to make a positive difference,” Romaine said. “We are prepared to spend money to enact some of the things they are trying to achieve. This is a commitment and what helps us is that we have partners on the local level — people who step up to the plate.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) echoed those sentiments after spending the year working closely with the Task Force.

“The formation of the Setauket Harbor Task Force is a significant step in addressing some of the environmental concerns in the area,” she said. “It is a vehicle for the community to work together to assist in preserving our harbor and improving our water quality. I thank the members of the Task Force for all of their hard work to bring awareness of the needs of the Harbor to the community. I had the privilege of attending the first Setauket Harbor Day this past summer, which I believe was a success, as it was both entertaining and educational.”

Looking ahead, Englebright said he’d hope to see the group follow through in working with the Town of Brookhaven to see what kinds of progress can be achieved in addressing road runoff issues and restoring the ecological balance of some of the most disrupted areas along the harbor.

“The fact that the town is planning to dredge the basin is, in part, a response to the initiative of local citizens,” Englebright said. “That partnership is really all too rare, and it’s ideally what government should be doing. I hope the town continues to realize that this is a wonderful and promising partnership.”

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