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Mount Sinai Harbor

Brookhaven’s current pump-out boats are showing signs of wear and will be replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

If you’ve ever seen a boat with a built-in toilet, the next question is inevitable: Where does that waste inevitably go?

Either the waste goes straight into the Long Island Sound or surrounding harbors or boaters call the Town of Brookhaven’s pump-out boats, a service provided by the town for free, to suck out the waste, according to Karl Guyer, a senior bay constable for Brookhaven.

At Brookhaven town’s Sept. 13 meeting the board voted unanimously to purchase two new pump-out boats — one for Mount Sinai Harbor and one for Port Jefferson Harbor. The total cost for both boats is $92,500 with $60,000 of that amount coming from state aid in grant funding from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. The town is supplying $32,500 in matching funds from serial bonds, according to town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

The town operates four pump-out boats, including two on the South Shore and two on the North Shore, which are located in Port Jeff and Mount Sinai harbors. All these boats were purchased in 2006, and Guyer said it was time all of them were replaced. The two on the South Shore were replaced this year, and the North Shore boats will be replaced early in 2019, according to Guyer.

“They’ve been in service for quite a number of years and they’re at the end of their life span,” Guyer said.

The pump-out boat in Port Jeff Harbor is showing signs of long use. The paint on the boat’s deck has been worn down by years of work, and there are cracks showing in some of the plastic hatches around the boat. William Demorest, the bay constable for Port Jeff Harbor, said the new boats will be made from aluminum, which should give them a longer life span.

The pump-out boat service is widely used by the boaters in both harbors, and on a busy day town employees operating the boats can service hundreds of boats in a single day. People can call for a pump out by radioing the constable’s office on channel 73.

There is a manual boat waste pump in a barge inside Port Jeff Harbor, though the constable said 75 percent of the over 700 boats that come to port on summer weekends use the pump-out boat service. After the pump-out boats are docked for the winter, all North Shore boaters are required to manually pump out their own waste.

Bonner said these boats do a major service in cleaning out the tanks of many boaters, because dumping the waste into the coastal waters only adds to the islands growing water pollution problem.

“Not only would there be waste in the water but the nitrogen load would be crazy,” Bonner said. “It would take several tides to flush that out.”

All the water from Conscience Bay through Port Jefferson Harbor as well as the entire Long Island Sound is within mandated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency No-Discharge Zones, meaning it is illegal to dump any boat waste into the surrounding waters.

While Demorest said he hasn’t seen people dumping their waste into the water himself, he has heard reports of it being done. He said he believed the vast majority use the free pump-out service.

“If we don’t see it, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Many areas of the North Shore are experiencing waves of hypoxia, an increase of nitrogen in the water that deprives sea life, both plants and animals, of oxygen. During a press conference Sept. 25, co-director of the Center for Clean Water Technology Christopher Gobler and other researchers from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership concluded there were cases of harmful algae blooms in harbors from Mount Sinai all the way to Huntington, another symptom of excess nitrogen in the water. Most of that nitrogen has come from cesspools and septic tanks from people’s homes slowly leaking into the surrounding waters.

The boats usually operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday mostly by high school and college-aged summer employees, according to Guyer. The pump-out boat service ends on Columbus Day, Oct. 8.

The failing jetties have been cited as a contributor to erosion at Port Jefferson Village's East Beach

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Officials believe one of the few things that stands in the way of further erosion of Port Jefferson Village’s East Beach, which sits on the Long Island Sound at the end of Village Beach Road, are jetties, or rock pilings meant to protect the shoreline, at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor, just east of the Port Jeff beach. With the two town-owned structures in need of restoration, Brookhaven is looking for some additional funding.

The Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously at a July 12 meeting to submit grant applications to the New York State Green Innovations Grant Program and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for additional money to work on the jetty reconstruction project.

The $8.6 million jetty project has been in the works for several years, but only truly got underway in 2016. The town is seeking reimbursement of about $1.3 million through the grants. The resulting $7.3 million net cost would be financed through an existing $3 million Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally provided through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and $4.3 million from a previous town bond resolution.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the old east and west jetties have holes from rocks collapsing, which allows sand to stream through. Age has not been kind to either structure, and the seaward sides of both jetties remain submerged at high tide. Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy caused further damage to the jetties over subsequent years.

With the money the town already has along with these new grant bids, Bonner said she is optimistic reconstruction of the jetties will start some time in 2019.

“Those holes create a current at high tide that allows sand to get through,” Bonner said. “We are completely committed to taking all the necessary steps to make sure this gets done right.”

Brookhaven is the only Long Island municipality in charge of jetties, as the Army Corps of Engineers maintains all others, according to Bonner.

Brookhaven has also hired Melville-based Nelson & Pope Engineers & Land Surveyor, PLLC to at a cost of $151,800 for help in the Mount Sinai Harbor dredging project. The dredging will widen the inlet and relieve the pressure of the water hitting the jetties at high tide, according to Bonner. Widening the inlet will help flush out Mount Sinai Harbor, which would lead to cleaner water for both fish living in the harbor and the town’s shellfish at its mariculture facility.

The failing jetties have had an impact on the shoreline of Port Jeff Village. The bottom 15 feet of the bluff along East Beach had fallen 260 feet west of the rock revetment, according to a 2016 letter from Stony Brook-based GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by the village, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion. GEI also stated that repairs to the jetties should be the first step in alleviating erosion issues.

Bonner said some of the preliminary work already done has helped relieve the flow of water coming into the inlet and through the jetties, but until the real reconstruction starts the erosion of the local beach remains a problem.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Mount Sinai Harbor contributes millions of dollars to community through tourism.

“It’s a very special harbor,” Anker said. “Repairing the channel should be a primary concern.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is as happy as a clam to have received a $400,000 grant from New York State for use in its shellfish hatchery located at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Brookhaven’s Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced June 20 that the state Department of Environmental Conservation awarded it a grant to expand and upgrade the Mariculture Facility at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Long Island Coastal Steward President Denis Mellett shows growing shellfish at Brookhaven’s mariculture facility. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said shellfish play an important role in cleaning the town’s coastal waters.

“All the seeding that we do — and the ability to grow more — just contributes to cleaning the harbor even more,” Bonner said. “You put a couple million oysters in there, you have your own natural filtering system.”

Oysters and other shellfish help remove harmful nutrient pollutants in the water like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide. These shellfish also feed on algae, which improves water clarity.

Romaine said the grant will fund an upgrade to the facility’s power supply through PSEG, which will run new power lines and poles to the facility, a $275,000 operation. The grant also upgrades motors on existing water pumps to 20 horsepowers and allows for the installation of a new floating upweller system, or FLUPSY, where immature seedlings can be put into the water and be protected from predators. The unique design of FLUPSY incorporates a basket/silo combination to allow easy access to seed and extend the oysters further into the water column, creating more water pressure and higher water flow. Water flow from individual silos is dumped into a centrally located trough with a well and mounted pump to eliminate cavitation.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra checks oysters cages in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

Romaine said repopulating shoreline with shellfish will restore Long Island’s shellfish industry.

“It’s critical to have the ability for people to make a living collecting oysters and clams,” Romaine said. “[Oyster and clam fishermen] have had hard times, and these shellfish would restore that industry.”

The hatchery currently produces 1 million oyster seeds, 2 million clam seeds and 70,000 scallop seeds. The grant funds will enable the town to purchase an additional 2 million new seed clams. The hatchery is expecting to yield approximately 12 million hard clam seed and 3 million oysters by 2019, according
to Romaine.

The most recent group of oysters will be kept in cages over the winter and grow over another season, which starts in spring and runs into late fall. When they reach adult sizes, at about 1.5 inches large, they will be moved into protected plots along the North Shore.

Though town employees operate the Mount Sinai facility, the nonprofit Coastal Steward of Long Island is partnered with the Town of Brookhaven to use the hatchery for its educational shellfish monitoring programs. The town grows the bulk of the oysters inside its facility several yards beyond the beach sands, but the nonprofit helps to monitor the shellfish health inside Mount Sinai Harbor under normal conditions.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra, president Denis Mellett and treasurer Mark Campo at Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We clean them, we maintain them and we help them get to adulthood before they’re released,” Coastal Steward President Denis Mellett said. “Unlike the town we’re not trying to breed a million oysters — we’re
managing 50,000 oysters that we can look at and see how they’re growing, measure them and check the mortality.”

Bruce Folz, Coastal Steward director of shellfish restoration, said this year’s crop of shellfish have had better than average growth, and that the group is excited to see if the upgrades will help accelerate growth and
reduce mortality.

“They are important for structure and tidal erosion of the beaches,” Coastal Steward Treasurer Mark Campo said. “That is in addition to all the other benefits, such as the water filtering they provide.”

The grant is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) $10.4 million state initiative to improve Long Island’s water quality and coastal resilience by expanding shellfish populations. Other grants were awarded to the towns of East Hampton, Islip and Hempstead.

Brookhaven town board members unanimously adopted a $400,000 bond June 14 in case the grant money does not arrive by this fall, which is when renovation is expected to start, and continue through Spring 2019.

As members of the Mount Sinai Yacht Club in Cedar Beach came out June 10 for the 15th annual blessing of the fleet, most understood, as old of a tradition it is, the blessing is time-honored way to guarantee
a successful boating season.

“This is for the entire season to make sure [the club’s members] have a safe and fun boating season,” said Reverend Jerry Nedelka, Venerable Canon for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. He has conducted
the blessing of the fleet ceremony for nearly two decades. “This is a great opportunity for fellowship among friends and club members.”

This year Nedelka and Reverend Francis Lasrado of Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, held up a cross and gave blessings to the many boats, both large and small, of the yacht club’s members as they crossed in front of the marina. The reverends even blessed the Town of Brookhaven’s pump out boat as it crawled its way across the harbor to the mouth of the Long Island Sound.

The blessing was attended by club trustee Bill Dick along with various local government officials including
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

“This … shows our strong, community-focused mindset,” Dick said.

Anker said the club plays a big park protecting the local harbor front and environment, especially when it comes to the repair of the channel that travels from Mount Sinai Harbor into the Sound, which is constantly affected by erosion and storms.

“They are good stewards of our environment,” Anker said. “They are an anchor in the marina community, and
they have been instrumental in efforts to repair the channel.”

Russell Burke, a professor of biology at Hofstra University, shows how newly state-mandated terrapin excluder devices keep turtles out while crabs can still get in. Photo by Kyle Barr

It has been a slow crawl saving Long Island’s turtles, but local conservation groups are hoping new state regulations will speed up the process.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Long Island environmental groups gathered May 23 at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip to celebrate new rules requiring crab cages — used in Long Island’s coastal waters including many of the bays, harbors and rivers that enter Long Island Sound — to have “terrapin excluder devices” (TEDs) on all entrances. As carnivores, terrapins are attracted to bait fish used in commercial, or what’s known as Maryland style crab traps or “pots.” As a result, male and female turtles of all sizes push their way through the entrance funnels and end up drowning.

John Turner, a conservation policy advocate for the Seatuck Environmental Association, shows the North Shore areas where turtles are getting caught and drowning in crab cages. Photo by Kyle Barr

“With each and every season these traps are not required to have TEDs, there are likely hundreds of terrapins that are drowning,” said John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association, which operates the Islip center. “To me, one of the signs of a real civilized society is how we treat other life-forms. We haven’t treated terrapins very well.”

He said in Stony Brook Harbor alone there are dozens, maybe hundreds of terrapins that will spend the winter in the mud, emerging once the water runs up high enough. Turner said many of the North Shore areas that are home to these turtles, like Setauket Harbor, Conscience Bay, Port Jefferson Harbor, Mount Sinai Harbor and Nissequogue River, play a key role in preserving the species.

“In contrast to where I am in South Jersey, I can go by the canals and I can see a dozen [terrapin] heads bobbing up and down,” said James Gilmore, director of the marine resources division at the state DEC. “Here, it’s very rare to see one. Hopefully these new rules will help us see more.”

Gilmore said the DEC began working on changing state regulations in 2013 but have known long before there was a problem.

Carl LoBue, The Nature Conservancy’s New York ocean program director, said it was in the late 1990s he’d witnessed recreational crab traps in Stony Brook Harbor. One day he lifted a cage out of the water while trying to move his landlord’s boat and saw it was filled with trapped terrapins. Two were still alive, but five
had already drowned.

“With each and every season these traps are not required to have TEDs, there are likely hundreds of terrapins that are drowning.”

— John Turner

“I’m sure the crabber wasn’t intent to kill turtles,” LoBue said. “But when I looked across the bay at the 60 or something crab traps this person had set, I was crushed thinking of the terrapins drowning at that very moment.”

In the early 2000s terrapins became a popular meal in New York, but the harvest of those turtles led to a massive decrease in population, especially the diamondback terrapin, which was identified as a species of greatest conservation need in the 2015 New York State Wildlife Action Plan. In September 2017 the DEC passed regulations banning the commercial harvest of diamondbacks.

Terrapin population has slowly increased since then, but researchers say there’s still little known about the population, like life expectancy or habits while in water. The species has a very slow birth rate, with low local clutches of 10 or so eggs — sometimes only one or two of which hatch and mature. 

Russell Burke, a professor of biology at Hofstra University, said terrapins could live very long lives, pointing to older specimens he has seen living to 60 years old, but he estimated some could be twice that age. While Burke said it’s hard to estimate the total population on Long Island, he said in Jamaica Bay alone, he knows there are approximately 3,500 adult females.

Terrapin, or turtles, are carnivores, attracted to fish typically used to catch crab. Photo by Kyle Barr

The TED devices are 4 3/4 inches by 1 3/4 inches, an exact measurement, to ensure that while crabs can get through, turtles cannot. According to Kim McKown, leader of the Marine Invertebrate and Protected Resources Unit at the state DEC, the small, plastic TEDs cost $10 for the three needed to secure a normal crab trap. The cost exponentially increases depending on how many traps a fisherman has, with some owning up to 1,000 traps.

Turner said his organization used its own funds and purchased 5,000 TEDs and gifted them to the DEC. The state agency is giving them to Long Island crab fishermen on a first come, first served basis.

Commercial crab fisherman Fred Chiofolo, who hunts in Brookhaven Town along the South Shore, experimented with TEDs on his own for years before the regulations were passed. He said the devices
even improved the number of crabs caught.

“It made a significant difference with the pots that had them versus the pots that didn’t,” Chiofolo said. “Last year I put them in every pot I had — about 200 of them. I’m not going to lie it’s a lot of work to put them in, but we don’t want to catch the turtle. I don’t want them, and [the TED] does keep them out.”

PRETTY IN PINK Elisa Hendrey of Sound Beach captured this stunning image on her iPhone on Sept. 28. She writes, “This photo was taken at sunset at Mount Sinai Harbor, one of my favorite spots for viewing the setting sun.”

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

PARTY OF SEVEN Jane Edsall spotted this family of mute swans swimming in Mount Sinai Harbor two weeks ago. She writes, “I am a resident of Mount Sinai and have enjoyed the harbor and its wildlife my whole life.” Brought to this country from Europe in the mid-1800s to adorn city parks and large estates, mute swans are known to mate for life. The cygnets will stay with their parents through the first winter.

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Police officers and firefighters from the Mount Sinai Fire Department rescued three hunters after their boat capsized in Mount Sinai Harbor the morning of Jan. 22.

James Knipe and his son, also named James, along with Kendrick Pisano, were duck hunting in a boat in Mount Sinai Harbor when their vessel took on water and overturned. After the three entered the water, they clung to the overturned boat and the elder Knipe, 47, called 911 on his cell phone.

Suffolk Police notified the United States Coast Guard and the Mount Sinai Fire Department. When Sixth Precinct officers arrived on scene, they observed all three clinging to the overturned boat and holding onto life jackets. Members of the Mount Sinai Fire Department launched an inflatable vessel and rescued the younger Knipe, 17, and Pisano, 16, from the water. Suffolk Police Marine Bureau Officers John Castorf and Christopher DeFeo, aboard Marine November, pulled James Knipe from the water.

All three victims were brought to the boat ramp and transported to local hospitals for treatment of exposure and hypothermia. Pisano, of Miller Place, was taken to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson and the Knipes, of Middle Island, were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Marine Bureau officers recovered and secured the vessel, the victims’ belongings and three shotguns from the harbor.

The water temperature at the time of the incident was approximately 45 degrees. The Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau reminds boaters and hunters that New York State Law requires that personal flotation devices be worn at all times on vessels less than 21 feet in length, from November 1 to May 1.

The Mount Sinai Harbor, above, will undergo jetty reconstruction to make navigation easier and bring back winter shellfishing. File photo by Erika Karp

The Town of Brookhaven stands stronger than ever in the midst of a major economic lag in Suffolk County as it enters the new year.

During the final Brookhaven town board meeting of last year, on Dec. 15, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced several large bond resolutions, including one for $4.5 million to pay for the dredging and restoration of Lily Lake in Yaphank and another for $12.3 million to pay for the resurfacing of various town-owned roads. These bonds will help move forward the long-term capital projects within his approved budget for 2017 — to the concern of some residents in attendance unsure as to why so much money was being proposed all at once.

The projects will be made possible with the help of bonds secured by the Town of Brookhaven, which Supervisor Ed Romaine helped secure. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

But the supervisor insists that taxpayers in Brookhaven have nothing to worry about in terms of fiscal spending.

“This is no different than what we’ve done every other year,” Romaine explained in a phone interview. “Each year, we have to authorize bond resolutions, have to go to bond counsel, and then float the bond [into the bond market] because long-term assets are what you borrow for. We need the money in 2017 and we want to get a head start on that.”

In fact, he said, Brookhaven’s borrowing in terms of bonding out is down and the township pays off its bonds well before their maturity dates in most cases.

“We don’t spend money we don’t have,” Romaine said. “When we go to bond, we go to bond very cautiously, we try to pay off our bonds very quickly, and we don’t believe in taking on too much debt.”

For instance, Romaine said, Brookhaven is the only town in all of Long Island that has paid off all of its pension debt.

“We have reserve funds for when the town landfill is closed, [as well as] a snow reserve fund of up to $2 million on top of the $6 million budgeted for snow in case we get a really heavy year,” he said.

While most every municipality in Suffolk County struggles with tremendous debt, Brookhaven has been prosperous. Standard and Poor’s Financial Services assigned its AAA credit rating to the town, the highest designation issued by the New York City-based agency. The AAA rating means Brookhaven has been recognized as having strong capacity to meet financial commitments.

It was its top-tier credit rating that allowed Brookhaven to acquire so much money for capital projects and low interest rates.

“When we go to bond, we go to bond very cautiously, we try to pay off our bonds very quickly, and we don’t believe in taking on too much debt.”

—Ed Romaine

“Where a lot of Suffolk County has been downgraded, we’re the largest town in Suffolk County and we’re getting upgraded to the highest level possible, and I think that speaks to the supervisor’s leadership and fiscal discipline,” Department of Waste Management Commissioner Matt Miner said. “We’re close to reducing [more than] $30 million in pipeline debt … and on the operating budget, he’s been very disciplined in how to spend taxpayer money, and we’re complying with the New York State property tax cap. We’re one of the few municipalities to do so.”

As for the planned projects described in the bond resolutions, Romaine said the ones most important and expensive for the North Shore will be revitalizing Lily Lake to get rid of invasive weeds and restore it back as a recreational haven, reconstructing the jetties in Mount Sinai Harbor to make boat navigation easier and help bring back shellfishing in the winter and continuing to work with the highway department to improve and pave roads.

Other resolutions included the issuance of $2.5 million to pay the cost of various original improvements to the town landfill, including, but not limited to, gas management, odor control and leachate control improvements and $600,000 to pay the cost of acquisition and installation of various equipment for use at town facilities.

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