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Port Jefferson Harbor

Michael Schwarting presents the study's findings to village officials. Photo by Kyle Barr

If Port Jefferson experiences another “100 year flood” sooner than a century, then at least it knows where the water is coming from.

Professionals from Port Jefferson-based Campani and Schwarting Architects attended the Aug. 19 village meeting showing map after map of where the problem areas for Port Jeff flooding are, and offered suggestions, some big and some small, of how to combat the issue of flooding.

Michael Schwarting said many of the issues are due to an excess of hardscape, both building roofs and roads, and a significant lack of permeable spaces, especially in areas where the depth of the water table is less than 11 feet below ground. Forty percent of village property is non-water-permeable.

“There’s a fair density of buildings that contribute to the groundwater conditions,” he said. “That contributes in bringing water from the watershed to the lowest point.”

In the three-square-mile village, with a population of just over 8,000, the vast majority of land sits within the Port Jefferson watershed area.

The village tapped the PJ-based architectural firm back in February to construct a water management and storm surge study. While the study still needs to be finalized, with map after map, the architect discussed numerous issues contributing to flooding. One such map described how there were numerous roads that sloped down toward Port Jefferson Harbor. Some roads house catch basins to collect the water before it reaches trouble points, some streets have too few or no catch basins while others had more than is likely necessary.

Last September, Port Jefferson was bowled over with water, with nearly 4 inches of rain collected in a short span of time. Buildings like the Port Jefferson firehouse and the venerable Theatre Three were drowned in 3 to 4 feet of water, causing thousands of dollars in damages in the case of the theater.

The architect said what is likely a major cause of this is due to piping systems that draw a lot of water to the end of Barnum Avenue and the driveway to the Port Jefferson high school. Schwarting added there are stories of when that pipe was being built, children used to walk to school along it, meaning the system sits close to the surface.

“All of these pipes, some coming from North Country Road to Main Street with a lot of catch basins are contributing to this one point at Barnum and high school,” he said.

Mayor Margot Garant said they have received a report from Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting about the pipe running from that culvert to the outfall pipe behind village hall. That report said there was sediment buildup at a low point in the pipe, also showing the pipe had “a pinch and a jog” that leads down toward the harbor. 

In June, Port Jefferson Village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding. 

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds not to exceed $1 million from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies. 

The architects point out numerous small projects that can be done around the village to aid in flood mitigation, mostly in increasing permeable surfaces around the village. This would include rain gardens and bioswales, a landscape element designed to concentrate or remove debris and pollution out of surface runoff water, permeable paving systems, tree trenches and bioretention planters, acting as plant bed medians with grooves cut in the curb allowing water to drain in and flow into local outlets.

Though the architectural firm also endorsed several major projects, such as “daylighting” Mill Creek and the firm’s own plan proposal, given to the village in 2013, to completely remake the Brookhaven Town parking lot and boat ramp, adding significantly more greenery and passive recreational space in what is now hardscape. 

FIERY SKY

Jerry Allen of Middle Island took this picture at Port Jefferson Harbor in June on his iPhone. He writes, ‘As has so often been the case this summer, the skies suddenly darkened with thunder and lightning in the distance. The storm passed over, however leaving in it’s wake blazing skies, twinkling lights on a fishing boat heading back and an unexpected brilliant sunset for all to enjoy.’

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Cadets in the Naval Academy’s Summer Navigation and Seamanship Training Block toss a line as they prepare to dock in Port Jeff Harbor Aug. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

From the west, a storm came in. Five U.S. Navy boats watched the clouds sweep in from the opposite direction they sailed, with lightning flicking out of dark skies. 

With the direction of the officers on the small 44-foot crafts, they knew what to do.

Two made it into Port Jefferson Harbor through the night of Aug. 7, while the other three stayed out in the Sound beyond the harbor. People on the vessel Valiant said they saw gusts of wind driving them at 38 knots, then staying in the mid 20s for a time after that. With two reefs in the mainsail and no jib, the boat, carrying eight midshipmen and two other officers, was as light and fast as a bird over a rough swell.

The Intrepid sailing into Port Jeff Harbor on Aug. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We did hit that storm for a little while; for an hour and a half it was pretty rough,” said senior officer first class Joe Llewellyn, laughing, “It was a bit of a thrill … these guys,” he looked to the other young midshipmen, “handled the boat great though.”

The rapid entry into Port Jefferson Harbor was part of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Summer Navigation and Seamanship Training Block, where Lt. Matt Vernam, a commanding officer on one of the vessels, took around 40 young midshipmen (despite the name, it consists of both men and women) from Annapolis, Maryland, to Delaware Bay into New York City Harbor, where the cadets watched the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower roll by, before climbing up the Hudson and visiting the USS Intrepid. The boats then sailed down the East River and made good sail until they came outside Port Jefferson during the storm. 

The program that Vernam helps run, called the Offshore Sail Training Squadron, is meant to give cadets a leadership experience. Four midshipmen are up on deck at a time and are instructed to listen to advice as they carry out operations of the vessel, even getting the vessel safely into dock through their own muscle and sweat.

“We try to let these guys run the boat and exercise leadership,” Vernam said. 

George Hoffman, cofounder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, had helped suggest Port Jeff as a place the sailors could visit on their tour. When the boats came in the Thursday morning, they did so with a police boat escort.

Vernam, a graduate of Shoreham-Wading River High School and a Wading River native, said it was nice to be back to his home on the North Shore. His father, Don Vernam, was acting on the Valiant as a civilian volunteer, and his family reunion would include his mother who came up to greet them both on the harbor.

“It’s nice having two local bodies to plan this,” he said.

Rob LoScalzo, a Wading River resident, helped contact the Navy to have the midshipman take their boats into Port Jefferson. His son Mike, a fellow SWR graduate, had just graduated from the Navy academy in May. 

LoScalzo said he has been trying to get the Navy to Long Island for years, originally trying with the Village of Patchogue but the keel was too long for the harbor. 

“With all the naval history that’s around here, with the Culper Spy Ring, to the Taylor Brewster, to the shipbuilding — its rich history — we’re just so excited that we could piece it together.”

The Town of Brookhaven allowed the visitors to use the dock space, and the public was able to visit for tours on the vessels.  

People on the Port Jefferson Tall Ship Committee, who have been working to bring tall, masted sailing ships into Port Jefferson Harbor, watched the tall ship Lady Maryland sail away on the morning’s tide, listening for the cannon shot to announce its departure. Chris Ryon, village historian, said he expects the historical schooner Amistad to make its appearance once again in PJ Harbor some time in the near future.

 

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Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct officers are trying to identify and locate two people who allegedly entered a marina illegally and untied boats in Port Jefferson back in April.

Two women allegedly climbed over the fence at Port Jefferson Marina on West Broadway and untied two boats sometime between April 25 at 6 p.m. and April 26 at 7 a.m.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 800-220-TIPS (8477) or texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637). All calls and text messages will be kept confidential.

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25, 2018 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

Long Island’s water is facing a dangerous threat — not a mythical sea monster, but harmful and poisonous algal blooms. Recently released data showed the problem was more far reaching this summer than years past.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership, an advocacy collective supported by the Rauch Foundation, that includes members from Stony Brook University and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society headed by Dick Amper, released an annual water status report Sept. 25 that showed new harmful algal blooms in Port Jefferson, Northport and Huntington harbors and in North Shore ponds and lakes.

“Every single water body across Long Island, be it the North Shore or the South Shore, East End, Suffolk County, Nassau County, all had significant water impairments during this time frame,” said Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “We would call this a crisis.”

“We are the nitrogen pollution capital of America.”

— Kevin McDonald

The Island-wide study, which was conducted from May through September, showed Northport Harbor suffered a bloom of Dinophysis, a type of algae that releases a powerful neurotoxin that can affect shellfish. Both Northport and Huntington harbors showed a rash of paralytic shellfish poisoning in other marine life from eating shellfish.

In May, shellfish fishing was temporarily banned in Huntington and Northport harbors by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation because of PSP. The harmful poison began to wane in June, Gobler said, and those bans have since been lifted, according to an automatic message put out by the state DEC.

Stony Brook University’s Roth Pond has been experiencing for years summer blooms of poisonous blue-green algae, a type that is harmful to animals. This past summer the researchers saw the algae spread into neighboring Mill Pond in Stony Brook. In 2017, Suffolk County had more lakes with blue-green algal blooms than any other of the 64 counties in New York, according to the report.

The summer also saw the rise of a rust tide in Port Jeff Harbor and Conscience Bay caused by another poisonous algae, which, while not dangerous to humans, is dangerous to marine life. Gobler said while it did not necessarily lead to fish kills along the North Shore, places like Southampton saw the deaths of tens of thousands of oysters and fish due to rust tide. If the problem persists, Port Jeff might start to see a fish die-off, which could have lasting implications to the local ecology.

The algal blooms and hypoxia were both exacerbated by a particularly warm summer, a trend expected to continue due to climate change. In coming years, Gobler said he expects the number of dangerous algae to spread because of this trend.

“We’re expecting that temperatures will rise 5 or 10 degrees this century, so we need to make changes or things will get significantly worse,” Gobler said.

The prognosis looks grim, with multiple other places across Long Island experiencing harmful algal blooms, but the source is already well known. This year’s study cites heavy loads of nitrogen pollution from sewage and fertilizers as the ultimate source of the algal events, particularly the nitrogen waste from old cesspool systems leaking into local waters.

Suffolk County and several state and local politicians have been advocating for changes, either for creating sewer systems — such as Smithtown’s projects in Kings Park, Smithtown Main Street and St. James — or by creating financing programs for property owners to overhaul waste systems.

In 2014 Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called nitrogen pollution the county’s “environmental public enemy No. 1.” Since then the county has worked with local scientists and engineers to craft technology that could replace Long Island’s old cesspool and septic tanks, but some of those replacement systems have been very cost prohibitive. Suffolk has made some grant money available to those interested in upgrading.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation in April that put $2.5 billion toward clean water protection and improving water infrastructure, including $40 million for the new sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park, and adding a rebate program for those upgrading outdated septic systems. Suffolk County and scientists from Stony Brook University are currently working on cheaper nitrogen filtration systems, but commercial availability of those systems could be years away.

“Technology and governmental policies are rapidly changing to address our island’s water crisis, but we need to increase our pace of change.”

— Adrienne Esposito

Kevin McDonald, the conservation project director at The Nature Conservancy, said that there is a strong impetus for all of Long Island to change its waste standards.

“We are the nitrogen pollution capital of America,” McDonald said. “We can’t reverse climate change by ourselves, but with the right support and engagement and leadership we can aggressively respond to this problem at a faster pace than at present.”

Many of these areas now experiencing algal blooms were only encountering hypoxia, or a depletion of dissolved oxygen in water necessary for sea life to survive, in the same report released back in summer 2017. Last year Mount Sinai Harbor was spared from severe hypoxia, but now has seen a decrease in necessary oxygen levels this past summer. Gobler said it wouldn’t be out of the question that Mount Sinai Harbor could experience a potentially dangerous algal bloom next summer.

One thing is for sure, according to Gobler: Long Island will experience more hypoxia and harmful algal blooms until new waste systems can catch up to the amount of nitrogen that’s already in the water.

“Technology and governmental policies are rapidly changing to address our island’s water crisis, but we need to increase our pace of change,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

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.

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The annual racing of the dragons took place off the shores of Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park under sunny skies Sept. 15.

For the fifth time, Port Jefferson Harbor was the scene and The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce played host for Port Jeff’s Dragon Boat Race Festival. The day-long festival features 34 teams competing in heats with dragon boats provided by High Five Dragon Boat Co., numerous performances including the famous Lion Dance, Taiko and Korean Drum performances, martial arts demonstrations and Asian singing and instrumentals. New this year was a special Ribbon Dragon Dance and musicians playing the traditional Japanese stringed instruments, the Shamisen and Koto.

The event also offers food, children’s activities, displays set up by various vendors and much more.

The festival is the brainchild of Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, who attended a dragon boat race festival in Cape May, New Jersey, a few years ago.

Choppy conditions in Port Jefferson Harbor forced the cancellation of the race portion of the 2018 Village Cup Regatta Sept. 8,  but the annual fundraiser was a success anyway.

For the ninth year, the Port Jefferson Yacht Club and the Port Jefferson Village Center were the home for the event, which features a parade past the village-owned pier at Harborfront Park, a race out in the open water between sailboats representing the village and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, and a banquet to conclude the festivities. This year, conditions weren’t conducive to holding the race, but the event still raised about $70,000 for two worthy causes, according to Mather’s Facebook page.

Funds raised by the regatta will be split between Mather Hospital’s Palliative Medicine Program and the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

For the sixth year,  actor/director and local resident Ralph Macchio served as community ambassador for the event. Macchio helps to publicize the important work of the two programs funded by the regatta. His wife, Phyllis, is a nurse practitioner in Mather’s Palliative Medicine Program.

Port Jefferson Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Harbor is currently undergoing an alarming phenomenon that an expert called “uncharted territory” locally.

The harbor is currently experiencing a rust tide, or an algal bloom, caused by a single-celled phytoplankton. Rust tides don’t pose any harm to humans but can be lethal to marine life.

Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said rust tides are spurred by hot air, water temperatures and excessive nutrients in the water, especially nitrogen. The Gobler Laboratory at SBU, named for the chairman, is monitoring the situation, performing research into its specific causes, and is looking for solutions to reduce nitrogen loading and thus the intensity of events like these, according to Gobler. He said he has been studying the phenomenon on the East End of Long Island for about 12 years, but this is only the second time it has occurred in Port Jefferson Harbor.

“We never had these blooms even on the East End before 2004,” Gobler said. “Now, they occur pretty much every year since 2004 or so.”

Blooming rust tides typically start in late August and last into mid-September.  However, as water and global temperatures continue to rise, Gobler said there are a lot of unknowns. He said this is one of the hottest summers he has ever witnessed regarding the temperature of the Long Island Sound, adding that temperatures in the local body of water have increased at a rate significantly faster than global averages.

“The big issue is temperature, so these blooms tend to track very well with warmer temperatures,” Gobler said.

George Hoffman, a co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, a nonprofit group which monitors and advocates for the health of the harbor, said his organization saw some early evidence of a rust tide in Little Bay while conducting biweekly water testing Aug. 24. Little Bay is located within Setauket Harbor, and within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor complex. Hoffman said the task force’s readings suggested salinity levels and water temperature were within the parameters needed for the growth of a rust tide.

Rust tide is caused by cochlodinium polykrikoides, according to a fact sheet compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The single-cell phytoplankton may harm fish and shellfish because it produces a hydrogen peroxide-like compound that can damage their gill tissue. Fish can avoid these dangerous blooms by simply swimming away. Fish and shellfish harvested in areas experiencing rust tides are still safe for human consumption.

Gobler said the installation of septic systems capable of removing more nitrogen in homes, especially that fall within watershed areas, would go a long way toward reducing hazardous algal blooms. Suffolk County has taken steps in recent months to increase grant money available to homeowners interested in installing septic systems with up-to-date technology capable of reducing the amount of nitrogen discharged into local waters. In addition, members of the New York State-funded Center for Clean Water Technology at SBU unveiled their nitrogen-reducing biofilter April 26 at a Suffolk County-owned home in Shirley.

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