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Kevin McAllister

A view of Stony Brook Harbor from Cordwood Park in Head of the Harbor. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A rally held at Head of the Harbor’s Cordwood Park Aug. 27 combined a bit of history, nature’s beauty and activism in one short hour.

Protesters at the Aug. 27 rally in Head of the Harbor. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Rally to Block the Docks, organized by Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson, attracted dozens of local residents, environmentalists and Stony Brook University students. Village residents have voiced concerns over the possible construction of a 186-foot dock on private property next to Cordwood Park and the potential of another 200-foot dock a few houses away. The footage includes a combination of permanent and floating docks. A Sept. 6 Village of Nissequogue Planning Board meeting currently has a vote scheduled regarding the 186-foot dock.

Protesters cited among their concerns the 186-foot spoiling the view of Stony Brook Harbor and restricting access to those walking along the beach or using their canoes and kayaks in the water. Many also feel it may encourage other homeowners to build similar private docks, leading to harbor pollution due to more or large boats.

“One property owner should not be allowed to ruin what is cherished and loved by an entire community,” Davidson said.

Among the speakers at the event were state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Kevin McAllister, founder and president of Defend H2O; John Turner, conservation chair of Four Harbors Audubon Society; and Head of the Harbor/Nissequogue historian Leighton Coleman.

Davidson is a member of the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission, a waterfront board of the villages of Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue. She said she recused herself from the commission on the matter of private docks.

“Because after seeing the numerous petitions we get for private docks, I realized that this beautiful bay is in grave danger if we as a community do not come together and take action now before it is too late,” she said.

She encouraged residents to reach out to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Conservation, both of which approve first-phase private dock permits, to prevent future approvals. Davidson said homeowners might argue that they have riparian rights. She said those rights are satisfied when walking in the water or taking a kayak or canoe out on it, and do not include building docks.

Because the harbor is shallow, the dock must be meet DEC requirements that it stands in 3 1/2 feet of water even at low tide, hence the lengths of the proposed docks.

McAllister said, based on his experience, when one dock is built, there tends to be a push for more docks and bigger boats in the body of water, which he said leads to issues in the water such as prop dredging and salinity problems where the water is always cloudy.

Coleman said commerce once took place at the park, which had a negative impact on the harbor.

Head of the Harbor/Nissequogue historian Leighton Coleman talks about the history of the Cordwood Park location. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We are now standing at the site of what was once an active boatbuilding yard and shipping port, where New York City’s manure was traded for cordwood to fuel the city’s numerous town houses,” the historian said.

He added, eventually, a boatyard’s use of arsenic to cure wood along with human and livestock waste runoff affected the harbor’s health. It was in the 1870s that Smith siblings, descendants of Smithtown’s founder, bought up large parcels of land. The harbor was then used for more leisurely activities, he said, until the 1920s brought to the area “commercial dredging for mining of sand and gravel, and the subdivision of the large estates into developments,” which threatened the waterway’s health once again. This led to the formation of incorporated villages, which in turn created zoning laws to protect the harbor and, in the 1940s, the Stony Brook Harbor Association was created.

“Sadly, the old guard has passed on, and we were left, apparently, with a false sense of security that our harbor’s healthy future was in safe hands, but thankfully as of today I see that we have a new generation of stewards stepping forth,” he said.

In the 1920s and ’30s, when there was dredging of the harbor as well as others on the North Shore, Englebright said, it was important that villages were formed to protect them. He called those who wanted to dredge the waters “essentially gangsters” who were “buying influence” with the towns, and “the towns were selling out the harbors.”

“That is the legacy of this village,” Englebright said. “That’s your birthright. That’s how you came into existence as a municipal jurisdiction in state law. There was no other way at the time to prevent the disposition of the permits by the towns.”

He added, “The Town of Smithtown has sold out the harbor bottom with approving the initial permit for a dock.”

Englebright said the body of water’s bottom is public property and “to give away public property is illegal.”

“It’s an echo of the outrage that led to the creation of these villages,” he said.

While waiting for the rally to begin, Turner said he saw a bald eagle, osprey, snowy egrets and more.

“Any time hiking the harbor, you know that the harbor, from an ecological and biological perspective, it’s just a really vibrant ecosystem,” he said.

Turner added there are several diamondback terrapins in the harbor, too. The DEC has listed the decrease in the animals a concern. They come ashore in June to lay their eggs, Turner said, and a dock could increase human traffic which in turn could have an adverse impact on the terrapins.

“We hope that the villages and the Town of Smithtown will not grant private access to a public trust resource that could ultimately have a really adverse impact upon the harbor,” he said.

Turner added he looked at the Suffolk County GIS viewer and counted approximately 54 properties around the harbor.

“If these are approved, what prevents those other 52 or 50 owners down the road from requesting permits to build docks — docks that are on the same scale as what these are,” he said.

To pay homage to the history of the location, rally organizers served ginger ale and root beer, and the Once Upon a Tyme Barbershop Quartet performed for the attendees at the beginning and end of the rally.

Davidson said she and others have been working on circulating a petition which they will present to the Nissequogue Planning Board on Sept. 6.

Elected officials, scientists and environmentalists filled the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building last year to provide testimony against offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Long Islanders filled the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building in Hauppauge Feb. 14 to let the federal government know that the Atlantic Ocean is not the place for offshore drilling.

In a public hearing, state legislators, including Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), listened to more than five hours of testimony provided by nearly 50 local elected officials, scientists and environmentalists. The hearing followed the Jan. 4 announcement made by the U.S. Department of the Interior proposing plans for expansion of natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters. The plan includes the potential lease of acreage in federal offshore areas such as the Atlantic region.

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park. He noted that not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling and laid out the plan for hearings across the country in the areas that may be affected.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright addresses the crowd before a Feb. 14 hearing in Hauppauge concerning the proposal of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

“The Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf is not an appropriate area for offshore drilling, period,” Englebright said in the beginning of the Long Island hearing. “There are many reasons for that, and we’ll hear some of those reasons, I’m sure, today, but the risks associated with drilling, including oil spills, far outweigh any potential benefits. Especially since the state is currently working to advance renewable energy projects on our continental shelf area rather than climate change inducing, fossil fuel-oriented projects such as the drilling.”

While the federal government chose to hold a public hearing in Albany Feb. 15, Englebright said the location, as opposed to coastal areas in the state, was not the right spot for such a hearing as inland would not be impacted like coastal areas would be if offshore drilling would occur in the Atlantic. He also said many who live by and are worried about local waters may not have been able to travel to the federal hearing.

Speakers during the Long Island hearing touched on the ramifications drilling would have on the area in regard to water quality, marine life, coastal management and more.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who wrote two letters to Zinke, one opposing drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and another one requesting a hearing on Long Island, read from one of the letters.

“Brookhaven Town has the largest coastline of any town on Long Island with three distinct coastal waters; ocean, bay and sound,” Romaine said. “As supervisor, I do not support drilling in waters off our coastline.”

The supervisor said he supported forms of renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal because an oil spill anywhere along the Atlantic coast could decimate large portions of the town’s coastline and negatively affect the coastal economy.

“The 1970s called, and they want their energy plan back.”

— Adrienne Esposito

“The Long Island coastline supports nearly 350,000 jobs and generates millions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries,” Romaine said, adding he was also concerned about the potential environmental harm to Fire Island.

Romaine said he’s also concerned about the expiration of the 9-cent per oil barrel tax which funds emergency cleanups of spills. He said the lack of a congressional plan to extend the tax makes ocean drilling riskier than ever.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, also suggested more modern energy solutions.

“The 1970s called, and they want their energy plan back,” she said.

Esposito cited a 1990 study that was conducted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. She said the study showed a $19 million decrease in tourism dollars the summer of the oil spill in Alaska and 43 percent of businesses in the Gulf of Alaska significantly or completely shut down. Esposito said the ocean generates $24 billion into New York’s economy every year. She also raised health concerns, calling crude oil a toxin.

“It causes kidney liver and lung damage and can even kill people,” Esposito said. “It can cause neurological damage and endocrine disruption — things that are vastly overlooked.”

Speakers also highlighted the effects of seismic testing, which uses air gun blasting to locate underwater fossil fuels. Guy Jacob, conservation chair of the Nassau Hiking & Outdoor Club, said seismic booms are among the loudest underwater noises recorded and the proposed plan would give businesses permission “to fire seismic air guns every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for months.” He said that a single vessel could deploy up to 96 air guns, which in turn is damaging to marine life and the fishing industry.

“Seismic blasts drive commercially-viable fish literally running for their lives. While the fossil fuel industry profits, our fishing industry suffers.”

— Guy Jacob

“Because water is such an excellent conduit for sound, seismic blasts become weapons of mass mutilation maiming and slaughtering organisms, from the largest whales to the most diminutive invertebrates throughout the web of marine life,” Jacob said. “Seismic blasts drive commercially-viable fish literally running for their lives. While the fossil fuel industry profits, our fishing industry suffers.”

Kevin McAllister, founder and president of the nonprofit Defend H2O, spoke of the ecological impacts from oil spills at the hearing. He said after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, 36,000 birds and hundreds of marine mammals died. McAllister said only 10 percent of the oil was effectively cleaned up after the Exxon Valdez spill, and as of 2007, more than 26,000 gallons of oil remain in shoreline sentiments. According to McAllister, the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico impacted 68,000 square miles of ocean, the size of Oklahoma, and washed up on 1,074 miles of coastline.

During a phone interview after the hearing, McAllister said he felt the hearing was productive. He said he hopes other Atlantic states will join in a lawsuit against the federal government if New York state moves forward in filing one. During the hearing, Peter Washburn, policy adviser in the attorney general’s environmental protection bureau, said the New York State Attorney General is prepared to sue the interior department.

Englebright said a transcript of the hearing will be submitted to the federal government prior to March 9, the end of the comment period.