Residents passing by East Setauket Pond Park have noticed the area has been fenced off recently.
At the March Three Village Civic Association meeting, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) updated members on the work being done on the pond. Two water quality units are being installed to capture road runoff, such as sediment and floatables, from Route 25A and interconnected town roads before the debris goes into Setauket Harbor.
In an email, Veronica King, Brookhaven’s stormwater manager, said the project is expected to take approximately two months.
The current and past work at the park has been a result of a $1 million clean water grant for the Town of Brookhaven that former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured in 2016.
George Hoffman, one of the founders of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said in a phone interview that he was pleased that the units would be finally installed.
“It’s critical to improving water quality in Setauket Harbor,” he said. “The harbor is struggling. We haven’t been able to clam there for 22 years. It’s unsafe to take clams from that harbor, and that’s based on bacteria in the area and a lot of the bacteria comes in through the stormwater.”
He added the filtering of road runoff would also lessen how often the pond has to be dredged.
At the civic meeting, Kornreich also told the attendees that the town recently purchased the property where East Setauket Automotive stands today with the hopes of building a larger park in the future. In a phone interview, Kornreich said the auto and truck repair shop will remain until 2025, and he said the town plans to be sensitive to the needs of businesses surrounding the park.
New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has held elective office continuously since 1983. Englebright’s long tenure now comes to a close.
In a tight state election for District 4 last month, Englebright narrowly lost to his Republican Party challenger Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson). In an exit interview, the outgoing assemblyman reflected upon his pathway into government, the legislative victories throughout that time and the meaning of public service.
The road to politics
Growing up, the young Englebright spent much of his time in libraries. He found refuge in books, which satiated his curiosity and “compelling interest in how things worked.” He also nourished a lifelong fascination with history through those hours devoted to learning.
Leading up to his first run for office, Englebright said he was deeply disturbed by the environmental degradation characteristic of those times. The “almost daily reports” of overdevelopment and sprawl, oil spills and drinking water contamination, each had left a deep and abiding impression on him.
‘The proper role of government is to protect the people who sent you.’ — Steve Englebright
He was teaching geology at Stony Brook University when he began considering public life. “I realized that drinking water was the first limiting factor for the continued well-being of this Island, and I was not really seeing any meaningful public policy growing out of the reports of chaos,” he said.
The late professor Hugh Cleland, from the SBU Department of History, would prove to be the catalyst behind Englebright’s ascent to politics. Cleland sat down with him at the campus student union. For several hours, the two discussed a possible bid for a Suffolk County legislative seat.
“This was a really serious and credible and well thought-out request that he was making,” Englebright said. “So I didn’t just wave it off. I gave it some thought and, sure enough, I found myself saying, ‘What’s next?’”
After that meeting, Englebright decided to run and was elected to the county Legislature in 1983. He won election after election for the next four decades.
Upon entering the county Legislature, Englebright simultaneously confronted an array of environmental dilemmas. He described the defunct Long Island Lighting Company, the precursor to today’s Long Island Power Authority, as “at that time wanting to build a small galaxy of nuclear power plants on Long Island.” He stressed that the utility company was favoring its shareholder interests at the residents’ expense.
Englebright successfully championed, along with a grassroots movement of LILCO ratepayers, against the construction of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear plants to follow. Their resistance efforts were grounded primarily in the risks associated with evacuation.
Another major policy issue during his early political career was the protection of groundwater and surface waters in Suffolk County. “I pushed successfully for the largest county-level open space program in the nation,” he said. He was one of the earliest critics against sprawl.
As a county legislator, he initiated the first plastics ban in the nation. Though ahead of his time on the issue, he admitted that not enough has been done elsewhere to counteract the problem, which he said “has exploded into a worldwide catastrophe.”
He sponsored legislation excising a small fee on hotel and motel rooms, considering the measure as a fee on tourists allowing for their continued enjoyment of the area through reinvestment into the county’s most attractive destinations.
“If you wonder why county Legislator [Kara] Hahn [D-Setauket] is able to have some discretion to provide funding to Gallery North or the Reboli Center, that funding is coming from the hotel/motel room fee,” he said.
As a state assemblyman, Englebright quickly picked up where he left off, building upon and expanding his county policies at the state level. Among his earliest actions was the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, a state law ensuring the preservation of the Pine Barrens as open space.
He sponsored some of the original laws in New York state related to solar power and other renewables. “In my first year in the state Legislature, I was successfully pushing for legislation that had paved the way for the electronic age,” he said.
Englebright added that the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was the most crucial legislation he ever sponsored. This ambitious law aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050.
Englebright also successfully led a statewide ban on purse seining, a highly efficient fishing technique responsible for the depletion of menhaden, or bunker, in New York’s surrounding waters.
“The marine world all depends on having this abundant fish at the base of the food chain,” the assemblyman said. Purse seining allowed large-scale fishing operations to collect “whole schools of menhaden, millions and millions of fish.”
One of the fondest moments throughout his tenure happened just last summer. On a boat trip off the coast of Montauk Point during early morning hours, the sun rising off the horizon line, he witnessed entire schools of menhaden beneath the water.
“The sea was boiling with fish,” he said. “Menhaden, they were back by the billions.”
Reminiscent of his earliest years in libraries, historic preservation would be a significant point of emphasis for Englebright. “I’m very proud of the many properties that are preserved, the historic sites.” Such sites either preserved or to be preserved include Patriots Rock and Roe Tavern in Setauket and William Tooker House in Port Jefferson, among many others.
Even in his final days in office, Englebright made historic breakthroughs. Though his reelection bid was unsuccessful, Englebright rejoiced in yet another major victory for environmental sustainability. Last month, New Yorkers overwhelmingly approved a recent $4.2 billion environmental bond act, a multiyear investment in clean water, air, wildlife and the environment.
Reflections from his community
During his extended time in political service, Englebright has worked alongside countless public representatives at all levels of government. He maintained “they’re not all scoundrels,” adding that many were “superb public servants.”
In a series of written statements and phone interviews, several public representatives and close Englebright associates and friends had an opportunity to weigh in on his legacy of service and commitment to his community.
Englebright “proved himself to be an environmental pioneer, a champion for the causes and concerns of his constituents and an unflinching fighter for the communities he served,” Hahn said. “For those of us who served in elected office with him during his tenure, irrespective of political persuasion or level of government, Steve proved himself to be a friend and mentor who embodied the role of effective leadership in the lives of those we represent.”
As recently as Dec. 6, the Three Village Community Trust honored the assemblyman by renaming the Greenway trail as The Steve Englebright Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway.
Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant commented on the characteristics that set Englebright apart from other politicians. She said his scientific background and wide-ranging interests added depth to his political persona.
“He’s a unique legislator in that he’s so well rounded in those other areas and that he’s not just focused on the hard line of the law,” she said. “He’s involved with his community, he’s approachable, he’s caring, he’s kind. He’s a very unique representative, and we’re going to miss him sorely.”
Like Englebright, Port Jefferson village trustee Rebecca Kassay worked in environmental advocacy before entering government. She discussed Englebright’s ongoing extended producer responsibility legislation, which would require producers of packaging materials, rather than taxpayers, to be responsible for managing post-consumer packaging material waste.
“This can be a step toward addressing a multitude of waste management, environmental and financial issues facing municipalities and individuals,” Kassay said. “I hope to see the assemblyman’s colleagues and successor continue advocating for policies with long-term solutions,” adding, “Englebright is the type of commonsense representative we’d like to see more of in government.”
In a joint statement, George Hoffman and Laurie Vetere of the Setauket Harbor Task Force reflected upon Englebright’s importance to local harbors.
“In his time as our state representative, Steve Englebright never forgot the importance of the harbor,” they said. “Assemblyman Englebright found ways to secure needed dollars from Albany to help the task force in its mission of protecting water quality and the sustainability of Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors.”
Joan Nickeson, community liaison of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, credited Englebright for the continued flourishment of her area. She said the hotel/motel tax he sponsored had enabled the chamber to conduct its annual summer concert series at the Train Car Park.
“Assemblyman Englebright has continued to be a friend of the chamber by supporting our local businesses and attending our ribbon-cutting ceremonies,” she said.
Within those 40 years, countless other acts and initiatives have come to fruition with Englebright’s assistance. Reflecting on his time in public service, he outlined his political doctrine.
“The proper role of government is to protect the people who sent you,” he said. “If you keep your eye on the prize, you can achieve things for the people who invested their trust in you.”
On the role of the public representative, he added, “Use the office as a bully pulpit, speak truth to power, identify things that are wrong and right them, and treat the office as an opportunity to do good.”
For wielding his office as a force of good for four decades, TBR News Media dedicates Steve Englebright as honorary 2022 Person of the Year.
On May 25, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine joined members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force as they brought in the season’s first Sugar Kelp harvest. This season, the growing location was moved from Setauket Harbor to Port Jefferson Harbor just offshore by the northwest mooring field.
Sugar Kelp is a brown-colored native seaweed that thrives in the cold waters of the Long Island Sound and other areas of the northeast. Aquaculture farmers seed juvenile Kelp on long lines attached to buoys or docks in November and December, and then they wait until spring to harvest the fast-growing crop. Kelp is an excellent dietary source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and other trace minerals; it can be used dried, powdered, fresh, cooked, and fresh frozen.
Pictured left to right are Setauket Harbor Task Force co-founder, Laurie Vetere, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Setauket Harbor Task Force co-founder, George Hoffman and Bay Constable Connor Reid.
The Setauket Harbor Task Force is a volunteer organization which works for clean water and healthy harbors. It was founded in 2014 by local Setauket residents who love the harbor and want to protect and preserve it. For more information about Sugar Kelp and to learn more about the Setauket Harbor Task Force, go to www.SaveSetauketHarbor.org.
A stalled project in the Three Village community is finally moving forward.
In 2016, former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant for the Town of Brookhaven. The funds were for a water quality improvement at East Setauket Pond Park, which lies on the western side of Se-Port Delicatessen on Route 25A. The town is slated to add $360,000, according to the Highway Superintendent’s office.
According to Laurie Vetere, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, the work that was supposed to begin in 2018 is finally underway. On Sept. 16, the Town of Brookhaven held a pre-bidding meeting on the site for the repair of the failing bulkhead at the Shore Road park. Bids are due to the town on Oct. 14.
The project, in addition to the reconstruction of the park’s bulkhead, will also include dredging the pond to remove sediment, removing phragmites and redesigning the stormwater conveying system, which will catch contaminated sediments and floatables before they enter the pond. Stormwater from Route 25A can wash into the pond, while the current water treatment structure is faulty and allows sediment to build up. The stormwater then goes into the harbor. Sediment can include sand that’s put down on the roads, pet waste and items that fall off of trucks and cars.
Bids for other projects will be held at a later date. The restructured stormwater conveying system would enable the sediment to go into a catch basin and then settle, allowing only the water to go into the harbor.
“It will prevent bacteria and other sediment from going into the pond and then into the harbor,” Vetere said.
She added Hurricane Ida exacerbated the problem. The task force’s main objective was “to call attention to the harbor and what needed to be done” after feeling it was being neglected.
“This was one of our first projects,” the co-founder said. “We’re all excited about it and now, five years later, it’s finally coming to fruition.”
Vetere said the goal after sediment and phragmite removal is to add some native planting that won’t obscure the pond. The hope for the future is to add more plants to the park and walkways to make it more accessible.
George Hoffman, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a harbor task force co-founder, agreed that the restoration would improve water quality. He added the work would be “the first step in revitalizing Setauket’s neglected downtown district.”
The harbor and pond is important to the history of Setauket, he said, which once was the commercial center of Setauket. He added Roe Tavern was once just a block from the harbor pond. The tavern, which was relocated to another location in East Setauket, is known for providing George Washington lodging in 1790.
“The original settlers in the mid-17th century landed at Setauket Harbor and founded a settlement that became Setauket,” he said. “The renovation of the pond and park will help us reconnect the pond to the downtown area.”
Members from the Town of Brookhaven, the Setauket Harbor Task Force and other environmental groups headed out on two boats last week to harvest a potentially new aquatic crop — sugar kelp.
On Thursday, May 20, after a several-months-long process of preparing, planting and harvesting, volunteers joined Brookhaven bay constables out of Port Jefferson Harbor to head slightly west in retrieving the brown native seaweed that was brought to two labs for study.
The project was spearheaded by nonprofit The Moore Family Charitable Foundation — a community involvement group that helps with projects throughout Long Island and the five boroughs.
“Our main goal for this year is to spread the word about kelp and where it grows, the conditions it needs, how to process it and how it can benefit growers on Long Island,” Wendy Moore, benefactor and manager of the sugar kelp project, previously told TBR News Media.
According to the foundation’s lead scientist David Berg, sugar kelp is known to be edible for both people and pets, it can be used as a fertilizer, bioplastic, biofuel, cosmetics and is a method to help improve water quality.
Collaborating with the Town of Brookhaven, the Setauket Harbor Task Force, the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, it took a large group of different people to implement a crop that could become a big deal on Long Island.
Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said that when he became supervisor, he immediately knew he wanted to lease out the town’s bays and harbors for projects like this.
“Not only clams and oysters, but also for things like kelp, which is tremendous,” he said. “And seaweed. I think that we can start an industry and stimulate it to become a major industry.”
In December, the task force dropped mooring anchors and set up the kelp growing field’s area in Setauket Harbor. In January, members attached the kelp seedlings to a line just under the surface of the water between buoys there.
George Hoffman, a trustee of the task force which helped oversee the sugar kelp cultivation and production, said partnerships like this are critical to get stuff done.
“We’re really thankful to the partnership,” he said. “Between the town and the harbor group, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing if we didn’t have that partnership. It’s just a great example of how government works with citizens groups.”
Nestled in the water between Port Jefferson and Setauket, more than 200 pounds worth of sugar kelp was retrieved.
Along with being a sustainable crop, sugar kelp helps take in excess nitrogen and CO2 from harbor waters, improving its chemistry. Hoffman said that excess nitrogen causes harmful algae bloom and excess CO2, resulting in ocean acidification.
“Removing nitrogen and CO2 from the waterways is absolutely critical,” Romaine added. “So, [sugar kelp] shows a lot of promise — and if you worry about methane gas, cows eat this when they feed and have 80% less gas.”
Town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) joined on the boat, lifting up bags of kelp to weigh. He said that projects like this not only help the environment, but can also make positive changes in the private sector in the future.
“To me this is the way that government should operate,” he said. “We make investments like this, into scientific research, or ways to develop either materials, or crops or techniques that can have a positive impact on things.”
Eventually, he said, a private sector can take over and make a business out of the crop.
“Government has a role in helping to get that started and making those investments in science,” he said.
Romaine said that Brookhaven has the largest waterfront of any town on the Island. In Port Jefferson, the area surrounding the harbor where the kelp was harvested goes back to the village’s original roots.
“We’re looking around and asking, ‘What could be the new industry for our town? What could give it life? What could be productive? How could we help nature to save clams, oysters, seaweed, kelp?’” he said. “Those industries are the future that we have to be visionary enough to support and to put the muscle of town government behind it.”
Rows of sugar kelp – a brown native seaweed — are being planted and will be harvested in Setauket Harbor, not for decoration but to provide cleaner water and other benefits to the community.
Neighboring next to Port Jefferson Harbor, the Setauket Harbor Task Force has installed two 100-foot lines with sugar kelp seedlings in hopes of cultivating them when they are ready for harvesting. There are numerous ways in which the sugar kelp can be benefited from.
This aquatic plant is edible for both people and pets. It can be used as a fertilizer, bioplastic, biofuel, cosmetics and is a method to help improve water quality.
“Our main goal for this year is to spread the word about kelp and where it grows, the conditions it needs, how to process it and how it can benefit growers on Long Island,” said Wendy Moore, benefactor and manager of the sugar kelp project.
Moore, along with her husband, Justin, founded The Moore Family Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit community involvement program.
“To that end, we’ve developed relationships with 11 growers this season,” she said.
Moore attributes her profound interest in the project to the fact that sugar kelp is self-sustaining. It is what she describes as a “low-intensity process,” which has seen nearly no obstacles other than lesser amounts of sun in the winter months. The Town of Brookhaven was one of the first to support the project and even provided equipment to the task force. There are plans to expand the project in the following years.
Even in a continuous pandemic, the project has not been swayed. According to Moore, the gear distribution and outplanting have been outdoors. Everyone on the team has been able to gather safely and follow proper COVID protocols.
“We’re lucky that much of the needed operations at this time are outdoors,” she said.
David Berg, a scientific advisor to the Moore Foundation, said that the cultivation rate would be more likely to increase after the equinox in March.
Besides Setauket and Port Jefferson Harbors, the Moore foundation has set up in other locations including Islip, Brookhaven, Greenport and Oyster Bay.
Two years ago, the Setauket Harbor Task Force began conducting water monitoring in Setauket Harbor. They set out in the spring, summer and fall seasons to take water chemistry readings and samples to document the water quality. With authorization from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the task force has been able to look at what can be done about the water and possibly cleaning it up.
“There’s oyster harvesting and clam harvesting,” said George Hoffman, a trustee of the task force which helps oversee the sugar kelp cultivation and production. “We decided to try sugar kelp harvesting, and they’re cleaning up the water by feeding on the C02 … which leads to water acidification.”
Hoffman describes his feelings about the task force being included in this pilot project as “exciting” and wants to show the public that harbors like Setauket can become productive areas for marine agriculture.
“We’re happy to have a product that will help us clean and improve the quality of the water and likewise providing beneficial food,” he said.
Cultivating the sugar kelp requires attaching the seeds to two 100-feet lines in the harbor, held together in place by mushroom anchors. When the kelp is ready to harvest, it is thick, rubbery, and a glistening shade of brown before it is processed and cleaned into a vibrant emerald green color, ready for distribution.
According to Hoffman, the harvesting sites take up roughly 200 feet of water, and he hopes to see expansion in a couple of years if this project yields successful results.
“The main thing we’re interested in doing is taking the interest that’s already here and helping Long Island along in the momentum of progressing further,” Moore said. “We want to seek out and connect with people and help get the word out about the amazing potential that it has.”
Residents have noticed large numbers of fish found dead on local beaches, though environmentalists said people should not be alarmed.
Co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, George Hoffman, said a few weeks ago, residents started reporting that as they were walking along West Meadow Beach they noticed a large amount of dead menhaden, a type of forage fish that is also known as a bunker fish. Others have also spotted the menhaden around Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors.
Hoffman said the task force reached out to local scientists, and a few residents contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as well. The DEC told residents that the die-off events were not unusual. The type of fish swim in large schools and are vulnerable to low dissolved oxygen. The DEC is collecting fish samples for analysis by Stony Brook University’s Marine Animal Disease Laboratory for further evaluation.
It’s the first time the task force has heard of a large die-off locally, Hoffman said. The task force tests the oxygen levels in local harbors regularly during the summer, and he said this year the levels have been good.
He said while the menhaden are not that large, measuring 8 or 9 inches, together they create an unwelcoming sight.
One of the people who noticed the dead menhaden and notified the task force was South Setauket resident Paul Feinberg, who visits West Meadow Beach regularly.
“My initial reaction to this sight back in early December was quite disturbing,” he said.
Bill Lucey, the soundkeeper from Connecticut-based Save the Sound, said the dead menhaden have been spotted along the Connecticut shoreline of the Long Island Sound, too. He has also heard reports of them washing up in the New York City and Hudson River areas.
Lucey said menhaden usually migrate earlier and they may have missed a migration cue due to warmer waters and a larger amount of plankton, which they eat, this year. However, once the temperatures dropped and the plankton died off, they may have faced problems, especially older fish that are less resilient. Normally around this time of year, the bunker fish can be found spawning along the shore of the Carolinas.
Another reason, Lucey said, that residents may be spotting an excess of dead menhaden is that there are more of them in general due to state-imposed fishing regulations. He said a friend of his was on the water fishing earlier this year when he felt a small earthquake in the Sound. His friend saw the menhaden jumping out of the water. Others have mentioned the increased number of bunkers to Lucey, too.
“One sailor said he hadn’t seen that many fish in 57 years,” he said.
Lucey said the increase in the amount of fish is a good thing. Hopefully the harvesting will be sustainable and the population will continue to increase as the bunker fish will attract predators such as humpback whales and bald eagles.
Residents “see a problem, but really it’s potentially a good sign that we have a huge robust population of the forage fish,” he said.
Local environmentalist John Turner agreed. He said with an increase again of menhaden they have been fueling a resurgence of the coastal ecosystem.
“It’s called a forage fish because it feeds and actually filters through the water, so it pulls algae and plankton out of the water, and it converts the microscopic plants that are in the oceans into animal protein,” Turner said. “Then that goes up the food chain again to the whales.”
He added that the menhaden can even be credited with an increase of bald eagles and ospreys in the area.
Lucey said when residents see dead menhaden on the beach to leave the carcasses as the fish will provide food for shoreline birds, which is especially important now that the temperatures are dipping, and there are less fish to be found in the water.
What does it take to monitor the health of your local waterways? For the people who month after month do just that, all it takes is a love for the place one lives.
The Setauket Harbor Task Force was one of the most active of the 22 groups involved with Save the Sound and its bay water recording initiative. The immense amount of work is taken up by a squad of volunteers, some of whom have been active during the May through October months of the last three years.
The Setauket Harbor Task Force originated as a way to monitor the health of what they considered the lone “orphaned” bay on the North Shore, but their activities eventually spread over the border into Port Jefferson as well. While the task force originated in 2015 to help maintain the local waterways’ wellbeing, in 2018 the group joined the United Water Study program under the EPA’s Long Island Sound Study, and since then has done monitoring in 10 different locations in Port Jeff and Setauket harbors.
Hoffman, of the task force, said they have dedicated much of their time and energy to the project, especially maintaining rigorous scientific standards. They have gone out in foggy mornings where you could barely see a few feet in front of the boat. Once, their craft’s engine stopped working, and they had to be towed back to harbor. There have been times their small craft has rolled in early morning swells, but they keep on going.
“With climate and environment, there’s so little that most people can do,” he said. “Every day you read about a new thing — ice shelves melting, whales being beached … I find when I talk to volunteers, it’s just being able to do something.”
Every participating organization must take readings of the water twice a month, no less than 10 days apart. Because monitoring must be performed three hours before sunrise, volunteers are up well before dawn, getting into the small craft and wading out into the harbors. Their recording instrument, a sonde meter that records all manor of water quality metrics, costs close to $20,000.
Steve Antos, one of the task force board members, also owns Setauket Landscape Design. Though he and others in his group have lived in the area for decades, the idea of water quality has really taken a hold on many of its participants. Antos enjoys constructing rain gardens in his regular job, which are critical for preventing water runoff flowing from people’s yards down toward the Sound.
“In the past, everyone tried to get their properties to drain onto the road … and eventually it just runs into our bays and takes all the pollution and dog waste with it,” Antos said. “A lot of it is way beyond our control, but whatever we can do, just little things, it all adds up.”
Before working with the task force, many of the 10 or so volunteers wouldn’t have known what most of the readings, from the chlorophyll levels or turbidity (the water clarity) meant, but now have become a kind of citizen scientist, able to comprehend measurements using a very technical device. Their backgrounds range from a retired veterinarian to retired teachers, but what brings them together is their long time proximity to the bays and waterways of the North Shore. It’s what drove them to want to make sure the water was being maintained.
Tom Lyon, of Mount Sinai, and Mark Smith, of East Setauket, are the boat captains, and have lent their experience and water crafts to the project. They are small runabouts, one an 18-foot and the other 16.
Nancy Goldstein, herself a trained scuba diver, got into the project thanks to a friend and has been active for three years.
“I took marine biology in high school, but I’m totally not a scientist,” Goldstein said. “I care about the earth, and the marine — it’s all one.”
Bert Conover, a retired veterinarian from Port Jeff, said he has always been on the water “from Delaware River to Ocean City.” Long ago, he majored in chemistry and biology, but went to grad school for zoology and then went on to veterinarian school.
“Now that I’m retired it gives me a chance to give back,” he said. “And hopefully the data will redirect how to approach a healthy harbor.”
Alice Leser has lived in Stony Brook for 49 years, and is a life-long Long Islander. She has taught programs about Long Island waters as a teacher and alongside fellow environmentalists at the Long Island Museum. When three years ago the task force offered her a training program at the Village Center, she snapped up the opportunity.
“I’ve been surrounded by water my entire life,” she said. “I’ve canoeed all the rivers, and I’ve taught programs about Long Island waters, so I really care about the purity of the water.”
Laurie Vetere, the fellow co-founder of the task force, said they have not had anyone drop out in three years.
“When we first started this program, we found that we had more volunteers than we needed,” Vetere said. “People are attracted to the water.”
Hoffman agreed, saying there is something about Long Islanders and their connection to their coasts.
“Long Islanders are coastal people,” he said. “I think what keeps us on Long Island is we all have a love for the water.”
A new report by a regional environmental nonprofit says a little under half of all bays on either side of the Long Island Sound were given a poor-to-failing grade. It’s a continuing problem, but more and more local groups are stepping up to dedicate their time and energy to trying to maintain the water as a strong habitat.
At a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 6, Save the Sound, a Connecticut-based environmental nonprofit funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, released its biennial 2020 Long Island Sound Report Card that described the general health of 50 bays from Long Island and Connecticut based on the previous year’s data.
Officials and experts revealed that, of those monitored, Suffolk County North Shore harbors were largely better off than those in Connecticut, but several still had issues. Port Jefferson, at least the outer and middle portions of the harbor, was ranked in the top 10 most healthy, with experts saying it most likely has to do with how well the harbor flushes daily.
Meanwhile sites like Northport and Centerport harbors were ranked C- and C respectively. Northport Harbor received a F grade for its excess of chlorophyll, a measurement of how much microalgae is in the water, and its low level of dissolved oxygen, an important factor for the health of fish. Centerport had similar difficulties, but also had issues of excessive seaweed accumulation.
Perhaps the most concerning of North Shore Suffolk County’s waterways was the innermost part of Cold Spring Harbor which received F grades in chlorophyll, seaweed and dissolved oxygen.
U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) were both present to offer their support of bipartisan funding for this and future studies as well as initiatives to keep local bays clean. Suozzi said in the past four years, the Long Island Sound Caucus has extended the EPA Long Island Sound program to 2023 and increased the $4 million appropriated to the Sound to $21 million. The House has already passed a bill to up that to $30 million, but has not yet been taken up by the Senate.
Zeldin said the low grades of so many bays only emphasizes the need for more federal funding for further studies and additional relief.
“Working across the aisle and across the Sound, we’ve made great progress in preserving this critical waterway, but with nearly half of the waterways measured in this report as receiving a D grade or below, there’s still work to do,” he said.
George Hoffman, a co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force that monitors Port Jeff, also acknowledged a great deal of why the bay has done comparatively well is because of its flushing capacity. Another factor, he said, may be the hundreds of thousands of oysters and shellfish the Town of Brookhaven seeds into the bay. The shellfish do a great job of filtering organic particulates from the water.
Save The Sound’s Unified Water Study program includes 22 organizations covering 50 harbors on both sides of the waterway. Monitoring begins in May and ends in October. The study also looks at the general health state of the Sound itself. It’s long been clear that the closer one is to New York City, the less healthy the water is. The Western Narrows portion of the Sound received an F grade on all marks, while the Eastern Narrows, which runs from Northport to the edge of Hempstead Bay, received a C grade overall. Areas to the east were reported as much healthier in general.
Jamie Vaudrey, an assistant research professor of marine science at the University of Connecticut, said likely the biggest factor for the health of bays in a modern environment is how well the water flushes in and out of the harbor. Water like that trapped into the southernmost tip of Cold Spring Harbor is more impacted by any real increase in nitrogen.
“They just have this large nitrogen burden coming in that’s not being flushed out,” she said. “In systems like that, really pushing down that nitrogen load is important.”
Nitrogen has been called public enemy No. 1 for coastal waters as it’s the leading cause of hypoxia, namely low or depleted oxygen causing major problems for marine life. This can cause fish or other sea creatures to die off and lead to an excess of seaweed or algae. Some of these algal blooms have even been dangerous to animals or humans.
Though Port Jefferson Harbor’s general health was rated high, it too has experienced its share of dangerous algal blooms, including a so-called rust tide back in 2018. Though this specific bloom doesn’t present a threat to human beings, it kills fish quite rapidly. Those who study water quality have become very concerned with how often these blooms have appeared since the early 2000s.
For some of the struggling bays in the Town of Huntington, New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) called for a funding stream from the federal government on down that can really start to make a dent in Suffolk County’s lack of sewage treatment facilities and get the ball rolling on nitrogen-reducing septic systems, which individually can cost a homeowner $10,000 to $15,000 apiece without government funding.
“People can’t do that on their own — we need tax credits, we need funding,” he said.