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Setauket Harbor

Task force inspires local governments to join forces

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, sign a memorandum of understanding to protect Setauket Harbor Sept. 23. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Cooperation between members of government, especially from differing political parties, is a scarce natural resource these days, but don’t tell that to leaders from Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and New York State. Setauket Harbor and the surrounding area is set to be the beneficiary of that cooperation, as leaders from each of the three municipalities formed an agreement Sept. 23 aiming to protect the historic and natural resources of the harbor.

“The Parties are committed to conserving, improving, protecting and interpreting Setauket Harbor’s historic and natural resources and environment through preservation of historic sties, wildlife areas and viewsheds to enable appropriate uses of harbor resources,” the agreement read in part. It also stated that preventing, abating and controlling water, land and air pollution will be a part of enhancing the health and safety of the people who live within or visit the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

The agreement is a Memorandum of Understanding, meaning it is not law, but rather a set of guiding principles or a moral commitment to follow in the years ahead.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cosigners of the document, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation and Setauket Harbor Task Force left the agreement open-ended in the hopes that other branches of government and organizations will follow suit. The Setauket Harbor Task Force, a three-year-old community organization dedicated to improving water quality and the marine habitat in the harbor, spearheaded the agreement after finding local levels of government share a common interest in protecting and improving the harbor, though they were working concurrently rather than coordinately in some ways.

The memorandum was signed on a town dock off Shore Road in Setauket as part of the third Setauket Harbor Day, an annual event established by the task force in 2015.

The first mission laid out by the document is to develop a natural and cultural resource inventory of the harbor, which will be a springboard toward creating a management plan designed to achieve the preservation goals of Setauket Harbor and the roughly three-square miles surrounding it, known as the watershed, by acquiring lands within it, preserving historic sites, sharing ideas, engaging in open, ongoing discussions and contributing funds.

“You need to have a starting point and a vision for how all these pieces come together, and I think that’s what’s so great about this designation,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force.

Englebright credited the task force with getting everyone involved and focused on the problems associated with Setauket Harbor, which among others include nitrogen pollution and the presence of coliform bacteria, mostly due to storm water runoff into waterways. The harbor falls within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, which lets out into the Long Island Sound.

In Sept. 2016, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he had secured a $1 million grant from the state to be used on enhancing the quality of the harbor’s waters, and the town dock on Shore Road. Englebright thanked Flanagan for his leadership in bringing issues regarding the harbor to light, but a recent annual study completed by Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences still shows the body of water is an area of concern.

“Some of the parcels we’re trying to protect are very vulnerable,” Englebright said. He added although the agreement is only an understanding and not law, he hopes that will change in the future. “What I’m hoping we can do within the context of a completed plan is that we can revisit that question at the state legislative level and write something that may have broad applicability. I think this whole plan has the potential to be a model.”

Romaine said he was excited for the possible benefits to the environment the agreement could bring, but also for the potential economic benefit of a healthier harbor.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Harbor has been closed to shell fishing for more than 10 years,” he said. “We’d like to see it open up. We’d like to see some of the contaminants eliminated from this harbor so that it can restore itself. It’s very important to the town. I want to thank Steve because he’s done tremendous work, and we’ve worked together as colleagues for more than 35 years.”

Hahn suggested homes in the watershed could be prime candidates for Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program, an initiative that offers funds to homeowners within the county to replace outdated cesspools and septic system, which are major contributors to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The federal government is not currently on board as part of the agreement, though DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek Gallagher said she expects that to change once a plan is in motion. The significance of the collaboration across party lines and municipality lines in lockstep with a community group like the task force was not lost on Cartright.

“This should be a prime example of how government on all levels should work together with the community,” she said.

Kevin McAllister, the founder of the nonprofit Defend H20, said while the agreement is a positive step, it will be largely symbolic if it is not followed up with action, and more importantly, funding.

“Providing greater funding for a host of projects, land acquisition, more protective zoning, denying shoreline hardening permits — these type actions, individually and collectively will define the resolve as put forth in the MOU,” he said in an email.

Englebright implored members of the public and community groups to not only get on board, but to take the additional step of holding elected officials to the terms of the agreement, including those who come after the incumbent lawmakers.

Setauket Harbor Day was held Sept. 23. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in free kayak tours, harbor and maritime history tours and hands-on harborside activities. There was also a sea creature touch-tank, children’s face painting and music.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were on hand at the event hosted by the Setauket Task Force to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding a partnering to plan to conserve the historic and natural resources of the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

Stony Brook University professor Christopher Gobler discusses the quality of local bodies of water at a press conference Sept. 12. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

There’s still something in the water — and it’s not a good kind of something.

Scientists from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences released an annual report highlighting the concern over the prolonged existence of toxic algae blooms, and a deficiency of oxygen in Long Island waters caused high levels of nitrogen.

Stony Brook Professor Christopher Gobler and several members of the advocacy collective Long Island Clean Water Partnership, a conglomerate of several Long Island environmental groups, revealed the findings of a study done from May to August.

The Roth Pond, a Stony Brook University body of water that plays host to the annual Roth Regatta, is affected by blue-green algae. File photo from Stony Brook University

“In order to make Long Island sustainable and livable, clean water needs to be established,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The challenge has been very great over the last decade … though the problem, unfortunately, is getting a bit worse. Algae blooms and the degradation of water quality across Long Island are serious threats to Long Island’s health.”

On the North Shore, there are several severe cases of hypoxia, or a depletion of dissolved oxygen in water, which is necessary for sea life to survive. Cases were found in Stony Brook Harbor, Northport Bay, Oyster Bay and Hempstead Bay. Measured on a milligram per liter of water scale,any case of hypoxia below two milligrams per liter can be harmful to fish, and almost anything else living on the bottom of the bays.

There were also periodic outbreaks of blue-green algae in Lake Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook University’s Roth Pond. This algae releases a poison harmful to humans and animals, but Gobler said students at the university shouldn’t worry, because he and other scientists at Stony Brook are constantly monitoring the water, especially before the annual Roth Regatta.

“[If nothing is done] the areas could expand — it could get more intense,” Gobler said. “We use a cutoff of three milligrams per liter, which is bad, but of course you can go to zero. An area like Hempstead Harbor went to zero, [Northport and Oyster Bays] went to zero at some points in time. There’s a usual day-night cycle, so it’s at night that the levels get very, very low.”

“We have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

—Dick Amper

As a result of the possibility of hypoxia expanding, Gobler said he and other scientists have also been monitoring Port Jefferson Harbor and Setauket Harbor.

Though Setauket Harbor is not currently experiencing any problems with hypoxia or algae, the harbor has experienced periods of pathogens, like E. coli, some of which were born from runoff into the harbor, but others might have come from leakage of antiquated cesspools in the area, according to George Hoffman, a trustee of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, which is also a member of the Clean Water Partnership.

Next May the task force hopes to start monitoring directly inside Setauket Harbor. Runoff from lawn fertilizers can also increase the nitrogen levels in the harbor.

“If our problem isn’t hypoxia, we have a problem with pathogens,” Hoffman said in a phone interview. “Prevention is really [Dr. Gobbler’s] goal — to know what is happening and to start taking steps. I think people’s information levels [on the topic] are high in the surface waters that they live by.”

In addition to hypoxia and blue-green algae, some of the water quality problems found in the assessment were brown tides on the South Shore, rust tide in the Peconic bays and paralytic shellfish poisoning on the East End — all of which are also nitrogen level issues that can be  traced back to cesspool sewage and fertilizers.

Port Jefferson Harbor is being monitored due to the speading of hypoxia across local bodies of water. File photo by Alex Petroski

“Make no mistake about it, this is so big that even … still, we have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dick Amper, the director of The Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “What’s the solution to this problem? We have to do more.”

There have been several efforts to help curb water degradation on Long Island. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation in April that put $2.5 billion toward clean water protection, improving water infrastructure and building new sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park, and adding a rebate program for those upgrading outdated septic systems.

Despite doing more, the repairs will take some time.

“This is going to be a long, long marathon,” said Kevin McDonald, the conservation project director at The Nature Conservancy said.

There is also worry that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — announcing the dumping of dredged materials into Long Island Sound — could compound the problem.

“We have more political funding and will try to implement solutions,” Esposito said. “The problems are getting worse, but the solutions are becoming clearer.”

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham:

Sills Gully Beach in Shoreham is a prime example of erosion due to storm events, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “When you harden the shoreline by constructing hundreds of linear feet of vertical retaining walls or bulkheads, you create a condition where the energy stored in the waves caused by tidal surge and storm events hits up against the hardening structure and reflects back to the Sound,” Bonner said. “These reflected waves cause scour at the base of the bulkhead and a loss of sand from the beach. To minimize this impact, both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the town require armor stone, big rocks, in front of any bulkhead to dissipate the reflected wave surge, reducing the impact that bulkheads have on the beaches.” According to the councilwoman, bulkheads that were constructed in the past “increased the rate of erosion but also separated the beach from its natural sand source.” The practice led to either a narrow or non-existing beach during high tide. With recent changes of bulkheads being moved landward or reducing their elevations, plus the installation of armor stones, erosive impacts have been reduced, and “the beaches tend to be wider and more resilient to storm events.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village:

Port Jefferson was originally known as Drowned Meadow because the area that now comprises most of the commercial district was a marsh that flooded every high tide, according to the book “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by Port Jefferson library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare. They wrote, “That flooding, and the steep hills and deep ravines that surrounded the marsh, made farming difficult, and the village grew slowly. In fact, by 1800, there were only a handful of houses.”

 

Photo by Maria Hoffman

Setauket Harbor:

In the last decade, Shore Road along Setauket Harbor has flooded approximately a half a dozen times a year, which is more than in the past due to astronomical tides. “All coastal communities will be increasingly impacted by rising sea level, and sea level rise goes hand in hand with climate change,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “One way to identify the areas that will be impacted is to look at the areas that are now impacted by storms and astronomical tides. All the low-level shore areas in the Three Village community are the most vulnerable. And, they tend to be the areas that we like to go down to, along the shore, such as beaches and docks and harbor areas. It is projected that in the next hundred years as sea level continues to rise that we will see portions of Route 25A flooding during storm events that we haven’t seen before.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Nissequogue River, Smithtown:

According to Jan Porinchak, educator and naturalist, the Nissequogue River watershed would be threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The river consists of two main branches that start near the southern boundaries of the town in Hauppauge, and then the water flows into the Sound. “Rising sea levels will drown out the native marsh grasses which dissipate wave action and anchor the sediments comprising the shoreline,” Porinchak said. “With the marsh grasses such as Spartina removed, areas further inland would be threatened with shoreline loss from erosion.” Erosion can also have a negative impact on marine species. “With rising sea levels compromising marsh land vegetation, salt water can reach the roots of non-salt-tolerant woody plants further inland, which kills those plant species,” he said. “This creates a domino effect, resulting in yet more erosion when the roots of those plants are eliminated. Increased sediment from these eroded areas will wash into the Nissequogue and similar ecosystems. This sediment can negatively impact shellfish and other marine species, and fuel algae blooms to the widespread detriment of the marine food web.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Beach, Smithtown:

Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Asharoken, Huntington:

The incorporated village of Asharoken in the Town of Huntington provides the only essential land access way contacting the Eaton’s Neck peninsula to Northport, with its Asharoken Avenue. Due to hurricanes and nor’easters, the Long Island Sound side of the peninsula has experienced moderate to severe beach erosion. In 2015 the Asharoken village board took into consideration a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches. The plan consisted of creating a berm and dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. The area includes properties on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue. However, in January Asharoken officials voted to bring an end to the restoration project after many residents rejected part of the plan that included creating public access points at certain private properties, which would leave residents liable for any injuries or mishaps that happened when the public was on the shoreline of the property.

Local politicians and members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force announce a state grant that will improve water quality. From left, Setauket Harbor Task Force Chairwoman Laurie Vetere, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Setauket Harbor Task Force Co-founder George Hoffman and state Sen. John Flanagan. Photo by Alex Petroski

Advocates for the health of the Setauket Harbor were given an essential resource to aid in efforts to improve water quality in the North Shore port this week.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he secured a $1 million grant from New York State for Brookhaven Town at a press conference Sept. 20 to be used to improve water quality in the harbor.

The announcement came on the heels of a recent water quality study of Setauket Harbor done by Cornell Cooperative Extension and commissioned by Brookhaven, which turned up troubling results. Setauket Harbor is part of the larger Port Jefferson Harbor complex.

“The recent water quality report commissioned by Brookhaven pointed out that Setauket Harbor has significant water quality issues caused mainly by road runoff from rain water flooding into the harbor after storms,” Laurie Vetere, chairwoman for Setauket Harbor Task Force, a volunteer group, said during the press conference.

“It’s clear that the harbor has some serious challenges.”

— George Hoffman

The grant will fund three projects relating to the harbor.

Half of the $1 million will go toward improvements to the dock. Forty percent will be used on storm water infrastructure improvements and the remaining $100,000 will be used to remove silt that has accumulated in the harbor and its water sources.

Nitrogen pollution and coliform bacteria have plagued Setauket Harbor in recent years.

“I don’t think we were surprised — the harbor has been struggling for years,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said in an email. “It has been closed to shell fishing for more than a decade and the main creek leading to the harbor is filled with sediment and not stopping contaminants in storm water from flowing into the harbor … it’s clear that the harbor has some serious challenges.”

Restrictions were placed on shell fishing in other Long Island waterways by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2015 because of water quality concerns.

Flanagan said the grant should be a step in the right direction to improve the harbor’s waters.

“Long Islanders are blessed with access to magnificent waterways like Setauket Harbor,” he said during the press conference. “That’s why it is important that all levels of government work together to preserve and protect these fragile ecosystems. This state funding will help support critical improvement projects to restore and revitalize this beautiful natural resource and it is my pleasure to partner with [Brookhaven Town Supervisor] Ed Romaine, the Town of Brookhaven and Setauket Harbor Task Force to help bring this project to reality.”

Flanagan, who is up for reelection in November, said in an interview following the press conference that environmental issues are an “A-1 priority” to his constituents.

“They deeply care about the environment,” he said. “I have a lot of coastal property in the district I’m fortunate enough to represent … it’s all important stuff.”

Romaine (R) has been an advocate for legislation to improve Long Island’s water quality for decades. In June, the town approved a law proposed by Romaine that prohibits structures being built within 500 feet of any Long Island waters from having cesspools or septic systems.

“I thank Sen. Flanagan for his strong advocacy on behalf of the Town to help us get started on improving the water quality in Setauket Harbor and the watershed that surrounds it,” Romaine said. “By acting now, I believe we can prevent further contamination, reverse the damage that has already been done and begin to restore this beautiful natural resource back to a healthy and environmentally sound waterway.”

File photo from Margo Arceri

Story last updated 4.11.2016, 1:30 p.m.

Police have identified the body found near a beach off Setauket Harbor on Monday morning, linking him back to an emergency crash-landing that happened nearby in February, Suffolk County cops said.

Gerson Salmon-Negron, 23, was last seen shortly after 11 p.m. on Feb. 20 when the Piper Archer four-seated airplane he was in went down in the waters of Setauket Harbor with three others on board. His body was finally found on Monday morning after a 911 call told dispatchers about a body spotted on the beach near Brewster Lane in Setauket around 9:10 a.m., the Suffolk County Police Department said.

The three other men, student pilot Austricio Ramirez, 25, Nelson Gomez, 36, and Wady Perez, 25, were rescued by nearby neighbors and officers soon after the crash. The small plane had taken off from Fitchburg, Mass., en route to Republic Airport in Farmingale, but went down near the vicinity of 108 Van Brunt Manor Road in Poquott. The incident spurred residents living on the Strongs Neck side of the water to jump into action as soon as they noticed emergency vehicles making their way into the small North Shore community.

Related: Small plane crash-lands in Setauket Harbor

As the incident unfolded, residents living along the shoreline started offering up their personal kayaks for rescuers to use to lift the survivors out to safety.

“Where this occurred, there are only a few homes, but instantly, the neighbors pulled together,” resident Margo Arceri said in a previous interview after the crash occurred. “They say, ‘it takes a village,’ and these neighbors showed a real sense of community. We all pulled together immediately. I just wish it had a happier ending.”

In a report released in March, the National Transportation Safety Board said that aircraft reported low amounts of fuel and had been operated for about five hours since its tank was last filled. The report said the plane’s engine “sputtered” as it approached the Port Jefferson area, spurring the flight instructor to turn on the electric fuel pump and instructing his student pilot to switch the fuel selector to the plane’s left fuel tank as it flew at around 2,000 feet. The sputtering stopped, but started up again about three minutes later, the NTSB said, and then lost power.

That was when the pilot instructor took control of the plane and tried heading to the shoreline, where he believed the plane could safely land, the NTSB report said. But the pilot was unable to see the shoreline due to the darkness and could only guess where the shoreline began by the lights inside of nearby houses, the report said.

He held the plane off of the water for as long as he could before touching down and instructing everyone to grab a life vest and exit the plane, the NTSB said. Neither the student pilot nor the passengers, however, were wearing life vests when they exited the plane, the report said. Emergency personnel were on the scene within minutes and rescued three of the four men.

The airplane floated in the water for about five minutes before sinking nose-first to the bottom of the harbor, the NTSB said.

Divers with the Suffolk County Police Department pursue the aircraft as the missing person search continues. Photo from Margo Arceri
Divers with the Suffolk County Police Department search for Gerson Salmon-Negron’s body shortly after the plane crash-landed. File photo from Margo Arceri

Divers with the Suffolk County Police Department pursue the aircraft as the missing person search continues. Photo from Margo Arceri

By Phil Corso

 

Story last updated 2.22.16, 12:30 p.m.

Police are combing through the region where Port Jefferson Harbor and Setauket Harbor meet near Poquott after a small plane crashed there late Saturday night, authorities said.

The small plane, which cops said was a Piper PA-28 carrying four people, went down shortly after 11 p.m. near the vicinity of 108 Van Brunt Manor Rd., Poquott Mayor Dee Parrish said. An extensive response from emergency personnel followed, during which three people were recovered from the water — but one remained missing, and that search was ongoing through the beginning of this week, officials said.

Police said on Sunday that a student pilot, 25-year-old Bronx resident Austricio Ramirez was flying the plane when the problems arose and turned the controls over to his instructor, 36-year-old Queens resident Nelson Gomez, who landed the plane in the harbor.

All the passengers in the four-seater plane were able to exit into the water, after which Ramirez, Nelson and passenger Wady Perez, a 25-year-old from Queens, were rescued by police.

But Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the search and rescue operation remained in effect for one missing person, who was identified as 23-year-old Queens resident Gerson Salmon-Negron, with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard.

“We’re going to do everything we can to find that individual,” he said.

The three people pulled from the water were being treated at Stony Brook University Hospital, officials said. They have since been released.

Peter Stubberfield of Poquott said he and his wife heard the plane flying immediately above his house off the harbor Saturday night immediately followed by the sound of emergency vehicles.

“Within minutes of hearing the plane, there were about 15 to 20 emergency vehicles right in front of our private drive,” he said. “There were two helicopters flying around continually, so we assumed something was going on in the water.”

Margo Arceri, who lives on the Strongs Neck side of the water where the plane crashed, said she and her neighbors jumped into action as soon as they noticed emergency vehicles making their way into the small North Shore community. Upon stepping outside Saturday night, Arceri said she watched emergency personnel pull survivors out of the water, wrap them in blankets and remove them to the nearby hospital.

As the incident unfolded, Arceri said everyone living along the shoreline did something to help, whether that meant picking up a telephone, making way for emergency responders, or even offering up their personal kayaks for rescuers to use to lift the survivors out to safety.

“Where this occurred, there are only a few homes, but instantly, the neighbors pulled together,” she said. “They say, ‘it takes a village,’ and these neighbors showed a real sense of community. We all pulled together immediately. I just wish it had a happier ending.”

One eyewitness who did not want to be named said she called the police Saturday night after watching the plane fly over her Poquott home and into the water. Seconds after hitting the water, the resident said she heard the survivors in the water yelling to each other.

“It sounded like they were talking to each other — not calling out for assistance. I yelled to them to ask if they needed help, but they didn’t hear me at all,” she said. “Within seconds, I saw a large helicopter overhead.”

Police arrived soon after, the woman said, and she and her husband then offered up their three personal kayaks to rescuers, who used the boats to retrieve the survivors.

“I just wish I had put the phone down and run down to the beach,” the witness said. “I just watched. I saw the lights on the plane go out. I’m having a really horrible time with this whole thing.”

A spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration said Sunday that the plane was en route to Republic Airport in Farmingdale, after taking off from Fitchburg, Mass., but the pilot was reporting engine issues before attempting a forced landing.

Both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board were at the scene of the crash from Saturday night into the beginning of this week to help with the search efforts, authorities said. Also helping the Suffolk County Police Department and the Coast Guard were local fire departments and the town harbormaster.

A view of Setauket Harbor. The Setauket Harbor Task Force works to preserve this local gem. File photo

By Phil Corso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) would regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and assist local communities in cleaning up water contamination. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said it’s time to wake up when it comes to Long Island’s water.

Up until 10 years ago, Brookhaven residents could gather clams and oysters from bodies of water like the Setauket Harbor. But that’s not the case now, according to the Supervisor, who remarked on the closing of Mount Sinai Harbor for shell fishing.

“If that isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is,” Romaine said.

In light of Brookhaven’s declining water quality, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, the supervisor announced that the Town of Brookhaven would take on a study that will help officials pinpoint the sources of water contamination, starting with the Setauket Harbor. Romaine said the harbor was small enough for the town to examine and clean once they receive the results next year.

Romaine said the town planned on looking at the pipes leading to the harbor, road runoff, and all drains that run to the harbor. In response to this, the town hired Cornell Cooperative Extension to conduct this study and to use DNA testing to help identify the sources of water pollution.

While high levels of nitrogen were identified in the water, Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said nitrogen could come from various sources, including leaching from underground septic systems, wild and domesticated animal feces and fertilizers, among other sources.

Last year, Losquadro said his department finished reconstructing the sea wall along Shore Road in Setauket by removing the concrete slabs that were used in the past to construct the wall. He added that the concrete released chemicals into the water, which further affected the water quality.

Town officials said they intended to continue the study across multiple seasons, especially in the winter months, when people use fewer fertilizers and when less wild and domestic animals are out and about.

Setauket Harbor and Mount Sinai Harbor, which includes Cedar Beach, are two of several impacted waterways on the Island. According to Romaine, Moriches Bay and the Great South Bay are also impacted.

“I’m greatly concerned because each year the waterways surrounding Brookhaven Town and Long Island have been declining,” Romaine said. “Many of our harbors and parts of out tributaries are considered impaired.”

Neither the town nor the highway department will know how much cleaning Setauket Harbor’s waters will cost until after Cornell Cooperative Extension conducts its study, Romaine said. The hope is that they will identify the sources of contamination before the town’s 2017 budget is approved.

The town isn’t only working with Losquadro, but also with members of the Setauket Harbor Task force led by George Hoffman, Moriches Bay Project and Friends of Bellport Bay.

Romaine also added that those who settled on the Island would not be impressed with Long Island’s declining water quality.

“The town was founded in 1655 [and] it was Setauket Harbor that the settlers … came to start the first European settlement in Brookhaven Town,” Romaine said. “I’m sure if they were here today, they would weep at the fact that the waters are so impaired — you can’t eat any of the shellfish from the water.”