A report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security outlining alternatives to selling Plum Island to the highest bidder has come under criticism from environmental groups.
A report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security outlining alternatives to selling Plum Island to the highest bidder has come under criticism from environmental groups.
Local government officials blasted members of the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday for failing to properly notify them about a public meeting regarding the agency’s intentions to designate dredged spoil dumping sites in the eastern Long Island Sound.
The meeting, held at Suffolk Community College’s culinary center in Riverhead, outlined the EPA’s plans to conduct a supplemental environmental impact study evaluating potential dumping sites in the eastern portion of the Sound.
Four dredging sites currently exist in the Sound. Cornfield Shoals is the closest to the North Fork, located north of Greenport. The New London site is just west of Fishers Island. The other two sites are the western Suffolk site, south of Stamford, Conn. and the central Sound site, south of New Haven.
For the past 30 years dredged material from the eastern Long Island Sound has been disposed of primarily at the New London and Cornfield Shoals sites. Both are scheduled to close in 2016, prompting the EPA to seek out new dredge spoil disposal locations.
Alternative areas being considered are located off of Southold and Greenport.
“One of the things you said is if you want to get the public involved in this process, well, you first have to invited the public,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who told EPA members he was first notified of the meeting just 24 hours earlier.
Furthermore, Mr. Russell said he has not received answers to questions previously submitted to the agency on the issue.
“As supervisor of Southold Town I certainly should be involved in this process,” he said. “You need to make sure we are at the table for this discussion.”
Approximately 20 people attended the meeting, many echoing Mr. Russell’s statement about the short notice.
During the hour-long presentation representatives from EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, who helps designate and monitor the sites, outlined the process of choosing a new dumping area.
“This is a work in progress we are narrowing down locations that could work as a potential site,” said Bernward Hay, an EPA environmental scientist. Mr. Hay noted the environmental impact statement would not guarantee the approval of any proposed dumping site.
The new impact study will build on an evaluation conducted in 2005 when the agency established dumping sites in the western and central portion of the Sound, according to the presentation.
The study would analyze sediment, geographical position, depth of water, distance from the coastline and the history of dumping in the proposed areas, Mr. Hay said. The study would also take into account impacts on shellfish beds, fishing areas, shipping lanes and recreation areas.
But local lawmakers expressed frustration over the presentation.
“Suffolk County has an agriculture leasing program that’s not mentioned at all,” Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said.
Citizens agreed the proposal wasn’t comprehensive.
While the dredge material from Long Island is mostly sand that can be used for beach restoration, Connecticut dredge spoil is fine-grain silt or clay that’s not suitable for beach repairs. Because of that most of what is deposited in these sites comes from Connecticut, according to the EPA.
“Anything that comes from Connecticut ends up on Long Island’s beaches,” Mattituck resident Ron McGreevy said. “I think you need to collect more information from the Long Island side of the Sound.”
The Farmingdale-based nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment doesn’t believe any dredge spoil should be dumped in the Sound, according to its executive programs manager, Maureen Dolan Murphy.
The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed in 2005 to phase out open water dumping and to develop a dredged material management plan before deciding to move forward with this step, however that plan was never developed, Ms. Murphy said.
Elected officials also questioned the continued use of underwater dumping sites.
“It’s well documented that there is a high incidence of shell disease in crabs and lobster in the waters around these dump sites,” said James King, Southold Town Trustee and commercial lobster fisherman. “I think the bottom line here is that water disposal is the cheapest, easiest way to get rid of dredge spoil. There is a lot of game playing.”
The EPA said it would continue to assess the proposed sites in more detail and include more data.
Additional public meetings on the issue will be held in the winter.
Environmental advocates lined up Tuesday to speak out against a bill proposed in the Suffolk County Legislature that’s designed to revise the county’s land preservation program.
The bill, proposed by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), would ensure that half of Drinking Water Protection Program funds, which must be used for land preservation, would be designated for purchasing farmland development rights.
With funding for the program dwindling, the environmental activists believe legislators should focus on securing future land preservation funds “rather than declaring one land type is more superior to all others,” said Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy, during the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s Legislature meeting at the County Center in Riverside.
“We should in fact be arguing for additional funding for a wildly popular program that helps both the environment and the economy,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who also spoke during the hearing.
According to a press release from Mr. Krupski promoting his proposed bill, 95 percent of program funding currently goes to open space purchases, which include wetlands, Pine Barrens, woodlands and hamlet parks. The remaining five percent is allocated for farmland preservation, the release states.
Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he applauds Mr. Krupski’s efforts in taking on the “sensitive” issue.
“It is a balancing act,” Mr. Gergela said at the hearing. “He has raised awareness of the importance of farmland in the program.”
Since the Drinking Water Protection Program started in 1988, about 12,000 acres of farmland have been preserved, leaving 23,000 acres to be protected, Mr. Gergela said.
Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment also took to the podium. She said that, according to the county charter, the Legislature does not have the last say on changing the voter-approved law, which directs a quarter penny sales tax on every dollar to the Drinking Water Protection Program.
A mandatory referendum is needed to make any amendments to the program, she said.
“You can’t do this legally,” she said.
“When the voters of Suffolk County approved this overwhelmingly important environmental program, they approved very specific wording and provisions and had an expectation that land preservation would proceeded accordingly,” Tom Casey, vice president of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, told legislators.
The program has secured more than a billion dollars for land preservation throughout the county, Mr. Amper said.
In 2007 the county accelerated the program, bonding purchases against future sales tax revenue through November 2011. But now the county must purchase land on a pay-as-you-go basis, significantly reducing available funds, according to previous Times/Review coverage.
Currently, the county has $25.1 million in program funds to spend on acquisition, but it already has 43 properties, totaling 420 acres, in various stages of purchase, together costing $23.9 million, according to an April 29 press release from Suffolk County executive Steven Bellone.
For future purchases, the county anticipates receiving $5 million from this years sales tax, along with $1.14 million that’s available from leftover program funds. Moving forward, it must rely solely on the yearly sales tax revenue to fund the program, according to the release.
During the hearing, Mr. Amper asked that legislators not lose sight of the program’s goal.
“This is for drinking water protection,” he said. “When you buy open space above important aquifer sources, the water below stays clean.”
Environmental advocates, farmers, and elected officials stepped up to the microphone one by one last week, voicing support for or concern about the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft strategy to prevent future pesticide contamination of Long Island’s drinking water supplies.
Close to 100 people attended the hearing at Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus in Riverhead last Wednesday night, April 3.
The new, 122-page proposed strategy calls for a technical review and advisory committee to review water quality data, so it can weigh factors such as human health risks and the availability of effective pesticide alternatives. The committee would provide the DEC with background information needed to support future regulatory action.
The draft strategy also calls for a working group of stakeholders to make sure those directly involved in pest management, pesticide use and water quality on Long Island are broadly represented.
Since 1996, 117 different pesticide-related chemicals have been detected in Long Island’s groundwater, according to the DEC.
By 1998 the agency began developing a plan to prevent further degradation of below-ground water supplies, culminating with the release of a draft plan in 2011 that included the possibility of a zero tolerance policy on certain pesticide uses. But the 2011 draft drew great concern from farmers, who said they would not be able to farm successfully under such harsh restrictions.
“The zero tolerance provision upset us greatly,” Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said in an interview about the 2011 proposed plan, which got scrapped. “We objected to it because in the draft document was the notion of zero tolerance. We had to interpret what zero meant. To me, zero means if they found something, it’s banned.”
Taking note of those concerns, in January, the DEC released its newest proposal to prevent future pesticide contamination, calling the new draft a “strategy.”
Environmental advocates at the hearing last week said the proposed strategy is a step back from the original plan proposed in 2011.
Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said the strategy lacked specific goals for improving water quality over time.
Mr. DeLuca also asked for specific triggers, such as a certain number or level of pesticide detections, that would require the DEC to take regulatory action. He said the strategy also lacks a way to gauge how well it is working.
The new draft strategy “simply calls for more meetings and more planning” with too many “vagaries going forward,” he said.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, asked for a ban on three common pesticides — atrazine, metalaxyl, and imidacloprid — compounds she said are the most commonly found in Long Island’s groundwater.
Ms. Esposito asked the DEC to take responsibility for finding safer alternatives to common pesticides entering groundwater
But representatives of the East End’s agricultural community cautioned against implementing overly restrictive pesticide regulations, saying farmers need pesticides to remain economically viable.
Deborah Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead voiced concern about a pesticides ban saying, “The last measure we use is pesticides.”
She said that before any pesticide is taken off the market alternatives must be identified, adding that the past few years have already been a struggle for Long Island’s farmers.
Ms. Schmitt also said a zero-tolerance policy for pesticides in groundwater “will put us out of business.” Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela agrees.
“Don’t start talking about banning things until the homework is done,” he said.
On the proposed banning of imidacloprid, for example, Mr. Gergela later said in an interview, “You have to be careful what you ask for.
“The alternative is far more toxic,” he said. “It’s product called dylox, and it is not as effective.”
Mr. Gergela also asked the DEC to assess risks presented by pesticides versus their benefit to society, adding that farming on Long Island is a $300 million industry.
“We need to work together,” he said. “We have to balance the issue.”
After the meeting, DEC deputy commissioner Eugene Leff said the agency would “seriously consider” creating water quality goals to ensure water quality changes are addressed over time.
Developing automatic triggers for regulatory action would be more difficult, he added. He believes a one-fits-all standard is not possible since different pesticides are harmful at different levels. The DEC is accepting public comments regarding the draft strategy until April 30. Comments can be submitted through email to: [email protected] or by fax to 518-402-9024, or mailed to:
Scott Menrath, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Materials Management, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233.
Long Island environmental groups are planning a new campaign this spring with the slogan “It’s the water, stupid,” aimed at focusing on nitrogen, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other harmful substances making their way into the island’s ground and surface waters.
That’s according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who was among more than 65 environmental group representatives who pitched ideas to state Senator Ken LaValle earlier this month, during his annual environmental round table at Suffolk County Community College’s culinary arts center in downtown Riverhead.
In addition to the increased frequency of algae blooms in the bays, linked to nitrogen from faulty septic systems, Ms. Esposito said 117 pesticides are found in Long Island’s drinking water.
Atrazine, the No. 1 weed-killer in America and one of the most common chemicals found in groundwater, has been banned in Europe because it is an endocrine disrupter.
But farmers and their advocates in attendance said some pesticides and fungicides are absolutely necessary on Long Island.
Deborah Schmitt, whose family owns Phillip A. Schmitt & Son Farm Inc. in Riverhead, made a tearful plea to environmentalists to back away from supporting a ban on all pesticides.
She said her family’s farm has participated in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s agricultural stewardship program, using compost and less synthetic fertilizer, but needs some chemicals to survive.
“We grow food for many people. This is how we make a living. We are in the business of farming,” she said. “We used to grow spinach, but we no longer have good weed control. We are losing our competitive edge as profitable agricultural businesses. We need pesticides, or plant protectors, whatever you want to call them, to grow food. We are almost at the point where we just might have to quit.”
She added that farmers must obtain licenses to ensure that they’re applying pesticides responsibly, while no such demand is placed on homeowners who use the same materials.
“I’m 55 years old. I have eaten conventional food all my life and I drink Long Island water,” she said. “My doctor says I’m healthy. I would never feed my family something that would make them sick.”
Ms. Esposito said she’s not requesting a ban on all pesticides, just the top three.
Ms. Schmitt responded, “Those are the ones we need most!”
Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said his organization wants to find common ground with environmental groups on pesticide issues.
“We, too, as farmers, are concerned about pesticides,” he said, adding that 95 percent of pesticides in groundwater are “legacy” chemicals that are no longer in use.
“We need alternatives. We’re not going to ban medicine. We’re not going to ban cars and trucks on the highway,” he said. “We can’t ban pesticides. They have a place in our society.”
Also on the issue of groundwater pollution, Peconic baykeeper Kevin McAllister asked why the state DEC has not responded to a request he made last September that it review sewage treatment plants on Long Island that are not in compliance with their DEC permits.
“It’s poor regulatory policy,” he said. “There was not even a legal response to my request.”
Jeremy Samuelson of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk also implored Mr. LaValle to help waterfront communities put in place innovative coastal zone management plans in light of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.
“The reality is, we need state leadership to ID appropriate funding sources,” he said. “It’s obvious to us in Montauk that we need to have these conversations in advance of the storm.”
Mr. LaValle said the federal government is just beginning to help communities do just that, and he urged leaders in all local towns to take advantage of the opportunity to plan for the future.
Mr. Samuelson also thanked Mr. LaValle for helping pass state law to protect sharks.
“Given what we do, it’s a professional courtesy,” quipped Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who was also in attendance.
Don’t dump dredge spoil in eastern Long Island Sound.
That was the message some speakers had for the federal Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday at a hearing on finding potential sites to replace two existing dredge disposal sites in eastern Long Island Sound.
Others argued that dredging is necessary to maintain a water-based economy.
The meeting, held at Suffolk County Community College’s culinary center in Riverhead, was billed as a “notice of intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential designation of one or more ocean-dredged material disposal sites to serve the eastern Long Island Sound region.”
There are four such dredge dumping sites in Long Island Sound now, one dubbed the Western Suffolk site, south of Stamford, Conn.; one called Central Long Island Sound, south of New Haven; one called Cornfield Shoals, north of Greenport; and one called the New London site, just west of Fishers Island.
The Cornfield Shoals and New London sites are scheduled to be closed on Dec. 23, 2016, and the EPA is looking for new sites for dredge disposal, which was the subject of the hearing.
Most of what is disposed in these sites comes from Connecticut, according to the EPA. That’s because the dredge material from Long Island is mostly sand, and can be used for beach restoration, whereas most of the dredge material from Connecticut is fine-grained silt or clay and cannot be used for beach restoration.
The Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment doesn’t think any dredge spoil should be dumped in Long Island Sound, according to the non-profit group’s executive programs manager, Maureen Dolan Murphy.
That group opposed the designation of the two western Long Island Sound sites in 2004 and opposes designating new sites, as well.
“It did not make logical sense that after millions of dollars spent on restoring the Sound, we would designate it as a long-term dumping ground,” she said.
She said CCE agrees that dredging for navigation safety is necessary, but that open water disposal for dredge materials is not.
She said EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 agreed to phase out open water dumping and to develop a “Dredged Material Management Plan” before deciding on its next step.
But that plan has never been developed, Ms. Murphy said.
“CCE believes it is risky and ill-advised to proceed with a long-term designation of an open-water disposal site before the final development of a DMMP,” she said. “Particularly since the goal and intent of the DMMP was to reduce open water disposal.”
Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski, who is running for Suffolk County Legislature in a special election being held Tuesday, echoed those sentiments.
“If Long Island Sound is a federally designated estuary, how do we propose to use it as a dump site for toxic spoil?” he said. “It just doesn’t’ make any sense.”
The Fishers Island Conservancy also objects to any further open water dumping sites in Long Island Sound, and feels EPA should look to areas outside of Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound for dump sites, according to Robert Evans of the FIC.
“We’ve been concerned for many years about the damage caused by the large-scale disposal at the New London site,” Mr. Evans said. “The Conservancy was party to the 1995 lawsuit that resulted in a 2002 settlement providing for the EPA’s formal designation process for dredged material disposal sites.”
He said the last large-scale dumping in the New London site was seven years ago, when about 400,000 cubic yards of dredge material was dumped there.
“The lobster population was greatly harmed and few believe the damage was coincidental,” Mr. Evans said, adding that the waters near the site have very strong currents and shallow depths.
“Dumping spoil in those waters is akin to throwing dirt into a fan,” Mr. Evans said.
Daniel Natchez, who owns a Mamaroneck-based environmental waterfront design company, took the opposite side of the argument, saying that people need to consider the economic impacts of not dredging.
“If you don’t dredge, the material that everyone is concerned about just sits there, and you swim in it, or have recreation in it,” he said, adding that people won’t have access to waterways.
“These are things that are going to have an adverse effect to quality of life,” he said.
And Bill Spicer, who owns Spicer’s Marina in Noack, CT, near Mystic, also feels that dredging is needed for the economy.
“Connecticut has billions of dollars at stake on the waterfront,” he said.
He suggested the dredge disposal sites be put in Connecticut waters, since Connecticut uses them more often.