08/20/13 10:00am
08/20/2013 10:00 AM
Bill Portlock Courtesy Photo | Rust tide in the Peconic estuary last year.

BILL PORTLOCK COURTESY PHOTO | Rust tide in the Peconic estuary last year.

The harmful algal bloom known as rust tide has once again been detected in Peconic Bay waters — marking the 10th consecutive year the finfish and shellfish-harming algae has appeared in bay waters, according to Stony Brook University researchers.

The rust tide algae, known as Cochlodinium polykrikoides, can be lethal to marine life in levels above 500 cells per milliliter. The algae has not been found harmful to humans, however.

Densities recorded exceed 10,000 cells per milliliter in western areas of the Peconic Estuary , according to monitoring by The Gobler Laboratory at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Densities exceeding 1,000 cells per milliliter were also present in Flanders Bay and tributaries, including Meetinghouse Creek in Aquebogue.

“The rust tide is expected to spread in the coming days and weeks and typically extends into the fall or until water temperatures drop below 60 degrees,” said Dr. Christoper Gobler, lead researcher at the lab.

Last fall, bay scallops in the Peconic Estuary declined “tenfold” in some regions during the rust tide, causing disappointment among baymen and scallop lovers alike, according to a Stony Brook release.

The impacts of this year’s bloom will likely depend on its duration, according to research officials.

Researchers have discovered the organism waits at the bottom of the bay emerging each summer to start a new bloom. At the end of the bloom, it turns into a cyst or seed, settling back on the bay’s bottom. This allows for the blooms to return each year, researchers said.

Researchers also found “nitrogen loading makes these blooms more intense and more toxic. As nitrogen loading has increased into our bays, these events have intensified,” Mr. Gobler said.

Experiments conducted in the Gobler Lab have demonstrated that this algae can kill fish in a matter of hours and shellfish over the course of a few days, according to the release.


06/25/13 3:00pm
06/25/2013 3:00 PM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | DEC officials announce funding to repair a canoe launch in Riverhead.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is designating millions of dollars in funding toward improving recreation areas and the North Fork is expected to reap the benefits.

In recognition of Great Outdoors Month New York, state Department of Environmental Conservation regional director Peter Scully announced $950,000 for outdoor recreation projects in Riverhead and Southold.

The funding derives from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York Works II program and the Environmental Protection Fund, which provides money for expanding and improving access for recreational activities on public lands.

Of the total funding, $750,000 will be used to repair the Peconic River dam and a canoe launch off of Edwards Avenue in Riverhead.

The remaining $200,000 will go toward designing a boat ramp at a public waterway access on Peconic Bay near the site of the former Old Barge restaurant just off Route 25 in Southold.


06/03/13 12:25pm
06/03/2013 12:25 PM
Suffolk Sheriff's new marine boat

COURTESY PHOTO | Marine 41 will be available to all East End marine units.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office has purchased a custom-made, 41-foot emergency response ship equipped with high-tech features like side-scan sonar and forward-looking infrared cameras, allowing it to spy on bay and ocean bottoms and navigate through the night with the utmost confidence.

The vessel will be used by members of the East End Marine Task Force, established in 2007 to help coordinate marine units from across the East End. The task force includes sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Coast Guard officers. Marine law enforcement units from each of the five East End towns also signed a memorandum of agreement to share and standardize equipment and training.

The task force agreement allows participating personnel to cross town borders when needed, which “increases safety and keeps costs down,” said sheriff’s office’s marine unit commanding officer, Sgt. John Andrejack.

Sgt. Andrejack is tasked with overseeing and managing the new boat.

“I don’t know of any other vessels like this,” Sgt. Andrejack said.

The ship, Marine 41, is a C.B.R.N.E.-response vessel -— which stands for Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive — outfitted with radar, chart plotters and a dual-screen GPS. The boat is designed to be able to respond to a nuclear, chemical or biological attack or accident.

It’s powered by twin Cummins Diesel motors and does not have propellers. The boat is instead propelled by Hamilton Jets, which allow it to operate in very shallow water (less than three feet), officials said. The cabin air is always purified, with no outside air circulated inside. If the boat enters an area with hazardous smoke and fumes, there is constant clean air in the cabin, official said.

Marine 41 has firefighting capability with a water pump that can move 2,000 gallons a minute. It also comes with a 500-pound Davit winch to lift and recover things from the water.

“This is the most well-equipped response boat in the area,” said Sgt. Andrejack, who was involved in acquiring, designing and equipping the craft.

Officers on the task force from all different towns will crew the ship, he said.

“This vessel is crewed by multiple agencies, used for whatever town may need it for any large event,” Sgt. Andrejack explained, giveing the annual Maritime Festival in Greenport as one example. “It can be transferred from town to town when and where it is needed.”

The sheriff’s office was able to make the purchase using a $1.2 million Federal Emergency Management Agency Port Security Grant, officials said. The grant also allowed for the purchase of personal radiation protectors and 40 strong exposure suits that can be used to protect officers during severe storms or harsh winter weather, both to be distributed to members of the East End Marine Task Force.

The boat also came with a survival raft, EMT equipment and is able accommodate a patient on a backboard.

Marine 41 and all the on-board equipment cost $650,000.

A full-scale training exercise was recently performed on the boat. That simulation exercise, based on an actual recent event, involved a fishing vessel had dredged up hazardous material that the crew had to “decontaminate” before towing the vessel back to shore.

“A vessel of this capability was lacking in the region and the citizens of the East End deserve the capability and protection this asset provides,” Sgt. Andrejack said.


05/19/13 11:00am
05/19/2013 11:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Joyce Conklin and Jim Miller(right) accept an award from the North Fork Environmental Council as Senator Ken LaValle praises the work of Mr. Miller and Ms. Conklin’s late husband, Bob.

The late Bob Conklin of Flanders and Jim Miller of Southold were honored as “Environmental Champions” by the North Fork Environmental Council on Thursday for their work establishing a fish passage at Grangebel Park.

The rock passage allows alewives and other fish to migrate from fresh to salt water, where they become food for other larger species like fluke, weakfish and striped bass.

Also honored was Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper for the past 15 years, who received the “Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year” award.

The awards were handed out at the Suffolk Community College culinary school in downtown Riverhead.

The Peconic River, like many rivers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was dammed up in spots to provide power for mills and other uses, cutting off the alewives’ migratory routes, which spawn in fresh water and migrate to salt water.

Mr. Conklin, a science teacher at Riverhead High School, initially would take his students down to the river to carry the alewives over the dam using nets.

But since this solution could only help a limited number of fish, Mr. Conklin in 2000 sought out the help of Mr. Miller, an environmental engineer and the founder of Miller Environmental in Calverton.

Mr. Miller helped set up an Alaskan Steep Pass, which was commonly called a fish ladder, and which helped the fish migrate over the dam from fresh water to salt water and back. But the fish ladder was only a temporary structure.

After a few years, they embarked on a plans to establish a permanent fish passage system at the Grangebel dam.

That system, which was aided by state and federal grants obtained by Riverhead Town, was completed in early 2011, just months after Mr. Conklin died in December 2010.

An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 alewives pass through the rock passageways, officials says. Eels also use the passageway.

The efforts of Mr. Conklin and others were featured on an episode of the television show, Lunkerville, in 2012, and that segment was shown Thursday night.

“It has reached a magnitude beyond our belief,” Mr. Miller said in the video. “We had fantasized that maybe some tens of thousand of fish could possibly migrate. We are now of the belief that it’s hundreds of thousands.  As they migrate out into the bay, they become primary foraging fish for the striped bass, the fluke and the weakfish, and those fish migrate out into the ocean, and the sharks and tuna will feed off the blue fish.

“It could actually impact the entire fisheries on the east coast of the United States.”

Mr. Conklin’s award was presented posthumously to his wife Joyce. She and Mr. Miller also were given proclamations by a number of elected officials.

Mr. Miller said Tim Griffing and Byron Young also should be recognized for their efforts in creating the fish passage. George Bartunek, who worked on the fish passage, said this was what Mr. Conklin loved to do.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister accepts an award from the North Fork Environmental Council at a reception in downtown Riverhead Thursday.

Mr. McAllister works for a private non-profit environmental organization called Peconic BayKeeper.

“He’s a man who has made a dramatic impact on our waterways,” said State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who said Mr. McAllister has highlighted the damage done to waterways by cesspools, and helped bring that issue to the forefront.

“The Peconic Bay is a resource people believed was infinite and no matter what we did to it, it would be still be there,” said South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). “We’ve found out now that is not the case.”

NFEC president Bill Toedter said Mr. McAllister has highlighted the fact that “what we do on land determines what happens with our waters.”


04/09/13 12:00pm
04/09/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Baykeeper Kevin McAllister.

The North Fork Environmental Council will honor baykeeper Kevin McAllister as its environmentalist of the year during an awards ceremony in Riverhead next month.

The organization will give Mr. McAllister, who for 15 years has advocated for the health of the Peconic estuary system and its wildlife, with its Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year award on Thursday, May 16 at the Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts Center in downtown Riverhead.

The NFEC says Mr. McAllister has worked over the past four years to show the connection between the health of the North Fork’s groundwater supplies and the health of its coastal waters.

“Kevin wears his passion on his sleeve, but it’s his work ethic, his dedication to doing what is right and his ability to challenge us to be better stewards of our lands and waters, of our future, which makes him stand head and shoulders above the rest,” Bill Toedter, NFEC president, said in a press release.

The organization will also name the late Bob Conklin, a former Riverhead science teacher, and Jim Miller, the founder of Miller Environmental, its Environmental Champions. Both were instrumental in the installation of a fish ladder allowing alewives, a herring-like fish, to return each year to their spawning grounds long blocked by the dam in Grangebel Park in Riverhead.

Information is available by calling 298-8880 or at nfec1.org.


03/24/13 3:00pm
03/24/2013 3:00 PM
Long Isand's Peconic Baykeeper

PECONIC BAYKEEPER COURTESY PHOTO | Kevin McAllister in his boat, ‘The Kathy.’

Fifteen years ago, at about this very time, water lover Kevin McAllister launched a local nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Peconic and South Shore bay systems on Long Island’s East End.

That was when he became the Peconic Baykeeper.

His organization and self-appointed title affords him the opportunity to protect the waters he respects so much by creating awareness and doing his part to fight against environmental threats to the bay waters, whether those threats come from man or Mother Nature.

Armed with a master’s degree in coastal zone management, and a donated boat he christened “The Kathy,” Mr. McAllister became the watchdog of all things water between the North and South forks and beyond. Over the years, he’s campaigned for and against many issues when it came to the bays.

But during that time, as boats tend to do, “The Kathy” started to wear. And now she’s in need of a facelift.

The boat, a 1970’s Dyer needs new electronics and work done to its body. The steering also needs to be restored after damage sustained from Hurricane Sandy, Mr. McAllister said.

He also hopes to get radar for the boat — for the first time.

“It’s kind of my right arm,” said Mr. McAllister. “It’s been 15 years since there has been any investment of time or money into the Kathy.”

To finance the upgrades, he’s started an effort to raise the $25,000 needed to fix and upgrade  the boat. He is still in need of $10,000 more.

“I think the important aspect of Peconic Baykeeper is having eyes on the water, frequently,” Mr. McAllister said. “Not only seeing what’s going on but the ability to respond within a couple hours notice to a sewage spill or a storm response, such as post hurricane Sandy. I was out there quite a bit.”

Should he reach his goals, Mr. McAllister hopes to launch upgraded Kathy sometime next month.

In a restored boat, he said, “Hopefully I’ll be blessed to have another 15 more.”

Click here to contact the Baykeeper.


02/21/13 6:00am
02/21/2013 6:00 AM

To the Editor:

Over the past number of years Peconic Bay has been subject to a number of brown tide events. These brown tides are examples of HABs, or harmful algal blooms. 

The brown tide is an explosion of algae that reduces the light penetration through the water and causes sea grass and other bottom-growing organisms to slow down or die off. This was a part of the scallop loss, among other things. Importantly, though, human health was not threatened. This past summer there was a new harmful algal bloom in Peconic Bay, a “rust tide” or possibly the start of a red tide. I saw this “rust” tide myself for the first time in many years of bay watching. It was rusty streaks in the water and not yet widespread over the bay.

This is an algal bloom that is very different from the brown tide. Is it preliminary to the red tide? We don’t know, but I certainly worry. The red tide can kill fish and cause floating carcasses to create a horrible smell up and down the beach as well as litter the beach with dead fish. I witnessed this mess in Sarasota, Fla.

These HABs are directly tied to pollution of our surface and groundwater. Our out-of-control septic discharge and cesspool waste are a large part of the problem. This is not nature running amok, it’s us.

It would behoove us to pay attention to these HABs and to be aware that going from our brown tide and rust tide to the very damaging red tide may not be a large leap. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies here. Let’s pay attention and act now and save the bay before it is too late.

Howard Meinke, Laurel

02/01/13 1:00pm
02/01/2013 1:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy High School principal Carl Semmler (left) and Shawn Leonard, a Mercy graduate and architect for the school's planned pond remediation project, at the foot of the pond on school grounds last week.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy High School principal Carl Semmler (left) and Shawn Leonard, a Mercy graduate and architect for the school’s planned pond remediation project, at the foot of the pond on school grounds last week.

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School is nearing completion of a pond remediation project that aims to bring dying wetlands back to life, while educating students about remediation and stormwater pollution.

If successful, school and environmental officials say, it will also help protect the health of the Peconic Bay system.

“What’s very cool about this endeavor is it’s going to take this drainage area and make it a living, breathing thing,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, a partner in the project.

The health of the more than 100,000 square feet of wetlands on the Mercy campus has been declining for some time, principal Carl Semmler said. He and Shawn Leonard, a 1985 Mercy graduate and the architect on the project, have unveiled the next steps in a plan they say will naturally filter pollutants from the pond before the water reaches the Peconic.

They will create what Mr. Leonard calls a “plunge pool,” a man-made pool that draining stormwater will enter “so that sediment can settle things like gravel or other pollutants,” Mr. Leonard said. The water will then make its way down a man-made stream, powered by the area’s elevation, before eventually entering surrounding wetlands, according to the project plans.

Surrounding the plunge pool, stream and natural wetland area, they will add plants to absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pollutants known for their harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems, according to the New York State Environmental Protection Agency.

“The plants will be the natural filter,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Essentially, the hope is that the water will have high oxygen, lower turbidity and be healthier downstream.”

Since the project began in November, the area has been stripped of invasive plants, identified with the help of Riverhead Town and Group for the East End. Plant and tree life native to the area have been protected, with the state DEC inspecting progress of the project intermittently, Mr. Semmler said.

They will use the remediation project as an opportunity to teach students about the wetlands, integrating it into the science curriculum.

“We will be teaching children how to understand stormwater pollution, the cause and effects of it,” said Deborah Kneidl, director of institutional advancement for the school. “Ultimately, the goal is that we are training stewards for the future.”

“We actually got out there before the construction and took some baseline data on the site prior, so we can see how it changes throughout the different stages,” said Mercy graduate Jennifer Skilbred, educational coordinator for Group for East End, who has been helping set up the educational component. It will include field data collection and lab experiments.

Mr. Semmler said the plan is to build a laboratory adjacent to the wetlands so students can perform experiments close by.

“The ideal thing would be for a student to take a seed, grow it into a wetland plug and plant that plug,” Mr. Semmler said. “They can take the plug full of the pollutants and the poisons and then test the leaf structure of that plant to show how much poison or pollutants it absorbed.”

That means students will be maintaining the wetland with fresh plants while removing pollutants from the wetland, Ms. Kneidl said.

Mercy plans to invite other schools and universities to utilize the area, and is in the early stages of collaborating with universities, including Molloy College, Fordham University, and St. Joseph’s College. “I have spoken with one professor at each school and they have interest in being involved, getting their students to do research projects there. It is exciting stuff,” Ms. Skilbred said.

The project could also introduce students to alternate career options they might not have considered before, she said.

The project has been in the works since 2006, when Mercy applied for a DEC permit. It was granted the permit in 2008 and then applied for funding from the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation. After its third application, it was awarded $750,000 in 2011 under the stipulation of a match commitment from Mercy alumni, bringing over $1 million in donations to the project, Ms. Kneidl said.

Mr. DeLuca said there is a lot to be learned from the project.

“The most important thing [is] that we come to understand what is going into that pond now,” he said. From that they can see the amount of pollutants that are entering western Peconic, endangering bay waters.

“The western part of the estuary has the greatest trouble. It is in that part that we have had brown tide algal blooms,” Mr. DeLuca said. “The more that we can do to help the better.”

The project is not without controversy, with at least one neighboring resident voicing concern. A project closely connected to the remediation project will fill in 17,000 square feet of adjacent wetlands to create a softball and practice field, with funding coming from private alumni donations. Those wetlands serve as an area for stormwater runoff, creating concern about possible flooding. The pond being remediated doesn’t currently pipe in stormwater runoff and, once it does, it will make up for the adjacent wetlands, Mr. Leonard said.

The remediation plan will also expand existing wetlands by about 53,000 square feet, making up for the lost wetland area, according to Aphrodite Montalvo, citizen participation specialist for the DEC, a stipulation needed in order to get the 2008 DEC permit.

“The DEC looks forward to the completion of this project and believes it will both improve the environmental quality of the area and serve as a valuable educational tool for the school,” Ms. Montalvo said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has also expressed support for the project, calling it a “win-win” at a Nov. 20 public hearing.

The remediation is on schedule and expected to be completed by May 2013, according to Mr. Semmler, who calls the project “a true partnership to try and bring the community together.”