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.

cmiller@timesreview.com

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.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

11/29/12 8:00am
11/29/2012 8:00 AM

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Charlie Manwaring of Southold Fish Market with a fresh batch of Peconic Bay scallops.

Scallop season didn’t begin with its usual bang the first Monday in November thanks to Hurricane Sandy, but fish markets and restaurant menus are stocked with the cold-weather shellfish in time for the holidays.

Before the hurricane, scientists who study bay scallops had been finding many empty shells, known as “cluckers,” in scallop grounds that had promised a bumper crop.

Then, when the hurricane hit, the state DEC pushed off opening day to Nov. 13 due to potential water contamination because of the storm’s flood tide. Many areas in the eastern Peconics were opened sooner after the DEC determined that the water was clean, and the few scallopers who ventured out found plenty of live scallops among the empty shells.

But Phillip Tocci, Riverhead’s “Clam Man” who runs a shellfish stand on the north side of Route 58, said many baymen have told him they’re having trouble selling the scallops they have, because of public concern over whether they’re safe to eat.

“The water is fine. The scallops are fine,” he said this week. “I have people asking constantly ‘Is the water all right? Are the scallops all right?’ The public is not after them like they usually are.”

Mr. Tocci added that many seafood restaurants were damaged in the storm, putting a dent in the wholesale accounts baymen rely on.

He said he hasn’t been catching his limit of 10 bushels of scallops per day, but he has been pulling in enough to meet the market demand.

Southold Fish Market owner Charlie Manwaring said Tuesday that, while there was a big scallop die-off due to unknown causes earlier this year, there are plenty of scallops still in the water.

“Certain areas were closed after the hurricane, so not everyone was in one area opening week,” he said. “They’re doing really well in certain areas. It’s just hit or miss. I think we’ll have them right through to March 31,” the official end of the season.

Mr. Manwaring said baymen are seeing “tons of bugs,” or baby scallops, which will reach harvest size next year.

He said the retail price this week is about $17 per pound, down from $19 when the season opened, although he expects the price to rise again as the supply thins out later in the season.

“Some areas just opened up, so we have a little more product,” he said.

Mr. Manwaring said baymen were lucky that many of this year’s scallops were in deep water, since they are often thrown up on shore by hurricane surges if they are in shallow water.

He said the boats belonging to the 15 to 20 baymen he buys scallops from were also safe during the storm.

“We really got lucky out here,” he said.

Recreational scalloper Ed Densieski of Riverhead missed the first few days of the season, which opened in some local waters on the day of the nor’easter that hit shortly after the hurricane.

“It was nasty,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t go opening day.”

Mr. Densieski said it appears there was a scallop die-off in Cutchogue Harbor and that by the time he got to the scalloping grounds off the Orient Causeway on Nov. 10, “a lot of it was picked through” and he didn’t find any.

“There was definitely some die-off this year, but in some spots they were huge. They were the size of marshmallows,” he said, declining to disclose where he found them.

“If you want to put the time in, you’ll get some,” he said.

byoung@timesreview.com

09/18/12 4:00pm
09/18/2012 4:00 PM

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister during his presentation onTuesday.

The state of nitrogen loading in Suffolk County’s bays has reached crisis proportions, says Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, who, as part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, announced plans to fight against major sources of groundwater pollution.

At a press conference at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge in Quogue Tuesday, Mr. McAllister and his attorney, Reed Super, announced that they just submitted a petition to the New York State DEC asking for modifications to 1,338 State Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (SPDES) permits for sewage treatment and septic systems in Suffolk County.

Mr. Super said these systems are under federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act because they are point source discharges to groundwater that is used by Long Islanders for their drinking water supply.

He said 79 of the sewage treatment plants and 796 of the septic systems that have SPDES permits in Suffolk County discharge directly to groundwater that is already not meeting drinking water standards. Four of the septic systems discharge directly to impaired surface waters and 70 discharge to groundwater that is directly hydrologically connected to surface waters.

Mr. Super said the septic system permits apply to systems with holding tanks of 1,000 gallons or larger, more than three times the size of the average residential system, and are used at large hotels, restaurants and other commercial establishments.

Mr. McAllister said the county’s Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan, released last year, was quickly shoved under the rug, despite the fact that it showed nitrogen concentrations are increasing exponentially in Long Island’s aquifers.

He said the study proved that 70 percent of the nitrogen in the Great South Bay was due to wastewater, and said he believes the same percentage is likely due to wastewater in the Peconic Bays, though other scientists have claimed the nitrogen levels were due to atmospheric deposition of nitrogen in rainwater.

Mr. McAllister added that the drinking water standard that requires nitrogen levels of less than 10 milligrams per liter is 20 times higher than the level needed to have a healthy marine ecosystem.

“This legal initiative is an attempt to get the State of New York to do its job,” he said, adding that he hopes the state will revisit the permits and ask the polluters to use new methods to control pollution, including the Nitrex and BESST small-scale sewage treatment systems, both of which are approved by the county but can be costly to install.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine, who was also at the press conference, said he has tried to get the county legislature to use part of the quarter-percent county sales tax for drinking water protection to fund grants to property owners who want to upgrade their septic systems. He said the legislature refused to consider the idea.

“We have huge challenges ahead and I fully intend to continue what I’m doing [on this issue],” said Mr. Romaine, who recently announced he is running for Brookhaven Town Supervisor.

“Not all of this county is going to be sewered, nor should it be,” he said. “We have to provide funding for people to replace their systems.

“Kevin’s absolutely right about the policies of Suffolk County. We’ve allowed the proliferation of inexpensive, inefficient sewage treatment plants.”

byoung@timesreview.com

09/18/12 2:15pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A U.S. pararescue team competes in a rodeo on the Peconic Bay Tuesday.

The threat of high winds and rain didn’t stop the Air National Guard from hosting its rescue rodeo in the Peconic Bay Tuesday morning.

Six U.S. pararescue teams, known as PJs, and one all-volunteer Sea Rescue group from South Africa (Cape Town, Plattenberg and Port Elizabeth) showed off their skills in a race of five-person teams on inflatable Zodiac boats.

“[The race] requires a little bit of thoughtful navigation, breath holding and other skills we use in rescues and other missions,” said Master Sergeant Jules Roy, a PJ with the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. The 106th is hosting the rodeo, so its members are not participating. It is held every two years and the 106th won the event in Kentucky four years ago.

The race, which began at 8:30 a.m., went from Treasure Cove Marina in Riverhead to Greenport and back. It’s part of a week-long reunion of pararescue technicians.

They headed out on the Peconic River to the County 105 bridge propelled only by paddle, since it’s a no-wake zone. Once there, a designated PJ had to climb a 30-foot rope to the top of the bridge and record his time. After that, the teams headed to Greenport, powered by a 30-horsepower motor.

Once in Greenport, the teams competed in precision parachuting over Great Peconic Bay. The five-person Zodiac teams then had to dive without scuba gear into the harbor to retrieve a keg full of water, representing the illegal liquor that flowed into the village during Prohibition, and unlock a cable to free cans of fuel needed to return to Riverhead.

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See more photos on suffolktimes.com

09/18/12 8:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Divers worked in Greenport Harbor by Claudio’s Restaurant Monday setting up for Tuesday’s unusual Air National Guard ‘rodeo.’

Seven teams of Air National Guard rescue squad members will show off their considerable skills Tuesday during an unusual “rodeo” involving an unusual race of inflatable Zodiac boats from Riverhead to Greenport and back.

That competition, and others including precision parachuting over Great Peconic Bay, are part of a week-long reunion of famed pararescue technicians, known also as PJ’s. The five-person Zodiac teams will head out to Greenport starting at 9 a.m., where they must dive without scuba geat into the harbor to retrieve a keg full of water, representing the illegal liquor that flowed into the village during Prohibition, and unlock a cable to free cans of fuel needed to return to Riverhead.

The race “requires a little bit of thoughtful navigation, breath holding and other skills we use in rescues and other missions,” said Master Sergeant Jules Roy, a PJ with the 106th.

The race starts at 9 a.m., with one boat leaving every half hour. The round trip is expected to take roughly two hours.

Check back later in the day for photos of the event.

09/06/12 5:00pm
09/06/2012 5:00 PM
Rust Tide, East End, North Fork, Peconic Bay

COURTESY FILE PHOTO | The Peconic Bay is no stranger to algal blooms.

First there was the brown tide, then the red tide and now, floating in waters at either end of the Peconic estuary system, are patches of what New Englanders informally call “rust tide.”

It poses no threat to humans but can be deadly to finfish and shellfish.

Rust tide is a collection of microscopic algae that’s been showing up in the Peconics in late summer during the past several years.

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