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

03/24/13 8:00am
Organic lawn care on North Fork

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Master gardener Nancy Gilbert cuts back last year’s leaves on a Hellebore in bloom in her yard in Jamesport. Witch Hazel and Snowdrops are very early blooming plants next to the Hellebores.

Spring is in the air (at least, it should be), meaning property management and landscaping are in the near future.

As people become more aware of the environment and the role fertilizers and pesticides can play in its demise, the trend toward organic lawn and garden care is taking off.

“It has probably doubled over the past three years, as far as money being spent and people using organics,” Dee Merica, an organics expert, said while giving an organic lawn care seminar at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead last week.

Bill Van Schaick, Talmage general manager, said he also is seeing increased customer interest in organic products.

“Even if they are not completely organic people, the average person is starting to say ‘I don’t want to keep dumping endless amounts of chemicals on my yard.’ People are just wanting to do things more naturally and less invasively,” Mr. Van Schaick said.

In the past, many people turned to chemical-based fertilizers for a rapid lawn green-up.

The main chemicals in most fertilizers include nitrogen, to make things nice and green; phosphorus, to promote root and flower growth; and potassium, to form sugars, which make plants strong and healthy, said Larry Kaiser of Kaiser Maintenance in Jamesport.

These common fertilizer chemicals are now more strictly regulated.

“New York and California basically have the strictest laws,” said Mr. Van Schaick. “Long Island in particular is really tough when it comes to any lawn and garden use. A number of things are legal in the rest of New York that aren’t legal here on Long Island.”

As of Jan. 1, 2012, the Department of Environmental Conservation prohibited the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus on lawns throughout all New York State, except when a new lawn is being established. And no fertilizers may be applied to lawns between Dec. 1 and April 1, according to the DEC website.

Kevin McAllister, head of the Peconic Baykeeper environmental advocacy group, said he would like to see more stringent laws during the time fertilizer can be applied. “We have become obsessed with the trophy lawn. It is a significant problem that we have to address in the interest of protecting surface water quality,” he said. “Individual property owners have to be a part of the solution.”

So, how do you start if you want to cut down on the chemicals?

“The best thing that people can do if they want to go toward the organic program is to start rebuilding all the microbes and fungi in the soils, to make the soil healthy,” said Mr. Kaiser, who offers customers a range of organic and chemical product packages. “You don’t have enough if you’ve been using chemical fertilizers.”

Ms. Merica compared fertilizers with chemicals to chemotherapy, saying they “wipe out the ecosystem of the lawn.”

Adding products with microbes starts to build that ecosystem back up.

“Instead of having nitrogen, these products take microbial action in the soil and start breaking it up,” Mr. Kaiser said.

Phosphorus, for example is naturally bound up in Long Island’s soils, Ms. Merica said. Re-establishing microbes is an organic way of activating that phosphorus.

“Read the labels, see which fertilizers have them,” Mr. Kaiser said.

They both said “bio-packs” of microbes are available at most home and garden stores. The small packs are water-soluble. “You mix it up in a small sprayer. They include all the beneficial microbes and microbial fungi to really enhance the natural process. You are building up the microbial population, so it’s a lot stronger.”

Cutting down on nitrogen is another good step, Mr. Kaiser said.

Three different types of nitrogen can be present in any fertilizer, Mr. Kaiser said: water soluble, which melts instantly in water; water insoluble, in which nitrogen is released over time; and sulfur or polymer coated, in which the nitrogen is coated and water or microbes eat away at it, releasing it over time.

“The best advice I can give,” said Mr. Kaiser, is to make sure that the percentage of water insoluble nitrogen in the fertilizer is higher than that of water soluble nitrogen. This will cut down on the amount of excess nitrogen entering the water table.

As for combating weeds, corn gluten is the natural route. It is 100 percent organic and works by inhibiting root formation in weeds when they start to germinate, Ms. Merica said. It doesn’t inhibit roots of mature plants or transplants unless it is used at a very high rate. You do not want to use it if you are laying down grass seed, because it will prevent it from germinating.

“It does work but is somewhat costly,” Mr. Kaiser said. “It doesn’t work immediately, it takes at least one to two growing seasons to really set up a mat of protection against seeds growing from the ground.”

It is known as a pre-emergent, so it does not work after a weed has already grown.

“If you have a dandelion, to the best of my knowledge there is no organic thing to spray on it,” Mr. Kaiser said.

As for weeds that have already sprouted, “pull them,” said Nancy Gilbert, a master gardener who has taught the master gardener program at Cornell Cooperative Extension since 2002. She relies on compost as a natural fertilizer. Adding microbes to a compost pile is also beneficial, as it will help speed up decomposition and cut down on any odors, Ms. Merica said.

For weeds in the garden, planting thick, dense layers of plants will help keep weeds from breaking through, Ms. Gilbert said.

“You want lots of different heights, and plants that are going to flower and bloom at different times,” Ms. Gilbert said. “You don’t want a lot of bare soil.”

“A good garden is a balance of lots of different insects and lots of different plants. It’s that balance that keeps a garden healthy,” Ms. Gilbert said.

Tossing boiling water on gravel driveways is one of many tricks for keeping weeds from overtaking the stones, Ms. Gilbert said.

Pure straight white vinegar is another alternative but be applied in sunlight. One thing to remember, however, is that these methods are “non-selective,” so they will kill anything they are applied to, Ms. Gilbert said.

“There isn’t a good organic thing out there for everything, but there are things that are generally lower impact,” Mr. Van Schaick said.

“If someone wants a perfect pristine lawn with no weeds, no issues, that’s unicolor, I would suggest organic may not be the way to go initially,” Mr. Kaiser said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

02/19/13 3:00pm
02/19/2013 3:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Canada geese in the Peconic River just south of Riverhead’s West Main Street.

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.

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 10:00am

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister is slated to release his 2012 report on the state of Long Island’s bays at a luncheon meeting at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge Tuesday.

Every year, the baykeeper grades the health of the bays’ habitats and fisheries, as well as algae blooms and water contamination.

At Tuesday’s meeting, he plans to honor the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and unveil a new legal initiative toward protecting the health of the bays.

Check back later today for details of the report. You can read last year’s report by clicking here.

Kevin McAllister

11/27/11 10:00am
11/27/2011 10:00 AM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Fishermen on the prowl for scallops in Orient Harbor on opening day of the current season.

Flukes and porgies are making a comeback in the Peconic Bays, and blowfish, once a rare sight here, have returned to the Peconic Estuary, says Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister.

Mr. McAllister made the announcement in his annual report on the health of the bays, “Baywatch 2011,” released on Wednesday.

He cautioned, though, that the Great South, Moriches, Quantuck and Shinnecock bays were classified as impaired waters, due to reoccurring brown tide blooms which he attributed to excess nitrogen from residential sewage systems.

In recent years, Mr. McAllister has been leading the charge to enact proactive measures to restrict the amount of nitrogen released into ground and surface waters.

In the report, Mr. McAllister says that there has been some encouraging news this year on the health of eelgrass beds, as scientists from Cornell Cooperative Extension work on restoration efforts at Cedar Point in Southold and Orient Point.

Mr. McAllister also praised the recent completion of a fish ladder in Riverhead’s Grangebel Park, which opened 24 acres of spawning ground. He estimated that 50,000 alewives passed through the fish ladder this spring. He also said scallop and clam populations in the Peconic Estuary seem to be on the rise.

On the negative side,the report states that winter flounder stocks are at an all-time low, and weakfish, blackfish, butterfish and Atlantic menhaden are struggling. Bacterial pollution in the water is an ongoing issue, as are the threats of recurring algae blooms.

“Clean water should be a right, not a privilege,” Mr. McAllister said in an email accompanying the Baywatch report. “We must act now to reverse the environmental degradation of the past and promote new strategies and policies to protect water quality by strengthening clean water laws and holding polluters accountable.”

The full report is available here:

Baywatch 2011: Peconic Baykeeper’s Annual Report

byoung@timesreview.com