06/20/15 3:27pm
06/20/2015 3:27 PM
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter is joined by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, left, as he discusses water quality issues Saturday in Riverhead. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter is joined by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, left, as he discusses water quality issues Saturday in Riverhead. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Their backs facing the mouth of the Peconic River, town and county officials gathered outdoors Saturday for a press conference at the Riverhead Yacht Club, where they called upon the federal government to provide financial assistance to help address water quality issues in the wake of two fish kills.  (more…)

06/06/15 5:59am
06/06/2015 5:59 AM

Over the past several weeks, the East End’s waterways have been inundated with toxic red and mahogany tides resulting in die-offs of diamondback terrapin (turtles), bunker and alewives. Our local media have done a good job of not only reporting on these occurrences but also speaking with the experts to explain them. So I was infuriated when Riverhead Supervisor Walter, asked about these die-offs, was quoted as saying that previous rain “may have washed toxins into the water” and quickly backed away from the “toxic” idea, saying later when asked about scientists’ findings, “Yeah, well everybody has their own theory. Mine is that the bluefish are chasing them into the river.”

Yeah, the bluefish are to blame. (more…)

06/02/15 6:37pm
06/02/2015 6:37 PM
Jack Van de Wetering speaks at a Riverhead Town board meeting Tuesday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Jack Van de Wetering speaks at a Riverhead Town board meeting Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The Riverhead Town Board declined to offer a resolution in support of a Baiting Hollow farmer’s application to grow medical marijuana on land on Edwards Avenue.

The issue was defeated by an informal 3-2 margin Tuesday.  (more…)

06/01/15 3:09pm
06/01/2015 3:09 PM
Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten smiled and posed for photos after a meeting in 2011. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten smiled and posed for photos after a meeting in 2011. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

After they both lost their party’s nomination for re-election last week, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten intend to run as a pair in primaries this fall against the party favorites.

Mr. Walter, running for his fourth two-year term in office, lost by half a gubernatorial vote to party-nominee Jodi Giglio, and said on Friday he hopes to get the nomination of the Independence and Conservative parties.

Instead of the incumbent councilman Mr. Wooten, the GOP committee went with retired police officers Tim Hubbard and Bob Peeker to fill Mr. Wooten’s seat, as well as the one currently belonging to Councilman George Gabrielsen, who is not running for re-election.

(more…)

05/30/15 3:03pm
05/30/2015 3:03 PM
Dead bunker like these have been washing up on local shores since late last week. (Credit: Christopher Gobler)

Dead bunker like these have been washing up on local shores since late last week. (Credit: Christopher Gobler)

A recent die-off of bait fish in the Peconic Estuary has Riverhead Town rallying local fishermen to harvest as many bunker as they can before the fish die, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

“It’s a critical situation,” Mr. Walter said. “We’re having a real problem.”

The die-off has been blamed on low oxygen levels in nearby waters caused by a recent algae bloom, said Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University who’s been investigating the kill.

“This may be the biggest fish kill I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working for more than 20 years,” he told the News-Review.

  • How a fish kill unfolds: Scroll down to see

The kill comes weeks after a separate massive die-off of diamondback terrapin turtles, which has also been linked to toxic shellfish likely caused by the algae — also known as red or brown tide.

Mr. Gobler said oxygen levels in the Peconic Estuaries began dropping Wednesday night as the algae became more dense. By Friday, readings from the County Road 105 bridge showed zero oxygen in the water for the fish to breathe.

When a school of bunker swam into this “dead zone,” they suffocated and died, he said. There have been reports of thousands of the dead bunker washing up along town and private beaches.

“This is a pretty remarkable size fish kill,” Mr. Gobler noted. “There were fished piled on top of each other on the shoreline.”

Mr. Walter said that may pose a public safety hazard. While the town is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Mr. Walter said they’ll need to dispose of the dead fish somehow.

11330023_10204170173286525_3614910240458071008_nIdeally, the fish would be cleaned up and moved to the Brookhaven landfill, if the DEC allows that, he said. Otherwise, Mr. Walter said he may declare a town-wide state of emergency to clean up the fish and bury them at the town’s own waste facility.

“We’re ready to take action, we just don’t know what action we’re going to take,” Mr. Walter said. “The next 24 hours will tell.”

While the town waits for DEC approval, Mr. Walter said local boat captains have been contacted to round up bunker in the Peconic Estuary before they continue to die off.

Nate Phillips, a commercial fisherman from Greenport, is one of those boat captains. Normally, fishermen are only allowed to take a certain quota of bunker, which are used by lobstermen and other fishermen as bait. Mr. Phillips said those restrictions may be voided during this crisis.

“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get it cleaned up before they all die,” he said. “When they die they’re a terrible, stinky mess.”

Mr. Phillips told the News-Review he was rounding up a group of fishermen — as many as five or six boats — to harvest the fish using haul seines, scoop nets, or “basically whatever we can get them with.”

The harvest could begin as early as Saturday night.

Dead fish that turned up near the Riverhead Yacht Club Friday afternoon. (Credit: Melanie Drozd)

Dead fish that turned up near the Riverhead Yacht Club Friday afternoon. (Credit: Melanie Drozd)

Mr. Gobler said fish kills are not unusual, but they’re not seen as often in other parts of Long Island where the bunker group together to spawn.

“There’s very few places on Long Island where oxygen levels are going to zero for multiple hours,” he said. “That’s not normal.”

Mr. Gobler said nitrogen runoff likely fed this specific algal bloom, nicknamed “mahogany tide.” Shallow creeks and tributaries of the river are especially vulnerable to algae blooms because the nitrogen gets concentrated in one area.

Historically, the Peconic Estuary has had relatively low oxygen levels to begin with, Mr. Gobler said. With these blooms moving in, the River will “probably have oxygen problems through the summer,” he said.

“It’s going to hit low and no oxygen levels throughout the summer,” he said. “But there may not be the equivalent fish kills because … the fish will sense the low oxygen levels and turn around.”

psquire@timesreview.com

05/06/15 1:31pm
05/06/2015 1:31 PM
Curtis Sliwa at a meeting in Greenport last November. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Curtis Sliwa at a meeting in Greenport last November. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

A day after Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller met with leaders of the Guardian Angels to establish a Riverhead chapter of the volunteer anti-crime group, Supervisor Sean Walter’s fellow Town Board members say they were blindsided by the effort and that bringing the Angels into town could exacerbate a negative image for downtown. (more…)

04/16/15 6:00am
04/16/2015 6:00 AM

To the editor:

The April 2 News-Review article, “Town Board looks to stymie solar district.” I was stunned by the comments made by Supervisor Sean Walter. It seems he wishes to eliminate solar farms as a permitted use in the Industrial C zone. Admittedly, I am not technically versed in zoning and uses in specific types of zoning but I do travel on Edwards Avenue often and I was so pleased to see land used for clean and renewable energy. I enthusiastically thought, good going Riverhead; for the first time you are making good use of parcels of land.  (more…)