North Fork Environmental Council honors two locals

COURTESY PHOTO | Restoration ecologist Chris Pickerell (pictured) and Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine have been named the recipients of two annual environmental awards given by the North Fork Environmental Council.

Chris Pickerell has been named Environmental Champion of the Year for his work on coastal habitat restoration with Cornell Cooperative Extension for the past 18 years.

His team has established several eelgrass meadows in the Long Island Sound and in Shinnecock Bay in Southampton and is planning to establish more eelgrass meadows in the eastern Peconic estuary and Gardiner’s Bay.

This year he plans to restore at least one eelgrass meadow in the Peconic Bay in Greenport.

Mr. Romaine has been named the recipient of the Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year award for his long-standing efforts to preserve the North Fork environment, and his recent efforts to preserve the Sound Avenue/Route 25 corridor in Wading River.

Both awards will be given to the recipients at a NFEC meeting at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead on May 13, where the environmental group will also kick off a plan to fight to keep Sound Avenue in Riverhead Town from being overdeveloped.

Mr. Pickerell said this week that his work is necessary because development pressure, dredging, algae blooms and other factors have destroyed most local eelgrass meadows in the past 25 years.

“In order to maintain productivity and diversity in our local waters, it is important that we do what we can to protect what is left and restore historic meadows wherever possible,” he said.

Mr. Pickerell’s eelgrass program, which has five full-time staff members and three vessels, began in 1994.

“2011 will be the first year that we are planning to utilize volunteers as shoreside support for our underwater planting efforts,” he said. “A new method we developed will allow us prepare our transplants on onshore and reduce planting time underwater.  We look forward to greater public involvement that will not only increase overall awareness, but should also increase the size of meadows that we can create.”

“I am honored to be recognized in this way and I accept the award on behalf of my entire team since our program truly is a team effort,” he added.  “Without the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in our program, none of this would be possible.”

Mr. Romaine is being honored for his entire body of work, including his recent effort to help define the extent of a toxic plume at the EPCAL facility in Calverton, his work on public transportation issues, his support of  efforts to curb pollution in the Peconic estuary and his backing of legislation to support research on safe ways to reduce deer tick population.

“I’m honored and delighted. I believe in protecting the environment,” said Mr. Romaine of the award on Friday. “I try to do a lot of work quietly behind the scenes, but it’s so important in many different ways…. I’m a huge supporter of alternative energy and public transportation.”

Mr. Romaine said that he’s currently working on a project to open up a dredge spoil dumping area that was  blocking the water flow at Terry Creek at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, and is currently advocating for the shut-down of the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant near New London, Conn., among numerous other environmental issues.

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