Riverhead Town to hold hearing on banning gas power in Peconic River

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Ducks on the Peconic River near Grangebel Park.

Gas-powered motor boats would be banned in a large stretch of the Peconic River — from near the Brookhaven Lab to Peconic Avenue  — under a proposal Riverhead Town Board members informally agreed to at their work session Thursday.

The idea of banning gas engines, but not electric engines, came from the Peconic Lake Estates Civic Organization, which had only suggested the ban on Peconic Lake, the body of water west of the dam at Forge Road in Calverton.

The lake is part of the Peconic River system, which stretches as far west as BNL.

North Fork County Legislature Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) brought the issue to Town Board Thursday on behalf of the civic group, although the civic president also was present and spoke to the board.

“They have a concern about the very fragile ecosystem on the lake,” Mr. Romaine said of the civics. “They maintain the lake and they’ve removed invasive species from it,” he said.

The Peconic Lake Estates Civic Organization has a boat launch at its clubhouse property on the lake, and only permits electric motors, along with kayaks and canoes, said president Ernie Fugina. The group charges $100 per year for use of  its property, he said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation also has a boat launch and they allow gas or electric motors, but don’t charge a fee.

A DEC spokesman said the department would not oppose the ban — as it had in the past — due to changes in federal Sportfish Restoration Fund provisions.

“In more recent years the gas motor requirement for using Sportfish Restoration Funds has been eliminated and any state boating access facility is now eligible to get those funds,” said a DEC spokesman, Bill Fonda. “Consequently, DEC no longer has any opposition to banning gas motors on the Peconic River.”

Mr. Romaine, who supports the gas power ban,  said he has made a similar request to Brookhaven Town, since the lake abuts both towns.

“This is crucial to the Peconic ecosystem,” Mr. Romaine said. “We don’t want to introduce additional pollution.”

Joe Hall, an environmental planner for Riverhead Town, said he’s not aware of many gas-powered boats using the lake anyway.

“The water is not very deep,” he said. “You can’t go very far west before you run out of water.”

There is currently a restriction on the amount of horsepower a gas engine can have on the lake, Mr. Fugina said. Boats are restricted to 10 mph engines. They seek to have that restriction replaced by the ban on gas engines. Mr. Romaine said the 10 mph restriction often isn’t enforced.

Board members informally agreed with the electric ban on Peconic Lake, but then took it a step further.

“I think that if we are going to do this, we should go all the way to Grangebel Park,” said Councilman Jim Wooten. Mr. Wooten said he wasn’t even aware that gas powered engines were allowed on Peconic Lake.

Mr. Hall said that when the Peconic River was designated a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Area by the state, it encourages a restriction on motorized vessels.

“I think the board is in agreement,” Supervisor Sean Walter said, adding that the board would hold a hearing on a proposal to ban gas motors from the western boundary of the town near BNL to Grangebel Park and Peconic Avenue.

Mr. Romaine said he would lobby officials from Brookhaven and Southampton Towns to pass similar restrictions.

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