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07/26/13 8:00am
07/26/2013 8:00 AM

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | The Peconic Baykeeper is taking legal action against the state parks department and Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Peconic Baykeeper is taking legal action against the state parks department and Department of Environmental Conservation, saying they haven’t done enough to address sewage discharge pollution wreaking havoc on the bay waters they’re charged with protecting.

Last Tuesday, Peconic Baykeeper president Kevin McAllister announced his intent to sue the state parks department in federal court for failing to have sewage discharge permits for five state-operated facilities, including Wildwood State Park in Wading River. The advocacy group also filed a separate suit in state court against the state DEC May 30.

The discharge permit program is intended to control water pollutants — like nitrogen, which feeds bay-harming algal blooms — by regulating sources of pollutant discharge into U.S. waters, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency website.

“Wildwood on a hot July day, those parking lots are going to be filled,” Mr. McAllister said. “Some 1,000 toilet flushes a day are going into groundwater, going to bays.”

He said that Wildwood and other state parks are examples of areas where “wastewater discharge is not being adequately addressed, by virtue of the absence of any kind of permits.”

Permits became mandatory following the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, which requires facilities discharging pollutants into U.S. waters to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

In New York, the state DEC regulates permits and discharging pollutants without a permit is illegal, according to the EPA website.

Mr. McAllister said SUNY/Stony Brook’s Southampton campus — run by the state and home to the East End’s premier water quality research program — also lacks the required permit.

“They are here to identify and save the bays, when their own campus is not committed to clean water from wastewater discharges,” he said.

He added that the water quality researchers do not deserve the blame but SUNY/Stony Brook Southampton should be setting the standard for clean water.

“If they are the preeminent marine scientists and research center on protecting our waters, they have to walk the walk,” he said.

A Stony Brook spokesperson declined comment for this story.

In a press release, Peconic Baykeeper attorney Reed Super said the “DEC has failed to comply with the legal mandates of the Clean Water Act and state law, both of which require strict permit limits on the discharge of nitrogen, in order to protect water quality.”

The lawsuit filed in May charges that the state DEC failed to enforce permitting and regulation of the state parks, the Southampton campus and more than 1,300 sewage treatment plants and facilities. Mr. McAllister said these facilities all lack NPDES permits and some of their septic systems do not meet current wastewater standards.

Several of these facilities are on the North Fork, including the Enterprise Park at Calverton, Splish Splash Water Park, Southold Junior-Senior High School and Southold Town Hall, according to a petition Peconic Baykeeper sent to the state DEC.

“The DEC is the regulator for wastewater discharges,” Mr. McAllister said. “Our argument is there are inadequate regulations and deficient enforcement to provide for surface water protection.”

State DEC officials said that while they do not comment on pending litigation, the “DEC has a long history in working to address water quality on Long Island, recognizing the region’s reliance on a primary aquifer and the importance of high quality surface water to the local population. To achieve this goal, DEC has established rigorous restrictions on landfills, identified and protected special groundwater protection areas, and is in the process of implementing a pollution prevention strategy to address pesticides.”

By going after bigger state facilities, Mr. McAllister said, he hopes to drive the discussion toward widespread regulatory reform of wastewater discharges, particularly nitrogen.

Currently the nitrogen standard for drinking water protection is 10 milligrams of nitrogen per liter, or ten parts per million. Mr. McAllister said he would like to see regulations change to the ecological standard, .45 milligrams of nitrogen per liter, commonly agreed upon by experts.

“The state of New York and Suffolk County have been dragging their feet and ignoring the fact that they need to refine these standards to protect our bays,” Mr. McAllister said. “I think our region and Suffolk County in general does not recognize the urgency of this condition.”

Federal law requires 90 days advance notice of any intent to sue. The suit against the parks department cannot be filed before October, Mr. Super said.

The actions Peconic Baykeeper has filed against the state DEC and parks department are being undertaken in partnership with Long Island Soundkeeper, based in Connecticut.

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05/19/13 11:00am
05/19/2013 11:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Joyce Conklin and Jim Miller(right) accept an award from the North Fork Environmental Council as Senator Ken LaValle praises the work of Mr. Miller and Ms. Conklin’s late husband, Bob.

The late Bob Conklin of Flanders and Jim Miller of Southold were honored as “Environmental Champions” by the North Fork Environmental Council on Thursday for their work establishing a fish passage at Grangebel Park.

The rock passage allows alewives and other fish to migrate from fresh to salt water, where they become food for other larger species like fluke, weakfish and striped bass.

Also honored was Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper for the past 15 years, who received the “Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year” award.

The awards were handed out at the Suffolk Community College culinary school in downtown Riverhead.

The Peconic River, like many rivers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was dammed up in spots to provide power for mills and other uses, cutting off the alewives’ migratory routes, which spawn in fresh water and migrate to salt water.

Mr. Conklin, a science teacher at Riverhead High School, initially would take his students down to the river to carry the alewives over the dam using nets.

But since this solution could only help a limited number of fish, Mr. Conklin in 2000 sought out the help of Mr. Miller, an environmental engineer and the founder of Miller Environmental in Calverton.

Mr. Miller helped set up an Alaskan Steep Pass, which was commonly called a fish ladder, and which helped the fish migrate over the dam from fresh water to salt water and back. But the fish ladder was only a temporary structure.

After a few years, they embarked on a plans to establish a permanent fish passage system at the Grangebel dam.

That system, which was aided by state and federal grants obtained by Riverhead Town, was completed in early 2011, just months after Mr. Conklin died in December 2010.

An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 alewives pass through the rock passageways, officials says. Eels also use the passageway.

The efforts of Mr. Conklin and others were featured on an episode of the television show, Lunkerville, in 2012, and that segment was shown Thursday night.

“It has reached a magnitude beyond our belief,” Mr. Miller said in the video. “We had fantasized that maybe some tens of thousand of fish could possibly migrate. We are now of the belief that it’s hundreds of thousands.  As they migrate out into the bay, they become primary foraging fish for the striped bass, the fluke and the weakfish, and those fish migrate out into the ocean, and the sharks and tuna will feed off the blue fish.

“It could actually impact the entire fisheries on the east coast of the United States.”

Mr. Conklin’s award was presented posthumously to his wife Joyce. She and Mr. Miller also were given proclamations by a number of elected officials.

Mr. Miller said Tim Griffing and Byron Young also should be recognized for their efforts in creating the fish passage. George Bartunek, who worked on the fish passage, said this was what Mr. Conklin loved to do.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister accepts an award from the North Fork Environmental Council at a reception in downtown Riverhead Thursday.

Mr. McAllister works for a private non-profit environmental organization called Peconic BayKeeper.

“He’s a man who has made a dramatic impact on our waterways,” said State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who said Mr. McAllister has highlighted the damage done to waterways by cesspools, and helped bring that issue to the forefront.

“The Peconic Bay is a resource people believed was infinite and no matter what we did to it, it would be still be there,” said South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). “We’ve found out now that is not the case.”

NFEC president Bill Toedter said Mr. McAllister has highlighted the fact that “what we do on land determines what happens with our waters.”

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04/09/13 12:00pm
04/09/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Baykeeper Kevin McAllister.

The North Fork Environmental Council will honor baykeeper Kevin McAllister as its environmentalist of the year during an awards ceremony in Riverhead next month.

The organization will give Mr. McAllister, who for 15 years has advocated for the health of the Peconic estuary system and its wildlife, with its Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year award on Thursday, May 16 at the Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts Center in downtown Riverhead.

The NFEC says Mr. McAllister has worked over the past four years to show the connection between the health of the North Fork’s groundwater supplies and the health of its coastal waters.

“Kevin wears his passion on his sleeve, but it’s his work ethic, his dedication to doing what is right and his ability to challenge us to be better stewards of our lands and waters, of our future, which makes him stand head and shoulders above the rest,” Bill Toedter, NFEC president, said in a press release.

The organization will also name the late Bob Conklin, a former Riverhead science teacher, and Jim Miller, the founder of Miller Environmental, its Environmental Champions. Both were instrumental in the installation of a fish ladder allowing alewives, a herring-like fish, to return each year to their spawning grounds long blocked by the dam in Grangebel Park in Riverhead.

Information is available by calling 298-8880 or at nfec1.org.

[email protected]

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.

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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.

[email protected]

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.

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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.”

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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