With the salt marshes of Hubbard County Park in Flanders serving as a backdrop, East End legislators and community members gathered Friday morning to celebrate 20 years of the Peconic Estuary Program, dedicated to restoring and preserving the important ecosystem and economic engine.
In 1992, the estuary became the 20th in the country to be recognized as having national significance. The Peconic Estuary Program, a partnership of environmental leaders, lawmakers, businesses and academic groups, was created shortly after to establish a framework for policy change and monitoring of water quality.
Beginning with the western reaches of the Peconic River and stretching east to the Block Island Sound between Plum Island and Montauk Point, the Peconic Study area spans more than 283,000 acres of water and land.
“That’s one of the truly amazing things about this county—it is so vast and so beautiful,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at the event. “I’m proud to welcome everyone here as Suffolk County executive, but it seems to be a little odd to be doing that because some of you have been doing it a lot longer than I have and you’ve been here doing this work to protect this incredible resource that we have.”
Joan Leary Matthews, director of clean water for Region 2 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which includes New York, said 40 years ago, sewage, chemicals and trash were dumped freely into rivers, lakes and oceans.
“In that time, we’ve made great strides, but we have to do more,” she said. “With all that progress, we need to look forward and not be complacent.”
Over the last 20 years, the partners in the Peconic Estuary Program have worked to establish and implement a comprehensive plan, approved by the EPA in 2001, that works to address the target issues of nitrogen and pathogen pollution, brown tides, eelgrass and shellfish restoration and monitoring of water quality. The plan lays out a total of 340 tasks to be carried out at different levels of government to preserve and protect the estuary, as well as the remaining undeveloped land that surrounds it.
“It really is sort of extraordinary that a succession of different governments and different administrations have continued the commitment at the county, at the town levels, from different parties,” said Kevin McDonald, the director of public finance and policy for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island and chair of the Peconic Estuary Program’s Citizens Advisory Committee. “And what that really sort of reinforces is this notion that clean water, a resource that defines the soul of the East End ... has no political affiliation, has nothing to do with age.”
Although they agreed that the Peconic Estuary Program has brought major improvements to the waters, legislators, including U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and East End town supervisors, took the opportunity last Friday to sign a pledge, promising to step up and continue their efforts on water protection.
“Peconic Bay is a job creator,” Mr. Bishop said, professing his continued support for the 25-year-old National Estuary Program. “There is a tremendous amount of activity that takes place that would not be happening were it not for the bay or were it not for the quality of the bay that is maintained, and so I think it’s essential from every conceivable perspective.”