After years of petitioning, the Peconic Estuary Program—a government-funded organization focused on protecting and restoring bodies of water and wetlands surrounding Peconic Bay—anticipates more revenue for its work.
This month, $200,000 was included for the program in the state’s executive budget by Governor Andrew Cuomo—when typically it takes protracted petitioning from other state officials to have any funds included in the program’s budget.
According to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., this means state funding for the program is more likely to remain in the final state budget—funds that he and State Senator Kenneth LaValle usually have to push to have included. “Having the governor put it into his executive budget is the equivalent of already standing on third base,” the assemblyman said. “Water quality in general is a big priority.”
The PEP study area runs throughout the Peconic Estuary, which begins at Brookhaven National Lab with the headwaters of the Peconic River and ends in Block Island Sound between Plum Island and Montauk Point. According to the program’s website, more than 125,000 acres of land and 158,000 acres of surface water are included in the Peconic study area.
Officials from the program focus on monitoring local water quality, habitat restoration, education and outreach projects, research initiatives and collaboration with other organizations.
The director of the Peconic Estuary Program, Alison Branco, said this week that about $100,000 of the state funds would be used for the annual expenses of a monitoring station in Riverside, and the remainder would go toward water quality projects—most likely relating to nitrogen. “It’s really the source of most of the problems that we have,” she said. “It eventually comes back to nitrogen.”
The program receives about $600,000 annually from the federal government to cover basic functions and receives a small amount of funding from Suffolk County. However, it may soon get additional money from the five East End towns, Ms. Branco said.
Last November, the towns approved a ballot measure to allow as much as 20 percent of Community Preservation Fund revenues to be used for water quality projects. According to Mr. Thiele, a portion of that money can be directly given to the PEP to match the funds given to the program by the county, state and federal government. This means each town could potentially give the program as much as $900,000, he said. Mr. Thiele said discussions with local officials will take place later this month to determine how much funding they would like to provide to the program.
The PEP is currently promoting a national social media effort to raise awareness about estuaries and restoration programs using the tag #iheartestuaries.
“The health of the Peconic Estuary is really central for everybody on the East End,” Ms. Branco said. “It’s important for the economy—obviously, the tourist economy—as well as all kinds of other commercial operations and marine-related businesses. None of that stuff is possible if the water quality is bad.”