Toxic Blooms Spur Calls For Emergency Approach At Georgica Pond - 27 East

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Toxic Blooms Spur Calls For Emergency Approach At Georgica Pond

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Dark towels for makeup are great for hiding mascara stains. MARSHALL WATSON

Dark towels for makeup are great for hiding mascara stains. MARSHALL WATSON

author on Jun 13, 2017

Saying that a toxic algae bloom discovered last week in Georgica Pond poses a public health emergency, a group representing residents who live around the pond’s edges this week asked the East Hampton Town Trustees to request permission from the State Department of Environmental Conservation to dig a channel to the pond, despite the presence of nesting piping plovers along the beach.

The request—by the Friends of Georgica Pond, a private homeowners group that has raised nearly $500,000 to study the causes of water quality problems in the pond—sparked an at-times heated debate among the Trustees over whether the inlet, or cut, should be opened, with or without permission from the DEC.

On Friday scientists from Stony Brook University, who have been monitoring the pond’s water conditions for three years, announced that they had discovered a bloom of blue-green algae, which emits a toxin that can cause illness in humans and pets. The blooms have plagued the pond for several years, but this was the earliest one has ever appeared, and scientists say that with salinity in the pond’s waters the lowest they’ve ever seen and the onset of summer’s warmer weather looming, the problems are likely to only worsen until the cut is opened.

“Once salinity is below 15 [parts per million] blooms are possible—right now it’s below 5,” said Dr. Chris Gobler, the head of the Stony Brook team that monitors the pond. “Because there are plovers nesting at the site of the cut, the salinity is likely to stay low all summer. The potential for things getting worse as waters heat up is there.”

The Trustees have never asked the DEC for permission to make their traditional openings of the cut, on the basis that their centuries-old authority allows them to do so. But they’ve been treading lightly about straying from the traditional schedule as they seek a 10-year permit from the DEC to allow them to remove sand from the pond’s southern edge to unclog the cut area and sell the sand for the reconstruction of dunes.

Opening the cut would flush out some of the blooms and allow salty ocean water to flow into the pond, which has killed the algae blooms in the past. But for the second year in a row, endangered piping plovers have nested in the stretch of beach between the pond and the ocean where the Trustees have dug the cut on a bi-annual basis for centuries. The federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bars any activity that may threaten the nesting birds, forcing the Trustees to put off the traditional May letting of the pond again this year.

On Monday night the Trustees discussed the possibility of asking the DEC for permission to dig the cut west of where it typically is, across property purportedly owned by the Georgica Association, a private homeowners association.

Members of the Trustees clashed over what approach should be taken. The board’s most veteran member, Trustee Diane McNally, said she believes that the pond should be left alone to allow nature to run its course. Ms. McNally and Trustee Tim Bock were the only ones who held that belief.

“What about all of the people that live on the pond that have families and pets?” Trustee Rick Drew said, harking back to the death of a dog in 2012 that has been attributed to its drinking pond water tainted by the toxic algae. “You’re making a recommendation that is irresponsible for the community.”

Ms. McNally countered that if the emergency was so dire, then the Trustees should move ahead to open the cut, regardless of the DEC’s position, a stance other Trustees said was rash.

She also lamented that the town’s decades of careful protection of plovers has now left it handcuffed by their presence.

Should the board submit an emergency application to the DEC, the Trustees said, the Friends of Georgica Pond and individual homeowners from the area should write to the DEC, emphasizing their concerns about public health.

“The more times and the more people they hear it from, the louder it gets,” Trustee Bill Taylor said. “It is a public safety issue now. And we’re going into a period of warm weather, which is not going to make it better.”

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