June 28, 2006

Improving The Estuary

In its continuing mission to help clean up the Peconic Estuary and its tributaries, officials from the Nature Conservancy asked the Riverhead Town Board to enact new legislation that aims to reduce dangerous nitrogen levels in the waterway.

"The goal is a 25% reduction in nitrogen levels," said Sarah Newkirk, conservation project director for the Nature Conservancy, "and what we have been doing isn't going to get us there."

The need to protect the estuary is crucial, said Newkirk. She pointed out that over 1000 tourist industries employing more than 7300 people are dependent upon the body of water.

To achieve its goal of reducing nitrogen levels and other pollutants, which is laid out in the 1987 Peconic Estuary Management Program, Newkirk said the town needs to adopt new laws that would require the use of native plantings along the estuary's waterbed.

"A vegetated forest buffer is capable of filtering greater than 90% of nitrogen. It works like a sponge," said Newkirk.

It can filter 37 contaminants that get into the bay and are poisonous to fish and eelgrass.

Aside from acting as a sponge and collecting contaminants, native plantings do not require fertilizer, pesticides, or additional water, said Newkirk.

Fertilizer is one of the foremost dangers to the waterway as it leaches into the groundwater or runs off into the Peconic. Grass, Newkirk pointed out, is the fifth largest crop in the United States and requires nearly five to seven pounds of fertilizer an acre.

"The bigger buffer we have against this, the better," said Newkirk.

Newkirk and her colleagues are proposing that the town set up requirements in the form of a new law, for developers who develop along the waterfront.

"Local governments all over the country are taking these actions to protect our ecology."

One such government is the Town of East Hampton, which has stringent rules in place, noted Newkirk.

She said the Nature Conservancy would like to open a dialogue with the town with a goal of writing new legislation that would, among other rules, set in place clearing limits.

The town has attempted to create similar legislation in the past, said Councilwoman Barbara Blass, who is well versed in the Peconic Estuary Management program. However, consensus on the board could never be reached.

Now, it seems the board is in favor of such legislation, she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale said, "We would like to implement something. Like in Jerry McGuire, you had us at hello."

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