Federal, state, county and local officials plus environmentalists and citizens gathered in Flanders Friday morning to mark the 20th anniversary of the Peconic Estuary Program.
The program was created to establish a framework for monitoring water quality. Since 1993, Peconic has been on the list of America's 28 Estuaries of National Significance and has received millions of dollars to study, clean, purchase, maintain, and preserve land and waters making up the ecosystem.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, County Executive Steve Bellone, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, State Senator Ken LaValle, and Legislator Jay Schneiderman were among the officials who turned out to celebrate the program.
The Peconic study area associated with the estuary program starts at the western end of the Peconic River and stretches east to the Block Island Sound between Plum Island and Montauk Point. In total, the study area spans more than 283,000 acres of water and land.
Since its inception, the estuary program has not only served to protect an environmentally significant ecosystem, but also as an economic machine, a fact most officials noted during Friday's event.
When the estuary earned its federal designation nearly two decades ago, more than 1100 establishments were found to be dependent on it, acting as a job generator, according to data from the estuary program. It has employed more than 7000 people across the East End.
"Peconic Bay is a job creator," Bishop said. "There is a tremendous amount of activity that takes place that would not be happening here were it not for the bay or were it not for the way the quality of the bay is maintained . . ."
A comprehensive management plan, which outlines everything from proper sewage maintenance to public outreach, was created and put in place in 2001.
"The Clean Air Act and Community Preservation Funds allow these recommendations to not sit on the shelf," Thiele said.
Peter Scully, the director of Long Island's Department of Environmental Conservation regional office, agreed, noting Friday's event was an effort "to get people to renew their commitment to preserving the Peconic Estuary."
All officials agreed continued support is vital for the estuary program's continued success.
"We've made great strides, but we have to do more," said Joan Leary Matthews, regional director of clean water for the Environmental Protection Agency. "We need to look forward and not be complacent."