Photo courtesy of Gary Joyce

With the opening day of scallop season this week, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said the time could not be more ideal for the five East End towns, along with all local villages, to come together to help protect water quality in the Peconic Estuary.

And that’s just what happened last week, when, after a meeting of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association in Southampton, local lawmakers announced the creation of the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee.

The Peconic Estuary Protection Committee is an affiliation of East End municipalities and agencies dedicated to restoring and improving water quality in the Peconic Estuary and implementing the goals of the federally recognized Peconic Estuary Program’s comprehensive conservation and management plan.

Speakers at the event included Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, legislators Krupski and Jay Schneiderman, Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty, and committee coordinator Rachel Gruzen.

All said the inter-municipal agreement establishing the committee was critical to a collaborative effort to protect water quality moving forward.

“The new effort to coordinate all of the East End municipalities is an important initiative,” Russell said. “By working together, we can develop good and workable programs as the Suffolk County Board of Health starts to approve alternative wastewater treatment systems. These systems are new technology and their installation, along with maintenance and annual inspection, are going to require oversight that the East End is in a much better position to provide.”

In addition, Russell said, there is a need to thoroughly examine the issues to determine the extent of the problems. “Currently, no study or science exists and that would be vital to determine the best course of action. This new effort can also help identify sources of funds needed to invest in solutions. It would be modeled after the Peconic Estuary Program but would ideally evolve into a more formal entity over time,” he said.

Krupski echoed a statement made by Assemblyman Fred Thiele: “We’re all in this together,” he said.

It’s important that the five East End towns coordinate on water quality, as well as land use and zoning, issues, Krupski said. “Not that we all have to act exactly the same — all towns and villages should be independent — but it’s good to have that kind of communication between municipalities on common issues,” he said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the new program will allow for shared data and resources, as well as the ability to apply for grants as one entity. What affects Riverhead affects Southold and the other East End towns, with all sharing one estuary, he said.

“Southold and Riverhead don’t have the resources,” that the other towns do, he said, adding that teaming up can help the region protect the environment.

In Greenport, Mayor George Hubbard said he thought the agreement was “a great idea. Now all five towns are working together to save the waterways and come up with solutions that work for septic systems in the whole area.”

All five East End town supervisors, as well as Brookhaven Town, and all the local incorporated villages and a representative of the New York State Department of Transportation signed the agreement.

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