Riverhead’s annual cardboard boat race may be pushed to a later date this year.
The town board today discussed pushing the boat race back until July 31 instead of its originally planned June 26 date during this morning’s work session due to concerns over the conditions of the Peconic River.
“I’m hesitant to have it because last year, it was about May 13 that the first kill happened, and the second was June 10,” Town Supervisor Sean Walter said, referring to last summer’s fish kills that left the Peconic River full of dead bunker.
The supervisor said that after a rain this past Sunday, he saw a “couple hundred” dead bunker floating in the river.
The town contracted with fishermen this spring to remove as many bunker fish from the river as possible, so that if there was another event that caused a die-off, it would not be as extreme as last year’s when hundreds of thousands of dead fish washed ashore from downtown Riverhead east to Jamesport.
Scientists blamed the fish kill on “mahogany tide,” an algal bloom that they believe is responsible for a lethal drop in dissolved oxygen levels that killed the bunker. That same tide began appearing in the Peconic River last month.
Walter says he believes the fish kills are partially the result of rain wash-off coming from a nearby golf course, and even though he says the river has been “un-fished” through the efforts of local fishermen, he is still uncomfortable holding the event so soon.
“If the wind shifts, if we have a bad rain the night before, and there are fish are in there… it just won’t be good,” Walter said.
“My concern is losing volunteers,” said Councilman James Wooten. “They’re the ones who might have trouble switching to a different day.”
Walter pitched July 31 as an alternate date for the boat race, just one day after the Paddle Battle, where stand-up paddle board enthusiasts and kayakers take to the waterfront to race.
“The last thing we want is a bunch of kids in a cardboard boat with dead bunker floating around them,” Walter said.
“It’s really a health issue,” Wooten agreed.
The Suffolk County health department in December issued an advisory to residents to take precautions before recreating on the tidal portion of the Peconic River (east of Grangebel Park) due to a discharge of inadequately treated sewage from the town’s sewage treatment plan from an outfall pipe near the Cross River Drive bridge. That was a one-time violation, town officials said, the result of the plant’s ongoing upgrade. The county health department lifted the advisory in April. No other incidents have been reported.
On Monday, however, the environmental watchdog group Environmental Advocates of New York put the Peconic River (along with the Forge River in Brookhaven) on a “do not swim” list.
Citing “recent reports” of water pollution problems on Long Island, the group said the Peconic and Forge rivers are “particularly known for being unsafe for swimming.” It advised people “to check current water quality testing before entering any waterbody” and suggested signing up to receive alerts about the discharge of untreated sewage into local waterways via NY-Alert.”
With only three weeks left until the event, the town board doesn’t have much time to decide whether the race will remain as scheduled or will be postponed.
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