Image: Google Earth

Peconic Estuary Program has devised a preliminary plan to construct a 1.2-acre wetland to filter road runoff entering Meetinghouse Creek in Aquebogue.

Meetinghouse Creek has been identified as an impaired water body with low dissolved oxygen levels, Peconic Estuary Program program coordinator Sarah Schaefer told the Riverhead Town Board at its work session Thursday morning. Its impairment is the result of past agricultural practices and road runoff. Currently, a 24-inch drainage pipe discharges road runoff collected by drainage structures on Church Lane onto a 2.6-acre town-owned parcel on the south side of Main Road in Aquebogue at the headwaters of Meetinghouse Creek.

To improve the creek’s water quality and its ability to support marine life, PEP is proposing to create a new 1.2-acre wetland on the town property. Wetlands already exist on the site but they are choked by phragmites and are not functioning to adequately filter stormwater runoff before it enters Meetinghouse Creek, Schaefer said.

Peconic Estuary Program paid for a watershed management plan for Meetinghouse Creek that was completed in 2006, Schaefer said. In
2017, PEP funded a conceptual design plan, which it presented to the town board Thursday.

The plan is to build a “meandering” wetland that will provide sufficient transit time to filter out sediment and physical structures to filter out trash before runoff passes under an berm and enters the Meetinghouse Creek system.

PEP will pay the estimated $154,000 in engineering design costs for the new wetland construction, Schaefer said.

Construction costs will run an estimated $530,000, according to the presentation. PEP and the town would apply for state grant funding for the actual construction, she said. The project stands a good chance of being funded, according to Schaefer.

The town’s role in the wetland construction — and its potential responsibility for the cost of the project —  will have to be worked out, Schaefer said after her presentation to the board. An operation and maintenance plan will be developed by the engineering firm. The town’s share of the project cost could be in-kind services associated with maintenance, she said. The terms of a grant usually address that, she said.

The firm hired to undertake the project will obtain all necessary permits, including permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, the N.Y. State Department of Transportation and the Town of Riverhead.

Construction is anticipated to take place in 2023.

The Peconic Estuary Program is a cooperative effort between the state, Suffolk County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the scientific community, and the citizens of the Peconic Estuary watershed, according to the State DEC.

The Peconic Estuary is the body of water between the two forks of eastern Long Island, comprising more than 100 distinct bays, harbors, embayments and tributaries, including Flanders Bay, Great Peconic Bay, Little Peconic Bay, Shelter Island Sound, and Gardiners Bay. It was designated an “estuary of national significance” by the EPA in 1992.

PEP is responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive management plan to protect the Peconic Estuary. Its first Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) was formally approved by the EPA administrator in 2001.

“The CCMP promotes a holistic approach to improving and maintaining the estuary. Priority management topics include Brown Tide, nutrients, habitat and living resources, pathogens, toxic pollutants, and critical lands protection,” according to the PEP website.

The Peconic Estuary Program is working to update the 2001 CCMP to address the most current threats.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.