Environmentalists discuss Port Jeff Harbor state

On Wednesday, April 13, two guest speakers briefed the Port Jefferson Harbor Commission on the state of Port Jefferson Harbor and its future.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, shared the history of the Harbor Commission over the past two decades.

“Until 2000, the commission had not been created and each village was sort of doing its own thing and the [Town of Brookhaven] did his own thing,” he said. “You had overlapping regulations in terms of boat speeds and where you could slam and where you could moor.”

This changed after the Port Jefferson Harbor Management Plan of 2000, which directed the various coastal municipalities in the area on how best to manage the harbor. Today, the villages and the city coordinate their efforts through the harbor commission, which harmonizes laws to monitor boating safety, establish mooring fields and regulate maritime traffic. While the villages have been successful in these areas, Hoffman suggests the commission now has the experience and know-how to pay more attention to water quality.

“Now that all the other issues are sort of resolved, I think now is the time to look at how this commission can start to help manage the port itself as an environmental entity,” Hoffman said.

MS4 regulations

During the first hour of a storm, rain often carries harmful contaminants from lawns, roads and sidewalks, washing oils, bacteria and metal particles into nearby surface waters. This phenomenon represents a danger to marine life.

In an effort to reduce surface water contamination during storms, new state regulations will require coastal municipalities to develop a more comprehensive stormwater management program. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued guidelines governing small municipal storm sewer systems, known as MS4.

“I actually think the Port Jeff Harbor Commission could be a great vehicle to help all municipalities come into compliance.”

—Georges Hoffmann

Under the current policy, local governments have wide latitude in maintaining their MS4s. “In the 1950s and 60s, we never really thought about stormwater — we just thought that if it poured into the harbor it would get diluted and we’d be fine,” Hoffman said. “We’ve found that’s just not the way to go. This really has significant impacts.

With stricter guidelines and tougher penalties under these new regulations, Hoffman noted the need for staff: “It’s never a good thing for municipalities because you have to fund those positions and budgets are always tough. , no matter where you are. He added that the Port Jefferson Harbor Commission – which includes officials from the city as well as the villages of Port Jefferson, Belle Terre, Poquott and Old Field – already has the infrastructure in place through the commission. to coordinate their efforts to comply with these guidelines. .

“I actually think the Port Jeff Harbor Commission could be a great vehicle to help all municipalities come into compliance,” Hoffman said. “If each village has to go out and hire its own computer programmer to do the stormwater mapping, and has to hire someone to lead the public meetings and has to identify all the groups that are interested – it seems to me that it would be better if we all unite through this commission and assume all of our MS4 responsibilities together.

Recognizing the limitations of an all-volunteer commission, Hoffman’s plan would provide individual villages with the funds to hire part-time staff to oversee compliance with MS4 regulations: all you need is one person here — and he it doesn’t even have to be a full-time position — to help manage MS4 regulations.

Public awareness is also a major element of these new guidelines. Hoffman said that under current policy, public hearings are not mandatory. From now on, municipalities must hold public hearings to identify the stakeholders in their territory and report on the quality of their surface waters. Again, Hoffman said the commission can make it easier to meet that condition.

With a greater focus on water quality, he said the commission can also tap into the Long Island Sound Study, a program that provides grants to protect and restore the Sound.

“The Long Island Sound Study has been around for 20 years now,” Hoffman said. “It’s a pact between Connecticut and New York and all federal funds for the Long Island Sound go through it.” Referring to the Port of Setauket Task Force, he added, “Our group is part of the Citizen Advisory Committee and we are very active members of that group – it’s the one that gives out the grants for $10 million. “.

Plantation of oysters and clams

Alan Duckworth, environmental analyst for the town of Brookhaven, also addressed the commission at the meeting. His presentation highlighted a recent endeavor by the city to improve the water quality of its ports through the planting of large numbers of oysters and clams.

In recent years, the city has attempted to strengthen its understanding of the quality of its ports and bays, and the pathogens and contaminants that pollute them. While traditional testing indicates that the quality of Port Jeff Harbor has improved, Duckworth notes some notable shortcomings in these testing programs.

“There are so many pathogens in Port Jeff Harbor and elsewhere,” he said. “Some of them come from humans, but a lot of them come from waterfowl. The DEC checks for pathogens and uses E. coli as a marker. However, recognizing the limitations of these tests, he added: “They don’t separate human E. coli from avian E. coli. Obviously some of the pathogens come from human waste, but a lot of it could come from birds.”

The city grows an additional 1.5 million oysters and 1.5 million clams each year which it distributes to various ports and bays. The addition of these shellfish populations helps the local fishing industry as well as recreational shellfish harvesting.

The oyster and clam populations serve as “filter feeders”, removing harmful contaminants from the waters and spitting out the filtered water. These shells have a beneficial impact on water quality, according to Duckworth.

The city’s planting activities are also attempting to restore the natural populations that once thrived along the island’s coastline. “What we see today is just a fragment of what was happening around Long Island in bays and harbors,” Duckworth said, adding, “Through disease and overfishing, in some areas, natural populations are 1% of what they used to be. We’ve brought out oysters and clams to hopefully start the next generation.

“About 100,000 oysters remove about 50% of the microalgae, which is a fantastic result.”

—Alan Duckworth

With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the city was able to track the effects of these shellfish populations on the quality of its surface waters. Measuring the water quality with an instrument called a probe, the researchers performed two experiments – one in an area of ​​100,000 oysters in Port Jeff Harbor and another about 60 feet from the oysters, which served as a control. By measuring the removal of microalgae by the oysters, the researchers found that “about 100,000 oysters remove about 50% of the microalgae, which is a fantastic result,” Duckworth said.

In a separate test for turbidity, a measure of the amount of sediment floating in the water, he said: ‘They also remove about 50% of that sediment, which improves water clarity. It’s really important for photosynthetic organisms and things that need sunlight. Duckworth added, “If you have 10 feet of dirty water, all the bottom-dwelling things that require sunlight can’t photosynthesise. When you clean that water, it’s really important for the animals and plants that live there.

A final experiment tested whether these plantations had an effect on the restoration of natural shellfish populations in the port. The researchers took out bags of empty oyster shells and found that the baby oysters were starting to move around in these shells, an indicator that the planted oysters are adjusting to their new environment.

“The oysters that we’re raising are now adults, they’re now producing larvae, and those larvae are actually finding places to settle, in this case the oyster shells,” Hoffman said. “They’re reseing Port Jeff Harbor.”

Reflecting on these studies, Hoffman concluded that the work underway is having a positive effect on water quality and portends an optimistic future for the port. “It’s a good story,” he said. “We’re showing that, yes, the oysters we farm clean the water, but they also help reseed and repopulate the natural populations that we all want to bring back.”