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Apr 16, 2014 9:58 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Water Quality Concerns Broached At Westhampton Beach Village Meeting

Apr 16, 2014 10:36 AM

Westhampton Beach resident Ray Dowd confronted the Village Board of Trustees during an otherwise quiet meeting earlier this month to ask if the lawmakers had a plan in place to curb damaging pollution from flowing into the local creeks and bays.

He was unsettled with the answer he received.

The village has a municipal stormwater sewer system in place, which, as required by law, is designed to control runoff and filter it before it reaches the local waterways. It also has in its code a number of policies intended to control harmful pollution from rolling off the streets and construction sites.

But, at Mr. Dowd’s prompting, Mayor Conrad Teller said during the April 3 meeting that the village had not allocated any funds to the issue in the 2014-15 adopted budget, nor had the Board of Trustees established a plan for tackling the problem.

“That’s the part I find unbelievable,” Mr. Dowd, a Manhattan attorney, said later in the week at his Stevens Lane home, which borders Moniebogue Creek. “It’s so easy to pass the buck.”

He explained that the waters that surrounded his year-round home during Hurricane Sandy resembled a dark sludge, which he suspected was contaminated with pollutants that harmed vegetation on his and his neighbors’ property.

A 2010 DEC report states that pathogens from boat pollution, as well as urban and storm runoff and wildlife polluted Moniebogue Bay—spelled Moneybogue in DEC records—and the adjacent Quantuck Canal. For that reason, shellfishing was prohibited in those waterways in the past. This year, residents are permitted to harvest shellfish in the bay and canal, but prohibited in the creeks that feed into the bay—including the creek adjacent to Mr. Dowd’s home—because those waterways have a higher concentration of the pollutants.

“You could be doing a lot better,” Mr. Dowd told the trustees during the meeting.

Glynis Berry, executive director of Peconic Green Growth, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the local waterways, said the tributaries and creeks on Long Island are especially vulnerable to pollution because they contain less volume of water and are much more stagnant than the larger bodies. Those smaller waterways are also important because they provide a sheltered area for marine species to spawn, she pointed out.

But as Trustee Ralph Urban and Building Inspector Paul Houlihan pointed out, scientists at Stony Brook University have released data that shows that nitrates seeping into the waterways from antiquated septic systems are likely the culprit of the harmful algal blooms and aquatic life die-off.

The problem, Trustee Hank Tucker added, requires a regional solution. “That’s a little more than one small village, surrounded by other villages and towns, can really do something about,” he said.

Mayor Teller predicted that the larger solution—namely updated technology that can filter nitrogen from human effluence—was still years in the making. And he added that it would be a waste of money to spend thousands on a solution without the neighboring municipalities on board.

“It’s going to change, but it’s going to take more time than I’ve got,” he said.

Still, Ms. Berry said local municipalities should act to improve the water quality of smaller tributaries that fall entirely in their jurisdiction.

The mayor also said, after the meeting, that it is difficult to quantify how much pollution is flowing from the village into the waterways. Even if testing were a viable option, the mayor said he would be hesitant to do so.

“It would be nice to know that ‘x’ amount of bad stuff is leaving Montauk Highway and by the time it gets to the bay, it’s cut 50 percent or cut 75 percent. I don’t know that,” he said. “And what I’ve been told is once you know what it is, then you’re responsible for it.”

Suffolk County inserted filters in the drains throughout the county in an experimental attempt to filter the stormwater some years ago, though they became clogged and had to be removed some years later, village officials said.

And when the trustees proposed installing a solid basin to collect waste at the municipal bathrooms near the village’s yacht basin, the Suffolk County Department of Health said such an option was prohibited.

Mr. Houlihan, who is the village’s designated stormwater management officer, said the village takes steps to educate people on the harm of dumping into the drains and waterways. He, too, added that the county and state must recommend and approve technology that can filter nitrogen from human waste and stormwater drains before the village allocates funding for it.

“In the meantime, we’re doing as much as we can,” he said. “We’re aware of it and we are stopping as much pollution as we can from getting to the bays.”

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Teller is waiting to see if any friends or family is in the business.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Apr 17, 14 1:33 PM
The video of the Village of Westhampton Beach Trustees meeting is at http://westhamptonbeach.org/board-of-trustees/trustees-board-meeting-videos/ In the video, Mayor Teller admits that the Village does not filter its stormwater runoff that goes into the Moniebogue Creek. There are many inexpensive stormwater filtration schemes approved by New York State. It is unfortunate not only that the Mayor is breaking the law by refusing to implement a nitrate filtration system, but that the Mayor is using ...more
By Ray Dowd (1), Westhampton Beach on Apr 22, 14 6:50 PM