Legislators seek feedback on how best to protect L.I. Sound

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State Assemblymen and local officials gather for a photo before a hearing on water quality in the Long Island Sound at Manhasset Public Library on Monday. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized $2.5 billion in spending for clean water infrastructure last year. On Monday, members of the state Assembly gathered in Manhasset to seek feedback on how some of that money could be used to clean Long Island Sound.

“We need to make sure we are taking the necessary steps to help preserve this way of life for future generations, and to me, water quality is an essential component of that preservation,” said Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso (D-Great Neck).

Alongside D’Urso at the Manhasset Public Library were Assemblymen Steven Otis (D-Rye), Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head).

Each of the assemblymen gave brief remarks at the beginning of the program reiterating their desire to see the Sound clean. Then a mixture of state and local officials testified about some of the recent successes and some of the challenges — such as stormwater runoff and algae bloom — still facing the Sound.

James Tierney, deputy commissioner for water resources at the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, was one of several officials who spoke in depth about nitrogen in the water.

“Nitrogen is the main threat to the Long Island Sound and its water quality,” he said.

Nitrogen, he said, comes from sewage and fertilizer that people use to maintain their lawns. The nitrogen can contaminate groundwater and slip down into the aquifers that provide Long Island with its drinking water. Should it reach Long Island Sound, the nitrogen feeds the algae in the water, leading to an algae bloom. The algae coats the beaches and sucks the oxygen out of the water, killing wildlife and depressing tourism.

Efforts by the state to ban water-soluble fertilizer — backed by Patti Woods of Grassroots Environmental Education, who also spoke on Monday — stalled in the state Senate.

Tierney said that nitrogen in the Sound was further fueled by pollution from coal-powered boilers. Despite the failure to ban the water-soluble fertilizer, he said that improvements in other areas — such as sewage management — meant that the number of low-oxygen areas in the Sound was trending down.

A lot of the credit, Tierney said, goes to the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, a multiyear initiative between the state DEC, the Long Island Regional Planning Council, and Nassau and Suffolk counties. He said LINAP was going from bay to bay on the island and putting together budgets for cleaning each one.

“This is a large and continuing effort,” he said. “And I want to emphasize, this is a locally led effort.”

One local group working to improve the environment is Residents Forward, based in Port Washington. Executive Director Mindy Germain asked about state funding for deepwater monitoring wells to examine the water quality in aquifers beneath Long Island. She said the governor had promised the money in 2016 but it was still pending.

“We’re concerned about the overall time of the study … and we’re here to ask for your help,” she said.

Engelbright said that the state Legislature’s role in securing the funding was complete. He said a memorandum of understanding was signed with the DEC and the money for the monitoring wells would come through shortly.

Others were more focused on the water above the ground. Sarah Deonarine, the executive director of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee, said she was concerned about pathogens in the water from sewage and storm runoff that forced the beaches to close. That sentiment was echoed by Robert Hayes of the Environmental Advocates of New York.

“Beach closures have become an all-too-familiar story,” he said, citing several instances when North Shore beaches had to close this summer.

Still, Deonarine said there had been progress and the public was better educated about the environmental challenges facing the Sound. And all who spoke thanked the assemblymen for the funding they had helped to provide.

“I know you’re a strong advocate for us and I appreciate everything you do,” Town of North Hempstead Council Member Dina De Giorgio told D’Urso.

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance

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