The Robins Island pound trap
The Robins Island pound trap in the Peconic Bay

The Peconic Estuary now has one more organization devoted to its protection, one that draws from natural resource experts in all the towns and villages on the East End.

The Peconic Estuary Protection Committee, approved through an intermunicipal agreement established by the Suffolk County Legislature last year, officially kicked off its work in late October, but the group’s coordinator, Rachel Gruzen, has been working since early this year to coordinate efforts to protect the bays.

The committee was formed at the urging of representatives of the Peconic Estuary Program, whose director, Alison Branco, works under the Suffolk County Health Department’s Office of Ecology. Ms. Branco spearheaded the effort by visiting each of the East End towns to ask them to begin this partnership.

“This has been several years in the making. The Peconic Estuary Program was one of the big initiators of this committee,” said Ms. Gruzen on Nov. 6. “There was enthusiasm from several towns and villages and we finally signed the agreement in early 2015.”

The committee is funded through the individual towns, villages, Suffolk County and the state Department of Transportation. It is modeled after several Long Island protection committees, including the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, which has been working to restore Hempstead Harbor for 20 years.

Summer's End on the Peconic Bay
Summer’s End on the Peconic Bay

“This intermunicipal agreement is very much a milestone. It’s a good balance of local rule and intermunicipal partnerships,” she said. “It helps bring issues to members’ attention, and it’s an opportunity to share resources and knowledge. The Peconic Estuary is a shared resource. We’re all touching this water body. We’re all contributors to its health, and to its degradation.”

“We’re in our nascent stage, building relationships,” she added.

The committee has put together a work plan that begins with helping East End towns and villages comply with EPA stormwater regulations that govern Municipal Seperate Storm Sewer Systems, or MS4s.

Among those requirements are public education, helping property owners learn how to contain stormwater on their properties and urging members of the public to pick up pet waste, which can wash into the bays.

The committee is pooling Geographic Information System data from throughout the East End to create a “living nitrogen model” of where high levels of nitrogen are entering the bays, where they can set off harmful algae blooms.

Ms. Gruzen, who had worked for The Nature Conservancy, is working with the committee’s GIS working group to feed data from the towns into several established nitrogen mapping models.

This project begins, she said, with creating Geographic Information Systems that are based on the same parameters.

“They need to talk to each other and have a consistent lexicon,” she said. “We’re mapping sewerage infrastructure and watersheds to make sure the modeling is as accurate as possible.”

She said that, after the model is complete, the committee will pursue grant funding for projects that will have the greatest positive impact on the estuary.

The committee is also developing a Quality Assurance Project Plan, or QAPP, to train municipal staff to collect data in compliance with state Department of Environmental Conservation standards.

One lonely clammer worked the flats in West Creek, New Suffolk, last winter. The creek was closed to shellfishing in the summer months in 2010 and many blame the continued closure on the DEC's lack of regular testing.
One lonely clammer worked the flats in West Creek, New Suffolk, last winter. The creek was closed to shellfishing in the summer months in 2010 and many blame the continued closure on the DEC’s lack of regular testing.

This project may benefit Southold Town, where numerous creeks are closed to shellfishing, not because they are unsafe, but because the DEC doesn’t have the manpower to regularly test them.

“We have many healthy water bodies, and we want to make sure the healthy bays remain open and make sure we’re allocating resources to conduct restoration where it’s most needed,” she said.

“There is concern about threats to the waterways and declines in natural resources, but we still have a very healthy estuary, which is rare along the U.S. seaboard,” she added. “The committee wants to see it remain that way. There have been many success stories in the last 10 years.”


Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

2 thoughts on “A Region-Wide Collaboration to Protect the Peconic Bays

  1. How can we donate to this organization? Does it have an affiliation with Peconic Baykeeper?
    It would be wonderful if the organizations worked together to share information. This is such a crucial juncture for the Bay and creeks. They are more vulnerable than they’ve ever been. I understand people need to be educated about their lawn care, nitrogen, runoff, septic systems and many other issues but on the North Fork there are developers that come within a hair of a yes vote by the Southold Town Board and the Planning Board without even having their septic plans upgraded. The people can only do so much but with projects like these getting a go ahead the North Fork unfortunately might be the biggest perpetrator of damage to the waterways and may continue to see them closed by the DEC year after year. Just the other day the Suffolk County planning Board publicly stated their dissatisfaction with a project in Cutchogue and its potential environmental damage. Thank goodness they have jurisdiction because they may just have to intervene on the North Fork’s behalf.

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