Former Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister is hoping to build a movement of public participation around the cause of protecting water on Long Island through his new group, Defend H2O.
“I’m trying to educate. That’s what I do,” he told a crowd who gathered to hear him speak at the North Fork Audubon Society’s headquarters in Greenport Friday night. “Public participation is so critically important. If you show up, you’d be amazed at the results.”
“I’m willing to utter the words when others won’t go there,” he added.
Mr. McAllister, long known for his tireless advocacy for the health of the Peconic Bays since the Peconic Baykeeper was formed 16 years ago, was fired as the Baykeeper in March. While the organization did not comment on why he was dismissed, Mr. McAllister said he had been broadsided with allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.
Friday night, he laid out his position on issues ranging from surface and ground water pollution to his view on sewage management, the use of methoprene for mosquito control and shoreline hardening. Defend H2O was granted non-profit status in September.
Mr. McAllister was particularly critical of the Suffolk County Health Department in his talk — pointing out that their approval of septic systems lags far behind approved technology to reduce nitrogen in septic water already used in other areas.
“I personally feel there’s no excuse for not striving for the best available technology,” he said. “We need to require this on new developments.”
He added that the county’s recently announced demonstration project — which will provide free modern septic systems to 19 homeowners picked from a lottery — is an example of the county being “encased in a cocoon” by continuing to study modern septic systems that have already been approved elsewhere.
“I get frustrated — stop it,” he said. “How long do we do this before we start placing them in the ground? I think they’re just going to kick the can down the road…. We’ve got to get out of the rock age here.”
He added that he does believe modern septic systems have to be strategically placed to most effectively benefit the environment, and that they should not be used as an excuse for more development.
“If treatment makes the volume of people greater, I’m not going to give him [County Executive Steve Bellone] a pass if he says he’s going to run a pipe out on the North Fork,” he said.
Mr. McAllister also pointed out that, while nitrogen contamination comes from urine that isn’t collected in modern septic tanks — which are used to contain bacteria-laden solid waste — even currently approved septic tanks may not be far enough above groundwater for the sand beneath them to filter out the bacteria in solid waste.
In some areas, he said, changing ground and surface water patterns, including sea level rise, have left septic systems sitting in the groundwater, not above it.
“Have we seen changes in where water levels are on Long Island?” he asked. “Absolutely. When you see oak trees that are as dead as a doornail with tidal water at their feet, it didn’t grow in that environment. Something has changed.”
Mr. McAllister said he’s also “not backing away” from challenging Suffolk County Vector Control’s use of the larvaecide methoprene, a cause he had long championed as the Baykeeper.
“Their work plan for 2015 will be coming forward and I will be in Hauppauge very soon challenging it,” he said.
Mr. McAllister, who worked in government on coastline issues in Florida for more than a decade before becoming the Baykeeper, also plans to speak out against jetties, groins, bulkheads and other shoreline hardening methods.
He had particularly choice words for a 300-foot long jetty built to protect private property in Southold, over which he’d filed a lawsuit while working as the Baykeeper.
“You’d think it would be the jetty into the Suez Canal,” he said, adding that the only reason he believes the jetty was put in was so that sand would accrete on the side of the jetty.
“That was a land grab so the sand would build up,” he said. “You can see oak trees on the other side starting to topple and it was permitted.”
Mr. McAllister said he’s also not a fan of the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to put geotubes full of sand on a few oceanfront beaches in downtown Montauk to protect the seaside hotels there.
“Under wave attack, it will erode that beach,” he said. “There’s no science to it.”
Mr. McAllister is also speaking out against provisions in a new wetlands law under consideration in Sag Harbor that would allow variances to people who want to build closer than 75 feet from wetlands.
“People will spend more on Belgian block to line their driveways than they will to protect the environment,” he said. “I don’t have tolerance for that.”
North Fork Environmental Council President Bill Toedter praised Mr. McAllister’s consistant commitment to clean water issues.
“He’s doing a lot of this on his own dime and his own time,” he said of Mr. McAllister’s new effort. “He does deserve our support.”
“I would rather be involved in an effort that’s lifting people up to participate,” said Mr. McAllister. “We need to get to a place where we can get people involved.”
Kevin McAllister can be readhed at 631.599.9326 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.