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Work to protect Peconic Estuary praised


A large group of federal, state, county and local officials huddled Friday in the small wooden building that once was the Flanders Club, keeping out of the rain and praising 20 years of work in protecting the Peconic Estuary.

As the officials spoke, the rain did what it always does in Flanders, washing down on the lands around Peconic Bay and gently working its way into the water.

The group included County Executive Steve Bellone, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and four East End town supervisors. Also on hand were Joan Leary Matthews, regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Peter Scully, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation; and a group of dedicated environmentalists -- all active in preserving the bay, one of just 28 estuary systems recognized by the EPA as being of national significance.

"It's a force that brings people together," said Alison Branco, a marine biologist in the Suffolk Department of Health Services office of ecology, and who runs the county's Peconic Estuary Program. "People on the East End love it."

Since getting the special designation, state and federal grants and research programs have helped manage some of Peconic Bay's worst problems, but there are ongoing efforts to preserve open space around the bay, keep pesticides and other pollutants from washing into it from streets and adjoining lands and control cesspool wastes.

Each of the 16 speakers signed a pledge when they finished their remarks, promising to "restore and protect the equality of the Peconic Estuary." As they spoke, they stood in front of a window overlooking Peconic Bay, and many of them saw different things.

Bellone, who comes from Babylon, saw something beautiful and vast, a part of the county that people from his densely populated town can visit.

"We have this incredible place on the East End to go to," he said. "Thank you for protecting this resource."

Bishop saw an economic engine. "We talk a lot in Washington about job creators," he said. "Peconic Bay is a job creator."

Schneiderman noted that county sales tax revenue for the third quarter was up 14 percent. "That number is heavily dependent on tourism," he said. "You're looking at the reason."