New York State Announces Total $9 Million Investment with Peconic Land Trust to Protect Long Island Drinking Water

March 26, 2020

Recent Acquisition of Three Long Island Parcels Will Help Recharge Region’s Aquifer and Safeguard Clean Water

For Immediate Release: 03/26/2020

Contact: Maureen Wren | (518) 402-8000

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced the permanent preservation of the latest of three critical Long Island parcels acquired in the last year by the Peconic Land Trust as part of a $9 million total State investment in protecting the region’s drinking water sources. As part of this funding, DEC most recently reimbursed the Trust three quarters of the acquisition costs to preserve six acres on Shelter Island that replenish the aquifer’s water supply with an estimated 3.5 million gallons of water annually. Funding for this most recent acquisition was from a $3 million State source water protection grant awarded to the Trust in 2018.

“As climate change poses a threat to our waterways, we are taking aggressive action to make sure drinking water is safe for Long Island residents,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “This $9 million total state investment helped the Peconic Land Trust acquire three Long Island properties that will recharge Long Island’s aquifer and safeguard the region’s clean water supply. By passing the Restore Mother Nature Environmental Bond Act, we can continue to make these important investments that improve water quality, restore critical habitats for wildlife and fish, and help protect our environment now and in the future.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Governor Cuomo has made protecting drinking water for Long Island a top priority, and by working with partners like the Peconic Land Trust and investing record resources to achieve our goals, we are making a real difference in improving water quality. This purchase is a strategic investment that will protect Shelter Island’s sole source aquifer for generations to come by providing a buffer against development and allowing the aquifer to be replenished with millions of gallons of water per year.”

The Shelter Island parcel announced today represents the third acquisition completed under the Peconic Land Trust’s successful Regional Aquifer Protection Land Acquisition Program (RAPLAP). With State support, the Trust is partnering with Peconic Estuary Program to pool resources and expertise to identify and acquire land or development rights on parcels that meet source water protection criteria. The acquired parcels are in proximity to one of Shelter Island’s public water supply wellheads.

DEC’s Water Quality Improvement Program will provide approximately $9 million in grants for land acquisition costs; 25 percent of the grant funds are matched with public and private funds. The first two projects were in the town of Brookhaven and closed in 2019. Funding for the most recent acquisition comes from a $3 million DEC grant awarded to the Peconic Land Trust in 2018 for continued implementation of the RAPLAP in the towns of Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold. The Trust received $2.3 million from DEC in 2017 to work with the town of Brookhaven to identify and acquire properties to further protect drinking water sources. In 2019, DEC awarded the Trust $3.656 million to assist the towns of Brookhaven, East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island and Southold.

The acquisition of this property will help protect Long Island’s groundwater through naturally recurring replenishment of the aquifer. In a simultaneous closing, the Trust paid $1,250,000 for the six-acre woodland parcel off of North Menantic Road and then conveyed it to the town of Shelter Island for $312,500. The town used its Community Preservation Fund (CPF) after identifying the property as a priority for conservation because of its location near a public drinking water wellhead and its relatively high recharge potential for the island’s aquifer. The parcel will be maintained for passive recreational uses such as hiking and birdwatching with limited interior parking. Potential improvements would be limited to a foot trail, placement of trail markers, and a trailhead kiosk.

John v.H. Halsey, President of the Peconic Land Trust, said, “We are so pleased to be able to announce the third acquisition under this DEC grant program – and the first on Shelter Island. The completion of this project would not have been possible without the cooperation and support from the landowners – Ned Smyth and Rima Mardoyan-Smyth – and the Town of Shelter Island. This property, in the West Neck area of Shelter Island and near West Neck Bay, will provide significant drinking water protection for the public water supply by eliminating future development and will provide a new passive recreational option for residents and visitors. The land’s rolling hills and natural features will be open for hiking and birdwatching. We also extend our appreciation to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York State Senate and Assembly, the staff of the DEC for making this funding available, and to the Peconic Estuary Program for partnering with us. We look forward to announcing additional conservation efforts under this program later this year.”

Senator Todd Kaminsky, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, “Long Island’s aquifers are our birthright and an integral part of what makes Long Island special. This substantial investment will ensure that we have clean, safe drinking water for generations to come. I thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership in safeguarding this essential asset."

Assembly Member Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said, “I want to commend Governor Cuomo for the manner in which he is handling the health emergency caused by the Corona virus while still providing important leadership in protecting water supplies through land acquisition. This critical program helps protect public drinking water in the most cost effective manner by preventing it from being polluted in the first place. It is always less expensive to prevent pollution rather than having to pay to clean it up."

Assembly Member Fred Thiele said, "All levels of government and local organizations are working together to address the problem of declining water quality on Long Island. Water quality degradation on the East End poses one of the most serious threats to the health of our residents. The acquisition of this property under the Regional Aquifer Protection Land Acquisition Program (RAPLAP) is essential to replenishing the aquifer and preserving our water supply. The work of the Peconic Land Trust and the Peconic Estuary Program to preserve land and protect water quality on the East End have been unmatched, and this substantial state support is essential to ensuring these organizations can continue their vital work and protect public health."

“For years, Suffolk County has been leading the state as we work to improve and protect our water quality, which includes the sole source of our drinking water—our aquifers," said County Executive Steve Bellone. "I want to thank the Governor for continuing to provide strategic investments and working in partnership with the Peconic Land Trust to preserve this vital open space that will ensure Long Islanders have access to clean, safe drinking water for years to come."

Shelter Island Town Supervisor Gerry Siller said, “We are incredibly thankful to Governor Cuomo and the Peconic Land Trust for taking the necessary steps to protect Long Island’s drinking water. This acquisition demonstrates the State’s dedication to preparing for climate change and protecting the residents.”

Gordon Gooding, Chairman, Shelter Island Community Preservation Committee, said, “Shelter Island does not have sewers or municipal water serving all islanders. The community relies on individual wells for our drinking water from the aquifer and individual septic systems to handle waste. Consequently, some local issues are high nitrate levels and salt-water intrusion into our drinking water. The preservation of this importantly located property reduces additional septic systems as well as significantly provides recharge fresh water to our sole source aquifer on the island. We are grateful to the Peconic Land Trust, and DEC to be able to participate in the RAPLAP that benefits the entire community of Shelter Island.”

Ned Smyth, former landowner, said, “When we were approached by Shelter Island to buy the six-acres for water recharge, having lived on the land with no other houses we were intrigued by the thought of the land staying wild. In the end, we feel it is a win-win. There won’t be four more septic systems, wells, houses or hard surfaces. And we get to live next to preserved land.”

Joyce Novak, PhD, Program Director, Peconic Estuary Program, said, “This is yet another example of the great preservation work the Peconic Land Trust continues to carry out on the East End of Long Island and the East End Towns' effort to prioritize clean drinking water for its residents. The support and dedication of New York State to clean water on Long Island with this most recent allocation of over $3.5 million for source water protection is paramount for the future of Long Island drinking water. The announcement of the proposed $3 billion environmental Bond Act by Governor Cuomo should be commended and will allow for future critical work to ensure clean water, healthy habitats, and resilient communities in New York.”

The acquisitions announced today to safeguard Long Island’s water quality complement the statewide Restore Mother Nature Initiative, introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2019. The Restore Mother Nature Initiative includes projects to protect habitat and drinking water sources like Long Island’s sole source aquifer. Restore Mother Nature projects would improve water quality, reduce the potential for harmful algal blooms, and protect drinking water across the state.

Governor Cuomo continues to increase investments for clean water infrastructure projects, including the Executive Budget proposal of an additional $500 million for clean water infrastructure that is part of the state's unprecedented $3.5 billion commitment to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to clean water, including the Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP). Along with support from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, this competitive reimbursement grant program funds projects to improve water quality, reduce the potential for harmful algal blooms, and protect drinking water across the state. DEC has announced more than $37 million for 37 land acquisition projects to date. WQIP grants are awarded for municipal wastewater treatment, nonagricultural nonpoint source abatement and control, salt storage, aquatic habitat restoration and land acquisition projects for source water protection. New York State is also taking unprecedented steps to protect Long Island water quality with the full containment and treatment of the plume of contamination caused by industrial waste from U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman manufacturing facilities in Oyster Bay.

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