Granted, this is not about The Great South Bay. But what is about to happen unless we stop it has to trouble anyone who cares about Long Island’s environment. Are those entrusted to oversee and protect our public assets — our parks, our wild places, our bays — acting on our behalf?
It has come to our attention that Suffolk County plans on moving forward with altering the North Fork County Preserve, which is likely to have a devastating impact on the local ecology. This would be:
NYSDEC Permit Number 1-4730-00743/00004;
Capital Project Number 7143
Unfortunately, the engineering plans provided to us demonstrate multiple impoundments to be installed, and numerous trees removed, in the name of flood control and “drainage improvements.” This type of water mismanagement pursued by the County does not adequately take into account the long term and potentially irreversible impact on the ecology of the Preserve.
“Species of native plants and animals living in freshwater wetlands often survive within a narrow range of water levels and other abiotic factors. Too little or too much water can make the difference between life and death and it has taken eons of time for species to adapt to nature’s delicate balance. A healthy wetland provides habitat for many interacting species of plants and animals, a sign of high biodiversity.”
The creation of man-made impoundments and water detention basins in and around wetlands irreversibly changes the delicate balance and natural hydrology of wetlands. These human activities include bringing heavy machinery into the sensitive wetlands, clearing native vegetation, digging deep holes into which water is channeled, and then re-planting the site with nursery species.
The destruction of native wetland vegetation coupled with the disturbance of mucky soils filled with tiny life forms and human-caused changes in hydrology creates an artificial environment that is often colonized by non-native, invasive species. The decrease in native biodiversity results in a degraded, unhealthy ecosystem.
Advocates of human-alteration of freshwater wetlands consider these activities as “wetland enhancement” but find their actions difficult to defend biologically.”
According to the DEC, the entire tract of land has been designated as a “significant natural community” due to a relatively rare occurrence of a swamp white oak-red maple swamp community.
Within this natural community exists multiple NYS endangered plant species including:
- Slender Crabgrass
Two of the above species are wetland obligate and, therefore, extremely sensitive to changes in hydrology and hydroperiod; drainage (even partial drainage) of existing wetlands via the creation of impoundments will have deleterious consequences on the viability of these populations going forward.
In addition to the rare plant communities, naturalists in the area have identified numerous populations of wetland obligate wildlife species, including pool breeding amphibians. Given the nature of the wetlands and the surrounding uplands, this may be prime habitat for the notoriously cryptic and federally listed Tiger Salamander.
While we understand that impacts to environmentally sensitive areas are often unavoidable, the most disconcerting aspect of this project is the appearance that decisions were made with undue care and without the input of local environmental organizations and the community. This is exactly the type of situation meant to be avoided pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
We are, therefore, hoping that this work will be put on hold to ascertain exactly how the County came to the conclusion that this is a type II action under SEQRA (which is our working assumption). Type II actions pursuant to 6 CRR-NY 617.5 are only issued for routine actions that will have negligible impact. Given the aforementioned impacts to the environment, this is certainly anything but routine.
It is imperative that the DPW’s work, which can only be justified as a flood control measure, be stopped immediately, so that we can draft an environmental impact statement, and, yes, to insist that this and any project we undertake in Suffolk be fully SEQRA compliant.
We cannot afford to look the other way. To lend your support, please reach out to your elected officials:
Suffolk County Legislator, 1st District
423 Griffing Ave – Suite 2
Riverhead, NY 11901
Phone: (631) 853-4000
Email: [email protected]
Lee Dennison Building
100 Veterans Memorial Highway
P.O. Box 6100
Hauppauge, NY 11788-0099
Riverhead County Center
County Road 51
Riverhead, New York 11901-3397