Pact pending on Northport Bay water protection plan

(L-R) Northport Mayor George Doll, Huntington Town Supervisor (L-R) Northport Mayor George Doll, Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and Asahroken Mayor, Greg Letica, have joined together with the Northport Harbor Water Quality Protection Committee to develop ways to protect the area's waters. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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Town of Huntington officials are nearing an agreement to team up with the villages of Northport and Asharoken to protect and clean area waters.

The three municipalities are expected to sign the intermunicipal document by June 1, which environmental advocates say is a tangible step forward.

The intermunicipal pact would allow them to streamline regulations between the three and make it easier for them to receive grant funding, officials said. The town and two villages all border Northport Bay.

"We all share this body of water, which is a terribly important environmental thing, and it is really up to the three of us, three communities to work together to keep it clean," said Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica. "It is our responsibility."

The agreement's jurisdiction would also include Northport Harbor, Centerport Harbor, Duck Island Cove and Harbor, Steers Canal, Carter's Bight and Eaton Harbor.

Officials and environmentalists have focused on the area for years, especially after the emergence of red tide. The harmful algae has triggered the closure of numerous shellfish harvesting areas in Northport Bay, Huntington Bay and surrounding waters since 2006.

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Red tide contains an algal toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, a potentially fatal disease that affects the nervous system of people who eat the shellfish.

Huntington, Northport and Asharoken officials are part of the Northport Harbor Water Quality Protection Committee, which formed in 2010 to restore the harbor's health.

The group crafted years ago a list of initiatives and suggestions -- including the inter-municipal agreement -- about how various levels of government could work together.

Each municipality worked separately to try to protect the waters, including measures to decrease the amount of nitrogen discharged into the bays and harbors, which is directly linked to red tide.

The town has updated its sewage treatment plant over the years, and Northport is in the middle of an overhaul that is expected to lower the amount of nitrogen it releases into the harbor.

The new coalition is interested in finding about $80,000 in funding for two studies over three years. One study would help identify the origins of the nitrogen and how much of it comes from that source, officials said.

Christopher Gobler, professor of marine and atmospheric sciences at Stony Brook University and a member of the Northport Harbor Water Quality Protection Committee, has studied the effects of red tide for years.

"The idea that they can get together and collaborate and are becoming more unified . . . certainly will make more things streamlined and efficient," Gobler said.

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