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Oyster Bay crafting management plan for town harbors and bays

Heather Johnson, executive director of Friends of the

Heather Johnson, executive director of Friends of the Bay, near the Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay on Saturday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The Town of Oyster Bay has begun a process to coordinate how it manages water resources to better position itself to go after state and federal grants to protect its estuaries and marine resources.

"I want the town to be well-positioned with its environmental partners to take advantage of any money that can come in and help the taxpayer and get these projects done," Oyster Bay’s environmental resources commissioner, Louis Savinetti, told Newsday last week.

The town recently applied for a federal grant to build an oyster reef within Oyster Bay Harbor.

A draft document provided to Newsday by the town shows broad outlines of topics to be explored and to form the basis of policies for Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbors, South Oyster Bay and Hempstead Harbor.

Town officials plan to meet with several stakeholders this month to discuss about 100 bullet points in its draft plan, with an emphasis on restoring shellfish resources in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbors.

"It’s a lot and it’s a lot to do and it’s going to take a while to get it all done," Savinetti said. "Part of meeting with the interest groups is to identify and prioritize the more important issues."

Among those groups is the nonprofit Friends of the Bay that has pushed for a bay management plan for years.

"The town realizes that the shellfish population has definitely been on the decline and they want to try and reverse that if they can," Friends of the Bay executive director Heather Johnson said last week.

About 2 1/2 years ago, the town created a shellfish hatchery in Oyster Bay Harbor that produced about 3 million shellfish last year, town officials said. Savinetti said the town wants to ramp up production at the hatchery to produce 30 million annually and may also expand operations to the South Shore.

The shellfish from the hatchery are placed in restricted parts of the bay where they can’t be harvested by commercial operations, he said.

Rob Crafa, coordinator for the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee, an organization that works with municipal governments to improve the harbors and does community outreach, said having a sustainable oyster population is a priority.

"Oysters can help improve water quality, they can help enhance marine habitat, they can also provide a significant economic opportunity for commercial harvesting," Crafa said.

He said that although hatchery shellfish are initially placed in restricted areas, they move through the water during a two-week breeding season every year and can end up in nonrestricted areas.

In a statement, Friends of the Bay said a successful bay management plan must also deal with issues on land that affect water quality.

"Toward that end, the plan should include methods for improving stormwater management; reducing pollution from cesspools and septic tanks; and addressing downtown and waterfront development," the statement said.

Town officials said future plans to address some of those issues include the restoration of tidal wetlands and building of rain gardens.

Savinetti said the draft may not result in a final plan, rather it will be a "dynamic living document" that stakeholders will use to coordinate with each other for years to come.

Oyster Bay Water Resource Management Agenda

• Expand town shellfish hatchery operations

• Create oyster reefs and shoreline buffer

• Expand “off-bottom” shellfish harvesting

• Manage commercial shellfishing controls and limits

• Survey shellfish population

• Investigate water quality

• Identify grants to fund water resource projects

Source: Town of Oyster Bay

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