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Setauket Harbor cleanup, restoration pushed by residents' task force

George Hoffman, of the Setauket Harbor Task Force,

George Hoffman, of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, which formed last year to seek ways to save the harbor from problems such as septic and stormwater runoff, stands with Laurie Vetere, Cynthia Barnes, and Charlie Lefkowitz, all of Setauket, at the Setauket Harbor Docks, Friday, May 1, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Setauket-area residents have banded together in an effort to clean up waterways spoiled by decades of storm-water runoff and untreated sewage.

The Setauket Harbor Task Force was formed last year by residents who hope to restore the historic harbor and nearby Little Bay and Conscience Bay to their former luster.

The estuaries are scenic on the surface, but sewage from cesspools at nearby homes has left their bottoms with high levels of pollution. The waters are listed as "uncertified" by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, meaning shellfishing is banned in all of Setauket Harbor and Little Bay, and part of Conscience Bay.

Excessive sediment also makes the waters difficult for boaters to navigate.

"We want to increase the access, the water quality and basically increase use of the harbor," said Laurie Vetere, 58, of Setauket, a local attorney and the task force chairwoman. "It's a beautiful harbor. . . . The idea is to get everyone to focus on this harbor."

In the group's first year, task force leaders organized two community meetings attended by about 100 people total. Group members said they have met with officials from the Town of Brookhaven and the villages of Poquott and Old Field, which border the waterways.

"People seem to be really interested and they want to know what they can do to save the harbor," said member George Hoffman, 62, of Setauket. The task force plans to meet with state and local officials to gather data about conditions and possible solutions, he said.

"We know there's a lot of data out there and we're going to try to pull it all together," said Hoffman, a consultant who was chief of staff to former Brookhaven Town Supervisor John Jay LaValle. "Government needs to be nudged. We want to be the squeaky wheel -- politely."

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright said she supports the group.

"I think that it's important the community plays a role in protecting our harbors," said Cartright, who represents Setauket. "They have a stake, and it's important that we have citizens groups working with the town to make sure we're reaching our goals."

Brookhaven Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos, who is not part of the task force, said it would take a potentially expensive dredging project to allow sediment to circulate the way it should, rather than coming to rest on the bay bottoms.

"If there's a simple solution, I'm not sure I know what that is," he said. "The sediment's too deep now to do what it's supposed to do without doing some major dredging."

But Koutrakos added that Setauket Harbor is worth preserving.

"I can't say enough of this harbor," he said. "It's one of the best harbors you have on the North Shore of Long Island."

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