East Hampton Town Hall at 159 Pantigo Rd. (July 2,...

East Hampton Town Hall at 159 Pantigo Rd. (July 2, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

The East Hampton Town Board, after weeks of bitter debate, has passed a resolution to join two other towns on the Peconic Estuary in crafting a management plan to improve the environmental health of the waterway.

Of the six towns and four villages that contribute to the runoff in the federally recognized Peconic Estuary, only Brookhaven -- where the Peconic River begins -- and Southold had signed on earlier. The estuary also reaches the Hamptons, the North Fork and the tiny village of Dering Harbor on Shelter Island.

The intermunicipal agreement that East Hampton signed onto on Thursday night calls for "annual contributions" by municipalities to meet the goals of what would become the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee, tasked with setting goals to improve bay water quality, restoring and enhancing tidal wetlands, and achieving compliance with state and federal regulations. No total cost figures have been developed. The committee would not be created unless more municipalities sign on.

Brookhaven agreed to join earlier this year, limiting its total annual dues to $10,000. Southold reserved the right to pull out if only a few municipalities joined and costs to deal with pollution become too high.

"We're number three . . . we should have been number one," Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said after the 3-1 vote.

Theresa Quigley, who voted against the measure, said she wanted more information about the plan.

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister -- who serves as president of the not-for-profit organization that works to improve the ecosystem of Peconic Bay -- said the proposals in the resolution approved by East Hampton echo broad measures outlined in agreements that made Peconic Bay one of 28 areas designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as estuaries of national significance and deserving special protection.

He said a general plan to deal with the environmental threats to the estuary has been in place for more than a decade and that individual towns and state and county agencies have been working to solve many individual problems, but there is no comprehensive effort to set priorities and commit funds to deal with other problems.

"What has been a challenge is actually implementing elements of that plan . . . you're talking about hundreds of recommendations . . . " McAllister said. "As with any plan, implementation is the key . . . a number of recommendations are languishing."

He noted that towns have spent money and made improvements in dealing with stormwater runoff and acquiring land for preservation. "Things are getting done."

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