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Port Jeff Taking Steps to Manage Mill Creek Watershed

Grant will help village with stormwater management and habitat restoration of Mill Creek.

Port Jefferson has taken another step toward the remediation of the Mill Creek watershed with a plan that will open up blockages, remove invasive species of plants and fix stromwater runoff issues, according to the village and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC).

Mill Creek starts as a small spring at Brook Road near Caroline Avenue Park and winds its way across Barnum Avenue carrying along everything that washes into it–including lawn chemicals and animal waste–dumping it all into the Long Island Sound.

Along with stormwater management concerns, the creek also washes away the outflow of clean water remediated by the Environmental Protection Agency plant in Caroline Avenue Park cleaning toxins from the Lawrence Aviation plume.

So far, Port Jefferson has completed a map of the entire storm water management system, viewable on the village’s website. According to its website, the village is required by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Water Act to manage and educate the public on the village’s storm sewer systems.

A law that came into effect in 2003, known as StormwaterPhase II, requires authorization for stormwater discharges from what are categorized as Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), according to Bill Fonda of the NYS DEC.

“Operators of regulated MS4s must implement stormwater management programs in accordance with [the law’s] requirements,” said Fonda.

The permits are revised periodically by New York State and Fonda said that most Long Island municipalities have been implementing MS4 stormwater management programs since the law went into effect.

Because the water than runs throught it eventually makes its way into the Long Island Sound, Port Jefferson was recently awarded three grants totaling just under $1 million from the NYS DEC for a project to clean up the Mill Creek Watershed and get rid of any invasive species in the creek. The village will kick in an additional 25 percent of the grant total for the project.

Mayor Margot Garant said that the village is now ahead of the curve when it comes to stormwater management, something that the state will mandate of all municipalities, calling it one of their "pet peeves."

"They’re very pleased we’re taking initiative," she said.

The first part of the $1.2 million plan calls for the purchase of what Garant called a "super sucker" machine for $350,000 to vacuum up any blockages in the intake and outtake points along the watershed. The village has already budgeted $87,000 for the purchase.

The second grant of $783,750 will be used for stormwater work and habitat improvements to improve water quality for Mill Creek and Port Jeff Harbor. Work will include replacing under road pipe, installing leaching pools and restoration of the shoreline and pond edge along Brook Road. Along Barnum Avenue, water quality units and bio-filtration system will be installed, phragmites removed and habitat restoration work will be completed.

"From the westerly side of Brook Road to behind Village Hall we’ll pull out all invasive vegetation and replace with native vegetation," explained Garant.

The third grant of $210,000 will go toward stormwater drainage improvements.

The grants came as part of the NYS DEC’s 2010 Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP), a competitive program within the state's Environmental Protection Fund, according to a statement released about the program funding.

The Port Jefferson village board recently awarded a contract to Cashin Associates an engineering company that will do design development, a topographic survey, and environmental permitting, the first steps in the project according to the village.

Specifically, Cashin is getting $24,000 from the Millcreek Infrastructure Improvements and Habitat Restoration Project (NYS DEC Grant Contract C304365) and $25,000 from the East Municipal Parking Lot, Stormwater Mitigation Project (NYS DEC Grant Contract C304367).

The village noted the recent New York State Comptroller’s Office audit when awarding the contract to Cashin in a resolution statement distributed to the public at the February board of trustees meeting.

"The New York State Comptroller's Office says that one of the most prominent exceptions to competitive bidding is professional services, which includes services rendered by engineers," the resolution said.

As explained by the village, Cashin Associates was awarded the project planning because it is "intimately aware of the project" and "the cost of consulting and engineering services is public knowledge from the grant and is specified in the grant by category," making it impossible to use that information in creating an additional request for proposal.

A study recently issued by the stewardship organization Save the Sound reported that the environmental future of Long Island Sound may be in jeopardy. In the 2011 State of the Sound report, Connecticut and New York received a grade of C+ for their combined stewardship efforts over the past year. Among suggestions to help alleviate this problem is to control stormwater runoff.

Managing stormwater runoff is import because chemicals that run into Port Jefferson Harbor destroys the wildlife, according to NYS DEC’s Fonda.

"Stormwater controls will prevent a variety of contaminants biological as well as chemical from getting into Long Island Sound," he said. "Controlling stormwater has an economic benefit to areas where shellfishing areas are open."

Fonda says that controlling stormwater will speed the reopening of shellfishing after major storms giving local baymen more opportunities to fish.

Now that the village has the grants in place and the planning has begun, the projects will move forward. Mayor Garant says that she expects the projects will be completed in the next few years.

"The end goal I think is that the project will be complete by 2014," she said.

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