Zeldin, Town Officials Advocate To Retain Federal Funding For Long Island Sound Restoration, National Estuary Programs
MATTITUCK, NY — Rep. Lee Zeldin took a stand for the environment Monday, hosting a press conference to urge Congress to continue funding the Long Island Sound Restoration and National Estuary Programs.
Those efforts, he said, are important, "should continue — and certainly not be eliminated," he said.
Zeldin, a co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus, and elected officials gathered at the Mattituck Park District at Veterans Beach to send a clear message to Congress in support of both programs.
"One of our natural treasures, the Long Island Sound, is a precious feature of our life, culture and economy. It is also essential to our local recreation and tourism industries, as well as the livelihood of thousands of Long Islanders," Zeldin said.
"As such, a key natural and economic resource, we must continue to protect this critical waterway. Over the years, water quality around Long Island has suffered from pollution, overdevelopment and other negative impacts. The Long Island Sound Program is dedicated to water quality and wetlands restoration, as well as other local conservation projects to restore local beaches and protect wildlife. Funding is prioritized to address urgent and challenging issues that threaten the ecological and economic well-being of coastal areas including nitrogen, harmful algae blooms, and flooding or wetland loss."
And, he added, "The National Estuary Program is an important Environmental Protection Agency wetlands protection program for 28 estuaries in the United States that the EPA has recognized to be of 'national significance' due to their threatened status from pollution and overdevelopment. There are two here on the East End: the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay. The National Estuary Program was established by the Clean Water Act and makes important grants to state and local programs to promote water quality and wetland restoration. The National Estuary Program is the primary funding source for the Peconic Estuary Program."
Zeldin said he was calling on his colleagues to help ensure that the Long Island Sound Program and National Estuary Program "are fully supported and funded in the upcoming appropriations process; and certainly not eliminated. Last Congress, working across the aisle, I helped reverse President Obama’s proposed 22 percent cut in funding for the Long Island Sound. Working on a bipartisan basis, I also helped lead the effort to successfully reauthorize the National Estuary Program, which authorized the $26.5 million in funding that was approved for the National Estuary Program. We must now redouble our efforts."
He added, "Regardless of who is in the White House, the Constitution puts government funding strictly under the control of Congress through the appropriations process. We expect this week to see at least initial public drafts of the Administration’s budget request — and that's all it is, a request. It has no force of law or legislation. Just like the bipartisan coalition that stopped President Obama’s proposed cut to the Long Island Sound program, I will continue to work alongside Democrats and Republicans in our region to secure this important environmental funding."
He also advocated for bipartisan support and passage for the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act, which would reauthorize essential water quality funding for the Long Island Sound. He introduced the bill in the last Congress with former Congressman Steve Israel, and plans on re-introducing the bill again.
"The Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act would propose tens of millions of dollars in funding per year through 2020 for a water quality and shore restoration program and additional focus, oversight and coordination of federal activities related to the restoration of the Sound," he said.
The goal, he said, is to ask for at least $10 million for the Long Island Sound Program, $26.5 million for the National Estuary Program; and passage of the LI Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act.
"There is much we can do to improve water quality in the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary, and I will continue working in Congress to ensure our waterways are preserved for generations to come," he said.
In recent days environmentalist including Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment have decried the possibility that the programs could stand to be slashed in the federal budget.
"Leaked information" regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's budget "identifies elimination of a list of programs including the Long Island Sound Restoration Program, a release from CCE said.
“Clean water is not the enemy of the public. It defies logic for government to target the destruction of successful restoration of a water body that is loved by the public and is essential to our local economy. . .This proposed budget is insulting to the multitudes of people who love, use and worked to restore this body of water," Esposito said.
She called for Zeldin and other members of Congress to "all work together and stop this detrimental plan that would destroy Long Island Sound restoration efforts."
At the event Monday, Zeldin stated the critical importance of the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary, not only to the environment but to the region's economy.
Surveying the crowd that turned out to support the environment and keep local waterways clean, Zeldin said it was a testament to the community and to its elected officials.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said residents have "made it clear, time and time again, that the environment is a priority. The congressman disproves the myth that Republicans are not friends of the environment. Republicans are — and he is."
Southold Town Councilman Jim Dinizio, who sits on the town's conservation advisory committee, said the environment is a top priority of the town board and trustees, with a "huge amount of land" preserved and efforts focused on tackling critical issues such as nitrogen loading and phragmites in Southold.
Jill Doherty, Southold Town councilwoman and former trustee, discussed efforts to restore the Horton Point Lighthouse after Sandy and Zeldin's efforts have been critical in fighting for funding.
Councilman Bob Ghosio said Zeldin has long been an advocate of protecting the Sound and Peconic Estuary.
Southold Town Trustees Mike Domino and John Bredemeyer spoke out for continued federal funding and support of the National Estuary Programs of the Peconic and Long Island Sound estuaries.
"We against stand with our East End community in requesting federal support of these pivotal programs at a time when our citizens, scientists, and elected governments are earnestly coming to terms with a massive nitrogen groundwater contamination and harmful algal blooms here and are on a trajectory to use sound science and proper public participation, that these Estuary Programs support, to help fix these problems for all time," a statement from Bredemeyer on behalf of the Southold Trustees read.
Former trustees including Jim King and Dave Bergen were also onhand in the audience to show their solidarity.
Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard said Zeldin has been "steadfast" in his commitment to the East End, pointing out the congressman's efforts to preserve Plum Island, as well as to fight back against helicopter noise.
Zeldin said the community should reach out to all elected officials and local representatives on the issue of continued funding. "We need everyone's support," he said.
Zeldin, when asked if he did believe the programs would be cut, responded, "I don't know," adding that there had been some "rumors" about cuts to the EPA in the draft budget.
When asked if he supported cutting the EPA, Zeldin said he opposed cutting 17 percent of the EPA's budget in the last go round; he said he did not support cutting the EPA 100 percent. He said he supports "any ideas to improve the EPA".
He also discussed his efforts to preserve Plum Island in recent months.
A small group of protestors — a group of residents have been rallying for weeks, asking Zeldin for an in-person Town Hall — stood outside the gates, some wearing pink pussy hats and carrying signs. At the beginning of the event, a few protestors carrying signs were asked by police not to enter the building and to stand outside the gate.
Chris Larkin, one of the protestors, told Patch: "I was there to show my concerns about Lee Zeldin's voting record on environmental issues. His local record belies his abysmal overall record which has been rated by a national conservation organization as eight percent last year."
She added, "We were all disappointed that at no point did Mr. Zeldin approach us. In fact, he was driven off the premises via a previously locked exit instead of where every other car was exiting. I can only assume to avoid us."
In an email response, Jennifer DiSiena, Zeldin's media representative, said there are many things the League of Conservation "scorecard does not account for, including, "Congressman Zeldin's two pieces of bipartisan legislation to preserve Plum Island that passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan votes, Congressman Zeldin's key role in the bipartisan coalition in Congress fighting to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided funding for 65 parks in Suffolk County alone. In May 2016, Rep. Zeldin also joined 24 other Republicans to vote in favor of permanent funding for the LWCF."
And, she said, in December 2015, Rep. Zeldin voted for the Protecting Americans Against Tax Hikes Act, now law, which restored the LWCF after the previous Congress had allowed the program to lapse. The PATH Act also made the conservation easement tax credit permanent, a provision strongly supported by Zeldin and conservation groups on the East End because "it is a critical tool for preserving farms, vineyards, and open spaces from overdevelopment," she said.
Zeldin also voted for the America Gives More Act, which would have made the tax credit permanent, she said.
Last summer, with Zeldin's support, the House passed a bill to increase funding for the Long Island Sound by $6 million dollars with the support of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in New York and Connecticut, DiSiena said.
Zeldin voted to secure $26.5 million in funding for the EPA's National Estuary Program, to protect Long Island's nationally designated estuaries, the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay. "This bill became law on May 20, 2016 but was not included in the scorecard," she said. "These important victories for the environment were unfortunately ignored by the scorecard."
As for the protestors, DiSiena said: "Congressman Zeldin was there today to attend a press conference to promote important local bipartisan environmental priorities and it was greatly unfortunate that liberal protesters tried to enter in order to obstruct and disrupt."