Southampton Planners Present Comprehensive Water Protection Plan

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By Mara Certic 

Local officials, planners and members of the Urban Harbors Institute held two public workshops last week, about the first draft of Southampton’s Water Protection Plan.

The plan has been developed to provide the town with one document to help better manage coastal areas and all of the industries and resources associated with water. If adopted, the water protection plan could also ensure that state and county activities must be consistent with the town’s plans.

“We are a world-class coastal community and we rely heavily on the health of our coastland, the health of our waters and our maritime industry and our resort industry,” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said on Wednesday evening at the informational session at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton. Ms. Fleming is the board member who has been sponsoring the plan and acting as the town’s liaison.

“From that perspective,” she continued, “we are the people who are in the best position to make decisions with regards to the use of those important resources.”

With decisions made by state, county and federal agencies, such as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers, “we hope this [plan] will require the various levels of government to be consistent with baseline local policy,” she added.

Southampton’s history and physical location put local people “in the best position to make decisions about how best to protect our natural resources,” Ms. Fleming said.

Janice Scherer, principal planner for the town, said the goal of the water protection plan is “to have a seamless policy and comprehensive plan for our town.”

Steering and advisory committees made up of environmentalists, planners, and town Trustees helped provide some of the recommendations included in this first draft of the plan.

Members of the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Boston were brought in to add some technical expertise to the development process. Nevertheless, Ms. Fleming added it is “very much a homegrown plan.”

The plan focuses on a number of different topics and provide recommendations or changes for the town board to consider.

As ever, the protection of ground- and surface-water quality was at the top of the list of priorities in the plan. In terms of improving water quality, the plan concentrates on reducing nitrogen runoff through improved wastewater planning and management techniques.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst included a $100,000 line in the town’s 2015 budget to fund a clean water initiative with Stony Brook University, with the hope of turning Southampton into a hub for wastewater technology; last month Governor Andrew Cuomo earmarked $2 million in the state budget and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $1 million for the New York State Center of Clean Water Technology.

In terms of water quality, the town’s draft plan also explores using shellfish and eelgrass as water filtration systems, water quality monitoring and, of course, public education.

“The town currently has many of these policies in various ways,” explained Kyle Collins, the town planning and development administrator. “This plan will holistically and comprehensively take all of that and put it into one document,” he said.

Also included within the document are the town’s plans for protecting the ecosystem and natural resources—ranging from using less destructive construction material to conducting more research on sea level rise.

According to the plan, preventing flooding and coastal erosion also top the town’s list of priorities. With current experts estimating sea levels to rise by 1 to 4 feet by the year 2080, many of the recommendations call for adaptation.

Putting up setback lines on bluff edges, developing a breach-monitoring project and amending some zoning are all suggested as possible ways to handle the problem at hand.

Participation in the Federal Emergency Management Act Community Ratings System, also a recommendation, would not only improve flood plain management, but could provide residents with discounts of 5 to 45-percent on their flood insurance premiums, explained Steve Blevin of the Urban Harbors Institute.

The water plan also takes public access, visual quality, living marine resources, agriculture and air quality into account.

“This effort is worthwhile for the town, but in addition, when it’s completed and adopted by the board there are additional benefits from the state,” explained Charlie McAffrey, also of the Urban Harbors Institute.

Not only would the adoption of the plan add competitiveness for the town for federal grants, he explained, but it would also charge the secretary of state to be an advocate on behalf of the town with state agencies.

This draft of the SWPP is available on the town’s website, where comments can be submitted.

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