Rep. said the original idea for preserving Long Island Sound came from a famous Oyster Bay resident:
"The guy who started this was Teddy Roosevelt," said Israel at the Sagamore Yacht Club Friday, with Oyster Bay as his picturesque backdrop. "And he was a Republican."
"We think of him as a 'progressive' Republican," added D-NY, who with Israel, D-Dix Hills, was in Oyster Bay to promote renewed federal money for the preservation of Long Island Sound.
The pair came to Oyster Bay Friday to say the long-term fate of Long Island Sound is in jeopardy. Federal funding for a variety of environmental programs is about to expire. Gillibrand and Israel are backing a new bill that would continue financing specific environmental programs, many involving sewage treatment issues. Local civic and environmental groups could, in turn, apply for the money and implement programs here on Long Island.
Gillibrand and Israel hosted the discussion Friday morning with local groups with a stake in the Sound's preservation, including various Long Island civic and environmental groups and elected officials.
With Oyster Bay's sunlit harbor as a backdrop, the roundtable discussion focused largely on sewage treatment issues that continue to impact the famed waterway that divides New York from Connecticut. Some 8 million people live on or near the coast and 20 million people live within 50 miles of it.
The summer home of environmentalist and 26th U.S. President, is located not far from the Yacht Club on Oyster Bay. is just around the bend near the Bay's eastern opening to the Sound.
“Long Island Sound is critical to our regional economy, our environment and our community," Israel said. "If we don’t protect and restore the Sound, a $9 billion economic engine, we will damage industries and ultimately lose jobs."
Long Island Sound is a 1,320 square mile estuary being threatened by pollution and habitat loss.
Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Israel introduced legislation last month to support restoration efforts of Long Island Sound through 2016. The Sound’s local economic contribution from sport and commercial fishing, boating, recreation and tourism is estimated to produce $9 billion annually, according to the federal legislators.
However, decades of development, pollution and releases of untreated sewage have damaged its water quality. The bill, called the Long Island Sound Restoration & Stewardship Act, would extend funding for two programs through 2016 at $325 million over the next five years, Gillibrand said.
Part of the issue is local in nature. Various participants discussed funding levels for local water and sewer treatment.
For example, part of Friday's discussion dealt with where, only last year, a portion of it was re-opened to shellfishers for the first time in more than four decades. A large segment of the Harbor is still off limits, however.
Still, numerous bays along Suffolk County's North Shore have been closed recently due to bio-toxins released by seasonal algae blooms. Some at yesterday's conference suggested the problem is Suffolk's continued reliance on septic tanks for household waste disposal.
Some money is still available: Last fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Long Island Sound Study announced $1.6 million in grants aimed at monitoring, educating and rehabilitating Long Island Sound.
Eighteen of the community-based projects are in New York — ranging from grassland restoration in Lloyd Neck to the redesign of Sunken Meadow Creek in Kings Park — and will receive $763,352. An additional $918,430 in matching funds have been pledged by the recipients.
But much more money is needed, elected officials said.
"We face a real crisis in Nassau and Suffolk County," said Assemb. , D-Glen Cove, who argued that federal funding is necessary to maintain and update sewage treatment facilities on Long Island.
Oyster Bay and Hempstead Harbor have avoided those algae issues, so far. Ongoing issues with Glen Cove's sewage treatment plant also were discussed.
Both Gillibrand and Israel acknowledged getting the bill passed will be difficult. Gillibrand said she was confident the bill could pass the Senate by the end of the year.
"It's an uphill battle in the house," said Israel, where Republicans hold the majority and, he said, have been opposed to many environmental spending initiatives. "But we've got it done in the past and can do it again."