Clarification needed

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Your recent article regarding Suffolk County’s proposed shellfish aquaculture lease program in Peconic and Gardiners Bay [“County Approves Aquaculture Leasing Program,” 27east.com; “Baymen skeptical of aquaculture plan,” December 17] contained several points that should be clarified. I would like to take this opportunity to present the appropriate facts.

Both in the title and text of the article, it is stated that the county has approved a plan to lease underwater lands of the Peconic Estuary. This requires clarification. It is true that the Suffolk County Legislature did take action on this project. However, it was not to officially approve the proposed program, but to adopt a statement of findings, which is a required State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) document. A governmental initiative such as this must undergo a mandatory environmental review before adoption, and this action completed that process.

The article also stated that the proposed program would require that shellfish be raised in cages as opposed to being planted on the bottom. In fact, the majority of aquaculturalists would have the option to choose whether they would like to conduct on-bottom or off-bottom culture. The final determination however, would be left up to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) during the permitting process.

As far as the application process, the article states that the county will issue leases through a lottery system. This is not correct. Upon adoption of the program, the county will notify current permit holders of the opportunity to submit lease applications, and aquaculturalists will be invited to a pre-application meeting to discuss potential locations. Applications will be processed on a first-come first-served basis.

Finally, a common misconception regarding the program that was reiterated in this article was that mechanical harvesting had been eliminated from consideration. The county’s authority is limited to the conveyance of underwater lands for the purposes of shellfish cultivation only and does not extend to the restriction of harvest method. Applicants must still obtain all necessary permits from appropriate government agencies. It will be at the discretion of the NYS DEC whether or not to allow mechanical harvesting on a particular lease site.

The development of the Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program has been a careful and deliberative process involving various stakeholder groups. It is extremely important that accurate details of the proposed program be conveyed to the public.

THOMAS A. ISLESDirector of PlanningSuffolk County

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