Tribal Shellfish Hatchery Will Get Energy Efficient Facelift

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The Shinnecock Nation and the Peconic Institute, a year-old nonprofit community organizing group, announced this week that they will partner in restoring the deteriorating shellfish hatchery on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton.

The towering building will be restored so that the tribe might again use it as a hatchery and base for its shellfish aquaculture efforts. The two groups intend to use “green” building materials and practices, and are hopeful that they can rely on government grants and fundraising to achieve their goal.

At the announcement last Thursday, May 30, at the Shinnecock Indian National Cultural Center and Museum on the reservation, leaders of the two groups harked back to the cultural, economic and environmental benefits at play in the partnership, both in the construction of the building using energy-sensitive practices, and also in the water quality implications inherent in the shellfish growing effort.

“This ties into the need to bring back water quality, not just here but in Tiana and western Peconic [bays],” Shinnecock Tribal Trustee Brad Smith, who was one of the founders of the original shellfish hatchery on the reservation in the late 1970s, said just before the press conference. “We were the first hatchery out here. Everybody does reseeding now, because you have to.”

Just 15 years into its operation, the Shinnecock shellfish hatchery was shuttered because of the effects of the infamous “brown tide” algae blooms that wiped out shellfish populations in Long Island waters between 1985 and 1995. Mr. Smith said none of the shellfish growing and spawning operations on the South Fork survived the brown tide epidemic, because such operations typically use water drawn from the nearby bays to keep shellfish alive, and the brown tide contaminated even the controlled holding tanks inside the hatcheries.

Since the brown tide waned, hatcheries on the North Fork and in East Hampton have been instrumental in bolstering the reeling wild shellfish stocks.

Tribe members resumed the growing of oysters in the waters surrounding the reservation on Shinnecock Neck, but Tribal Trustee D. Taobi Silva said that restoring the shellfish hatchery is an important step for both the tribe and community. “It represents a part of our culture,” she said, “who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going in the future.”

The Peconic Institute will lead the restoration with the services of a network of green building companies, guided by the needs of the tribe’s operations and with hoped-for funding support from the federal government. Institute Treasurer Frank Dalene, a founder of the Green Building Alliance, said the construction work and operation of the building will be done using carbon-neutral and carbon-reduction practices.

Peconic Institute founder John Botos said his organization will be seeking a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, which funded the original Shinnecock hatchery project. He added that a specific cost target for the renovation has not been set yet, but he noted that commerce department grants can be as much as $2 million or even $3 million. He said the institute will also be relying on extensive support from the East End community, including from the institute’s board of directors, an eclectic mix that includes architects, builders and environmental experts.

Mr. Dalene, also a member of the Peconic Institute Board of Directors, whose company, Telemark, has been promoting low-energy green building techniques for a decade, said the organization will be using the most advanced materials and techniques in the renovation of the hatchery building. He said the work will address deterioration issues in the building, mostly due to high moisture levels, and reduce energy consumption by lowering heat absorption in the summer and increasing it in the winter.

Born amid the sustainability program at Stony Brook University’s Southampton Campus, the shellfish hatchery will be the first major project undertaken by the fledgling Peconic Institute. The group’s stated mission is to promote energy efficient, environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive projects and policies throughout the East End.

Just a year into its existence, and with an ambitious agenda of community action, many saw it fitting that the group’s first partnership would be with the region’s original residents.

“Sustainability is the buzzword of the day—it’s new and it’s wonderful—but the [Shinnecock Indian] Nation has lived and breathed sustainability since the beginning,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “We think it is something modern, but it is really something ancient.”

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