Former Peconic Baykeeper Launches New Group

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Kevin McAllister, who had served as the Peconic Baykeeper for 16 years prior to being terminated from his environmental advocacy position this past spring, is now moving forward with a new project.

Defend H2O, the nonprofit started by Mr. McAllister and two other local water advocates—George “Skip” Tollefsen of Hampton Bays and Mike Bottini of East Hampton, the latter of whom is also an outdoors columnist for The Press—will focus on educating Long Island communities about water conservation and protection.

The ultimate goal of the new venture is to “restore and protect the environmental quality of groundwater and surface waters on and around Long Island,” according to a press release issued by Defend H20. It also notes that Mr. McAllister’s priorities for the organization include promoting sewage management reform, enacting higher water quality standards, protecting wetlands, and stopping the utilization of the pesticide methoprene for controlling mosquitoes.

“It’s a continuation of my work in clean water advocacy,” Mr. McAllister said during an interview on Friday. “I have a good working knowledge of the conditions of the bays and state of our waters, and solutions that I believe would start to reduce the trends that we are seeing.”

Mr. McAllister, who lives in Quogue, boasts 25 years of experience in environmental conservation consultation and advocacy. He holds a master’s degree in coastal zone management and spent the past decade and a half as the Peconic Baykeeper, advocating for clean water along the south shore, including the bays and estuaries of the East End.

Mr. Tollefsen and Mr. Bottini will serve on the board of directors for the new organization, Mr. McAllister said, and help get the nonprofit up and running. Mr. Bottini has collaborated with Mr. McAllister for the past 15 years on environmental issues, and has worked with Mr. Tollefsen for even longer.

“Over the past 50 years, I have seen firsthand the decline of our bays,” Mr. Tollefsen said. “We have to act now and make a stand against these causes locally. Kevin is our guy for this.”

Mr. McAllister previously said he was fired from his longtime post on March 4 after the Baykeeper organization accused him of having a romantic relationship with his former development and communications director, Alexandra Millar, and for abusing alcohol on the job.

Mr. McAllister said this week that he still intends to challenge the decision to fire him, though he declined to elaborate on his plans. “There is a process that’s being pursued,” he said. “My termination is being challenged, but that’s as [much] as I’m willing to say.”

Ms. Millar has not returned calls seeking comment.

The Peconic Baykeeper is still looking to hire Mr. McAllister’s replacement, as well as a new executive director, according to the group’s website, www.peconicbaykeeper.org.

Mr. McAllister, who was paid $96,353 in 2012, was the face of the Peconic Baykeeper organization for the past 16 years, at the forefront during multiple lawsuits filed against local government, the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Stony Brook University, and even local businesses in order to preserve and protect local waterways.

But he says he is now interested only in looking forward, declining to answer any questions about Ms. Millar and refusing to discuss anything in his personal life, including his marital status. “It’s all about the water—that’s it,” Mr. McAllister said.

Though he still considers himself unemployed—Mr. McAllister said he does not expect to draw a salary from Defend H20 anytime soon—he said his latest endeavor will focus on multiple aspects of his area of expertise: clean water advocacy.

One area of focus will be on sewer and septic systems, and how they are being managed. He explained that wastewater, and the nitrogen that it carries, is having a detrimental effect on local creeks, rivers, bays and even the ocean. He explained that he plans on utilizing Defend H2O to bolster support for sewer treatment legislation. He also plans to approach local civic groups and government officials, including State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, to get the laws updated.

The current laws, Mr. McAllister noted, do not require upgraded sewage treatment systems, though they permit officials to suggest more eco-friendly systems.

“There are solutions to our problems and we need to find the political fortitude to impose some of these changes,” he said. “We can’t continue the status quo indefinitely.”

Mr. McAllister noted that, at the present time, he does not have a specific monetary fundraising goal, noting that his focus is to raise awareness about sewage treatment and other clean water issues, like outlawing the use of methoprene to control mosquitoes. Methoprene is toxic to organisms other than mosquitoes, he said, and studies have shown damage to water systems where the pesticide has been used.

“If I bring the heightened awareness, I think the people will bring it to our elected officials to get the desired result,” he said.

Mr. Tollefsen, former owner of the Lobster Inn in Shinnecock Hills, said he has always supported Mr. McAllister and his efforts. “Kevin’s always kept at it,” he said. “He puts his nose to the ground and gets things done.”

Mr. McAllister said he is confident that his reputation and accomplishments as the Peconic Baykeeper will help him rally support for his latest endeavor, Defend H20.

“This is not a job for me. This is what I believe is my mission,” he said. “My call in life is environmental protection … I’ve committed to trying to make a difference in this world in terms of environmental protection. It is a calling, and I believe I’m very good at what I do.”

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