With a spectacular view of the waterway it has done so much to restore to better health, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor hosted an informational social and fundraiser at the beautifully rustic Hempstead Harbor Yacht Club this past Sunday Afternoon. The event was a great opportunity for area residents to learn about the group’s efforts to promote the health and vitality of Hempstead Harbor and its surrounding environment.
After remarks by Hempstead Harbor Club Commodore Chris Lucas who explained the Yacht Club’s rich past, Coalition President Karen Papasergiou, introduced Carol DaPaolo, the group’s Program Director and Water Monitoring Coordinator who offered a history of the group and its efforts over the years to clean up and protect the health of the harbor.
Formed in 1986, after the New York Times published a story declaring Hempstead Harbor one of the most polluted inlets on Long Island, the group early on achieved notable successes as it stopped the construction of a new incinerator in Port Washington and shut down a failing one in Glen Cove. Not long after, the group was able to pressure government agencies to close the sewage waste plant under the Roslyn viaduct that had chronic overflow problems, and has since worked to prevent environmentally unfriendly development along Hempstead Harbor’s shoreline.
In her address Ms. DaPaolo explained one of group’s most enduring efforts - its water monitoring program, which began in 1992 after drastic cuts to the Department of Health forced the county to abandon its own program. Taking samples throughout most of the year, the water monitoring, which is now funded by the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, a consortium of the nine municipalities that surround Hempstead Harbor founded in 1996 and that works closely with the CCSHH, enables the gathering of important data on daily conditions as well as long term trends in water quality.
Ms. DaPaolo enthused that less than three decades after being declared one of the most polluted inlets on the Island, Hempstead Harbor in 2014 had the second largest haul of hard shell clams on all of Long Island, producing $1.6 million in revenue for local baymen. That outcome was in large part a result of the Coalition’s efforts, which began in 1998 with a hard clam density survey, and then in 2006 the beginning of stringent water quality surveys which subsequently enabled 2500 acres of beds to be opened to harvesting in 2011.
There is still much work to be done, and one issue that Ms. DaPaolo highlighted in her address is the problem created by plastic microbeads that are put into hand and body washes as an abrasive, and that are too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants and are showing up on surface water from the Great Lakes to the Long Island Sound. Working with other environmentally conscious groups across the state, CSHH has been urging Albany to pass legislation prohibiting the use of the artificial abrasives, which can be replaced with natural alternatives. The legislation has passed the Assembly, but has been held up in the Senate.
Speaking to Northwordnews later, Ms. DaPaolo spoke of the importance of collaboration between the Coalition and local governments, the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, and County and State Agencies in improving the water quality of the Harbor so dramatically in less than three decades. Initially, she said, there was some distrust between government and the new group of activists, but over time, trust and cooperation developed into a strong partnership. “This is all a testament to how well things can work, when you work collaboratively,” she said. Nonetheless, despite local governments being strong partners, she explained that is important to have a community nonprofit playing the role of watchdog. “It is important that the coalition remains the voice for people,” she said.
The work, Ms. DaPaolo continued, is incredibly rewarding. “We feel so lucky,” she said speaking of the Coalition. “How many people can say they can work and make a difference like this in their own backyard.”
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