Mattituck Creek is a tree-lined waterway, edged with salt marsh, that elbows its way around sandy beaches at its north end, where it enters Long Island Sound. The creek is home to terns, osprey, warblers, hawks, and owls, as well as other wildlife. Fishermen know it for jumbo fluke, scup, and striped bass. Residents along its shores and boaters from afar value its beauty and its access to Long Island Sound. But a developer’s plan to build a pair of gigantic yacht storage buildings on the banks of the creek threatens all that.
The Strong’s Storage project (officially called Strong’s Yacht Center – Proposed Boat Storage Buildings) calls for the construction of two massive structures with footprints of about 50,000 square feet—more than an acre each—at Strong’s Yacht Center’s existing facility. The expansion would require clear-cutting 630 mature trees and removing 134,000 cubic yards of sand from a steep slope above the creek, leading some to call it a sand mining operation. The property adjoins Mattituck Creek, which hosts some water-dependent commercial uses and a federal navigational channel but is also a New York State Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat. The proposed build also abuts a 27-acre, Southold Town-owned public nature preserve that includes old-field shrubland/grassland and a mature forest, the integrity of which would be threatened by the yacht center project.
In a letter to the Town of Southold Planning Board in December of 2020, Louise Harrison, Save the Sound’s New York natural areas coordinator, wrote, “With impacts on [Mattituck] creek’s headwaters curtailing the replenishment of the creek with clean ground- and surface waters, water quality downstream becomes even more dependent on remaining undeveloped open space.” Our letter also cited concerns about erosion, run-off, and the potential for catastrophic slope failure, as well as adverse impacts on native forest resources, wildlife and, potentially, on historic and cultural artifacts left behind by previous residents, including people who have lived on Long Island’s North Fork going back 10,000 years. Noise pollution, light pollution, changes to community character, and wear and tear on narrow country roads from sand hauling, along with safety concerns related to long-term, high-frequency dump truck traffic, creek navigation, and large-scale propane heating of the proposed buildings are also among the Mattituck community’s concerns.
In 2020 a group of concerned citizens formed the organization Save Mattituck Inlet to “protect and preserve Mattituck Inlet and the surrounding ecosystem” and “ensure that the community’s voice is active in the oversight of development of and around the Inlet…” Save the Sound has been working with members of the community even prior to SMI’s founding, when we found similar concerns expressed at the Southold Town Planning Board hearing for defining the scope of the required draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Louise Harrison began advising them on community organizing, civic involvement in town matters, participation in the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process, and media coverage.
A 26-page scope finalized by the Southold Planning Board in April 2021 listed many potential environmental impacts that needed to be examined in the DEIS, including those suggested by Save the Sound’s earlier letter. Strong’s Yacht Center submitted a DEIS to the planning board in December 2021. On May 9, 2022, the planning board determined that the DEIS was inadequate for public review. Their determination cited inadequate or missing treatment of topics they had specified in the April 2021 scope, including impacts from traffic and noise, impacts on groundwater and surface water, impacts on the community from scheduling of construction activities, and an explanation of the public benefit of the project.
So, what’s next for Strong’s Storage?
The developer can either follow the recommendations of the planning board and do the additional work required to make the DEIS adequate for public review or can choose not to pursue the project as proposed. Should the developer re-submit the DEIS to the Planning Board and were the board to accept it for public review, Save the Sound will provide comments during the public review process.
“It’s critically important for community members to show up and be part of environmental reviews, especially when their neighborhoods are threatened,” said Louise Harrison. “Residents know their own landscape and waterways, and the values of those, better than most anyone. The storage buildings proposal by Strong’s Yacht Center poses adverse impacts on water quality, publicly owned open space, native forest resources, community character, and traffic, among others. We stand with Save Mattituck Inlet in their call for a thorough evaluation of how the project affects Mattituck Creek, its environs, and Long Island Sound.”