‘Mac’ is back
Kevin McAllister, seen here at Sandspit Marina in Patchogue, is taking to the water again, this time at the head of a new water-quality watchdog group, Defend H20.

ADV/Hoey photo

‘Mac’ is back

Story By: PEGGY SPELLMAN HOEY
7/17/2014


He’s back …

The former head of the Peconic Baykeeper organization, Kevin McAllister, who was let go in March following a dispute with board members, has launched a new environmental protection group, Defend H20, with plans to monitor water quality through scientific analysis, public education and participation in government decision-making processes. Priorities of the group, which is registered as a public charity and in the process of filing for nonprofit status with the IRS, include protecting ground and surface waters, sewage management reform, enacting stronger water-quality standards, and wetlands protection. But McAllister says a big part of Defend H20’s agenda will focus on a campaign for more restrictive nitrogen standards for wastewater, advanced septic systems, an analysis of long-term impacts of ocean outfall discharge in the South Shore’s water supply and wetlands, and preventing overdevelopment tied to new sewer projects. 

“It was never my intention to go away; I will call it a little hiatus to recollect and focus my energies,” said McAllister, who lives in Quogue.

Also on the group’s list is stopping the spraying of the pesticide Methoprene for mosquito control — something McAllister has been battling with Suffolk County Vector Control for the better part of 10 years. 

“I am not going away on that; I have scientific reports, as well as the anecdotal evidence of fishermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island where its use has been restricted, but [Suffolk County] continues to use it,” he said.

McAllister says he will also continue to keep up the fight to keep New Old Inlet open in Bellport. The unique combination of a full moon and high winds during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 produced a surge of water over Fire Island National Seashore, creating an opening where there was once an inlet, across from Bellport Village. Advocates, like McAllister, would like to see the inlet remain open, while opponents argue the stretch waterway should be closed to protect homes on the mainland.

Other “key goals” of the group include lobbying for the state’s adoption of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s water-quality standards, banning the applications of chemicals such as Sonar on invasive aquatic plants like cabomba and milfoil, and removing dams as impediments to the natural flow of Long Island’s rivers and streams in areas like Yaphank and Patchogue, according to McAllister. He says the group, which he will be heading up, will also track major development proposals and conduct a “baywatch” function to monitor the health of local waters.

“We are in the really early stages of formation,” McAllister said. “I think that is what will distinguish us from other groups.”

McAllister served as the face of the Peconic Baykeeper Organization for 16 years, speaking out against development proposals from his home digs on the East End, but also Brookhaven Town, where he became a staunch advocate of cleaning up the Forge and Carmans rivers, and, more recently, Islip Town, where he has weighed in on water-quality issues in recent years.

McAllister said he is now challenging his termination, although he would not disclose by what means. In the meantime, he said he did not want to stay idle and formed the new organization.

“My commitment to this work is about the water and it can become secondary to this other [issue],” he said.

At the moment, McAllister is not taking a salary from the new group, because he said it would have to experience some growth first. 

West Sayville community activist Brendan McCurdy, chairman of the organization’s board of directors, said he was aware of McAllister’s new organization. “Yes, we heard about it, and certainly the need is great for an environmental advocate,” he said.

The Peconic Baykeeper organization itself also appears to have moved on.

The organization decided to split McAllister’s former position into two: an executive director and a baykeeper. The board is in the final round of interviews for the baykeeper position and could make an announcement about the hiring as early as Friday, however, the executive director position could take longer to fill due to the number of qualified candidates that responded from all over the country, McCurdy said. Board member Dan Gulizio, the former head of planning in Brookhaven and Islip, has stepped into the position of executive director in the interim, according to McCurdy. 

The organization’s lawsuits against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Parks and Recreation over discharge permitting are still winding their way through the court system, but McCurdy says the group expects to make an announcement, also as early as Friday, about another lawsuit. He declined to go into specifics.

“It will definitely make headlines,” he said.

As for McAllister, he has been joined by longtime environmental advocate Skip Tollefsen of Hampton Bays and naturalist Mike Bottini of East Hampton.

Jean Sanmartin, president of the Mastic Beach Property Owners Association, which has worked with McAllister on wetlands preservation in the past, said she was not aware of the formation of the new group. However, she did note the property owners’ members would consider working with him again in the future.

McAllister said he is looking forward to working again with the community.

“The core of my work will be public education,” he said. “This is going to be a grassroots move. I am confident I will have attention from the environmental community and that is where the change is going to happen.”