Frank M. Flower & Sons Dredging Again in Mill Neck Creek
On March 31st, without advance notice, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a permit to Frank M. Flower & Sons to transplant shellfish from uncertified waters in Mill Neck Creek to certified waters in Oyster Bay for ultimate harvest. We believe that in doing so the DEC has neglected its responsibility to protect the state's natural resources.
Friends of the Bay has sent a letter to the DEC voicing our opposition to their issuance of the permit.
Read our full letter to the DEC below
We urge local residents to voice their concerns and opposition to the granting of the permit by contacting the following people at the DEC:
Cathy Haas, Region 1 Director New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Stony Brook University 50 Circle Road Stony Brook, NY 11790-3409 email@example.com
Debra A. Barnes, Chief, Bureau of Shellfisheries New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Marine Resources 123 Kings Park Blvd Kings Park, NY 11754 firstname.lastname@example.org
Wade Carden, Biologist 2 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Marine Resources 123 Kings Park Blvd Kings Park, NY 11754 email@example.com
April 4, 2023
Ms. Cathy Haas, Region 1 Director New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Stony Brook University 50 Circle Road Stony Brook, NY 11790-3409
RE: Permit 23-TR-01 to Transplant Shellfish From and Uncertified Area / Frank M. Flower and Sons, Inc.
Dear Ms. Haas,
Once again the state Department of Environmental Conservation has neglected its responsibility to protect the state’s wildlife resources and habitats when on March 31 it approved a new permit for Frank M. Flower & Sons to dredge clams from the uncertified waters of Mill Neck Creek and transfer them to certified waters in Oyster Bay for ultimate harvest.
The initial permit granted last year allowed the operation to proceed for three months. The new permit, issued without advance notice to the Town of Oyster Bay and Friends of the Bay, which had specifically asked DEC to notify the organization of any action involving dredging in the creek, is in effect for six months from April 3 to October 10, and two Flower dredges were observed at work in the creek on April 3.
This project was first proposed three years ago and was canceled when the Town of Oyster Bay, out of concerns for the protection of resources within the Lester Wolff National Wildlife Refuge, chose not to monitor the operation. Then DEC allowed the project to proceed by agreeing to do the monitoring itself.
Through most of our decades-long history as an environmental organization whose mission is to “preserve, protect and restore the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Estuary and the surrounding watershed,” Friends of the Bay supported shellfish aquaculture in general and Frank M. Flower & Sons’ operation in particular. It was our view that the company’s hatchery and annual planting of hundreds of millions of seed clams and oysters provided a benefit to the bay that compensated for any negative effects from the subsequent dredging to harvest these shellfish. The continued hatchery and seeding operation seemed to guarantee an abundant standing stock of shellfish substantial enough to provide the benefits to the ecosystem that would be provided by a healthy natural environment. These benefits are essential to any functioning estuary and include water filtration and purification, a source of food, habitat and shelter for numerous species, and a shellfish population adequate enough in both number and density to spawn and provide enough offspring to ensure the population can endure in the future. Unfortunately, in recent years, the nature of Frank M. Flower's business has fundamentally changed -- for the worse. After the 2019 season, the company made the decision to close its hatchery in Bayville and cease planting any seed to replace what was harvested. They have effectively transformed from “shellfish farmers” to “shellfish miners.” For the last three seasons the company has been dredging to strip the bottom of all marketable shellfish, leaving little behind. Friends of the Bay cannot support this unsustainable operation.
While Flower’s underwater lease and the town code provide Flower with the right to all shellfish on the leased lands, the lease itself is predicated upon the CULTIVATION of shellfish (bottom of page three of their lease). With the cessation of shellfish seeding in 2019, Flower has not lived up to the intent of their lease. This permit will exacerbate this problem and hasten the degradation of the bay and its historic shellfish population.
Frank M. Flower and Sons needs a DEC permit to remove the shellfish in Mill Neck Creek because the waters in Mill Neck Creek have been uncertified for shellfish harvest for decades due to water quality issues.
Friends of the Bay opposes the relocation of these clams for the following reasons: Frank M. Flower and Sons current operation threatens to leave the shellfish population in the Oyster Bay–Cold Spring Harbor complex catastrophically over-harvested without the number or density to recover. Similar collapses have occurred in embayments all over Long Island and many have not recovered in the decades since, including the Great South Bay.
The uncertified waters of Mill Neck Creek serve as an undisturbed spawning sanctuary for shellfish that can help repopulate the bay. The area in question was identified in the draft 2018 Clam Density Survey as having one of the highest population densities in the estuary. The strong tidal flow from the creek carries spat well into the bay, thus helping to sustain shellfish populations well beyond the geographic limits of this permit.
Disturbing the substrate by dredging could potentially have a grave impact on other areas of the bay system. The substrate in Mill Neck Creek contains excessive silt which is likely to be resuspended and distributed to other areas of the bay, further compromising already stressed habitat.
The potential harm that could occur to other marine species living in the creek, both directly and indirectly through habitat damage, due to the disruptive nature of the equipment used.
“Oak Neck Creek and Mill Neck Creek serve as nursery and feeding habitat (from April 1 – November 30, generally) for various marine fish species, such as scup, bluefish, Atlantic silversides, Atlantic menhaden, winter flounder, and blackfish."
"Any activity that would degrade the water quality; increase turbidity, sedimentation, or temperature; or alter depths or flows in the Mill Neck Creek…habitat would adversely affect the biological productivity of this area."
It is our view that the potential harm to the environment far outweighs the economic benefit to the company.
And since the creek is part of a National Fish and Wildlife refuge and DEC is the entity with primary authority over the state’s natural resources, it is critical that DEC protect the habitat of shellfish and all those that depend on them.
Action Item: Below is a sample letter that you can send to your local and state representatives.
Dear <representative name>,
Governor Hochul’s proposed “housing compact” mandates what is effectively a “one-size-fits-all” unreasonable and heavy-handed high-density development in our area and across the entire state. Eliminating environmental reviews and overriding the zoning authority of local governments is not the answer to providing more affordable housing.
The governor’s initial proposal called for municipalities within 15 miles of New York City, which includes Oyster Bay and most of Nassau County, to amend their “land use tools” to allow for at least 25 housing units per acre within a half mile of any railroad station. But the current budget proposal increases that to 50 units per acre. It also stipulates that each municipality that fails to meet target goals of a 3-percent housing increase within three years would face penalties that essentially would have a state board taking control of local zoning decisions and substituting their determination for the voice of the local representatives most directly associated with and most directly informed of a community, its infrastructure and desired quality of life.
Even using the 25 units per acre formula, the Village of Mill Neck, with less than 400 homes now, would have to add 588 new housing units. Oyster Bay hamlet would have to add 2,129 units. Locust Valley 2,234 and Syosset 7,409. Not only would this density reduce open space, it would strain our aquifer system to the point of increasing the likelihood of saltwater intrusion (which is already happening in the Great Neck area) and could close existing water wells. The many residents in our area reliant on their own private wells would be left without a source of water altogether.
At the same time, all these units would create more septic waste. This could overwhelm the Oyster Bay Sewage Treatment plant, and for areas outside the sewage district, require thousands of septic systems that could add more nitrogen to our bays and harbors, which could lead to algal blooms, fish kills and damage to the wetlands that filter stormwater. The development would also increase the amount of impervious surfaces, such as pavement for parking all those additional cars, that will create more stormwater runoff and further deteriorate our waterways.
Even worse, the proposal calls for eliminating environmental reviews so that these projects can be fast-tracked. If anything requires a careful environmental review, it is exactly this kind of development. Finally, it is wrong for the State Legislature to enact this kind of sweeping change as part of the budget process and not through separate legislation.