Feds to Study Port

Will look at economic picture and financial needs
Montauk is one of six fishing ports to get a visit from a federal Department of Commerce team, which will issue a report with tips for economic development. Russell Drumm

    Montauk has been chosen by the United States Commerce Department to be one of six port communities participating in a study to determine how it might be given development assistance.

   The idea originated with a request from Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, whose coastal communities have experienced serious reversals due to restrictions on groundfish landings. Montauk’s inclusion in the study came as a result of pressure from Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

     The ports were chosen based on their economies and the impact of reduced landings of groundfish (19 species that include cod, haddock, yellowtail flounder, and winter flounder).

    The Massachusetts ports included are at New Bedford and Gloucester; the other communities to be studied are Point Judith, R.I., Portland, Me., and Seabrook, N.H. 

    The study team, assembled by the Economic Development Administration, will include representatives of the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Small Business Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    In each community, they will talk with local business owners, community leaders, and fishermen, as well as government officials and representatives of regional planning and economic development organizations to assess the total economic picture, including infrastructure and financing needs. For each port, the team will produce a customized report identifying the best practices for economic development and providing strategies for long-term economic planning. 

    “They will get an earful from Long Island’s besieged fishing community regarding overly stringent, non science-based regulations that keep them from earning a living, as well as arbitrary, punitive enforcement,” Senator Schum­er said in a release.

    Bonnie Brady of Montauk, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said, “It’s not a buyback” — that is, a way of paying fishermen for not fishing — “it’s a case study of the port to see how to perhaps plan for the future. They will come and talk to people, hear their problems, and maybe offer low-interest loans. I don’t think it’s any great fix.”

    “It’s potential energy,” Ms. Brady continued. “Whether it reaches kinetic is yet to be seen. Nice to have a true portrait of the port, but the best way to help is to increase catch limits. I hope the commercial fishermen this was intended for are not forgotten.”

    East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said at a town board meeting on Tuesday that the Commerce Department team would be in East Hampton for two days in the beginning of May. “I’m in the midst of gathering people to attend these meetings,” he said. “It’s an incredible opportunity; I’m pretty excited about it.” 

    According to the Commerce Department, the program is modeled on the government’s response to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, wherein economic development teams were deployed to affected Gulf Coast communities to further local economic planning efforts by collaborating with local participants.

    Also at Tuesday’s town board meeting, Councilwoman Julia Prince addressed another concern for Montauk fishermen — the shoaling of the Montauk Inlet, which had not been scheduled for immediate dredging.

Ms. Prince announced that emergency dredging will take place in October and November.