By Annette Hinkle
Back in 1978, the Shinnecock Indian Nation — with funding from the Federal Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Assistance program — built a state of the art shellfish hatchery at its Southampton reservation on Shinnecock Bay.
The facility was expected to revitalize the shellfish industry for the economic benefit of the Nation while ensuring the health of the adjacent waters.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way and both time and the elements have taken their toll on the hatchery. In recent years, the facility has suffered from a lack of funding while water quality has degraded and harmful algal blooms like brown and red tide have moved into the bay.
But now, it looks like one of the oldest institutions on the East End will be getting some much needed help from one of the newest.
At a press conference last Friday at the Shinnecock Nation Museum, it was announced that the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the newly launched Peconic Institute (based on the SUNY Stony Brook Southampton Campus) have entered into a historic agreement via an initiative to revitalize the Shinnecock’s shellfish hatchery.
The goal is not only to bring economic opportunity to the nation, but also restore the habitat that once allowed oysters and other shellfish to flourish in Shinnecock Bay.
The trustees of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, representatives from the Peconic Institute and elected officials including Congressman Tim Bishop, State Senator Ken LaValle, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst were all in attendance Friday, as were key Stony Brook University personnel who will help bring the plan to fruition.
“This is two communities coming together,” said Shinnecock Trustee Taobi Silva. “This encapsulates all we stand for — renewables and sustainable energy. It represents a good part of our culture — who we’ve always been and where we will go in the future.”
The partnership is the inaugural project of the Peconic Institute, whose mission is to promote sustainability and resiliency within the region and beyond, and many of the statements offered Friday echoed that sentiment.
“The uniqueness of this partnership is that’s it’s not about only sustainability, but resilience — environmental, cultural and economic resilience,” said Dr. Nay Htun, research professor at Stony Brook Southampton and co-chair of the Peconic Institute.
The Peconic Institute is an outgrowth of the sustainability major which was briefly established at Stony Brook Southampton before being discontinued by the university, and many see the Shinnecock hatchery retrofit as a realization of the types of projects the major was designed to embrace.
The institute will engage engineers, scientists and architects to work on the hatchery, which is expected to be a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certified facility. Frank Dalene, treasurer of the Peocnic Institute, noted it will be a carbon neutral facility built to withstand 150 mile per hour winds.
“When it was built in ‘78 the facility was at the forefront of solar thermal technology,” said Dalene. “Advances in technology allow use of groundbreaking new materials and means and methods of retrofitting.”
Congressman Bishop, who was the provost at Southampton College when it was Long Island University, remembers when the hatchery first opened in 1978.
“This partnership is about honoring and cherishing the sea around us which is always at the core of Shinnecock culture and tradition,” said Bishop. “It’s also about sustaining for the future. It’s an important partnership that will do wonders for our area and the nation as people learn what’s happening on Eastern Long Island.”
Senator LaValle, who was instrumental in brokering SUNY’s purchase of the Southampton Campus, sees the hatchery’s potential as a job creator in the region. He added that though the sustainability major at the campus is gone, its potential to change the world is not.
“Mom always said things happen for a reason,” said LaValle. “If the college hadn’t been taken over by SUNY and that sustainability program hadn’t at least been formed, there wouldn’t be a Peconic Institute today.”
“They’re the result of the germ of that idea.”
Assemblyman Thiele got the biggest laugh of the day when he put the importance of the initiative into perspective courtesy of a baseball analogy.
“This is really about the Shinencock Indian Nation and the Peconic Institute — the oldest residents of eastern Long Island partnering with one of the newest institutions,” said Thiele. “It’s historic cooperation after 300 years. I said this would happen when the Mets sweep the Yanks in a subway series.”
“Today’s the day.”
For her part, Supervisor Throne-Holst reflected on the partnership by recalling another involving the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton.
“This first big project for the Peconic Institute reminds me of Hayground School’s founding,” said Throne-Holst. “The Shinnecock were such an integral part of that school and we continue to learn so much from this culture and the wonderful people who are part of this nation.”
“This is another opportunity to work with them and forge a path together rather than apart,” she added.