Plucking names out of a metal spinner, Town of Islip officials Tuesday took the next step in their mission to revitalize the Great South Bay and pump some much needed money into Town coffers.
The purpose of Tuesday's event at Islip Beach was to determine a site selection order for 17 potential bay bottom lease holders. Thirteen new sites, ranging in size from 1-5 acres next to Captree Island, are set to be leased out by the Town at a price of $750 an acre a year.
"It's just a home run for everything that is done with business and is done with the cleaning of the bay," Councilman John Cochrane said of the bay bottom leasing program.
"It's a win, win, win," Cochrane said, also speaking of the positive effects the initiative will have on the Town's hatchery in East Islip, from which officials hope lease holders will purchase their shellfish seed.
Three sites have already been leased as part of the program, which was launched last year under the former Nolan administration. One of the current leaseholders, Doug Winter, a West Islip resident and partner in Long Island Blue Point Oyster, said Tuesday that the Great South Bay, which according to studies has seen its clam density drop 95 percent from 1977-2011, is ripe for a comeback.
"The Great South Bay has probably the most pristine waters for growing oysters in the world," said Winter, who added that his oyster farm is currently filtering about 30 million gallons of water a day in the bay.
"This is a good project," Winter said. "It is good for our neighbors, it's good for our restaurants, it's good for our local economy and you know, it's good for your health."
Those selected in the lottery Tuesday for the remaining 13 bay bottom sites, which total 56.5 acres and could generate more than $40,000 a year for the Town in lease payments, will now have to work with the Town to make sure they are qualified to get out on the water and then obtain the necessary permits, which officials estimated could be done by the spring.
When the program was first announced last year, some baymen expressed concerns that it would hurt those already fishing the waters.
"For 200 years it's been public lands," said Greg LoVece, of Islip, told Newsday at the time. "I don't need to see people coming in and chopping it up."
The entire 95-acre parcel currently set aside for leasing, however, is a mere fraction of the nearly 20,000 acres of the bay owned by the town and officials are banking on the program helping to turn around the fortunes of the Great South Bay, which at one point produced half of the nation's shellfish.
"We hope that in the coming years, we once again are blessed with the stories of this beautiful clean bay, translucent waters as well as the reputation of the Blue Point, the Long Island oyster resurgent on Long Island," Town Supervisor Tom Croci said.