You don’t need to search hard to see the legacy of Oakdale and West Sayville’s rich history. Parts of the estates owned by Vanderbilt, Bayard Cutting, and Bourn are still standing, and the Southside Sportsman Club still graces Connetquot River State Park. One of Long Island’s last late 19th century oyster shucking houses sits on the grounds of the Long Island Maritime Museum.
In nearby waters, there is still the chance to catch weakfish in spring, stripers in fall, and fill a basket of blue crabs in the summer. But gone are the oysters that were once shipped all over the world. Gone are the row-boats of city dwellers who would come to Nicoll Bay to catch buckets full of winter flounder. And gone are the thousands of salty clammers that once thought of Great South Bay as the greatest clam factory in the world.
In the months after Sandy I participated in several meetings of New York Rising’s Oakdale/West Sayville Community Reconstruction Program. At the first meeting, residents and community leaders were asked to identify highly valued community assets. A predictable list followed: the fire house, train station, and college campus. But then one resident pointed to the river, another to the bay and adjacent wetlands, and yet another mentioned the Grand Canal.
It was through this exercise that all of us in the room began to think about the bay, the river, the wetlands, and the canals in a different way. The question became “What can we do to increase the value that the community is getting from these irreplaceable assets?”
In the short film below, George Remmer says “I’m sure if the water quality was better, business would be better, and the community as a whole would be better.” It is a sentiment that rings true all around Long Island and it is why I believe that making investments in restoring water quality, recovering fisheries, protecting open spaces, and providing public access to natural shorelines is such an important priority. To quote George once again, “Doing nothing is the worst of all possibilities.”