21 Aug 2014
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Peconic Institute, East End Think Tank, Could Be on the Horizon

Local leaders to reconvene next spring after three working groups meet separately and focus their objectives and ideas.

Peconic Institute, East End Think Tank, Could Be on the Horizon

After a lawsuit over uprooting the sustainability program from and moving it to the main Stony Brook campus was  this past summer, more than 170 individuals representing 50 organizations met last week to start brainstorming toward using the university's grounds for an institute aimed at fostering "research, education, leadership development, policy development, and dispute resolution on the major policy issues confronting the future of the Peconic Region."

Appropriately dubbed the "Peconic Institute," the regional effort stands in its infancy and will reconvene next spring after three different working groups sharpen the institute's focus and obtain a better hold of what else needs to be done moving forward.

"We'll be meeting over the next month or two," said , I-Sag Harbor. "We still have a lot of work to do after that. But at least we'll have things off the ground."

A State Supreme Court judge that a decision by the university to shutter the undergraduate dorms at the Southampton campus and move the sustainability program was illegal, as the school's advisory board never gave approval. However, the ruling didn't require reinstating the program at the 82-acre campus.

The Peconic Institute would recapture the intellectual debate accompanied by an academic setting, though obtaining a degree and affecting public policy considerably differ. Thiele likened Stony Brook Southampton's potential future use to a "think-tank for sustainability," going on to mention activities close to the region such as farming and fishing, in addition to sustainable energy.

"It is clear that there is widespread support on the East End for the creation of a regional think-tank where community leaders can work together to reach consensus on regional policies for a prosperous future," he said. "I was encouraged by the widespread participation of representatives of virtually every aspect of East End civic life."

Thiele will serve as the co-chair of the working group focused on the institute's organization and governance. He said in a Monday interview that while three options are on the table for forming the Peconic Institute — a private nonprofit, working it into an existing organization, or creating it under the jurisdiction of the state university system — consensus seemed to lean toward creating a nonprofit with a board of directors. This would allow for tax-exempt donations, and Thiele said he foresees private donations playing an integral role to the organization's funding.

He gave a rough figure that with the help of state Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson - the chair of the state's Higher Education Committee - the two may be able to secure $50,000 to $100,000 in state dollars to help it get off the ground, though those funds would have to be privately matched. Another $30,000 could be available through the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association.

Besides the organization and governance working group, Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy will co-chair the group in charge of honing the institute's mission statement, along with Ken Komoski, founder of the Educational Products Information Exchange.

The finance committee will be co-chaired by Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County; Robert Ross, vice president of community and government relations at and John Botos, a former graduate student who was part of the original campaign to keep the school open.

The three groups will hone their recommendations over the next six weeks and present them to a 16-person steering committee. A final report is expected to be presented next March, and leaders are hoping for the Peconic Institute's formation within six months.

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