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Phil Corso

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Phil Corso is TBR’s managing editor. When he’s not plugging away at stories, he finds joy in the finer things in life, like playing drums, watching hockey and discussing the latest Taco Bell items.

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Councilwoman Lynne Nowick is the town board liaison to the Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo

Their calls for change helped spark the formation of an expert-led animal shelter advisory board, but Smithtown residents still said they felt excluded from the process.

Several residents have flanked each town board meeting over the last several months with aggressive calls for change at the Smithtown Animal Shelter. In response, Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) announced a new advisory board back in February, soon after taking on the shelter liaison role from Councilman Bob Creighton (R), which included the shelter’s 30-year Director George Beatty, animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden, and animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein. But residents still confronted Nowick at last Thursday’s town board meeting demanding answers as to why there was no Smithtown-based spokesperson involved.

Angela Cano, a Smithtown resident, was only one of several residents to call on Nowick to give Smithtown natives a seat at the advisory table to help shape the shelter’s future. She thanked Nowick for assembling the board, but spoke as a member of a Smithtown mothers’ Facebook group in saying she and her neighbors felt shut out of the process.

“They feel very strongly that while we are thankful for the women on the advisory board, we feel at least one resident should be more involved in what is going on in the shelter,” she said. “There are thousands of people backing that up.”

Nowick defended the advisory board and said they were already making great strides toward addressing accusations and concerns over animal neglect and institutional failure under Beatty’s watch.

“There is a Smithtown resident on the board,” Nowick said, causing a brief moment of confusion throughout the room. “I am a lifetime resident of Smithtown. I believe I have an advisory board that is working.”

Nowick said the board was looking to meet every two weeks until tangible changes are enacted, and each step of the decision-making process would be done publicly.

Liz Downey, a volunteer Humane Society district leader in the state’s 1st Congressional District, defended the advisory group as proof that Smithtown and its elected leaders were serious about shelter reform. She asked the residents of the community to embrace the board and stand behind Nowick rather than challenge her.

“The Smithtown Animal Shelter has already taken the unprecedented step of appointing an advisory council comprised of known animal advocates,” she said. “This is a step that other shelters do not take, proving that the Smithtown Animal Shelter is serious about making changes. Now is the time for advocates who brought the issue to light to roll up their sleeves and work with the council as it reviews, recommends and institutes a plan that better serves the animal[s] moving forward.”

Town Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) also stood behind his colleague and said the town was doing whatever it needed to do to make sure the shelter stepped up its game to the satisfaction of its own animal advocates.
“Everyone on this board is committed to make it a state-of-the-art, best animal shelter on Long Island,” he said.

Currently, Nowick said the town’s Parks Department was working with the town board and Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) to help shelter volunteers keep the space clean. She also said any residents who felt they were being disenfranchised from the process could give her office a call at any time to brainstorm potential ideas, or check in on the progress of her advisory board.

“When the board was formed, I didn’t say, ‘Where do you live?’” Nowick said. “I said, ‘What is your background?’ I have faith in the board. They’re doing the job.”

Town takes lead on latest Suffolk County initiative saving money by reducing fossil fuel consumption

Smithtown has already shown its commitment to environmentally friendly projects since expanding its solar initiative over the last several years. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown has flipped the switch on energy savings.

The town board voted unanimously last Thursday to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt a new county-developed alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties, paving the way for more energy-efficient construction practices. The motion was brought before a public hearing at last week’s town board meeting and met with praise from those close to the model code.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island. We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation,” said Smithtown resident Mike Kaufman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, who helped draft the model code. “Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

Smithtown Building Director William White said the code was drafted with help from several state and local agencies with hopes of capitalizing on geothermal technology, which draws energy from the earth to provide heating, cooling and hot water for homes. The benefits, he said, include a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the lowering of heat consumption and costs, and nearly quadrupling the efficiency of fossil fuel systems.

“The installation of geothermal systems has been increasing statewide,” he said. “And best of all, there are no changes in building permit fees necessary.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood beside the Planning Commission as well as PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization back in November to unveil the new energy code and urged for all towns to consider its adoption. When the code was made public PSEG also announced it would provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 residents across Long Island that adopted the code by March 31.

Smithtown was also one of the first of 10 towns to sign onto another model code crafted at the county Planning Commission for solar energy, which helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for residential and commercial properties. Since its adoption, an estimated 6,000 solar installations have been finished throughout Long Island.

Kaufman praised the board for taking the lead as the first Suffolk town to sign onto the code after it was introduced back in November, with his help. Under the new code, he said the town will reduce greenhouse gases and use less electricity while expanding clean technology and making sure it is installed correctly.

“We wrote a model code, and a number of towns have begun the efforts to adopt them. But Smithtown is the first to actually get up to the plate and adopt it,” he said. “This town is one of the leaders in Suffolk with going green efforts and it is a pleasure to see my hometown leading the way and stepping up.”

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, speaks about her domestic violence bill as officials look on. Photo by Phil Corso

This story was last updated on March 25.

The Suffolk County Legislature stood united Tuesday as it approved a new bill that will change the way police and advocacy agencies approach domestic violence by taking a new look at different risk factors.

The bill, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he will sign into law, emphasizes a three-pronged approach: directing county police to assign grades of recidivism risk to offenders, providing domestic violence victims with self-assessment opportunities, and linking them up with advocates to deliver more resources. County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who introduced the bill, plugged the measure alongside Bellone, Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and other Suffolk leaders just hours before the Legislature voted Tuesday evening, with 16 legislators in favor and one absent at the time of the vote.

“One out of four women in the United States will experience some type of domestic violence during her lifetime, and every year more than 1,500 of these women will be killed by their abusers,” Hahn said. “Key to addressing this issue is to realize that over half of domestic violence victims who are murdered, or are the victim of an attempted murder … did not accurately perceive his or her risk.”

According to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, 38 domestic violence-related homicides have been reported in Suffolk County between 2009 and 2013.

The legislation plays off of a Portland, Ore., police initiative that assesses risk for intimate partner violence — an initiative that Suffolk police used on a limited basis. The 20-question assessment, lawmakers argued, helps victims see how much danger they are in while also linking them up with advocacy groups near them.

As far as the offenders go, Bellone and Sgt. Kelly Lynch, commanding officer for the Suffolk County Police Department’s Domestic Violence Bureau, said cops will use a new danger assessment tool to identify at-risk victims and assign a level of risk to previous offenders on a scale of one to 13, with the highest number meaning they are most likely to repeat an offense.

“This computer program automatically collects and analyzes data from internal police records and produces a score that will identify offenders who are most likely to ‘recidivate’ in domestic violence offenses,” Lynch said. “Domestic violence officers will use this tool to contact the victims and families who are associated with these high-risk offenders.”

Bellone called the legislation both a personal and professional endeavor for Hahn and described domestic violence as one of the most important issues facing the county.

“As the police are some of the first people to come into contact with victims of domestic violence, it is important that they have access to proven assessment tools and the most effective resources to best serve and protect victims,” he said. “This legislation will do just that.”

Laura Ahern, executive director of the Crime Victims Center at Parents for Megan’s Law, said the 20-question self-assessment will better identify certain risk factors, making violence more predictable and preventable. She said lawmakers must pay close attention to the victims of such crimes and help empower them to prevent future incidents.

“This is an enormous step,” Ahern said. “All three components of this bill empower domestic violence victims. The police department will then use objective means to assess, identify and help these victims.”

Human remains were found along the Greenway Trail in Setauket. Photo by Phil Corso

Skeletal remains were spotted in Setauket on Sunday, prompting a police investigation, officials said.

Suffolk County police were seen investigating the human remains soon after they were found, around 4 p.m. on Sunday near at a stretch of the hiking and biking Greenway Trail off of Gnarled Hollow Road, police said. The cause of death was unknown, and it was still unclear whether the remains belonged to a male or female, cops said.

The medical examiner’s office is still determining the cause of death, police said.

The Greenway Trail runs 3.5 miles between Setauket and Port Jefferson Station. It starts at Limroy Lane on the western end and goes to the state department of transportation’s Park and Ride lot near Route 112.

Stony Brook University runs a lab on the waterfront at Flax Pond and researchers there say they worry about the deteriorating water quality there and its impact on the wildlife. Photo by Phil Corso

The Village of Old Field is looking to do some ecological spring cleaning.

Flax Pond, a 146-acre tidal wetland on the North Shore, is in dire need of dredging before it deteriorates into an environmental disaster, nearby residents and advocates have contested. The pond’s last dredge was in 1947.

Residents’ names have been flooding a petition touting more than 210 signatures to date calling for action at the inlet there.

John Robinson, who lives near the water with his wife Fredelle and is at the mercy of the declining water quality there, has been helping circulate that petition and said the buildup of sand within the inlet has prevented the pond from properly emptying at low tide. He said he fears the region is just one major storm away from forcing the inlet to close off completely, which would have devastating effects on the ecosystem there, as the inlet acts as a marine nursery for the Long Island Sound.

“We have been watching the pond deteriorate over the last quarter of a century,” he said. “I’ve seen really major changes in the vegetation, the depth and the sea life. There are a lot of things going on, but one key aspect of this is the loss of adequate outflow.”

Fredelle Robinson, an avid fisher and nature lover, said the negative impacts were both aesthetic and environmental. Not only is the wildlife changing, but her waterfront home could be at risk if the water does not drain, she said.

“I used to stand in the inlet at night and fish. We could hear the striped bass and their tails flopping in the water,” she said. “You just don’t hear that anymore. Saltwater marshes all over are under stress and this is just another example.”

Old Field Mayor Michael Levine and the board of trustees also called on legislators from the county, state and town levels to join with Stony Brook University and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to see the pond dredged and protect the fin and shellfish populations known to once thrive there.

A throng of concerned citizens, elected officials and Stony Brook University researchers gathered at the Childs Mansion near the inlet Sunday for a lecture sponsored by the Friends of Flax Pond to explore ways to address the clogging.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has been at the forefront of the Friends of Flax Pond’s efforts to address the deterioration on the water and spoke at the group’s Sunday panel. He said there were many factors that went into the best course of action for both the inlet and the surrounding community, all of which needed to be ironed out before taxpayer dollars get thrown into the mix.

“While we’re searching for money to do something to make sure the inlet doesn’t close, we’re also searching for answers to the questions of how to actually write a description of what we’d like to have done,” Englebright said. “We don’t have a scope of work yet that is well defined.”

Nancy Grant, program director with the 12-year-old grassroots Friends of Flax Pond group, said the large mound of sand in the middle of the inlet has gotten worse with each passing year. And if not addressed, the saltwater pond could potentially revert back to a freshwater body, which it has not been for nearly 200 years, she said.

“Flax Pond serves as a buffer to that whole area as far as flooding is concerned. It has also been supporting a lot of the health of the Long Island Sound,” Grant said. “It absorbs the crashing of the waves. There are homes at risk. There are species at risk.”

Grant’s group hosts a lecture series each winter and also sponsors various environmental workshops in conjunction with Stony Brook University, which works out of a lab directly on the inlet. Steve Abrams, manager of the lab, described Flax Pond as one of the most pristine marshes on all of Long Island. He said a dredging was necessary in order to sustain marine life at the inlet.

“It has been really important for studying plants and animals in a relatively natural state. But over the last number of years, serious storms have changed things,” he said. “Tides don’t drain the way they should. It would be unfortunate if species there lost their place to live and it would be less than desirable for research.”

Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, said Flax Pond was an example of what the Long Island Sound faces as a whole and includes factors beyond the small Village of Old Field. He said old-fashioned power plants, like one in nearby Port Jefferson, dump warm water into the sound, which translates directly into the Flax inlet. He cited recent legislation out of the Town of Brookhaven requiring improved wastewater standards in the Carmans River on the South Shore and said similar action was needed on the north end.

“We must take a hard look at how we are going to stop this loop if we intend on preserving our waterways for future generations,” Nuzzo said.

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