Environment & Nature

County officials at Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place announce free park access. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County legislators announced April 16 all county residents will have free access to all county parks April 20 through April 28.

Parks Appreciation Week will coincide with National Parks Week, which promotes free access to all federally-owned parks.

Normally residents require the county parks Green Key Card, which charges $30 for a three-year pass; otherwise they would have to pay a parking fee. During the week the county will have no admission required.

“We have this luscious, beautiful woodland that we can enjoy,” said legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

During the week, Suffolk officials are also promoting a number of programs in many county parks.

For more information, go to Suffolk County’s parks website at https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/Parks  or call Suffolk County Parks Department at 631-854-4949.

Here are some of the events going on during the week:
  • St. James General Store –New Spring Displays and old fashioned items available at the store. The St. James General Store is an historic and is a National Historic Landmark has been in continuous operation since it was built in 1857 by Ebenezer Smith. It held St James’ first post office. It is considered to be the most authentic general store in the United States.
  • Long Island Maritime Museum is hosting fun Spring Break Classes for Children April 22-26
  • The Seatuck Environmental Association (550 South Bay Ave Islip, New York 11751)  is hosting their The 10th Annual Eco-Carnival Saturday, April 27, 2019 A full day of educational family fun featuring nature programs , live animals, music, art and food to celebrate Earth Day 2019
  • Vanderbilt Museum will be hosting its annual Bunny Fest, located at 80 Little Neck Road in Centerport Saturday, April 20
  • The Vanderbilt Museum’s Spring Creative Workshops for Children (180 Little Neck Road) Centerport, April 22-26 offering a different program each day
  • Versatile Steel Silk Band Returns to Planetarium (180 Little Neck Road) April 27 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
  • North Fork Environmental Council  is hosting a 5K Walk/Run –  Help “Save What’s Left” April 28. Indian Island Proceeds will be used to fund the 2019 NFEC Scholarship Fund. This fund will give two scholarships to high school seniors that plan to pursue environmental.
  • DEC Free Fishing at Southaven Park April 23 10am-12pm. In this fishing event participants can fish for free, where they supply all bait, rods, and tackle for free, no freshwater fishing license necessary. In addition to fishing, participants can learn about fish identification, fishing equipment and techniques, angling ethics and aquatic ecology.
  • Long Island Greenbelt is holding its STUMP POND CIRCULAR “CHOCOLATE” HIKE April 25 at 9:00 AM – 5.7 miles – moderate – varied – Info Nancy B., 631-682-0035. Hike around the 120-acre pond in Blydenburgh Park: bring drinks and snack: rain or shine, although extreme weather cancels; meet at the south entrance of Blydenburgh County Park, opposite the County Offices on NY 347 in the parking lot just east (above) the entrance booth; enjoy a chocolate snack when over.
  • Long Island Greenbelt LAKELAND County Park TO WESTBROOK: April 27 9:00 AM – 6 miles – moderate – flat – Info: Tom or Sherri, 631-567-9484. See Honeysuckle Pond, the Connetquot River, historic hatchery and mill and more on a walk-through Lakeland County Park and Connetquot River State Park Preserve; rain cancels; bring water; meet at Westbrook sports complex; from So. St. Pkwy. Exit 45E, follow Montauk Hwy. east over LIRR bridge to an immediate left onto Wheeler Rd.; park at bottom of hill.
  • Long Island Greenbelt San Souci Stroll April 28 10:00 AM – 4 miles – moderate – mostly flat – Info: Kathie, 631-682-5133.    We will explore two trails in the pine barrens of this county park in Sayville; heavy rain cancels; meet at park entrance on Broadway Avenue turn left to park; parking is limited; overflow parking on Broadway Ave. or side street opposite entrance.
  • Long Island Beach Buggy Association Beach clean-up of Smith Point County Park on April 27
  • Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center at Munns County Park Nanny Class. Learn how to assist our hospital staff in feeding the orphaned babies this Spring in this class. No experience necessary. We will train you. Commit to a minimum of 3 hours per week. Ages 16 and over. Call 631-728-WILD(9453) to register
  • North Fork Audubon-Earth Day and Get To Know Your Local County Park Saturday April 20 at 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Inlet Pond County Park 64795 County Rd 48 Greenport Celebrate Earth Day and “Get To Know Your Local County Park Day” with The North Fork Audubon Society at Inlet Pond County Park.  The Nature Center will be open and there will 2 guided nature walks at 10 AM and 12 PM respectively. This is a family fun day, so adults and children are welcome. Come discover Inlet Pond County Park and learn about the North fork Audubon Society as well. For more information contact Tom Damiani at (631)-275-3202
  • Sagtikos Manor Earth Day Clean-up Monday April 22 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 677 Montauk Highway West Bay Shore Bring your gardening gloves and weeding tools and we will provide the rest.
  • Nissequogue River and Kayak Rentals open for Paul T. Given County Park, Smithtown call for tide and rental information 631-979-8422.
  • Scout Stewardship Day at SCMELC Mon 4/22/19 Hours 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Calling all scout troops. Join us for a celebration of Earth Day to learn about and get directly involved with the restoration and stewardship efforts of CCE’s Marine Program. Projects will include eelgrass restoration, shellfish population enhancement, a beach clean-up and more!
  • This program is intended for scouts ages 6-18 with their leaders. All children must be accompanied by an adult, this is not a drop-off event. Advanced registration REQUIRED via Eventbrite Fee $10/person
  • Blydenburgh Rowboat rentals available daily 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Southaven Rowboat rentals available daily 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn holds up straws during Legislature's meeting. Photo from the Suffolk County Legislature Facebook

Several businesses have already converted to renewable products

Come January next year, Suffolk residents will likely be slurping down their iced coffees using paper straws, instead of the usual plastic.

As Suffolk lawmakers passed bills aimed at reducing plastic and polystyrene waste in the county April 9, food business owners will need to begin the process of adjusting to the new restrictions on plastic straws and polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam, food service products. 

As per the new bill, food establishments would be required to provide straws and stirrers by request only, and they would have to be biodegradable — not plastic. For customers with a disability or medical condition, plastic straws will be made available by request.  

“The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”

— Kara Hahn

“The scale of the worldwide single-use plastics problem has become an ever-increasing threat to our environment and everything that relies on it, including human health,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”

Some businesses in Suffolk County have already made the switch over to biodegradable options. Local’s Cafe in Port Jeff doesn’t use plastic straws and stirrers, and only uses paper goods, while Soul Brew in St. James said they switched over to paper goods at the end of last summer.  

Constantinos Drepaniotis, co-owner of the Setauket Village Diner, said he and others have advocated for the environment and said the bans are quite a big step in right direction. 

Drepaniotis’ diner hasn’t used Styrofoam food service products for close to two years and has begun reaching out to vendors for plastic straw alternatives. He has considered distributing reusable straws to his customers as well. 

While the price of these alternatives has concerned business owners, the restaurant owner said it is business’ responsibility to be proactive and help in this environmental cause. The owner said he will not let the cost affect the business and it will adapt. 

The Styrofoam bill would bar businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products, though the bill would exempt items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood and poultry. Changes would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States. 

“[Styrene has] recently been upgraded from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen — a cancer causing chemical,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said at a Feb. 13 press conference advocating for the bills. “Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.”

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world’s oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

An employee from Tiger Lily Café in Port Jefferson said she dislikes plastic straws and hopes the new ban will potentially get people to bring their own reusable straws, mentioning that it is very expensive right now to purchase biodegradable alternatives, like paper straws. 

While acknowledging the ban would be good for the environment, she said the cost is something a lot of entrepreneurs will have to deal with. The employee also hopes as the demands for these paper goods increase eventually the prices will go down and manufacturers will make it more cost effective. 

Other businesses have been using alternatives to polystyrene containers. Setauket Pita House said it doesn’t use Styrofoam food containers and currently uses aluminum foil containers.   

Officials also passed a third bill that would prohibit the sale of single-use plastic cups, utensils and beverage straws from county beaches and parks. 

Last month, the Legislature approved a companion bill that would replace existing water fountains with new ones designed to allow bottle filling at county facilities and county-owned parks that have water dispensers. 

The bills will now go to the county executive’s office to be signed into law.

A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

Environmental experts fear the impact of deer on local forests

Deer have made a mess out of the Long Island ecology.

It’s a sentiment shared by several federal employees working in multiple environmental departments. At a presentation held in the Port Jefferson Village Center April 11, Thomas Rawinski, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, said deer eat the saplings that would create new trees. They eat the bushes and flowers that would bring insects to the forests. And since they have no natural predators on Long Island, they multiply at an alarming rate.

“If your land is healthy, you can sit back and rest on your laurels,” Rawinski said. “If it’s not, like every damn forest on Long Island, then somebody has work to do, including me.”

Crowded into the Port Jefferson Village Center, residents of both the Village of Port Jefferson and Village of Belle Terre spoke about their own experiences with deer, but it all begs the question: What are the local villages going to do?

“I can tell you the level of deer damage on the east end is the worst I’ve seen in New York.”

— Thomas Desisto

The villages of Belle Terre and Port Jefferson have been working out the details on some sort of organized deer hunt, either a coordinated hunt or deer culling, one that could likely happen at the Port Jefferson golf course.

“It’s either going to be a controlled hunt or it’s going to be a cull,” Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said. “I don’t know which way we’re going to go but we’re going to figure it out.”

Talks have been ongoing since January, where both Garant and Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak have expressed their intent to split the cost of a deer culling, which would likely be performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This would involve a specialized team of hunters using thermal imaging and silenced rifles to kill deer from elevated positions at night. The cost could be expensive, with some estimates as high as $1,000 per deer.

Thomas DeSisto, a wildlife specialist with the USDA said the operation is mandated to charge for their services, as they get all their funding through cooperative service agreements. While the cost hasn’t deterred the mayors from finding a solution, DeSisto said there are issues with performing a culling on Long Island due to regulation by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. 

In 2017, new legislation has restricted hunting to the point that DeSisto said fundamentally restricts the culling process. In Suffolk County, hunting is restricted to bows, or to muzzle-loaded rifles during the January hunting season. In addition, hunters are not allowed to keep loaded firearms within vehicles, use of bait is not allowed within 300 feet of a roadway, and hunters are not allowed to discharge firearms from the road.

“We’ve seen about 50 percent decrease in efficiency in our upstate program, and on Long Island we’ve seen a 75 percent decrease in efficiency,” he said. “I can tell you the level of deer damage on the east end is the worst I’ve seen in New York.”

In January, Belle Terre changed its village code to allow hunting within the premises, saying they had received an opinion by the state attorney general who said that no municipality other than New York State could regulate hunting.

While some village members shared fears of hunting going on so close to their homes, and shared a general distaste for killing animals, Sandak said so far, the change in code, and the facilitating of hunters, has been a success. He estimates since the village allowed hunting approximately 100 deer have been killed.

“Five years ago, if you were in your car and you saw a deer, you took out your phone and took a picture of it, because it was an oddity,” Sandak said. “Now, it’s unbelievable.” 

The New York State DEC allows residents to apply for Deer Damage Permits, which allow property owners to hunt or allow hunters outside of the normal season. The Belle Terre mayor said to his knowledge there are three residents in Belle Terre with DDPs. 

“Five years ago, if you were in your car and you saw a deer, you took out your phone and took a picture of it, because it was an oddity.”

— Bob Sandak

Port Jefferson currently has code on the books that says discharging any kind of firearm, bow or crossbow is strictly prohibited. Garant said village officials are still looking at changing the code so it will allow hunting, conforming to what the state attorney general has said. However, she added the village could not and would not go after residents who break the code and allow hunting on their own property.

Sue Booth Binczik, wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Wildlife Conservation, spoke to those who attended the meeting, echoing Rawinski by saying deer lead to reduced diversity, more invasive plants and fewer canopy and trees.

Deer are perhaps the most efficient devastators of the local ecology. For one, they have prolific breeding patterns. Binczik said does can start to breed at 1 year old and can give birth to two fawns per year in May and June. While deer are naturally prey animals, Long Island shows a distinct lack of natural predators to cull their numbers. An average deer can live to be 20, and while vehicles and hunters may start to pick off the occasional deer, stags can mate with any number of females, ever increasing the population. The only things left to kill the deer are recreational hunters, starvation, but especially moving vehicles.

“Under ideal conditions the deer populations can double every two to three years,” she said. “The reason they have this high reproductive rate is because they’re a prey species.” 

State DEC regulations require that hunters only use a bow and arrow and only during the hunting season, barring a DDP permit. Hunters must also shoot 150 feet away from any structures with a bow, and of course they are not allowed to trespass onto other residents’ property without permission.

Binczik said there are means to get a community involved by completing a “controlled hunt,” which would require each individual homeowner to give permission for the village to hunt on their property. Those participating community members would come together to decide on a set of rules for any hunters participating, including the qualifications of the hunters and the times the hunters would be allowed out.

“There have been communities in upstate New York that have been running for controlled hunts for decades, and they have been very happy with it,” she said.

Despite all these efforts, Rawinski remains skeptical. He said it comes from years of seeing the damage that deer have caused to the local wildlife. People, he said, have to wake up to it. While by the roadside it may seem the forests are blooming with green, but it’s a symptom of what he called the “great green lie,” that while it may seem the forests are lush, on the ground, there’s not much left. 

“It’s hard to come by solutions, especially in this suburban situation,” he said. “Humans have a can-do attitude, but I have to tell you, we’re up against our match. I don’t hate deer. I hate what people have let them do to the ecosystem.”

Microplastic scooped from the surf off Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where there seems to be more plastic than sand. Photo by Erica Cirino

By Daniel Dunaief

Erica Cirino sails the South Pacific to cover the story of microplastic pollution in the oceans with Danish sailors and scientists. Photo by Rasmus Hytting

A specialist in investigating plastics pollution, Erica Cirino recently shared an email exchange about her concerns over a growing environmental threat. Cirino, who earned a bachelor of arts in environmental studies and a master’s of science in journalism from Stony Brook University, is a Kaplana Chawla Launchpad fellow at the Safina Center. A guest researcher at Roskilde University in Denmark and a freelance science writer and artist, Cirino is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

How significant are plastics as a source of pollution in the oceans? Is the problem becoming more pronounced each year? 

Plastics are a significant source of marine debris, entering the oceans at an estimated rate of 8 million metric tons per year. However, experts don’t have a great idea of exactly how much plastic is entering the oceans because it’s so hard to quantify once it gets in the environment. 

What can people on Long Island and elsewhere do to help prevent plastic pollution?

When it comes to preventing plastic from getting into nature, including in the oceans, reducing one’s use of plastic is most certainly the answer. There are many recyclable products on the market, but these only encourage the use of more plastic — and then there’s the actual act of recycling that’s necessary for the plastic to be reused. 

To reduce your plastic use, you should make use of reusable containers such as bags, bottles and food boxes, ideally made from natural materials like wood, metal or glass. Hard plastics can be reused, but they do release small particles of plastic into the environment, particularly when washed. 

You should also pay attention to your clothing labels, because much of our clothing today is made from plastics. Opt for organic cotton, bamboo, wool and other natural fibers over plastic-based polyester, nylon and acrylic. Every time you wash synthetic plastic-based clothing, thousands of tiny plastic pieces wash off and into the wastewater system. That’s not good because water treatment can’t remove plastic (yet) and it goes directly back into the environment. 

Has recycling helped reduce the problem in the oceans or landfills?

Based off of production, waste management and pollution data, experts estimate 8,300 million metric tons of virgin plastic have been produced to date, and only 9 percent of that plastic has been recycled. The vast majority has been tossed in landfills or littered into the natural environment. 

Above, a deceased herring gull surrounded by plastic litter on Venice Beach, California. Photo by Erica Cirino

How has plastic affected individual organisms and ecosystems? 

In the oceans, plastic breaks down from intact items into microscopic pieces over time, from weeks to months to years. Because there are so many different sizes of plastic in the oceans, wildlife is affected in different ways. Large pieces of plastic may injure or entangle larger animals like whales and sea turtles, while the tiniest pieces of plastic may block the digestive tracts of microscopic marine crustaceans. What’s more, the tiniest pieces of plastic (microplastic), while they sometimes pass through the guts of the animals that eat them, often contain toxic chemicals they’ve absorbed from seawater. Animals that eat microplastic tend to accumulate high levels of toxins in their bodies that can cause disease, behavioral abnormalities and even death. 

Where do plastics that wash ashore on Long Island originate?

Based on my years of walking Long Island’s beaches, I can tell you the plastics that wash ashore along the Sound tend to come mostly from New York City and Connecticut. For example, I once found a message in a plastic water bottle that someone had sent from Connecticut, according to the note inside. The note also contained a phone number and I lightly scolded the person who sent it off for tossing a plastic bottle into the Sound. But on the South Shore and the East End, there’s a lot of plastic that comes in from far off places via the Atlantic Ocean as far as Europe and Africa, even. 

What are some of the positive steps you’ve seen individuals and/or companies take to address the plastics problem? 

There are individuals doing things large and small to address the plastic pollution crisis. Some examples include the formation of beach cleanup groups, political mobilization and pushes for legislation to reduce or prohibit use of plastic items like plastic bags, expanded polystyrene food containers and plastic bottles. Others have created companies that reuse cleaned-up plastic marine debris to make clothing and other items. But the issue with that is that microplastic will shed off these items. I think the most effective efforts revolve around community projects and political action to address the core issue: which is using plastic. 

Are there any popular misconceptions about plastics?

The biggest misconception is that recycling is a solution to the issue of plastic pollution. 

Is there a plastics message for consumers, companies and policy makers that you’d like to share on Earth Day this year?

Let’s rethink our fast and hurried plastic lifestyles this Earth Day and think about all the problems we’re causing by using fast, easy and cheap plastic. If we love nature, we need to do more to preserve it, and that involves a less consumeristic lifestyle. Let’s value the things that really matter, like friends, family and community.

Gerald Cohen during a 2010 interview with TBR News Media. Image from video by TBR News Media

The former CEO of Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson, Gerald Cohen, has been ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground from the now-defunct airplane parts manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the charges April 15 after a district court judge in Central Islip ruled Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc, a former defense contractor that was based on Sheep Pasture Road, and its longtime owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, were liable for environmental cleanup costs.

“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this office and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for cleanup costs,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed Cohen’s wrongdoing based on the court’s 37-page memorandum. In the early 1980s, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances, among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property, resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene, among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent.”

— Pete Lopez

In a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the regional EPA administrator said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent,” said EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez. “Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long term.”

Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the court. The 126-acre property was named a Superfund site in 2000 and was expected to take 20 years to complete the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup of the site, now into its 19th year, has included a remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in the size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of more than 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of 36 months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.

Map of 1,4 Dioxane across Long Island by highest level detected within each water district. Photo from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

County water authority announces new rates

Many have attributed New York state of having “the champagne of drinking water,” though in recent years concerns over water quality have grown, especially on Long Island.

After toxic chemicals have been found in Long Island’s drinking water, 1,4-dioxane, has been found to be the chief concern on the Island, and currently it is not regulated by the state.  

The chemical has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen associated with liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure to contaminated drinking water. 

Images: The Citizens Campaign for the Environment shares the test results of common products for 1,4-dioxane. From Citizens Campaign for the Environment

In March, 1,4-dioxane was found in private drinking wells of two homes on Oakside Drive in Smithtown where results showed concentrations higher than 1 part per billion, which is the proposed recommendation by the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council in December 2018. It is not a definitive standard, and the state Health Department is expected to propose a water standard for 1,4-dioxane in the near future. 

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the Island’s drinking water, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, beginning on March 25, sent informational letters and planned on visiting the 29 homes served by the wells along Smithtown’s Landing Avenue, Oakside Drive and Valley Avenue. From there, each homeowner would set up an appointment with the SCDHS and its staff will come and secure water samples from the wells.  

Grace Kelly-McGovern, public relations director at SCDHS said as of April 10 every homeowner received a letter regarding the surveys and 15 of the wells at these homes have already been sampled. Three more homeowners have requested samplings, but the department has yet to receive a response from the other 11 homeowners.

According to Kelly-McGovern, once the samples are collected, they will be sent to the Hauppauge SCDHS lab, along with the New York State lab in Wadsworth, and will be tested for 1,4-dioxane and other contaminants.  The process should take one to two months. She added it could take several months until homeowners are notified of the results of the samples. 

A concern of 1,4-dioxane is that it can’t be removed through conventional treatment methods and involves a complex process of mixing the contaminated water with hydrogen peroxide, treated with ultraviolet light and then gets sent to tanks filled with carbon where the rest of contaminants are filtered out. The Suffolk County Water Authority’s Central Islip treatment system currently has the sole advanced oxidation process system capable of removing 1,4-dioxane on Long Island, though it required state approval to get it. 

At a forum in early February, the Long Island Water Conference estimated the cost of treatment systems for close to 200 water wells contaminated by 1,4-dioxane to be at $840 million. Implementing these treatment systems, they said, could lead to higher water rates for homeowners. 

The conference coalition asked for additional state aid and for a delay in when they would have to meet the standard. 

As the issue for Long Island’s water providers continues, the SCWA board voted to create the first tiered-rate structure in the agency’s history April 1. 

The new rate structure took effect the same day and the base drinking water charge for all customers will increase from $1.95 per thousand gallons to $2.028 per thousand gallons.

Images: The Citizens Campaign for the Environment shares the test results of common products for 1,4-dioxane. From Citizens Campaign for the Environment

The new tiered rate will be $2.34 per thousand gallons for all consumption over 78,540 gallons per quarter. Customers will only pay the tiered rate on water above 78,540 gallons per quarter, and the standard rate up until that point.

According to the authority, the action is in accordance with an initiative undertaken by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which established a goal for suppliers of reducing peak season water use by 15 percent by 2021 in order to ensure the sustainability of water resources.

“Conservation rate structures have been adopted all across the country to encourage Americans to adjust their water-use habits for the long-term preservation of available water resources,” Jeffrey Szabo, the SCWA chief executive officer said in a press release. “We expect the new rate structure to help protect ratepayers who are careful in their water use and help provide the continued viability of our aquifer system.”

The 1,4-dioxane chemical has also been found in industrial solvents. A March study released by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment indicates the chemical is present in 65 of 80 household products tested, including baby products, shampoos, detergents and body washes. According to Adrienne Esposito, CCE executive director, the products were tested by the ALS environmental laboratory in Rochester which is certified by the state Department of Health. 

The CCE argues that the chemical could end up down the drain and seep into drinking water through septic systems or wells. 

Similarly, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has introduced a bill that would ban household products containing 1,4-dioxane in the state except in trace amounts. The bill is currently in committee. 

This post has been changed to reflect the accurate location of the SCDHS lab and other lab to be doing the water testing. 

A ship Orsted plans to use to transport the wind turbines. Photo from SKDKnickerbocker

The wind was whipping along the shores of Port Jefferson Harbor April 3, ironically as local and state officials, along with representatives from energy corporations, advocated in support of a proposal to build an offshore wind “hub” in Port Jefferson to use wind for renewable energy. 

Danish energy company Ørsted, the largest energy company of its home country, teamed up with Eversource, a Massachusetts-based energy company, in submitting a joint bid to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Their project, a wind farm called Sunrise Wind, would be located over 30 miles east of Montauk Point, but using Port Jeff as its base of operations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) at a press conference hosted in Port Jeff. Photo by David Luces

Fred Zalcman, head of government affairs for Ørsted, said once the wind farm is operational the hub in Port Jeff would create up to 100 permanent full-time jobs as well as temporary construction jobs while the hub and its facilities are being built. 

“When completed in full scope [the project] will provide up to 500,000 households with clean and renewable electricity,” Zalcman said. “All without any visual impacts to Long Island beach goers and residents.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) praised the proposal for promoting the transition to clean energy on Long Island. 

“This is about jobs and economic development,” he said. “We have talked about the importance for Long Island transitioning to clean energy — and that transition needs to happen quicker than a lot of people thought.”

The operations and maintenance hub in Port Jeff will provide dockage for a 250-foot service operation vessel. The ship would come to port every two to four weeks for approximately one to two days at a time to exchange crew and materials for the wind farm. The vessel will be able to accommodate about 60 technicians and 40 crew members.  

The county executive mentioned the proposed project is an opportunity to create a “21st century industry of high paying jobs.”

“These are the jobs of the future, and these are the jobs we want to see on Long Island and in Suffolk County,” he said. 

Zalcman said if they are awarded the bid by the state, they would need to break ground and begin construction in Port Jeff within 18 months to meet deadlines. Development could last through the mid-2020s.  

Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association has been promoting offshore wind for the past 10 years, and he said it works. 

“We now have multi-billion-dollar international companies looking to invest in our region,” Law said. “I’ve always said our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”

Ørsted is also the owner and operator of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first and only operating wind farm in the U.S. currently. Last year, they acquired Deepwater Wind, the company originally handling the Block Island project, and now are responsible for New York’s first offshore wind project, the South Fork Farm under contract with the Long Island Power Authority. 

“I’ve always said our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”

— Kevin Law

Maria Hoffman, chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), said the bid amounts are not made public until after the awards are announced. Each of the four major developers seeking the NYSERDA funds submitted several proposals with varying megawatt capacities.

In conjunction to the project, Ørsted announced in February it will invest $10 million to create a National Workforce Training Center at Suffolk County Community College to train students in offshore wind and renewable energy technology. The creation of the hub in Port Jeff and the training center are contingent on NYSERDA selecting Sunrise Wind in its pending offshore wind request for proposal. 

NYSERDA has said it plans on announcing the winner of the award within the month, according to Ørsted officials.

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

People enrolled in county septic program say it’s political

Suffolk homeowners, who received county grants to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems as part of the county’s septic program, are facing the reality of additional tax burdens and payments after they received IRS 1099 tax forms in the mail.

Participants in the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, which helped install prototype home septic systems that filter out nitrogen in participants homes, were told since the program’s inception in 2017 that only the contractors who did the installation of the systems would need to declare the grant money as taxable income because they received disbursement of funds from the county. 

This year, the office of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) sent tax forms to the program participants, and in many cases both homeowners and contractors received 1099s for the same job, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not homeowners. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully sent a letter to the comptroller’s office on March 14 requesting that Kennedy rescinds the 1099 forms issued to homeowners. After getting no response, Scully sent a second letter on March 26 asking Kennedy again to rescind the 1099s and mentioned since the first letter there had been new information that had come to light in the issue. 

Scully stated that the county’s Department of Health Services has confirmed that some of the homeowners who received 1099s have declared the grants as income and like the contractors will be paying taxes on the same grants. 

“It boggles the mind that anyone can believe that having both homeowners and installers declaring the same grants as income and having taxes paid by both parties on the same disbursement of funding is an acceptable outcome,” the deputy county executive said in a statement. 

In a Newsday article earlier this month, Kennedy said he planned to ask the Internal Revenue Service for a private letter ruling on the matter. Scully said that would be unnecessary, citing again the county’s legal counsel advice and other municipalities who have similar programs and are structured the same way. The letter ruling would cost close to $30,000 and could take more than a year, Scully added. 

Some residents who are enrolled in the program have claimed Kennedy, who recently announced he is running against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in the next election, is politicizing the issue and potentially sabotaging the program. 

“I have no doubt in my mind,” Tim Sheehan of Shelter Island. “I don’t understand the rationale behind double taxing participants besides politicizing water safety and punishing homeowners for doing the right thing.” 

The Shelter Island resident was one of the early applicants of the program and had an advanced septic system installed in his home August 2018. He said without the help of county and town grants he and his wife would’ve not been able to afford the upgrade. 

The deadline to file taxes is April 15.

While Sheehan expected to pay taxes on the town grant, he didn’t anticipate the county liability. He said he is facing close to a $3,000 higher tax bill on the $10,000 grant and as a result has put him into a higher tax bracket and is required to pay a higher percentage on his income.

“Nowhere in the grant contract is there a mention of a tax liability to homeowners,” the Shelter Island resident said. “From the get-go we were told there would be no tax burden.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Oysters are one way in which Brookhaven Town hopes to clear up nitrogen in coastal waters. File photo by Kyle Barr

The Shelter Island resident was surprised when he received a 1099 form for the system and reached out to county officials for help. When they said they couldn’t help, Sheehan called the comptroller’s office hoping to speak to Kennedy directly. After numerous calls without getting a response, Kennedy finally called him. 

When questioned Kennedy blamed the current administration for mishandling the issue and told Sheehan that he never agreed with the county’s legal counsel decision. 

Kennedy has not responded to requests for comment.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the tax form issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for a program that not only helps homeowners but improves water quality and waterways on Long Island. 

Hoffman said excess nitrogen, from homes with outdated septic systems or cesspools, seeps through the ground causing harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

“These people are pioneers, we should be applauding them for doing the right thing,” the task force co-founder said. 

Hoffman added he supports any effort to reduce excess nitrogen in our waterways and said many homes on Long Island have septic system that are in need of replacement. He is also concerned that the comptroller’s decision could stunt the progress the program has already made. 

Bellone has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, and with the issue of being taxed, dozens of applicants have dropped out of the program after learning of Kennedy’s decision to issue forms 1099 to homeowners, according to Scully. 

Officials in the county executive’s office are concerned it could endanger the future of the program and impact funding from the state. In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarded Suffolk County $10 million from the Statewide Septic Program to expand the county’s denitrifying systems. 

State officials in Albany are aware of the ongoing situation and are similarly concerned, according to Scully. If the IRS were to side with Kennedy, he said they would turn to representatives in Congress for assistance, arguing that those funds shouldn’t be going to Washington but back into taxpayers pockets. 

A customer paying 5 cents to purchase a plastic bag from IGA Fort Salonga. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A small fee on plastic bags in Suffolk County has made a very big impact on usage, according to an environmental advocacy group.

Beginning in January 2018, a 5-cent tax on plastic bags from retail stores took effect across Suffolk County with a stated goal to reduce bag waste and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. County officials alongside environmental advocacy groups and educators announced the new law has worked as intended at a press conference March 21. 

According to the one-year effectiveness report, Suffolk County is using approximately 1.1 billion less plastic bags compared to previous years. Other key highlights include 41 percent less plastic bag litter on beaches and plastic and paper bag use at stores has been reduced by over 80 percent. 

Data showing number of plastic bags collected on suffolk County beach cleanups. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

“We have made a difference, right here in Suffolk County,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment who presented the report’s findings, said the bill has made a real difference. 

 “This legislation has changed public behavior — that was the goal,” she said.  

The report showed more members of the public bring their own reusable bags when shopping, while some forgo bags entirely. Overall much less plastic bags were
being used. 

Esposito also mentioned that the data collected in the report is being cited across the nation as other municipalities try to promote similar plastic bag bans and fees. 

“It was a little rocky in January of last year, not everyone was a happy camper, but it takes time to adjust, [the public] did it and we move on,” she said. 

Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School science teacher said Suffolk County is a model for the future when it comes to making changes for the environment. She also pointed to student scientists who played a large role in the survey and data collection for the effectiveness report.  

“We had six school districts on Long Island that had students go out to different locations from 2017 to 2018,” Grella said. “Without the support and the work of these young scientists out in the field we would not have the data that we have today.” 

The science teacher said it shows that environmental changes take time but also stressed the involvement of our youth. 

“Engaging our youth in these pursuits is critical,” she said.  

Data explaining rate of carryout bag usage in Suffolk County. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

This turn of events could be a good sign for Long Island, whose municipalities are already struggling due to changes in the recycling industry. Though the Town of Brookhaven Green Stream Recycling facility has stopped operation since its contractor walked out on its contract with the town, when it was operating town officials said plastic bags were dangerous if they went through the facility, due to the way they could snag and constrain sorting mechanisms.

John Turner, a conservation policy advocate at Setauket Environmental Association said the legislation has had benefits on local recycling facilities as well, citing that at town municipal recycling facility machinery would be routinely clogged up by plastic bags.    

Operation would need to be shut down every couple of hours to remove all the bags, costing the town $184,000 each instance to do the work and remove the bags. 

The report comes on the heels of the county’s continuation to reduce single-use plastics. In February, legislators announced policy incentives aimed at restricting the sales of several plastics, some harmful to health and to the environment. In July 2018, a project called Strawless Suffolk started and looked for 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village to take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Sept. 3, 2018. 

Juvenile clams maturing in Brookhaven’s hatchery. File photo by Alex Petroski

Long Island has become synonymous with shellfish farming, though in recent years it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to sell and market their products. 

With that in mind, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) launched a pilot program March 11 designed to remove the red tape to assist local oyster farmers by allowing vendors to expand their current retail opportunities. 

“Shellfish farming has been an important part of Long Island’s heritage for decades, and plays an important role in cleaning our waterways and promoting economic activity,” Bellone said. 

He will be introducing legislation to implement an annual temporary event permit for vendors of shellfish grown or harvested in Long Island waters. The permit will not include fees for the first two years. 

“The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products,” the county executive said. 

Under current regulations, shellfish farmers must apply for a vendors temporary food service permit with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services before they can market and sell their products. The permits cost $95 and are valid only for a single event at a fixed location, with a 14-day limit. A permit’s time restriction makes it hard for shellfish farmers to participate in weekly and monthly events such as farmers markets and fairs. As a result, it limits a shellfish farmer’s ability to do business. 

“The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products.”

— Steve Bellone

“The county’s aquaculture industry is vital not only to our Island’s history but to our economy as well,” said county Legislator Bill Lindsay (D-Bohemia), chairman of the Suffolk County Legislature Economic Development Committee. “This industry generates millions of dollars in revenue, supports our local restaurants and provides our residents with world-class locally grown products.”

In addition to improving the shellfish industry, the county will continue efforts to improve water quality and restore marine ecosystems.  

Past efforts include the 2010 aquaculture lease program. That program secured marine access for shellfish cultivation in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay to accommodate growth, while considering the needs of existing shellfish agriculture businesses. 

According to the county’s Department of Economic Development and Planning, the program’s total economic output from 2012 to 2017 was estimated at $13 million.

“Long Island’s farmers and aquaculture producers are grateful for this economic incentive proposal put forth by County Executive Bellone to help us market and sell our products direct to consumers,” said Rob Carpenter, administrative director of Long Island Farm Bureau. “It will keep jobs, increase sales tax revenue and continue all the associated environmental benefits the industry does for Long Island residents and our waters.”  

According to the Long Island Oyster Growers Association, local oysters filter approximately 900 million gallons of water every single day. Oysters improve waterways by eating algae, filtering out particulates and excess nutrients as well as creating habitats for other organisms.

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