Environment & Nature

Offshore oil and gas drilling has devastating effects on marine life. Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

On Jan. 4 of this year, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the federal government is developing a five-year plan to lease ocean lands in federal offshore areas all along our shorelines, including two leases on the North Atlantic region of the Outer Continental Shelf to companies that would drill for gas and oil. (Each state along the Atlantic coast owns the waters 3 nautical miles from the shore at mean low tide; they have jurisdiction to decide whether or not to lease their territory for oil and gas.)

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been considering the many possible effects of offshore drilling compared with the estimated potential of the gas and oil drilling. Research by BOEM will consider a wide range of issues: physical considerations; biological considerations; social, economic and cultural considerations; and alternatives and mitigation measures. BOEM estimates that, at current national consumption rates, the support of undiscovered economically recoverable offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast of Florida would only meet domestic oil demand for two years and gas demand for just over one year. 

Opposition has been growing 

Both Republican and Democratic governors in every state where offshore drilling doesn’t already exist (except Maine) have expressed opposition to opening their coastlines to the oil and gas industry. In case efforts to exempt their states are unsuccessful, lawmakers in California, New York and New Jersey are pushing legislation that would make new offshore drilling in federal waters as difficult as possible.

Resistance to the plan has been expressed by at least 130 organizations along the Eastern Seaboard, including groups that support conservation, wildlife, clean water and political action.

The risk of oil spills, which could destroy the environment for a wide area, as it has in the Gulf, is a major cause of opposition. 

Seismic air guns that fire intense blasts of compressed air every 10 to 12 seconds 24 hours a day for months on end will disrupt and displace marine life, including whales, which rely on sound to find food and mates, sea turtles and many fish and shellfish species, including those of commercial importance. 

Drilling and processing infrastructure along the shoreline and in nearby areas will limit tourist and recreational activities.

• Tourism, with fishing and other industries that depend on clean, oil-free water and beaches, supports nearly 320,000 jobs, which could be lost, with $5.6 billion from the tourism economy of Long Island.

The fossil fuel industries create five times fewer jobs than are created by the clean energy sector.

This proposal will slow our nation’s progress toward solving the climate change problem. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress and released in November 2018, concluded that coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change.

What can be done

Although dissent was expressed at many public hearings, it is likely that the Department of the Interior intends to carry out its offshore drilling plan. The League of Women Voters urges towns and villages that will be affected by drilling to pass memorializing resolutions to submit to the BOEM and its local elected officials. Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and Southampton towns in Suffolk County have already done so. (See a sample resolution at http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.)

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) of the 1st Congressional District has opposed the drilling plan at local meetings. Individuals should write, call or email him (30 Oak Street, Patchogue, NY 11772; 631-289-1097; www.zeldin.house.gov/contact) to express their concerns about the need to protect our local economies and the environment.

Write to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), U.S. senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and your New York State senators and assemblypersons (visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/DirectoryOfPublicOfficials.html for full contact details).

A revised plan, with a new period of public comment, may be released this month. If implemented, it will affect all of us. We can protest, as individuals. We should each also contact our town and village governments to ask them to adopt memorializing resolutions in opposition to the drilling in order to protect our oceans, our fishing industry, our tourism and our quality of life. Specific requests for action by many constituents are always more effective with elected officials … Act now!

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, call 631-862-6860.

      The Long Island Explorium, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson is pleased to partner with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society to present an insightful and invaluable Cold Stun Sea Turtle Talk and Workshop on how to save sea turtles that wash up on our shores on Tuesday, Dec. 4 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. 
     As summer ends and the cooler fall weather finds its way to New York, the four different species of sea turtles that utilize our waters migrate south to warmer waters. Atlantic green, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles that fail to move out of our waters before the first cold snap will become hypothermic, stop swimming and eating and may wash up on our shores. When we act quickly there is a chance we can save them.
     Co-hosted by thePort Jefferson Village Center and the Port Jefferson Library, this workshop will provide participants with knowledge and skills needed to prevent these sea turtles from succumbing to the effects of the cold winter.
     To RSVP for the workshop, email Hannah at education@amseas.org. For more information, call 631-331-3277.

Don Law has carved more than 5000 decoys over the years. Photo from LIM
Sarah Broadwell

Take a break from all the holiday preparations and come on down to Stony Brook for the Long Island Museum’s Open House and Decoy Day celebration on Sunday, Dec. 2 from 1 to 4 p.m!  The day includes decoy carving demonstrations, a discussion about fishing on Long Island and live music.  You’ll meet:

  • Captain Don Law a full-time charter boat captain from Hampton Bays who began carving decoys in the 8th grade!
  • George Rigby, Jr., a descendant of baymen who settled on LI in the early 1900s.
  • Don Bennet, whose family has worked the LI waters for more than 100 years.
  • Sarah Broadwell, a full-time fishing captain with the Viking Fleet based in Montauk, who works with students, teachers and recreational fishermen, lecturing about responsible fishing.
  • Stuart Markus, a fixture on Long Island’s folk and acoustic scene.
  • Traditional folk singer Larry Moser.
  • Max Rowland, banjo master and folk musician, who’s family history includes several sea captains.
DEMONSTRATIONS AND MUSIC FROM 1 – 4 P.M.
Free admission all day.
The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini announces charges related to illegal dumping scheme. Photo from DA's office

Long Island homeowners who thought they were getting free, clean fill for their properties off Craigslist may have learned if the offer seems too good to be true, that’s because it was.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a 130-charge indictment Nov. 26 against 22 individuals and nine corporations who allegedly cooperated in a massive conspiracy to illegally dispose of solid waste in 24 locations spanning Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: We will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county. We will do whatever it takes to uncover illegal dumping.”

Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio acted as “dirt broker” in the island-wide dumping scheme. Photo from DA’s office

The conspiracy was allegedly led by Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio, 53, also known as “Rock,” who acted as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of their solid waste and construction debris, according to Suffolk prosecutors.

An investigation dubbed Operation Pay Dirt, which involved the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department, launched in February 2018 revealed Grazio was allegedly posting ads on Craigslist and other websites offering “free, clean fill — free delivery,” in addition to stating it was “certified and approved for residential and commercial use.” Grazio allegedly worked with Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, to also post a sign on a tree outside a home on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip to advertise “free clean fill,” in February 2018, according to court documents.

When a Long Island homeowner or business expressed interest in fill for landscaping projects, Grazio and owners or operators of nine different trucking companies would discuss the potential of the site and the amount of material that could be dumped there from New York City construction and demolition sites, according to the district attorney.

“The bigger the property, the better for the defendants as this scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’ Grazio approved material being dumped at residential locations even when notified that the material smelled like diesel fuel or had pieces of wood, asphalt, concrete, large boulders or even glass contained in the material.”

Investigators claimed after dumping contaminated fill on a property, Grazio and his co-conspirators allegedly went as far as to provide the homeowners with false laboratory reports stating the material was clean or cover it with a layer of topsoil to ensure grass could grow. In other cases, the truck owners and operators were allegedly caught having phone discussions on how to cover up the hazardous materials being moved about to prevent detection of the illegal dumping.

Out of the 24 locations identified to be impacted by the scheme, the district attorney’s office said 19 were residential properties, four commercial and one school in Roslyn Heights.

“They did this to make money, they did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents,” Sini said.

Testing performed by the DEC found fill at six locations was positive for acutely hazardous substances, mainly pesticides, with 17 sites containing hazardous substances under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law. These hazardous substances included arsenic, lead, copper, nickel, mercury and other metals.

Map of all illegal dumping sites. Photo from DA’s office

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Among North Shore individuals charged alongside Grazio and Fragola for being involved in this alleged scheme were: Alix Aparaicio Gomez, 50, of Huntington; Anthony Grazio Jr., 19, of Smithtown; Michael Heinrichs, 48, of Port Jefferson Station; Robert Hirsch, 43, of Commack; Joseph Lamberta, 68, of Hauppauge; Steven Nunez Genao, 24, of Port Jefferson Station; Milan Parik, 46, of Centereach; James Perruzza, 18, of Northport; Frank Rotondo Jr., 47, of Miller Place; Thomas St. Clair, 51, of St. James; and Robert Walter, 31, of Nesconset.

The top count on the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, which is a Class D felony, and, if found guilty, carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

A common grackle collects mud from the banks of the Swan River in East Patchogue to use to build its nest. Photo by Luke Ormand

By John Turner

As the famous philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching,” and between the passage of the 2,018 common nighthawks we tallied over the 41 days of the 2018 season at the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch, we had plenty of time to watch and observe.

One of those observations involved the daily movement of large mixed-blackbird flocks, flying north each evening, their destination being the communal nightly roost they established in the reed (Phragmites) beds at the southern edge of Conscience Bay, just north of the Grist Mill in Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket.

Joined by European starlings, red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds, the flocks, numerically dominated by common grackles, would stream over us at the Stone Bridge and then, as they passed over the northern bridge at the northern end of the pond, descend abruptly to land on the narrow and slightly arching stalks of the Phragmites.

Their predictable movement each night of the Nighthawk Watch reminded me of another characterization, this one by the famous scientist Rachel Carson, who described the regular movement of birds such as these blackbird flocks as “faithful commuters” in the sky.

As they flew over us, the members of the flock vocalized continuously with quick sharp calls and we wondered why they might do that. One answer for the continuous calling may be a way for a bird in a flock to let neighboring birds — in front, behind and to the sides — know of its presence, helping to maintain a buffer between the birds, thereby reducing the chance of collisions.

Maintaining this space is vital given the fact the several dozen to several hundred members of the blackbird flock are moving through the sky together, at 20-30 miles per hour, separated by mere inches. Makes you wish drivers on the Long Island Expressway were so talented, no?

One evening recently my wife Georgia and I walked to the north bridge to watch the blackbirds spill from the sky into the reeds. They descended into the marsh on both sides of the meandering tidal creek that flows from the spillway at the bridge. A constant cacophony of squeaks (one call sounds like a rusty gate opening), rasps and whistles filled the air as the birds called incessantly. Having landed, the grackles and other blackbird species must now be vocalizing for a different reason, but frankly we have no idea.

Scientists conjecture that crows murmuring together at the end of a day in a winter communal roost do so to exchange information about the day they just experienced, such as what predators they encountered and food sources discovered. Could this be at least a partial answer to explain the thousands of garrulous grackles vocalizing into early evening, as they settle in to sleep for the night in the marshes of Frank Melville Park? Could there be other reasons? Maybe, but we just don’t know.

I often encounter grackles in different settings, as evidenced by a recent walk in the county park just north of the Sherwood-Jayne House. Heading up the west side of the property, I came to an opening in the forest where a small flock of 20 to 25 grackles was feeding on the ground. They systematically flipped over leaves, pieces of bark and other woodland debris searching with their beautiful golden-yellow, black-centered eye, for food which for them consists of a variety of small insects, other invertebrates like slugs and worms, caterpillars, small salamanders and fruits and seeds, which collectively make up their omnivorous lifestyle.    

If you are an astute observer of grackles you might notice that adult birds vary in their coloration. Not surprisingly, males are showier than the females, their plumage infused with a purplish iridescence. But you might occasionally see, especially during the colder months, individual grackles tending to have more of a bronzy-colored tint to their feathers, rather than purple. The latter bird is referred to as the “bronzed grackle” while the former is the “purple grackle.” For many years they were considered different species but are now recognized for what they are — interbreeding color morphs of the same species.   

If you leave the friendly confines of the Three Village area and travel to the Island’s South Shore, you might encounter another grackle species native to Long Island — the boat-tailed grackle. This larger species, a breeder amid the salt marshes of the South Shore bays, gets its name from the keel shape tail tip of the bird, quite visible when a male flies directly away from you.

Want to experience grackles and their blackbird brethren closer to home though? Just head to the bridge next to the Grist Mill in Frank Melville Park (www.frankmelvillepark.org) as dusk descends on an autumn day and face north toward the dense phalanx of reeds. If your senses aren’t overloaded by the sound and movement, perhaps you can figure out what the birds are saying to each other.

John Turner, a Setauket resident, is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

Alexa’s photograph of a juvenile osprey taken at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park

Alexa Helburn, a junior at Huntington High School, will have her photography on exhibit at Cold Spring Harbor Library, 95 Harbor Road, Cold Spring Harbor, on Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 6 to 7:15 pm. 

Alexa’s photography, featuring the beauty of fall and wildlife in and around the Long Island Sound, will be available to take home and enjoy as a token of appreciation for donations to Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society’s program of helping to support Maya girls in Guatemala continue their education where they learn about sustainable farming, leadership and, of course, conservation. 

The 16-year-old uses her love of photography to explore her surroundings and to bring an appreciation for the beauty of nature to others. “I’m very glad to hold this photography fundraiser to help the Maya girls get a good education and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. That is very important to me and I believe it will benefit the girls and their whole community,” said Alexa. For more information, call 631-692-6820.

Carl Safina with a scarlet macaw chick in Peru. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

The Three Village Community Trust will host “An Evening with Carl Safina” at the Old Field Club, 86 West Meadow Road, East Setauket at its 14th Annual Celebration of “fun and fundraising” on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 pm. Safina, a MacArthur “genius” award winner, renowned author and naturalist and Setauket resident, will speak on “Making a Case for Life on Earth.”  

A marine ecologist and environmental writer, Safina is the author of seven books, including the award-winning “Song for the Blue Ocean” and his latest, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.” Safina is also the founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he is also a professor of nature and humanity.

At $50 per person, the festive evening will include wine, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, prizes, basket drawings and the raffle of a pastel painting, “Stony Brook Harbor Sunset,” by Mary Jane van Zeijts (above). Tickets for the painting are $25 each and only 200 tickets will be sold. 

Proceeds from the event will help support the trust’s preservation projects, including the restoration of the newly acquired Smith-deZafra House and the Patriots Hollow State Forest stewardship agreement recently signed with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

To make a reservation or for more information, please call 631-689-0225, email tvcommtrust@optonline.net or visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org.  

John McQuaid, president of the NRSP Foundation; Wayne Horsley, Long Island regional state park director; Charlie Reichert; Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta; and Brian Foley, Long Island regional director of state parks, hold a check for $1 million donation. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Fort Salonga philanthropist hopes if he can help to build central infrastructure of a park, others will come and help out. 

Charlie Reichert, owner of IGA Supermarkets, will donate $1 million to New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through his nonprofit, Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation, for complete renovation of the Nissequogue River State Park’s administrative offices. He ceremoniously handed the first check to Wayne Horsley, Long Island’s regional director of state parks, Nov. 2.

“I am hoping this donation jump starts the park, that we can really get going,” Reichert said. “If people see that a private citizen is putting money into the park, maybe there will be other private citizens or corporations to put money into the park and get things going.” 

The Fort Salonga resident said he envisions the park as a green space where, one day, there could be sports fields and concerts for residents’ recreation. His donation will kick-start a makeover of the central building. 

Brian Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system, said the $1 million donation will be used to completely overhaul the interior of the former World War I-era veterans memorial hospital. The first floor’s central waiting area will be enlarged and built to accommodate additional educational display cases, with reconstruction of the existing meeting hall and children’s playroom. The women’s and men’s bathrooms will be updated with the new addition of a family bathroom stall, according to Foley. 

“The first floor will be and stay almost exclusively devoted to the public,” he said. “That is the prime purpose of state parks.” 

The second floor of the building will be made into office space for state park employees on-site, according to Foley. Storage space will continue to be available for the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to enhance and beautify the park. 

“This money will bring us a long way to making this into a public building that everyone can be proud of,” Horsley said. 

Currently, the state is replacing the administrative building’s roof and straightening out the cupola, according to Horsley. Construction equipment is parked outside Building 40, on the former childcare center on the north side of the park’s main entrance, to begin abatement of the structure to make way for a new 25,000-square-foot headquarters for the state’s Department of
Environmental Conservation’s Division of Marine
Resource. Horsley said he expects the building to be torn down this winter into early spring 2019. 

“We are in this together to make this a premiere park in the state’s park system,” Horsley said. “As we all know, we have a long way to go, but we are well on our way.” 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park, and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said Charlie Reichert’s support through his foundation has been invaluable over the years as it also sponsors the spring and fall runs that raise funds for the park. 

“This community is forever indebted to you, the state is forever indebted to you because you have changed the course of history,” Trotta said.

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