Environment & Nature

HAPPY RETURNS

Gerard Romano of Port Jefferson Station took this beautiful photo at the traffic circle near the Port Jefferson Country Club on June 21. He writes, ‘The daylilies have begun to bloom this year. In this photo I increased the level of contrast and shadow in the edit process to separate the flower from the background.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

Aerial shot of the new solar array. Photo from anonymous

After the Izzo family leased their 26-acre Kings Park property to the Town of Smithtown for a landfill during the 1970s, the place was declared uninhabitable. Today, the site is revered as one of Long Island’s largest solar farms.

Izzo family leads Long Island into New York’s green energy future. Photo by Donna Deedy

The 4-megawatt project was showcased on June 20 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, an event that unexpectedly coincided with New York State’s sweeping new clean energy legislation promising to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“It’s almost like we knew what we were doing,” said Tom Falcone, Long Island Power Authority CEO, who attended the event along with county and town elected officials. The achievement, he said, entailed a cooperative effort. “It took a village, a town, a state and the Izzo family.”

The state’s ambitious new energy plan renders the privately owned Kings Park solar farm a shining new example of what the future may look like with private landowners and non-developable property transformed to serve a public utilitarian purpose.

“It takes a lot of gambling but, wow, was this a good project,” said Paul Curran, founder of Wappinger Falls-based BQ Energy, a company committed to the sustainable redevelopment of environmentally contaminated sites known as brownfields. “Once you see it, people say it makes so much sense.” He expects the site to inspire additional projects. 

Curran first approached the Izzo family with the idea of using their property for a solar site in 2013. RECOM Solar leased the development rights from the family to construct the project. NextEra Energy Resources, which claims to be the world’s largest supplier of renewable energy took over in December 2018, when the site became operational. 

The solar project, which consists of 18,000 solar panels, created 50 jobs, mainly in the construction sector, according to Bryan Garner, NextEra’s director of communications. NextEra signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with LIPA, which will ultimately result in nearly $800,000 in revenue for Smithtown. That’s $33,000 per year for the first 15 years in payments in lieu of taxes and $296,000 in tax revenue for the final five years. 

The project will offset more than 4,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing 800 cars off the road. 

Unlike fossil fuel plants, the facility operates silently and requires very little maintenance. “We check it about four times a year, so it’s maintenance free,” said Aaron Benedict, who monitors the project for NextEra. His cellphone includes an application that remotely monitors the operation 24/7. 

Suffolk County and Smithtown government officials attended the event with Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) arriving in one of the town’s two all-electric vehicles. 

“We are all in with renewable and clean energy,” he said. The town, he said, expects to systematically transform the Old Northport Road corridor. The roof on its recycling center, which is located near the solar farm, is fitted with 50-kilowatt solar system and has a 10-kW wind turbine. The town is also discussing the development of a solar farm on the closed landfills, which could eliminate the town’s need to purchase electricity, according to Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s Environmental Protection director. Additional town projects are also under discussion and will be considered during the town’s 2020 budget process.

The financial terms of the arrangements between NextEra and the Izzo family remain confidential. 

“This is all about what good this site can do for years to come,” said Robert Izzo Jr, whose family has owned the property for decades.

PSEG reports that 161 MW of its energy supply is generated from renewable projects, mainly solar panels. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces
Extreme weather events, coastal flooding, crop yields, brush fires and disruption of fisheries and other ecosystems are among the many concerns that scientists and policymakers aim to address through legislation. Image from the United Nations International Panel on Cllimate Change

New York lawmakers aim to tackle the climate change issue head on: It passed June 20 a bill that will largely eliminate fossil-fuel emissions by 2050. 

The bill, called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, will require incremental changes to the state’s infrastructure. By 2030, the state plans to obtain 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, shifting entirely to carbon-free electricity by 2040 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent below 1990 levels. Part of the plan includes developing and implementing measures that remove carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, from the atmosphere. 

New York joins California, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in committing to clean energy power. The initiative comes in response to the current administration bailing out of the United Nation’s landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to build a low-carbon future and scaling back on many other environmental measures and regulations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the bill’s original sponsor, said the bill addresses one of the most important issues of our time. He and state senators have been trying to get clean-energy legislation passed for the last four years. Prior to the 2018 elections, he said, the bill was stuck in the Republican-led senate. 

“It made a big difference in getting this [bill] passed,” he said. “When you have individuals that deny climate change, it is difficult just to get to first base.”

“We will all need to work together to solve this.”

— Steve Englebright

The bill lays out an ambitious plan for the next 30 years, and it will be guided by a 22-member state panel called the Climate Action Council. 

The council will be made up of state agencies, scientists and individuals in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The bill requires the council to create a scoping plan that will set out recommendations for reducing emissions across all sectors of the economy, including transportation, building, industrial, commercial and agricultural. They will have to approve a scoping plan within the next two years and then update the plan at least every five years. 

Englebright said a lot is at stake with this climate plan and it is important that they are successful. 

“I would say this is the most aggressive plan to combat this climate challenge; New York should be leading the way,” he said. 

The bill will also set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to prioritize disadvantaged communities around the state, particularly those devastated by pollution and climate change. 

“The Long Island Progressive Coalition celebrates the power of the NY Renews coalition in winning a climate bill that makes New York a national leader in legally-mandated emissions cuts,” Lisa Tyson, Long Island Progressive Coalition director said in a statement. “The agreement struck on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a significant step forward in combating the climate crisis and moving toward a more regenerative economy for our communities — one powered by 100 percent clean renewable energy.”

Though it is considered a victory in the fight against climate change, the coalition was disappointed that some amendments were left out of the final bill. 

“We are deeply concerned that the changes in the final version of the bill weaken the original intent we set out as a coalition to directly invest resources in vulnerable communities,” Tyson said in a statement. “Although the bill includes a nod toward prevailing wage, the governor’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act removes mandates to secure specific worker protections, job growth and training included in previous editions of the Climate and Community Protection Act, which are essential to a just transition off of fossil fuels.”

Other county officials weighed in on the passage of the bill. 

“As chair of the Suffolk County Environment Committee, I understand how crucial it is to our children’s futures that we take measurable steps to counteract human-induced climate change,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said in a statement. “I am proud to say that I am from a state that recognizes the importance of environmental consciousness, and that takes the action necessary toward progress. I commend Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for reaching an agreement that will ensure measurable reductions in carbon emissions and promote clean energy and a greener economy.”

Once the bill is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), it will become law. 

Englebright stressed it is going to take a collaborative effort to make sure this plan will work. 

“It is going to take recognition from people that this is not some made up problem, It is not a fake science,” he said. “We will need to work together to solve this.” 

Scientists from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change have been recommending to policymakers the 70 to 85 percent reduction of fossil fuel use by 2050 to curb the worst impacts of a warming planet.

The efforts of Craig den Hartog beautify local hamlets year after year after year

Craig den Hartog in front of his truck often seen by the side of Old Town Road. photo from PJS/T Chamber of Commerce

Craig den Hartog, a Terryville resident, was only a neon ink blot on the side of Old Town Road. A hunched figure in the weeds, his body bent over, his head low to the dirt, he could have been praying. 

A sign for Old Town Blooms in front of his planted daffodils. photo from Old Town Blooms Facebook

On the edge of the road, near to passing cars streaming past upward of 50 miles per hour, den Hartog was in his own sanctuary. The side of the road was his chapel that he has cultivated for upward of 10 years. In that time, he has planted tulips and bushes alike, one to keep the poison ivy and other invasive plants down, the other to make the corners along the road striking to anybody who takes the time to look at them.

Den Hartog is the owner of Emerald Magic Lawn Care landscaping company and the founder of Old Town Blooms, a community group that looks to maintain beautification efforts along Old Town Road and into the rest of the local hamlets. 

“You got to try and work with, and against, Mother Nature,” said den Hartog as he attacked the weeds along Old Town Road the morning of May 18. One particular stretch was choked with poison ivy and litter. 

The founder of Old Town Blooms has made it a personal mission to clean up his local area, though he is an old hand at landscaping. It’s been nearly a decade since he started, but his mission of beautification continues undaunted.

In numerous places the Terryville resident’s flowers bloom — daffodils and tulips. In the Steven J. Crowley Memorial Park, all the flowers that shine bright with oranges and purples are thanks to his constant efforts.

The Old Town Blooms project started nearly a decade ago, with him and neighbors having an “attitude adjustment hour,” calling themselves lawn lizards where a bunch of them would go to neighbors’ houses to do a specific piece of lawn maintenance. That was when the neighbors started to see just how dirty and overgrown Old Town Road had become with weeds, garbage and construction debris, including a growing pile of bricks. After complaining to Brookhaven town and not getting a response, they realized they were on their own. 

Since then, Old Town Blooms has planted thousands of flowers along the course of the road from Coram into Terryville and East Setauket. Den Hartog has become notorious in the area for his cleanup efforts and his attempts to get his neighbors involved. Having extra flower bulbs on hand, he has stuck them in his neighbors’ mailboxes and has felt great pride in seeing those flowers bloom in the beds in front of their homes.

Now he is the owner of Holtsville-based Emerald Magic Lawn Care Inc., where he does soil testing and diagnosis. He said those skills work great toward keeping the area safe from dangerous plants, as such things like mulching and which plants prevent weeds is often
very misunderstood.

“A big part of my job is not just diagnosing the problems in the landscape but also educating the client,” he said. 

Though the flowers present a united and vibrant resolution to beautification, many of his efforts go unnoticed. Plants that may seem like natural growth are actually specifically planted by the veteran horticulturist. Plants like purple coneflower and sedum are his “volunteers,” or the plants others would just throw away if they become overgrown. They help stem the tide of weeds, and he has to make sure that Brookhaven’s subcontractors don’t come in and mow his preventative plants. Since the program started, he has spent thousands of dollars of his own money on plants to bring life to the two-lane road.

It’s not just Old Town Road that has received his touch but the surrounding community. Joe Coniglione, the principal of Comsewogue High School, said Hartog helped with beautification of the school, sprucing the area up with flowers of gold and blue, the school colors. 

“You got to try and work with, and against, Mother Nature.”

— Craig den Hartog

“Him having spread that around this community is really uplifting,” Coniglione said. “His kids went through Comsewogue, they are long gone, but he is still involved in the community and the school… he’s just a great person.”

Den Hartog’s daughter, Michelle, lives in Queens and works at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Huntington as a teacher, but she tries to come out once or twice a year to help her father. Nearly 10 years ago, when the work started, she could only think how simple a fix it was, and she has started to do the same kind of cleanup and bloom plantings with the children at her school.

“Even starting at young ages, it’s so important to teach taking care of your community,” she said. “Every year, coming down this road in March and April and seeing all the daffodils it makes me so happy — just the seven miles — I’ll just do the drive just to see the blooms.”

Joan Nickeson, the community liaison for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce had met den Hartog years ago in the early spring, surprised by the sight of bright yellow daffodils popping up along Old Town Road. The Terryville resident would become involved with the chamber and was instrumental in area beautification, helping to remove invasive vines on trees and to maintain the chamber-owned train car at the corner of Route 112.

“At home we call him for our green issues,” she said. “He and my husband Rich could ‘talk trees’ for hours … We are indebted to him.”

Den Hartog has a passion for getting others involved, calling all who help him in his efforts “bloomers.” This passion for beautification has extended well past the confines of Old Town Road. Debbie Engelhardt, the director of the Comsewogue Public Library, said the library organized a community cleanup in conjunction with the overall Great Brookhaven Cleanup. Den Hartog was there offering his expertise, and she said they will be working with him in the future.

“We are indebted to him.”

— Joan Nickeson

“Craig’s contribution was cutting the ‘mother vines’ of the poison ivy plants endangering many of the trees along Terryville Road,” Engelhardt said. “I was amazed at how many trees had been enveloped; most of us drive by and don’t think about these things. I’m glad the community has Craig out there, so we can keep as many trees healthy as possible.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) has seen the work of the Terryville horticulturist on multiple occasions. 

“He has always played an active role in our community,” Cartright said in an email. “Mr. den Hartog works hard as both a local business owner and on his volunteer endeavor, Old Town Blooms. Craig’s dedication to rallying our community and organizing local beautification efforts is truly commendable and a gift to the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville community.”

However, cleaning up such a vast area with himself and a few of the occasional volunteers does begin to become a mental rock climb. He admitted he does occasionally procrastinate on parts of the project, especially considering its vast size, not to mention his own business and the work he does at his house. But that’s when the script flips, once work begins, the momentum carries him through.

“As soon as I start, I start enjoying myself,” he said. “If you want something done, you just have to start.”

By Donna Deedy

donna@tbrnewsmedia.com

“It’s more than a pretty garden,” said Chris Clapp, a marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a biological process that relies on plants, wood chips and microbes to remove nitrogen in wastewater before it flows back into the environment.”

On June 24, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined Clapp with a conglomerate of representatives from both government and the private sector at The Nature Conservancy’s Upland Farms Sanctuary in Cold Spring Harbor to unveil a state-of-the-art method for reducing and eliminating nitrogen from wastewater. 

The county expects the new system to be a replacement for cesspools and septic systems, which are blamed for the seeping of nitrogen into Long Island waterways, causing red tides, dead zones and closed beaches.

County Executive Steve Bellone and Nancy Kelley of The Nature Conservancy plant the new garden at Upland Farms.

The issue is a serious concern, Bellone said, as he introduced the county’s Deputy Executive Peter Scully, who is spearheading the county’s Reclaim Our Water Initiative and serves as the Suffolk’s water czar. “Anytime a government appoints a water czar, you know you have problems to address.”

Scully, formerly the director for the Long Island region of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said six other septic alternatives are currently approved.    

Long Island is reportedly one of the most densely populated locations in the country without adequate wastewater treatment. Currently, there are 360,000 antiquated cesspools and septic systems. The county expects to set nitrogen reduction targets for watershed areas where replacement holds the most benefit. 

The technique, called a vegetated circulating gravel system, is composed of an underground network that essentially connects the drains and toilets of a home or office to plant life and microbial action. It works in two stages to denitrify the wastewater. The first phase discharges wastewater into an underground gravel bed covered with a surprisingly small garden of native plants that takes up nitrogen through its roots. The water is then circulated into an underground box of wood chips that convert the remaining nitrogen into gas, before it’s circulated back to the gravel bed. Once the water is denitrified, it’s dispersed through a buried leaching field. 

The county partnered with the Nature Conservancy to develop and implement the system for its Upland Farms Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located a half-mile from Cold Spring Harbor, where water quality has worsened during the last 12 years to the point where the state is officially proposing to designate it an impaired water body. 

“The Conservancy is proud to stand alongside the county and our partners to celebrate this exciting new system that taps into the power of nature to combat the nitrogen crisis, putting us on a path to cleaner water,” said Nancy Kelley, Long Island chapter director for The Nature Conservancy.  

During the experimental phase the system reduced by half the amount of nitrogen discharged from wastewater. A similar technique has been effective at removing up to 90% in other parts of the country. The system’s designers at Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology aim to completely remove nitrogen from discharges.  The Upland Farms offices and meeting hall system, which encompasses 156 square feet,  serves the equivalent of two to three homes. 

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that denitrification efforts work. The Centerport Yacht Club’s beach was closed for seven years due to water quality issues and reopened in 2015 after the Northport sewer plant upgraded to a denitrification system. Improvements to the harbor storm drain discharges, and a public lawn care campaign about curbing the use of fertilizers, also reportedly helped. 

The county has reached a critical juncture and beginning July 1, its new sanitary code for septic systems takes effect, which permits only denitrifying technology.

Justin Jobin, who works on environmental projects with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said that he expects to gain approval for a pilot program to accelerate the vegetated circulating gravel system’s public introduction, which could be approved as soon as this summer.  The design can be modified, its developers said, to serve single homes or large businesses. In addition to removing nitrogen, the system can also naturally filter out pharmaceuticals and personal care products.  Its impacts on 1,4-dioxane are being studied. 

Visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info for additional information. 

Photos by Donna Deedy

On Saturday, June 29, three private gardens in Mount Sinai and Old Field will be open to the public for tours through the Garden Conservancy Open Days program. Admission is $10 at each garden; children 12 and under are free. The gardens include: 

The Stasiewicz Garden, 44 Jesse Way, Mount Sinai (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is filled with a myriad of shrubs, perennials and annuals to soothe the soul and also attract a wide variety of colorful birds. Each year the garden takes on new facets of color combinations and lawn art. Come walk the footpaths or just relax and take in the sights, sounds and scents of nature.

Tranquility, 42 Jesse Way, Mount Sinai (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) features hundreds of perennials, shrubs, trees and annuals that are combined with water features, lawn art and recently relocated garden trails that allow the visitor to enter the owner’s vision of an Impressionistic garden painting. Footpaths wind through the extensive garden, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of nature and escape the general stress of modern lifestyles.

Two Grey Achers, 88 Old Field Road, Old Field (noon to 4 p.m.) was designed by its owners to provide beauty and interest in every season. Adjacent to Conscience Bay on Long Island’s North Shore, the garden features a remarkable collection of choice conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas, Japanese maples and other companions amassed over three decades that creates a year-round tapestry of color, texture and form. Come, enjoy and find specific ideas for stunning, hardworking woody plants to add to your own garden. Garden Extra: Join garden host Bruce Feller for a tour and discussion focusing on Japanese maples at 2 p.m. 

Call 845-424-6500 or visit www.gardenconservancy.org/open-days for more info.

THE MOON AND NEST

Jay Gao of Stony Brook captured this incredible image at West Meadow Beach with a Nikon D750 on May 16. He writes, ‘It was in the late afternoon, and  a full moon was rising  while the sun was  setting on the Sound.  I was amazed to notice that the moon was sitting on the top of the osprey nest like a huge egg.  In no time, the raptor came back to the nest and I took the shot.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

Stock photo

By Ken Taub

One could easily be forgiven for not knowing certain things. 

While strolling along the moonlit shores of Riverhead’s Peconic Estuary or, closer to my home, at tiny Cordwood Park, on the back side of Stony Brook Harbor, you might come upon a prehistoric carousel of love. Yet watching the late spring mating circles of horseshoe crabs — at once peculiar and comical — an observer might never know how very significant these odd creatures are. One might not know, as I did not for many a year, that they have been on this Earth for so long that they survived five mass extinctions, an impressive feat for any earthling.  

One might also be wholly unaware that people in surgery, those who receive stents or joint replacements, or the large numbers of us who get flu vaccines, take insulin or receive intravenously delivered chemotherapies or antibiotics are safer, free of dangerous endotoxins, thanks to the coppery blue blood of horseshoe crabs.

Really, who knew that one of our saving angels has not feathery wings but leathery hard carapaces, seven pairs of legs and a pointy tail with eyes on its underside. Tooling around the seashores, ocean shallows and estuaries for nearly 450 million years, and unchanged for over 300 million, they have been largely cancer-free and carefree — until recently.

Growing up on Long Island, one saw larger groupings of horseshoe crabs seemingly everywhere. But then their harvesting as bait had dropped measurably in the 1950s and ’60s, and their use as fertilizer had stopped decades before that. And while their local harvest has gone down significantly from the late 1990s, their numbers on Long Island and the waterways of the greater New York region show a continuing decline, according to both the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.  

However, in other parts of the East Coast, specifically the rich Delaware Bay region, the overall stock remains stable, while in the Southeast (North Carolina through Florida), indications are the numbers of horseshoe crabs have actually increased.

So, what has happened in our neck of the woods, and what can we do to ensure steady populations of these ancient arthropods whose abundant eggs are a great, life-saving food source for migrating birds, and whose special blood, once extracted, saves us? How, in short, do we return the favor?

The reasons for regional differences in stock abundance are many and depend as much on natural cycles as harvesting by fisherman and drug manufacturers (the majority of horseshoe crabs, once their blood has been extracted to produce limulus amoebocyte lysate, or LAL, are kept alive and returned to the waters).  

One reason for our local decline is that other states — Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — have not harvested any horseshoe crabs since 2007. Yet there have been very few harvest moratoriums here in New York, and they are small and temporary.  Horseshoe crabs are preferred by our local fishing fleets as bait for whelk, eel and conch. Apparently, neighboring moratoriums have made our crusty old co-inhabitants more valuable as a bait source here.

What can be done to keep their numbers steady? Increasingly, concerned citizens are encouraging the use of nylon and other mesh bait bags, which require only a tenth of the regular portion of horseshoe crab bait. It’s efficient, and it needs only further promotion. Others are looking to test alternative bait sources. 

Scientists at the University of Delaware have developed such an alternative, and some individuals and groups, like Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, want to do a two-year test in our local waters. Some are considering breeding season moratoriums during the spring, while allowing the horseshoe crabs to be harvested come summer and fall, in prime fishing season. Others are calling for a full, multiyear halt on bait harvesting. Reporting pilferage of large numbers of horseshoe crabs — sometimes flatbed or small pickup truck-fulls— to the NY DEC can be helpful, as they will give out stiff fines to those who are caught.

Then there is this: Spreading the word in articles, classrooms, at eco-fairs, among fishing clubs and at town hall meetings in shore towns that these very old animals are very valuable; to us, in certain medicines and medical procedures. To the migrating wildlife and fish who feast on their larvae. To our local fishermen, a vital industry on Long Island for over 150 years. And, of course, for the horseshoe crabs themselves; their eons-long survival a testimony to adaptation, endurance and whatever spirit resides in such strange and remarkable beings.

Ken Taub, a longtime resident of St. James, now a volunteer with the Long Island Sierra Club Group, is a copywriter, marketing consultant, online journalist and editor and author. 

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

To address the critical shortfall of skilled young and beginning farmers and ranchers, congressional leaders, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), introduced June 13 the Young Farmer Success Act. If adopted, the bill would encourage careers in agriculture, by adding farmers and ranchers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes teachers, nurses, first responders and other public service professions. Under the program, eligible public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments can have the balance of their loans forgiven.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Our country’s farmers are part of the backbone of our nation, and while they are critical to ensuring American families have food to put on the table, all too often the next generation of farmers is finding that a career in agriculture makes it difficult to put food on their own table,” Zeldin said. “After graduating college, aspiring farmers are saddled with crippling student loan debt and the daunting costs of agricultural businesses, oftentimes driving them from a career feeding our country.” 

The new legislation will allow the next generation of farmers to pursue a career serving the American people, eliminating the disincentive to study agriculture in school and getting them on the farm when they graduate.

Farming is an expensive business to enter, in part because of skyrocketing land prices. Young and beginning farmers often see small profits or even losses in their first years of business. With the majority of existing farmers nearing retirement age, and very few young people entering the farming or ranching profession, America is beginning to face an agricultural crisis. Since the Dust Bowl, the federal government has taken steps to support farmers, and the Young Farmer Success Act supports farmers through a different approach — finding a tangible pathway to pay off student loans that will offer incentives to a new generation of career farmers.

“Eighty-one percent of the young farmers who responded to our 2017 national survey hold a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree,” Martin Lemos, National Young Farmers Coalition interim executive director, said. “This means there is a very small population of beginning farmers without student loan debt. With the average age of farmers now nearing 60 years, and farmers over 65 outnumbering those under 35 by 6:1, we need to do more for the next generation of farmers to succeed. We are grateful for the bill’s bipartisan champions, Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-PA), Josh Harder (D-CA) and Lee Zeldin. With the support of Congress, we will encourage those who wish to pursue a career in farming to serve their country by building a brighter future for U.S. agriculture.”

In 2011, National Young Farmers Coalition conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found 78 percent of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 follow-up survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000. The same study also found 53 percent of respondents are currently farming, but have a hard time making their student loan payments and another 30 percent are interested in farming, but haven’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.

From left to right: Laura Curran, Peter King, Tom Suozzi and Lee Zeldin urge tighter federal rules to protect drinking water and Long Islanders health. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

The Long Island congressional delegation has reached a tipping point. They’re ready for the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to better address concerns over water quality and its potential impact on human health.

U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Peter King (R-Seaford) and Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were joined June 18 by local elected officials and environmental advocates at the Town of Hempstead Water Department to demand that the EPA sets maximum contaminant levels for drinking water and act to help protect Long Islanders from contaminated drinking supplies.

“When it comes to our communities’ drinking water, there is no room for error,” Zeldin said following the press conference. “This is the drinking water for so many Long Islanders, and failure to act is not an option.”

New York Public Interest Research Group or NYPIRG, found in a recent study that Long Island has the most contaminated drinking water in New York state. Several contaminants, such as 1,4-dioxane and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — were detected above the EPA’s reference concentrations, which are health-based assessments. 

The problem is widespread. Locally, the chemical 1,4-dioxane was found in at least two private drinking wells in Smithtown and also in wells serviced by Suffolk County Water Authority, including the Flower Hill Road well field in Halesite, as reported in The Times of Smithtown April 30 article, “County acts to address drinking water contamination concerns.” 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that 65 out of 80 commonly used household products that the organization had tested included at least trace amounts of the potentially toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane. CCE is calling for a ban on its use.

Zeldin is a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force which was established to address the urgent threat of PFAS to help better protect communities from the harmful effects of the chemicals.

The use of industrial strength firefighting foam during past training exercises, such as those undertaken at the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton and Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, have been known to introduce chemicals, such as PFAS, into the surrounding groundwater, potentially contaminating drinking supplies.

PFAS is a man-made substance that is persistent in the human body and the environment. It can also be found in nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and packaging.

Some PFAS are no longer manufactured in the U.S., according to the EPA website, but can be produced internationally and imported to U.S. in consumer goods such as carpets, textiles, paper and packaging, rubber and plastics. 

The EPA Region 2 Office spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment before press time. 

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