Environment & Nature

Caithness Long Island approaches town about building new 600-megawatt plant

Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski 

Another player has emerged to complicate the legal battle with Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village in one corner and the Long Island Power Authority in the other.

Representatives from Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer with a Yaphank plant, went before Brookhaven’s board June 26 requesting permission to construct a 600-megawatt plant, which would be called Caithness Long Island II. This is not the first time, as the power company originally approached the town with plans for a power station in 2014.

“Caithness is seeking an amendment to the covenant and restrictions so it can utilize cleaner, more efficient equipment that recently became available,” said Michael Murphy during the June 26 hearing, an attorney representing Caithness.

“The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources.”

— Michael Murphy

In 2014, Caithness Energy had plans approved by the Brookhaven Town to construct a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank powered by two gas-powered turbines and a steam generator. Both Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) voted against the 2014 proposal, though it passed 5-2.

The project has been on hold ever since as energy demands on Long Island are projected to decrease, according to recent annual reports from PSEG Long Island. Then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated in August 2016 that 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs come from renewable energy sources by the year 2030.

The 600-megawatt power plant would be constructed on 81 acres of vacant land zoned for the use based on the 2014 approval. The proposal has several differences from the 2014 plans in addition to the reduced energy output including a reduction from two exhaust stacks to one; use of newer, more efficient technology; and a reduction from two steam turbines to one.

“It creates a platform for renewable energy,” Murphy said. “The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources. So, this facility will not compete, in essence, with solar and wind.”

The request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on its decreasing energy demand. The settlement would smooth the impact of a potential substantial loss of revenue for the village, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and Port Jefferson Fire Department based on a reduced assessment of the plant. It would also prevent the village from being held liable for years of back pay should it have chosen to play out the legal battle in court and lost rather than settling the case. The village has argued a way to make good with LIPA over its decreasingly needed plant could be to increase its output capacity. If approved, the Caithness II plant would theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Caithness President Ross Ain, LIPA has made no commitment to purchase power from the company should a second facility be constructed in Yaphank. It does purchase power from the first Caithness plant, with a 350-megawatt natural gas fire power generating facility operating in Yaphank since 2009.

The public hearing drew comments from those in favor of the proposal, many of whom being Longwood school district residents who would likely see a reduction in property taxes, similar to what Port Jeff residents enjoy currently for housing the Port Jefferson Power Station.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community.”

— Margot Garant

Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down. Garant has taken to social media to urge Port Jeff residents to submit written comments to the town on the proposal.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright, referencing the impending LIPA settlement. “But at the end of these reductions, our community would still be left with an operating power plant which could produce a significant amount in tax revenues.”

The village mayor painted a dark picture for Port Jeff should the proposal earn board approval.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff at the end of the proposed period of gradual reductions, while leaving us to deal with an enormous, closed, unusable industrial site which will need serious environmental remediation,” she said.

A representative from Sierra Club Long Island, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, spoke out against Caithness II during the hearing.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempt to construct a new gas plant on Long Island, and we oppose the Caithness II proposal regardless of the technology involved,” said Shay O’Reilly, an organizer for the nonprofit. “It is absurd to argue that building more fracked gas infrastructure will allow us to meet our clean energy and pollution reduction goals.”

Jack Kreiger, a spokesperson for the town, said he did not know when the board would vote on the proposal.

A bee pollinates catmint in Jen Carlson’s garden. Photo by Jen Carlson
Native plants dominate the landscape this year

By Sabrina Petroski

April showers sure did bring May flowers, and those beautiful flowers just keep blooming. In celebration, the Rocky Point Civic Association will present its 6th annual Rocky Point Garden Tour on Saturday, July 14. The tour, held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine, will showcase 10 beautiful gardens in the Rocky Point area including the one at the historic Noah Hallock House.

A Ruby Falls weeping redbud at a previous garden tour. Photo by Edith Mahler

According to the creator of the event,  civic association member Kathy Weber, the gardens on the tour will be “architecturally inspiring” and will feature annuals and perennials, native and heirloom plants, shrubs and trees, several ponds, a herb garden and a sustainable meadow adopt-a-spot. The idea for the tour originally stemmed from Weber’s own love of gardening. “I always liked to garden and thought Rocky Point has so many unique landscapes,” she said.

Rory Rubino, a member of the board of the civic association and the corresponding secretary for the Rocky Point Historical Society said she enjoys going to this tour every year. “I’ve seen so many amazing gardens. I wish I knew how they got their flowers to bloom so incredibly unique and beautiful!” 

She continued, “The features that are the most interesting are those that conform to how Rocky Point is, using natural rocks for rock walls and unusual plants from the area. Our gardeners’ dedication to natural Long Island plants, not foreign ones, is incredible. They try to use local plants, and by doing so they attract the most butterflies and birds.”

Milkweed in the center, surrounded by rose campion, blooms in Jen Carlson’s garden.

One of the featured gardens is curated by Master Gardener Jen Carlson. Her garden, Pollinator Paradise, includes flowers for pollinators and creates an environment that supports beneficial insects and wildlife. “I will be providing garden tour guests with information from Cornell Cooperative Extension regarding plant varieties that benefit bees and other pollinators, information on composting, and resources available to residents from CCE,” she explained in a recent email.

The Hallock House property will highlight gardens lovingly restored by Edith Mahler, a master gardener and trustee at the historical society, based on historical research of herb and flower gardens from the 1700s to the 1900s.

In addition, one of the stops on the tour will host a book signing and sale (cash only) of “Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family” by Rocky Point resident Kathy McKeon. As of press time, Weber was hoping to add a local artist as well.

Guests will be greeted at each stop by the homeowner, and each home will have refreshments to enjoy while taking in the beautiful scenery. Because the gardens are at various locations around Rocky Point, ticket holders can go where they please without a strict schedule to follow. 

A raised bed garden at the Hallock House. Photo by Edith Mahler

Tickets for the tour ($10 each, cash only) are available now through July 14 and may be purchased at Back to Basics, 632 Route 25A; Flowers on Broadway, 43 Broadway; Heritage Paint, 637 Route 25A; and Handy Pantry, 684 Route 25A, all in Rocky Point. 

Each ticket also includes admission to the Noah Hallock House (1721) at 172 Hallock Landing Road. The oldest standing house in Rocky Point, it features vintage furniture including a rocking horse from 1750, photographs of the Hallock family, a gallery room where local artists have donated paintings and many more artifacts that will transport guests back in time. The gift shop will also be open.

The 6th annual Rocky Point Garden Tour is sponsored by the Rocky Point Civic Association, Carlson Mechanical and the Rocky Point Funeral Home and was organized by volunteers on the Beautification Committee of the Rocky Point Civic Association. Proceeds from the tour will benefit the Rocky Point Civic Association and the Hallock House. For more information, please call 631-521-5726.

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is as happy as a clam to have received a $400,000 grant from New York State for use in its shellfish hatchery located at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Brookhaven’s Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced June 20 that the state Department of Environmental Conservation awarded it a grant to expand and upgrade the Mariculture Facility at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Long Island Coastal Steward President Denis Mellett shows growing shellfish at Brookhaven’s mariculture facility. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said shellfish play an important role in cleaning the town’s coastal waters.

“All the seeding that we do — and the ability to grow more — just contributes to cleaning the harbor even more,” Bonner said. “You put a couple million oysters in there, you have your own natural filtering system.”

Oysters and other shellfish help remove harmful nutrient pollutants in the water like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide. These shellfish also feed on algae, which improves water clarity.

Romaine said the grant will fund an upgrade to the facility’s power supply through PSEG, which will run new power lines and poles to the facility, a $275,000 operation. The grant also upgrades motors on existing water pumps to 20 horsepowers and allows for the installation of a new floating upweller system, or FLUPSY, where immature seedlings can be put into the water and be protected from predators. The unique design of FLUPSY incorporates a basket/silo combination to allow easy access to seed and extend the oysters further into the water column, creating more water pressure and higher water flow. Water flow from individual silos is dumped into a centrally located trough with a well and mounted pump to eliminate cavitation.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra checks oysters cages in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

Romaine said repopulating shoreline with shellfish will restore Long Island’s shellfish industry.

“It’s critical to have the ability for people to make a living collecting oysters and clams,” Romaine said. “[Oyster and clam fishermen] have had hard times, and these shellfish would restore that industry.”

The hatchery currently produces 1 million oyster seeds, 2 million clam seeds and 70,000 scallop seeds. The grant funds will enable the town to purchase an additional 2 million new seed clams. The hatchery is expecting to yield approximately 12 million hard clam seed and 3 million oysters by 2019, according
to Romaine.

The most recent group of oysters will be kept in cages over the winter and grow over another season, which starts in spring and runs into late fall. When they reach adult sizes, at about 1.5 inches large, they will be moved into protected plots along the North Shore.

Though town employees operate the Mount Sinai facility, the nonprofit Coastal Steward of Long Island is partnered with the Town of Brookhaven to use the hatchery for its educational shellfish monitoring programs. The town grows the bulk of the oysters inside its facility several yards beyond the beach sands, but the nonprofit helps to monitor the shellfish health inside Mount Sinai Harbor under normal conditions.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra, president Denis Mellett and treasurer Mark Campo at Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We clean them, we maintain them and we help them get to adulthood before they’re released,” Coastal Steward President Denis Mellett said. “Unlike the town we’re not trying to breed a million oysters — we’re
managing 50,000 oysters that we can look at and see how they’re growing, measure them and check the mortality.”

Bruce Folz, Coastal Steward director of shellfish restoration, said this year’s crop of shellfish have had better than average growth, and that the group is excited to see if the upgrades will help accelerate growth and
reduce mortality.

“They are important for structure and tidal erosion of the beaches,” Coastal Steward Treasurer Mark Campo said. “That is in addition to all the other benefits, such as the water filtering they provide.”

The grant is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) $10.4 million state initiative to improve Long Island’s water quality and coastal resilience by expanding shellfish populations. Other grants were awarded to the towns of East Hampton, Islip and Hempstead.

Brookhaven town board members unanimously adopted a $400,000 bond June 14 in case the grant money does not arrive by this fall, which is when renovation is expected to start, and continue through Spring 2019.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn and the Suffolk County Plastic Reduction Task Force calls on restaurants and residents to reduce straw use this summer at a press conference July 2 at The Purple Elephant in Northport. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

A Suffolk County legislator is asking residents to go strawless this summer, along with local participating restaurants pledging to keep from giving out plastic straws.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and members of the Suffolk County Plastic Reduction Task Force, have launched a countywide initiative to reduce single-use plastic straws, named Strawless Suffolk.

The goal is to have 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Labor Day, according to Hahn.

The initiative’s kickoff announcement was held July 2 at The Purple Elephant in Northport. It is one of 31 restaurants and two schools that have already taken the pledge.

The restaurants that pledge will be provided with a blue turtle decal that states “Strawless Summer 2018 Participant.”

“We can get rid of that throw away culture that we have and move toward reusing, rather than just trying to recycle.”

— Kaitlin Willig

“If you see the sticker, go back to those restaurants because they are doing the right thing,” Hahn said.

To be eligible, restaurants can participate in three ways: Stop using straws completely, provide biodegradable straws made with paper or bamboo upon request and/or provide reusable straws made of stainless steel or glass.

“The task force was created in order to reduce the single-use plastics,” said Kaitlin Willig, Stony Brook
University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and vice chair of Suffolk County Plastic Reduction Task Force. “I think we are trying to go about it in a way that educates people, so they make the choice themselves. We can get rid of that throw away culture that we have and move toward reusing, rather than just trying to recycle. We are trying to go through education and make smarter choices.”

Hahn said she’s been participating in beach cleanups for a long time and is always struck with how many straws she comes across.

“We’d go to a restaurant and it would make me so angry when they just put [a straw] in your drink without even saying anything,” Hahn said. “I mean it’s really just a waste. I can’t even say no at this point because it’s too late. If they put it down and it’s wrapped, I’ll just give it back.”

Hahn added that leaving the unused wrapped straw on the table is not enough. She worked in a restaurant and said it is common an unopened straw would be thrown out anyway. She directed those interested in getting involved to take their own pledge with the Skip the Straw campaign, a similar initiative tailored
to get individuals involved by Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting ocean health.

“I think individuals should think about trying to do it themselves,” Hahn said. “You know first and foremost you can be responsible for what you do as an individual and then you can also tell the restaurants you frequent. You can tell them they don’t need to, and they’ll save money if they don’t automatically give out straws. If they make it by request, they can save a lot and then if they do choose to provide some upon
request, make it paper.”

Nearly 90 percent of all marine debris is made of plastic, including plastic straws. Every day Americans discard half a billion plastic straws, many of which find their way into oceans and inland waterways,
according to the press release.

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With mounting pressure to preserve the sanctity of Long Island’s coastal waters, Suffolk County is teaming up with specialists at Stony Brook University to educate the public on marine pollution.

“Folks on Long Island are more involved with [marine pollution] than other parts of the country because they are spending time around the sound and beaches,” said Katherine Aubrecht, the faculty director for coastal environmental studies at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s such a bigger part of people’s lives, and there is a more receptive audience here to be thinking about this.”

The county Legislature unanimously passed a resolution June 5 to direct the Division of Planning & Environment in the Department of Economic Development and Planning to collaborate with SoMAS to establish a marine debris pollution awareness program.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Though it is just in its preliminary stages, according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) who sponsored the resolution, the awareness program would be used to educate school-aged children and the general public on the dangers of garbage pollution to the marine ecosystem.

“We want the education to be generalized, so that we can have flexibility in who we speak to and about what,” Anker said.

Anker said the two goals for the upcoming program are to educate the public on how we are affecting and degrading our oceans, and to teach people what they could do about it, including the need for beach cleanups and how to properly recycle plastics.

Aubrecht said that there are three unpaid interns from the Stony Brook University’s environmental humanities program charged with compiling data on ocean pollution, and looking into what other marine debris  education efforts exist on Long Island. Data is also being collected on demographics the program wishes to target with the campaign.

Kathleen Fallon, the coastal processes and hazards specialist for New York Sea Grant, said educating young people is of the utmost significance.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious,” she said. “Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

“Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Anker said she expects the program to have a full formal presentation ready by the end of next year. She also expects by next Earth Day, the debris awareness program will have presentations to show what citizens can do to help clean up the local marine environment.  

Microplastics ending up in local waters are among the most pressing issues on Long Island. Microplastics are plastics that have broken down due to erosion into pieces smaller than 5 millimeters — they end up being swallowed by sea life endangering the health of the animal and, if the issue is untreated, those plastics can easily end up on the dinner table.

At the county Legislature’s April 19 Health Committee meeting Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School research scientist and teacher, said she had surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and that in 1 square meter of shoreline, found 17 grams of microplastics. She said there were approximately 400 pounds of plastic in 1 mile of shoreline in the pond.

Aubrecht said that when these plastics enter a marine environment they can also cause organic pollutants — which are often too dispersed and not dangerous — to merge onto these plastics, but have a larger effect on marine wildlife. Ocean debris also cause animal entanglement, like a small fish or turtle getting caught in a plastic ring that holds a six-pack of cans. These entangled creatures often suffer major injuries or die if they can’t free themselves.

Though all these problems may seem daunting, Fallon said that education is the starting line in a race that will hopefully end with the elimination of marine pollutants and debris.

“A community that is made aware of the impact that they are having on their environment will hopefully be more likely to avoid harmful actions,” Fallon said.

Your adventure awaits! Photo from Sue Avery

By Karen Smith

There are days when we need a break from the general craziness of life, and we just want to get outdoors to walk in a peaceful place. Three Village residents are fortunate to have a number of options for this peaceful pursuit and one of the very loveliest is the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum, accessible through the parking lot of the adjacent and separately owned Frank Melville Memorial Park, 101 Main St., Setauket.

This “hidden haven” contains 4.5 acres of wooded pathways that meander through an open meadow, past 30 varieties of specimen trees and shrubs, and offers views of the Conscience Bay headwaters. It’s a habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, turtles and the rabbits, squirrels and deer that are found throughout our area. 

In early spring you can view the trees and shrubs starting to bud, and as the months pass there are flowers in bloom, then the fall colors and finally the stark beauty of winter. Each offers a different experience, but the feeling of tranquility always is there.

While the arboretum is open to the public, it is privately owned and maintained by the Three Village Garden Club, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Our volunteer and hardworking arboretum administrators oversee the planting of new trees, shrubs and plants, regular mowing of the meadow, removal of invasive plants and management of bamboo. In addition, arborists are called in as needed to remove tree limbs, and when necessary, entire trees. When required, wood chips are added to pathways to ensure that trails remain dry. 

The thousands of dollars expended annually on this maintenance by the TVGC is deemed necessary to ensure the safety of all visitors and the beauty of the property. 

In addition, many hours of volunteer work are provided by members of Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment (S.T.A.T.E.), part of the Avalon organization, and at times, Scouts and of course, garden club member-volunteers.

The arboretum also is used for educational purposes, chief among which are the Arbor Day celebration held in spring and the Meet the Trees program in the fall. 

Second-grade students from all elementary schools in the Three Village School district are invited to visit and have these “hands-on” experiences to supplement their science curriculum. For the past 10 years it also has been the site of a Teddy Bear Picnic for preschoolers and their parents, offering a walk through the property to introduce them to the natural environment.

You’re cordially invited to visit! Come with a friend or family member. Leashed pets are permitted. Enjoy this beautiful haven whenever you’re in the mood for a peaceful place!

Karen Smith is a member of the Three Village Garden Club.

Stock photo

The next couple of months are packed with celebrations, including high school and college proms and graduations. When planning any outdoor festivities, PSEG Long Island urges customers to think carefully
about how they handle Mylar balloons. Though they can make a party more festive, Mylar balloons can also cause power outages when they get loose and come in contact with electrical equipment.

The distinctive metallic coating on Mylar balloons conducts electricity. Because of this, when a Mylar balloon comes in contact with a power line, it can cause a short circuit. This short circuit can lead to power outages, fires and possible injuries.

To reduce the risk of outages and injuries, residents should keep the following safety tips in mind:

• Mylar balloons and other decorations should be kept away from overhead power lines and all utility equipment.

• Make sure balloons are secured to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Keep balloons tethered and attached to the weights at all times.

• Always dispose of Mylar balloons by safely puncturing the balloon in several places to release the helium that otherwise could cause the balloon to float away.

• Never touch a power line. Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon, toy or other type of debris that is entangled in an overhead power line. Call PSEG Long Island to report the problem at 800-490-0075 so crews can remove the item safely.

For more kite and balloon safety tips visit PSEG’s website.

Eric Powers shows participants a bat specimen.

By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Historical Society (SHS) teamed up with Ranger Eric Powers last Friday night to give our local bats a much needed helping hand. The North Shore community was invited to the historic Frank Brush Barn to learn about our mosquito-eating friends, build a bat house to take home and then stroll the grounds in hopes of catching a glimpse of these fascinating mammals.

David and Susan Henderson with their bat house

And the turnout was impressive as residents of all ages embraced the batty subject and enjoyed a wonderful educational evening. Participants were able to ask questions, had the opportunity to see a bat specimen up close and learned about the different styles of bat houses before assembling one of their own using plywood, screws and wood stain.

Powers was invited to present this program by Melissa Clements, the director of education at the SHS, who attended a bat workshop led by Powers a few months ago at Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington. “I had such a great time and enjoyed it so much,” she said, and couldn’t wait to bring Powers to Smithtown.

An ardent nature lover, Powers moved from Greeley, Colorado, to Long Island 20 years ago partially because “we live in this cool sweet spot where we have northern species and our own species and also southern species that come up — so there is this awesome convergence right here.”

Accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Gangsta, a 100-pound mush of a therapy dog, the wildlife biologist passionately spoke about one of his favorite animals, bats, and his mission to help them. “I’m focusing on bringing back nature, helping to restore the balance of nature, and a lot of that means supporting our natural ecosystem,” he said. And what better way to do that than with bats?

According to Powers, bats are important in so many ways. The only mammals that can fly, bats eat tons of flying insects including beetles, flies, moths, hatching termites and, most importantly, mosquitoes. “They’re out there eating bugs that are bugging us,” he laughed. They also play an important role as pollinators and seed dispersers.

Children stain their bat houses under the watchful eye of mom.

Aside from cats that are allowed to roam free, humans are the bat’s biggest threat. On top of dealing with habitat loss, “Everyone is spraying their property. There is such a chemical soup happening right now, all for killing bugs, killing beneficial insects,” he said sadly, continuing, “The bat’s food, flying bugs, is way down. The vast numbers of bugs are just not there anymore. And now, because we’re so out of balance with our ecosystem, the one thing that is surviving very well are mosquitoes.”

Before they got their hands dirty, Powers showed participants how to assemble a bat house, stressing that, when completed, it should be positioned at least 15 feet high on a tree or post and should be placed where the yard gets full sun from around noon to sunset. “Bats need a safe, warm place to hang out all day long.” Each bat house can accommodate up to 50 bats.

Dominick Domino of St. James decided to bring his daughter Hannah to the event. “It’s an activity we can do together,” he said. Hannah, who will attending summer camp at the historical society this summer, “is always interested about bats. She loves them.” The Dominos will be putting their new bat house in their garden.

Dominick and Hannah Domino show off their completed bat house.

David and Susan Henderson of Kings Park learned of the program on Instagram and decided to attend. “We love bats, they are just cute” said Susan, who received a bat house for Christmas. “We put it in our yard but we haven’t had bats yet so we were hoping to learn what we need to fix [to attract them].”

“We are looking forward to getting bats,” said David optimistically, as the couple finished assembling their second bat house.

For SHS Office Manager Victoria DelVento, the program was a great way to dispel any stigmas people have about bats and she was pleased with the wonderful and enthusiastic turnout. “Bats aren’t just for Halloween and they don’t suck your blood,” she laughed. “That was the point of this event.”

All photos by Heidi Sutton

The Town of Brookhaven has approved a license agreement to allow the town educator to live at the ranger's cottage, above, at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Town of Brookhaven is ensuring a trip to a local beach remains educational as well as enjoyable.

Nicole Pocchiare, Town of Brookhaven environmental educator, will be residing in the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The town board unanimously approved a license agreement between Brookhaven and town environmental educator Nicole Pocchiare June 14. The agreement allows Pocchiare to reside at the house known as the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was pleased about the board voting unanimously in favor of the license agreement and understanding the importance of having a continuous presence at the beach.

“I think having an environmental educator present at West Meadow Beach is a benefit to the entire community,” Cartright said. “It allows her to keep a close eye on the sensitive ecosystem there and also provide programs in a manner that’s not ‘9-to-5-ish.’ She does programs early in the morning — she has late evening programs — and I think that the community is appreciative of that.”

Eileen Gerle became the first environmental educator for the town in 2009, and when she retired in October 2014, Molly Hastings took over the position until her suspension in September 2016, which the town has not provided a reason for. While Pocchiare has been an environmental educator for the town since April 2017, Cartright said it took some time before someone could live at the cottage again after Hastings left because the town councilmembers felt it was beneficial to set up a license agreement, where the resident could only live in the home as long as they were a town educator.

Cartright said residents have been consistent in their requests that they wanted someone present at the cottage at all times.

“Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”

— Nicole Pocchiare

Civic leader Herb Mones, from Stony Brook, is one of those residents. He said he calls West Meadow Beach the “Fire Island of the North Shore” due to the similarities in views and native species, and feels it’s important the town has someone in place to educate beachgoers about its importance.

“I think it’s critical because it not only fulfills the state law for the preservation of West Meadow that stipulates that there be an environmental educator at the park, but what it does, it brings about a growing awareness and an appreciation for the ecosystem and the environment which is developed by their programs,” Mones said. “I think the more robust the program, the better the future for the park and the preserve.”

Pocchiare said she was excited to hear of the board’s approval because she feels it will make her job a bit easier living on the beach and also being close to West Meadow Creek. Currently, she has been traveling from her office at Brookhaven Town Hall whenever there is a program at the beach or someone is needed there. The educator said being on the grounds will make it easier to help representatives from organizations who may need to work on the site early in the morning or late at night. Most important of all, residing at the cottage will provide her more opportunities to interact with the public, even outside of town programs.

Nicole Pocchiare releases a butterfly during an environmental program at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

“It increases the appreciation and increases then the conservation of the beach,” she said. “Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”

Pocchiare said programs for the current year include educational activities for all ages including nature exploration, full moon and nature walks, and birding by the beach.

The educator, who currently lives in Selden and grew up in Holbrook, said she remembers going to West Meadow Beach for the first time 10 years ago and meeting Gerle.

“I remember loving this little beach,” she said. “I was used to the South Shore because I was a Sachem girl and grew up in Holbrook. But I think I’ve grown to really love the North Shore beaches. The sand flats that West Meadow has and those beautiful sunsets because of it being situated from north to south, overlooking the west. And then having the creek and the salt marsh on the other side of Trustees Road is something so unique to West Meadow which sets it apart from all the other beaches.”

Students learn about life cycles while helping to curb Long Island’s growing tick population

Fifty bobwhite quails are being raised at Mount Sinai Elementary School to be released at a park in Ridge. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai Elementary School fourth-graders are raising quails to help curb the tick population.

As part of a seven-year program, teacher Kevin Walsh works with students to raise a group of 50 bobwhite quails from eggs in a classroom incubator, then transfers them to a large pen located in the corner of the courtyard under heat lamps. The young students watch their project grow before their eyes and learn about the natural process of life.

“We teach the kids about food chains, about ecosystems, predator-prey relationships and the needs that all our creatures have to survive,” Walsh said. “We teach kids how to properly carefor living animals. It carries with them later in life.”

Mount Sinai Elementary School fourth-graders are in the process of raising 50 bobwhite quails. Photo by Kyle Barr

As similar as the quails are to one another, the fourth-graders who raised them said they could be distinguished by their look and personality.

One is named Michael Jackson, another Brittany, Roadrunner, Scooter and Beyoncé. The kids curled their fingers through links in the mesh fence and called the quails by name to see if they would touch their hands.

“They claim they can tell them apart,” said Walsh as he watched them, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ They all look the same to me.”

The school received the quail eggs in April and watched the quails hatch inside their classroom incubator. By the end of this month, the quails will have reached the size of a grown man’s fist. By the time they are released in July at Brookhaven State Park in Wading River, the teacher said he expects them to double in size.

“Back when I first started last July, one of the first things I saw out here was [Walsh] standing in the courtyard tending to the quails,” said principal Rob Catlin, who is finishing his first year at the helm of the elementary school. “He’s out there seven days a week. In summers and on Memorial Day weekend — he’s coming in to check on them.”

Quails, as birds who stay close the ground, are a natural predator for ticks, whose population has swelled in recent years. If the problem wasn’t already as front and center as it was for Walsh, two years ago he was infected with Lyme disease, and for days was cooped up in his home suffering pains and a fever.

“We teach the kids about food chains, about ecosystems, predator-prey relationships and the needs that all our creatures have to survive.”

— Kevin Walsh

The disease can be debilitating and infectious, and causes severe headaches, joint aches and tiredness, especially if not treated immediately. Left untreated the disease can potentially cause paralysis in the face, heart palpitations and memory issues.

“Luckily I got the meds really quickly, but I haven’t been that sick in a long time,” Walsh said. “I had aches, pains, a high fever and was sweating like crazy. This project has taken on a more personal meaning since then.”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said without Walsh there would be no quails.

“It’s near impossible to find a guy as dedicated as Kevin,” Brosdal said.

Walsh recalled moving to the suburbs of Long Island from the city, and how his mother called his father at work, excited to learn their new home came with a flock of chickens. She later learned they were a flock of brown speckled bobwhite quails.

With changing times, Long Island’s quail population has changed, too, seeing a severe decline due to loss of habitat and excess predation.

“The quail like open landscapes – really sunlit areas,” Walsh said. “And a lot of the places left on Long Island are wooded, heavily forested or turned into developed land.”

Local biologist Eric Powers said household cats have also made a huge dent in population.

“It’s pretty simple math — one plus one,” Powers said. “You add cats to an environment and they just decimate the local ground dwelling animal population, particularly the birds.” 

Mount Sinai Elementary School teacher Kevin Walsh shows off one of the 50 bobwhite quails his class is raising. Photo by Kyle Barr

Walsh receives his quails every year through a program developed by Powers back in 2002 for the dual purpose of rejuvenating the local quail population while curbing the rising tick problem, which gets worse every year with a lack of natural predators.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of illnesses related to ticks, mosquitos and fleas have tripled from 2004 to 2016, with 69,313 diseases reported from ticks in New York state in that time. In 2013, the CDC estimated that nationally there were 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually, which is carried by deer tick.

Brosdal’s daughter Erika suffered through the pains of Lyme disease when she was 13 years old. As a father, watching his daughter lay in pain on the couch was heartbreaking.

“She couldn’t breathe,” Brosdal said. “It affected her so terribly – she was an A-grade student until that happened, and then she had to read everything twice. I give her a lot of credit — she’s 44 now and has two master’s degrees and she’s a high school psychologist.”

Brosdal said the quails have an important job to do and “can do a lot of good.” 

Powers said multiple schools participate in his program and will release the quails in parks all over Long Island. If any school or group is interested in raising quails, Powers can be contacted through www.yc2n.com.
_______________________________________________________

Tips and tricks when handling ticks
By Desirée Keegan

According to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, over 900 calls were received from people seeking advice from its tick helpline in 2017.

A free tick kit provided by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital includes tweezers, a magnifying glass and sanitizing wipes. Photo by Desirée Keegan

If a tick is found on your body, there are ways to safely remove it:

• Tweezers are the best tool and should be placed as close to the skin as possible — grabbing the tick’s head.

• Pull upward with a slow and steady motion and try to avoid breaking the tick in half. If the head snaps off, know disease transmission is not possible without the entire body.

• Disinfect the bit area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water and contact a physician. Consider placing the tick in a baggie or pill vial.

• Pay attention to your health in the weeks following.

There are also ways to reduce your exposure, like checking for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees or between legs and on the hairline and scalp.
Remove and dry clothing on high heat as soon as possible to kill ticks. They can’t be drowned by washing. You can create a tick-safe yard by mowing frequently and keeping leaves raked. Also be sure to treat dogs and cats.

One tick can carry multiple pathogens. Deer ticks or blacklegged ones have no white markings, are brown or black in color and are very, very small. Both nymph and adult stages can transmit diseases like Lyme and babesiosis.

For more information on handling and treating ticks or for a free removal kit visit www.eastendtickresource.org or call the helpline at 631-726-TICK (8425).

Social

9,204FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,119FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe