Environment & Nature

A juvenile male common yellowthroat. Photo by Joe Kelly

By Joseph Kelly

Those of you that view the work of nature photographers may enjoy the photographs of birds without thinking very much about what goes into these shots. “A bird. On a branch. Pretty bird.” While these are correct and true observations, they don’t really capture what is actually involved in taking a photograph of a bird, or any wild animal for that matter. 

I’m not complaining or bemoaning my lot in life. In fact, I’m hoping that parts of this little essay will bring a smile to your face. Mix in some nature, a little humor and a dash of knowledge, bake for 30 minutes and maybe we’ll all get to enjoy some wild creatures and places. And maybe we, or our children, will try to preserve the recipe.

Okay, back to the premise at hand. I was talking about photographing birds before I went all philosophical there. It happens, get over it. Photographing birds is not as easy as one might think. First off, you have to find the bird. I know, I know: They’re everywhere, right? But they’re not. Not really. We all have robins or sparrows or blue jays or crows in our backyards. Or pigeons for you city dwellers. But if I or any other wildlife photographer just took pics of those guys, we wouldn’t generate much interest. People might get to thinking that they’d seen all there was to see and why seek for more? No one would want to preserve open spaces or parklands. They wouldn’t understand the why of it.

I did it again. I was talking about finding birds and I went all sideways with it. So, really, you have to find the bird. You need to go where the birds are, whether it’s a park, a river or wetlands, a seashore or wherever. Again, you need to go where the birds are. You’re not done yet. Even when you’re in the right place, you still need to find your quarry. It’s not like birds are lining up to meet you. 

I have friends that can find and identify birds by their calls. I am not so gifted. I have several CDs of bird calls but I find my retention for such recordings — or lack thereof — do not help me in the field. Also, I am mostly deaf in one ear so even if I could recognize a particular call, zeroing in on the location of a particular call is nigh on impossible. By the way, I can hardly believe I found an excuse to use the word “nigh” in a sentence.

Okay, so you’re in a right place and you’ve found a bird. You don’t always see it right off. Sometimes, it’s just a rustle among the branches or a disturbance in the flowers. But it’s a bird. It’s right there, maybe just a few feet away. You know it’s there. Maybe you can even hear it. But can you see it? Can you get a photograph? Is that bird sitting there, proud and dignified, waiting for you to take its picture? Most times, at least for me, the answers are no, no and no. Birds flit and fly from branch to branch and from tree to tree. It turns out that the darn things have wings.

But sometimes, those sweet wonderful sometimes, you get lucky. The bird peeks out from the foliage or the flowers and is right there. All you need to do then is put it in focus. And that is an entirely different conversation. 

A resident of Stony Brook, Joseph Kelly is the official photographer of the Four Harbors Audubon Society. Visit his blog at www.joekayaker.com.

A feral cat in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a right-of-way in Mount Sinai, the exact location volunteers preferred not to publicize, a number of cats stalk through the cover of tall grass on silent paws. Upon hearing human sounds, they scatter deeper into the weeds.

“Babies, babies, momma’s here,” Miller Place resident Rita Miszuk called to the wild felines as she refilled water and food trays. She said she didn’t want to give away too many specifics of the location out of fear more cats will be dropped there and left in need of care.

Miszuk is the president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc., a nonprofit that aids feral cat colonies across Long Island. Her group tries to infiltrate cat communities, taking the animals to places where they can be vaccinated, spayed and neutered, often on the organization’s own dime. Miszuk said she sometimes spends thousands of dollars to humanely control the number of wild cats roaming free.

Rita Muszik, a Miller Place resident and president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc. cares for feral cat communities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There were 50 here, but we’ve gotten them down to 11 — they’re all healthy and they’re all taken care of,” Miszuk said. “This is what typical rescuers do.”

They’re not her cats, in fact they’re nobody’s cats. They’re considered “feral,” but that word belies the terrorized nature of these animals left in the wild. They’re shy, they’re alone, and there are more and more every year.

Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross estimated, using the organization’s own metrics, approximately 322,000 cats live in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats. For every four people in the county, there is approximately one cat.

The number of rescue groups, along with the amount of trap, neuter and release programs that attempt to capture these animals, care for them and sterilize them before releasing them back into their original environment, has gone up of late. Still, Gross said the problem only continues to grow as cats continue to breed and people leave unneutered cats in homes as they move away.

“The population is out of control,” Gross said. “[Rescue groups] put a dent in them, but there are just so many cats out there.”

One female cat can give birth to three litters in a year with an average litter of five. Multiply that by their offspring and one cat can become 225 in a year. Erica Kutzing, vice president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, suggested the problem is exacerbated by the warming climate. Where cats used to become pregnant only in the summer months, she said she is now seeing pregnant cats give birth as early as March or February as they get pregnant later in the year.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat,’” Kutzing said. “It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

A number of animal shelters exist across the North Shore, and many of them host TNR programs. Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton provides spaying and neutering for $50 per cat. Sometimes if the shelter is able to secure a grant, the price can drop to $20.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat. It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

— Erica Kutzing

Some shelters are expanding their TNR capabilities. In June, the Town of Smithtown accepted a grant to build a new TNR building at the Smithtown Animal Shelter that will expand the town’s capturing capacity, as representatives of the shelter said they estimated Smithtown hosts around 30 to 40 different cat colonies. The town plans to start construction after it receives the funds in 2019, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

David Ceely, the executive director of Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center, which is also the managing organization for the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, said it offers residents free TNR services to deal with feral cat communities. Still, the problem is so large Little Shelter often relies on volunteers and community members to manage cat populations.

“We’re one shelter, so to go out there and take care of all of them physically we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ceely said. “But thankfully there are people in the community who want to do the right thing, and we want to support that.”

Otherwise getting a cat spayed and neutered could cost up to hundreds of dollars per cat, depending on the animal shelter or veterinarian. It means doing TNR on an entire colony could create an incredibly restrictive cost barrier.

“We just did 24 cats in Stony Brook and the final price was about $1,400,” Kutzing said. “That came from our own funds.”

Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said small rescue groups are not large enough to combat the problem, and there is a need for community members to get involved with their own local feral cat communities.

“We get at least 20 calls a month, such as about kittens under a deck or cats with an upper respiratory infection,” Floridia said. “We handle what we can but we’re a small organization.”

Worse still is the proliferation of cats has made the population start to seem like an infestation or a blight. This mindset has fostered an environment in which some commit horrendous crimes against cats, including maiming and torturing the animals. All cats, not just domestic cats, are considered a “companion animal” by the state.

Harming them is a Class E felony punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Taking a cat to another location is considered abandonment and is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There are people out there who are sadistic criminals who go out and find easy prey, generally the kittens,” Gross said. “We have had people in the past drive spikes through them, behead them, impale them, poison them — just horrible acts of animal cruelty. Some of those people are just sadistic, but in cases like poison some people just don’t like these cats roaming around on their property.”

Beyond acts of violence, many residents either don’t know what to do or don’t feel it’s their concern. If people do not interact with these community cats by either taking them to a TNR program or by feeding them, then either the cats numbers grow exponentially or they will start to die.

“Without these people who take care of the cat colonies, we would have cats starving to death,” Kutzing said. “There would just be cat bodies littered everywhere.”

Many groups and shelters like Strong Island or Little Shelter offer local residents opportunities to use their cages to trap the animals so they can later be spayed and neutered. Kutzing said if the cost prohibits a resident from acting on a cat population, they should try and get their neighbors involved and make it a community fund. After all, the community cat problem is a community issue.

“If everyone gets involved, this problem will be drastically cut,” she said.

Miszuk said while her group does what it can, she needs local businesses, residents and especially local government to step in and help, otherwise the problem will only get worse.

“This problem has been swept under the carpet,” Miszuk said. “We need support to say that we are legitimate first responders.”

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

By Herb Herman

“The charmed ocean’s pausing, the waves lie still and gleaming, and the lulled winds seem dreaming,” wrote Lord Byron, an 18th-century British poet.

Yet is our ocean, in which scientists estimated in 2014 that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris, still charmed? Of that, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea. The United Nations estimated in 2006 every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. According to a University of Georgia study, about 19 billion pounds of plastic trash winds up in our oceans each year.

Durability is one of plastic’s chief properties, which is the reason plastics present a seemingly endless threat to the marine environment. And the oceans are not the only repository of pollutants. Approximately 40 percent of the lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming. More than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by plastic pollution every year.

One of the main culprits of this high level of ocean, lake and river pollution is from industrial sources, an abundant source of plastics in various forms. Further contributors to pollution are municipalities’ garbage, a significant quantity of which ends up in our waterways. But boaters are not by any means innocent. Virtually all boaters have plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups, plastic wrappers and more onboard. Much of this detritus finds its way overboard instead of into designated garbage bags, which should be removed when departing a boat. Remember, plastics are not degradable. And while plastic bags and other items may be labeled as biodegradable, in most cases they will only break down at temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius, a temperature not normally reached in the ocean.

Hurricane Irma resulted in an enormous number of fiberglass boat wrecks in the Florida Keys. In an effort to clean up after the hurricane, many of the boats were crushed, giving off fiberglass particulates. This airborne pollutant made many people ill, to the extent that a number of residents had to be hospitalized. There is no acceptable way to recycle fiberglass, although means for doing just that are widely sought.

Further, plastic microparticles less than 5 millimeters in size, have shown up in the stomachs of marine life. These particles can be consumed by humans, causing still not clearly understood health problems, although it is believed these toxins can cause cancer and stunt the growth of fetuses. The U.N. has further recognized the possibility of these plastic microparticles acting as vehicles for transporting diseases such as Zika and Ebola from animals to humans.

So, you might ask, why bother us, the boating public with these lectures about keeping the trash in the boat and disposing of it responsibly? It might seem that boats contribute a marginal amount of pollution. However, for example, during an average summer, Port Jefferson Harbor has almost 600 resident boats and some 6,000 transients and is a busy cruising destination from May through October. One can imagine the amount of plastic pollution this number of boats could contribute to this beautiful body of water.

“Take it with you” should be emblazoned on all boaters’ minds.

Herb Herman is the public affairs officer for the USCG Auxiliary Port Jefferson Flotilla 014-22-06. He is a distinguished professor emeritus at Stony Brook University.

File photo

Town of Brookhaven is harnessing the power of the sun.

Tara McLaughlin, Brookhaven’s deputy commissioner of planning, announced at the July 12 board meeting the town had received the bronze designation from SolSmart, an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, which helps municipalities across the country expand solar energy options and recognizes the ones that do so. Brookhaven applied for the designation in 2017, according to McLaughlin.

“As I am a competitive person always striving to achieve more, I am confident with small changes and installation of solar panels on several town buildings, next year we will at least attain the silver award,” she said.

The deputy commissioner said the town processed about 2,000 permits for solar power installation last year and expects to process at least that many in 2018.

“The world is changing, people are realizing, why not use the sun,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

In addition, the town is planning to install solar panels at Town Hall, the Pennysaver Amphitheater and Brookhaven Calabro Airport. The Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, a government department that selects projects to provide financial assistance in the form of tax reducing agreements, announced July 9 it had accepted applications for economic incentives for the airport and Town Hall installations, pledging to provide $4.6 million in assistance.

By Anthony Petriello

A decomposing beaked whale, not
typically seen near shore, found in Miller Place July 19 caused a stir on social media. Photo from Andrea Costanzo

Pictures of a carcass of a mysterious creature that washed up on the beach in Miller Place discovered by a resident July 19 have been circulating around the local community on Facebook. The photos were provided to TBR News Media by Facebook user Andrea Costanzo, who said they were taken by her father. According to the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the creature has been identified as a beaked whale, a type of whale typically found in the deep ocean, although the exact species of beaked whale is yet to be determined. When found, the whale was in advanced stages of decomposition, making it difficult to determine what exactly it was, conjuring thoughts of the Loch Ness monster or other mythical creatures on social media.   

The SPCA speculated that the whale had gotten sick and swam into the Long Island Sound seeking shelter. The whale was taken off the beach and transported to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in Hampton Bays. According to AMCS Executive Director and Chief Scientist Rob DiGiovanni, very little has been determined as to why the whale became sick or how exactly it ended up on the Miller Place beach due to the advanced stage of decomposition of the animal, making it difficult to ascertain many facts. It was determined through necropsy, however, that the whale did not die due to the ingestion of marine debris such as plastic or metal.

Beaked whales dive for an hour, sometimes two, and surface for just a few minutes to take a series of rapid breaths before diving again, according to New Scientist, an online science and technology magazine. They routinely reach 3,200 feet beneath the surface, while some have been measured as far as 10,000 feet down.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board have taken steps that would allow the construction of a power plant in Yaphank, complicating the status of Port Jefferson's LIPA-run plant. File photos by Alex Petroski

It’s one step forward, two steps back for Caithness Energy, LLC in Brookhaven.

After securing a win in its efforts to advance the construction of a 600-megawatt power plant in Yaphank earlier this month, Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer informed by Brookhaven Town its special use permit for the site expired July 15.

The special use permit, initially approved in 2014,  granted Caithness permission to build a power plant on the site, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. It was granted for two years and  one-year extensions were approved twice, which is the limit under town law.

“We’re looking into it, but believe it has no bearing and we look forward to the next steps before the Planning Board,” Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement.

The possibility that the permit might have expired was first raised by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) during a July 12 meeting. She abstained from voting on a motion to lift a restrictive covenant preventing the project’s advancement due to amendments made to Caithness’ original 2014 plans, which included a reduction to the plant’s output capacity and updated technology. The other five councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted to remove the covenant.

“They’ll have to file a new application for the special permit and we’ll certainly accept it,” Eaderesto said.
The town attorney noted Caithness still has a pending site plan application before the Planning Board, which would remain as such as a new special use permit is sought.

The proposed project has drawn opposition for its potential environmental impact from groups like Sierra Club Long Island and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

In addition, Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has spoken out against the proposal, warning the construction of a second Caithness plant could push her community “off the economic cliff.”

The village has argued a way to make good with Long Island Power Authority over its decreasingly needed plant — and LIPA’s legal contention its Port Jeff plant’s property tax value is over-assessed and has been for years — could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plan, according to the village.

Port Jeff Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA, that will likely result in a gradual decrease in revenue from the plant’s property taxes, which help fund budgets for the village, Port Jefferson School District, the fire department and the public library.

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

Water is a basic need and should be considered a right. In the Earth Day Legislative Package in June, the New York State Legislature included a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution that would ensure that clean water and air are treated as fundamental rights for all New Yorkers. The bill prioritized keeping contamination like dangerous chemicals and pesticides out of our drinking water. Unfortunately, although it passed in the Assembly, it was not passed in the Senate.

All the water for Long Islanders comes from our three underground aquifers, including the water in our bays and harbors, lakes, ponds and streams. Experts tell us that some of the water in the uppermost aquifer is no longer safe to drink. 

In the deeper aquifer (the Magothy), nitrogen and pesticides have increased by 200 percent between 1987 and 2005. Nitrogen pollution creates algal blooms in most of our bays, breeds weeds that choke lakes and ponds and threatens our fisheries and our recreation. 

The deepest and oldest of aquifers (the Lloyd) is small; water is being withdrawn from it, resulting in salt water intrusion in the Sound and Great South Bay. Although surface waters require nutrients, such as nitrogen, to support healthy ecosystems, excessive nitrogen can cause aquatic weed growth that draws oxygen from the water, producing “dead zones” where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that aquatic life cannot survive. 

To preserve its land, the five eastern towns (Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island) in 1998 created a community preservation fund, paid for by a 2 percent real estate transfer tax to purchase land to provide watershed protection through open space. (Recently, out of concern with nitrogen, referenda in the eastern towns have made it possible to use up to 20 percent for nitrogen removal.)  

Nitrogen intrusion has been attributed to two factors: wastewater from cesspools and runoff from lawn and agricultural fertilizer. In 2017, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) introduced a Septic Improvement Program to replace existing cesspools and septic tanks with new systems that averaged an output of 9.2 mL of nitrogen, compared with systems that discharged anywhere from 40 to 120 mL in influent flows. To encourage homeowners to enroll in the program, the state, the county and Southampton and East Hampton offered grants and loans to cover the cost of the installation. The homeowner pays the maintenance.

The 2015-16 New York State budget appropriated funds to the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the Indian Nations, local governments and interested organizations, to create the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, or LINAP. Data, sorted by watershed, will make it possible to assess conditions and assist with prioritization. A project management team is responsible for LINAP administration and management, but local ownership and direction in its development is key. 

In addition to public education, a bill to reduce the intrusion of discarded pharmaceuticals into the water supply through the Drug Take Back Act passed in both the Assembly and the Senate and was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in early July. 

In April of 2018, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of any lawn fertilizer in Suffolk and Nassau counties with more than 12 percent nitrogen, with at least half of it water insoluble. It passed in the Assembly but when introduced in the Senate by Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), it failed on the grounds that it is not certain that the nitrogen in the fertilizer is the major cause — that the 12 percent limit is arbitrary and unscientific.  

Many local coalitions and organizations are involved in the campaign to keep our waters clean. They have lobbied and raised awareness. But even more action by Suffolk County voters is needed. On Nov. 6, voters will elect New York State Assembly and Senate members. If you are concerned about the quality of our water supply, let the candidates in your districts know that nitrogen intrusion is an important issue and urge them to support measures to remove it. 

For more information, visit the websites of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Group for the East End, Water for Long Island and the Nature Conservancy.

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, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

A yellow-crowned night-heron takes a sip of water. Photo by Patricia Paladines

By John L. Turner

If you like to spend time in early evening sitting on the southernmost bench at West Meadow Beach, enjoying the panoramic view of Stony Brook Harbor in the shadow of the Gamecock Cottage, you’ve probably seen or heard them. Feeding at the mouth of West Meadow Creek or along the main channel to the harbor or perhaps hearing their distinctive “wonk or quonck” call as one or more fly past. These are the night-herons and two species call the Three Village area home — the common black-crowned night-heron and the less common yellow-crowned night-heron.

They are called night-herons because of their habit of feeding most actively during sunset and into the night. This habit is reflected in their scientific names: Nycticorax nycticorax for the black-crowned night heron (nycticorax meaning “night raven” for their “wonk” sounding call they emit at dusk and through the night) and Nyctanassa violacea for the yellow-crowned night heron, meaning “a violet-colored night queen.”  

A black-crowned night-heron searches for his next meal. Photo by Luke Ormand

On Long Island these two species inhabit the salty coast, rarely found away from the island’s salty brine environs. It is here they call home, feeding on the marine life that sustains adults and young alike. For black-crowned night-herons this means an assortment of fish, mussels, crustaceans, even the occasional mouse; whereas for the yellow-crowned it means almost exclusively crabs, which make up 90 to 95 percent of their diet. Fiddler and mud crabs beware! Because of their diet, night-herons, like owls, regurgitate pellets.

Watching them hunt is to observe a lesson in patience. With Zen-like focus they remain motionless or move very slowly through shallow water or along mud banks, essentially blending into the background so their prey no longer sees them for the predators they are. Then with a lightening strike it’s too late.

While they look similar, appearing as chunky wading birds lacking the grace of the egrets and great blue heron, they are easy to tell apart. The black-crowned has a “two-toned” quality with wings and a neck that’s gray with a dark back and crown. In contrast, the yellow-crowned is uniformly dark gray (sometimes casting a violet to purplish color as mentioned above) and has a distinctive and diagnostic white cheek patch, and a namesake yellow crown. Both species have long attractive plumes emanating from the back of their heads.

Identifying the juveniles, however, is more difficult. They both appear as chocolate brown birds with a lot of spotting. At closer glance there are clues to use to separate the species: the juvenile yellow-crowned has an all black bill while the young black-crowned heron’s bill is yellowish. Also, the yellow-crowned has a slenderer aspect to it with longer legs and finer spotting.   

A yellow-crowned night-heron. Photo by John L. Turner

They nest in loose colonies often in association with other wading bird species such as snowy and great egrets. Young’s Island situated in the mouth of Stony Brook Harbor is a good place to observe these mixed species wading bird rookeries. The scruffy looking young are nothing short of comical looking with fine hairlike feathers splayed this way and that like the hair style of a mad scientist.

And it was scientists who realized they were declining many decades ago for the same reason that caused bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican populations to plummet — the widespread use of DDT, a persistent pesticide that affected the ability of birds higher on the food chain (those that eat animals) to produce eggshells. Fortunately, with DDT being banned by the EPA in the early 1970s, night-herons and these other species have largely recovered.

Interestingly, the effort to ban DDT began here in the Three Village Area when a number of local scientists like Charlie Wurster and Bob Smoelker, among others, joined with other concerned scientists to form the Environmental Defense Fund as a means to galvanize public support for banning the chemical. Now an effective environmental organization with an international reach, EDF began in the Three Village Area with the first office being on the second floor of the Stony Brook Village Center right behind the famous flapping bald eagle (likely the only eagle on Long Island at the time with no DDT in its tissues!).  

You can bask in the glow of this good news of ecological healing as you sit attentive on that southward facing bench at West Meadow Beach, waiting for the herons of sunset to appear.   

John L. 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 and Natural History Tours.

Hurdles remain for project, which could have environmental and economic implications

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

They’ve got the power.

Brookhaven Town voted 6-0 with one abstention in favor of lifting a restrictive covenant on an application by Caithness Energy LLC to construct a new, 600-megawatt energy generation plant in Yaphank at a July 12 meeting. When the board approved the independent power producer’s initial 2014 application, when it sought to construct a 750-megawatt facility, it imposed strict regulations aimed at preventing Caithness from making any changes to its plans, or face starting over from square one getting approvals. The power company asked town officials to lift the covenant for its present-day plans that feature newly available technology — which is what required the second vote, preceded by a June 26 public hearing.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) abstained from the July 12 vote after voting against the application in 2014, which passed 5-2. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted “no” in 2014, but approved the lifting of the restrictive covenant this time around.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright voted against Caithness’ application in 2014, and abstained from the vote to remove a restrictive covenant on the application July 12. File photo by Erika Karp

“In requiring such covenant proposed in 2015, the town board did not intend to require the applicant return for covenant amendments when technology changes or improves, or to construct a less impactful energy generating facility,” Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto read from her office’s findings on the matter. “In fact, the town board finds that in consideration of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the town, the town shall not regulate or restrict the technology that may be used by the applicant.”

Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement the company was pleased to hear the town had repealed the restriction.

“We now look forward to consideration and approval of the site plan filed with the Planning Board for what will be the region’s cleanest, most fuel-efficient, and most water-conserving power plant,” Ain said.

Cartright explained she was abstaining from the vote to repeal the restrictive covenant because she thought a vote to either approve or disapprove of Caithness’ entire application would be more appropriate. She also raised a concern about the special use permit issued to Caithness in 2014, which according to her interpretation of town law, expired July 15, 2018.

“That’s under consideration,” Eaderesto said of Cartright’s concern in a phone interview.
The town attorney said she expected the Planning Board to decide if Caithness will be required to reapply for the special use permit for the Yaphank site this week.

Don Miller, a spokesman for Caithness Energy, did not respond to a question raised by email regarding Cartright’s suggestion the company’s special use permit expired Sunday.

Caitness’ renewed request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with Long Island Power Authority over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on the 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 constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Ain, as of June 26 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.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff.”

— Margot Garant

The June 26 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. Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down June 26.

“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,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright. The mayor said she has sent a similar inquiry to the town board as was raised by Cartright regarding the life of the applicant’s special use permit, though has yet to hear back from Brookhaven.

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 June 26 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.”

This post was updated July 17 to include comment from Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant.

The failing jetties have been cited as a contributor to erosion at Port Jefferson Village's East Beach

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Officials believe one of the few things that stands in the way of further erosion of Port Jefferson Village’s East Beach, which sits on the Long Island Sound at the end of Village Beach Road, are jetties, or rock pilings meant to protect the shoreline, at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor, just east of the Port Jeff beach. With the two town-owned structures in need of restoration, Brookhaven is looking for some additional funding.

The Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously at a July 12 meeting to submit grant applications to the New York State Green Innovations Grant Program and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for additional money to work on the jetty reconstruction project.

The $8.6 million jetty project has been in the works for several years, but only truly got underway in 2016. The town is seeking reimbursement of about $1.3 million through the grants. The resulting $7.3 million net cost would be financed through an existing $3 million Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally provided through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and $4.3 million from a previous town bond resolution.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the old east and west jetties have holes from rocks collapsing, which allows sand to stream through. Age has not been kind to either structure, and the seaward sides of both jetties remain submerged at high tide. Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy caused further damage to the jetties over subsequent years.

With the money the town already has along with these new grant bids, Bonner said she is optimistic reconstruction of the jetties will start some time in 2019.

“Those holes create a current at high tide that allows sand to get through,” Bonner said. “We are completely committed to taking all the necessary steps to make sure this gets done right.”

Brookhaven is the only Long Island municipality in charge of jetties, as the Army Corps of Engineers maintains all others, according to Bonner.

Brookhaven has also hired Melville-based Nelson & Pope Engineers & Land Surveyor, PLLC to at a cost of $151,800 for help in the Mount Sinai Harbor dredging project. The dredging will widen the inlet and relieve the pressure of the water hitting the jetties at high tide, according to Bonner. Widening the inlet will help flush out Mount Sinai Harbor, which would lead to cleaner water for both fish living in the harbor and the town’s shellfish at its mariculture facility.

The failing jetties have had an impact on the shoreline of Port Jeff Village. The bottom 15 feet of the bluff along East Beach had fallen 260 feet west of the rock revetment, according to a 2016 letter from Stony Brook-based GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by the village, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion. GEI also stated that repairs to the jetties should be the first step in alleviating erosion issues.

Bonner said some of the preliminary work already done has helped relieve the flow of water coming into the inlet and through the jetties, but until the real reconstruction starts the erosion of the local beach remains a problem.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Mount Sinai Harbor contributes millions of dollars to community through tourism.

“It’s a very special harbor,” Anker said. “Repairing the channel should be a primary concern.”

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