Environment & Nature

Solar shingles shine on the roof of a Long Island home. Photo from Division 7

The idea of installing solar panels to a roof as a source of electricity for a home is not exactly prehistoric.

Reducing the use of electricity or gas to power and heat homes undoubtedly has a positive effect on the environment. Despite being fairly new to the market, solar panels may be supplanted soon by a less expensive, more effective alternative.

Solar shingles have been available in the United States for about five years, according to an estimate by Richard Ciota, a Stony Brook resident who owns Division 7 Inc. Ciota’s 21-year-old roofing company is located in Lake Grove. Its residential division is the only one in the Suffolk County, Nassau County and New York City areas permitted to sell Dow Powerhouse solar shingles.

Solar panels have been available for decades, Ciota said in an interview at Division 7’s main office. They are at this point more efficient in generating electricity than shingles in terms of kilowatts per-square-foot of roof space, though there are problems associated with panels that contribute to the higher cost Ciota said.

“When you’re putting a solar panel onto a roof surface, you’re mounting that solar panel to the rafters through the existing roof,” Ciota said about the older technology, which his company offered prior to the availability of shingles. “So the waterproof technology has got to be perfect because you could be putting 40, 50, 60 penetrations through a perfectly good roof.”

Solar shingles are installed onto the roof of a Long Island residence. Photo from Division 7
Solar shingles are installed onto the roof of a Long Island residence. Photo from Division 7

Wind, shade from trees, excessive heat and animals are other factors that Ciota said are enemies to solar panels, which are installed on top of asphalt shingles and leave wiring exposed to the elements. Wind can cause the panels to pull the asphalt shingles away from the roof, which is an annoying and costly problem to have to fix after panels are installed.

Solar shingles replace asphalt shingles. They are waterproof and work in the same way that any conventional asphalt shingle would along with the added benefit of a reduced electric bill and a more environmentally friendly home than one that runs on electricity or gas heating.

Despite availability and the obvious benefits, solar panels only currently exist on about 5 percent of Long Island homes, according to Ciota. The number of homes with solar shingles is exponentially smaller.

John Petroski, Division 7’s director of solar and residential operations, estimated that the company has done about 70 shingle installations on Long Island since 2012 when Dow partnered with Division 7 Inc. Petroski said they have about 35 booked jobs left to complete, as part of Dow’s pilot program, which offered leasing or purchasing options to consumers.

“The way [Dow] is moving forward with the technology of the shingles, the improvements they’re making — they’re covering their bases,” Petroski said in reference to the notion that unanticipated issues have arisen as solar panels have gotten older, which could also happen to the shingles.

“I personally think the solar shingle will take over the marketplace,” Ciota said about the future as the technology continues to be upgraded. “There are new generations of solar shingles that will be coming out that will increase its efficiency and eventually they’ll probably tie up and meet [the efficiency of panels].”

Other companies sell solar shingles on Long Island, though Dow’s are widely considered to be on the cutting edge. In 2012 Dow received a Breakthrough Award from the magazine Popular Mechanics for pioneering an integrated solar roofing system, according to a press release on Dow’s website.

Note: John Petroski, director of solar and residential operations, is this writer’s brother.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, right. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is inviting all North Shore residents to attend a community forum looking into potential visions for the future of Route 25A in Stony Brook and Setauket.

The forum is scheduled for June 30, at 6 p.m., inside the Stony Brook School’s Kanas Commons, located at 1 Chapman Parkway, Stony Brook.

RSVPs can be sent to jlmartin@brookhaven.org, or call (631) 451-6963 by June 26.

Mute swans peruse the Setauket Harbor waters. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Susan Risoli

Mute swans might soon have an easier relationship with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, if a bill recently passed through the York State Legislature is signed into law.

The legislation was written to require DEC to provide scientific documentation that mute swans are a threat to the environment. Also, before taking any action to control the state’s mute swan population, the DEC would have to hold at least two public hearings and give the public at least 45 days to comment on its plans for dealing with the birds.

The legislation package passed the state Assembly June 9 and had passed the state Senate on April 22.

Mute swans, a non-native species from Europe, are considered an invasive species, according to the state DEC. Trumpeter swans, also found in New York, are native to the region and are not included in the DEC’s management plan.

The agency’s proposed mute swan management plan, released in March, called for limiting the statewide population to 800 birds. By 2002, there were more than 2,000 mute swans downstate and 200 upstate, the report said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the mute swan legislation was a response to public concern “that had been raised, particularly about the lack of appropriate science to justify this eradication of a very beautiful animal” that inspires “a sense of curiosity about the environment,” particularly among children.

In April, Englebright and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), also a member of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, sent DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife a letter saying the agency disregarded the state Legislature’s requests for “full documentation of the scientific basis for management decisions” and requests for “less reliance on lethal management measures. The DEC has failed to provide compelling scientific information as to why such an aggressive management strategy is being pursued.”

DEC spokesman Jomo Miller said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the letter from Englebright and Cymbrowitz “as part of its review of the comments received” on the draft management plan. The DEC hopes to adopt a final plan later this summer, Miller said.

“At that time, we will provide a response to the principal comments received, as we did for comments on the first draft of the plan,” he said.

In an interview, Englebright said the legislation is “not just an exercise in willfulness on our part but an exercise in democracy,” and it reflects “a very high interest” from the public about the fate of the swans.

The legislation would require DEC to “give priority to nonlethal management techniques” for controlling the mute swan population. The proposed plan said it does not advocate any specific method of controlling the population, and because many people object to the use of lethal control methods, especially killing adult birds, the DEC will use “nonlethal” methods where practical and timely to achieve the management objectives, the report said.

Research shows that mute swans “can significantly reduce the availability of submerged aquatic vegetation in wetland ecosystems” depending on the number of swans relative to the size of the area being considered, the spokesperson said.

The DEC said in the draft management plan that mute swans hurt the environment by eating and uprooting large quantities of plants that are food for fish and other wildlife. Swan feces have high levels of coliform bacteria, which can make waters unsafe for drinking, swimming and shell fishing, the document said. Their presence near airports poses “a serious threat to aviation,” the plan said. It also said that territorial swans have been known to attack people and other birds.

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Pumping nitrogen into our local waters can contribute to fish kills and have other nasty environmental effects. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

There is no need more basic than clean water. We need it in its simplest form to survive, but we also need it to be clean so that it can sustain the animals and plants we eat and support the environments we live in. So why aren’t we trying harder to avoid pumping it with toxins?

Tens of thousands of dead bunker fish have recently washed up on eastern Long Island, killed by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Algal blooms are a cause of those low oxygen levels, and that’s where we come in — the blooms, in turn, can be caused by excess nitrogen in the water. How does that nitrogen get there? It can come from our septic and sewage treatment systems and from the fertilizers we use on our nicely manicured lawns, to name just a few sources.

We may not be able to avoid using the toilet, but we can easily refrain from dumping fertilizers with harmful chemicals into the ground and our water supply. But many of us are operating on obsolete waste systems and our governments should be making it a top priority — in action, not just rhetoric — to move communities over from septic to sewer.

This is undoubtedly a costly process, but it has benefits beyond the immediate. For example, sewer systems enable and encourage development, which is important for all of the downtown areas we are working to revitalize. Revitalized downtowns could help keep young people on Long Island, reversing the brain drain that is the source of such frequent sound bites for our politicians.

Shoring up our water management plans would create a ripple effect throughout so many other important items on our political and social agendas. Without clean water, none of these ambitious improvements will be achieved. We are calling for a heightened awareness from both our neighbors and our public officials not to let our water initiatives run dry.

Neighbors gather to help Aidan Donnelly, a 13-year-old student from Centereach, complete his Eagle Scout Service Project in Stony Brook. Photo from Elizabeth Flagler

A Long Island Scout stepped up for Stony Brook’s osprey population.

Neighbors and members of PSEG Long Island helped Aidan Donnelly, a 13-year-old honor student at Dawnwood Middle school in Centereach, complete his Eagle Scout Service Project on Saturday May 9 soon after the boy approached the utility company about installing an osprey nesting pole out of harm’s way at West Meadow Beach.

In order to achieve the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts, scouts must earn at least 21 merit badges and complete an extensive service project that the scout plans, organizes, leads and manages.

Donnelly organized the meetings with PSEG Long Island and the Town of Brookhaven, then planned and led his fellow scouts from Troop 362 in the construction of an osprey nest platform, adding to his current total of 48 merit badges.

Environmental advocates call for the banning of microbeads in order to protect waterways like the Long Island Sound. from left, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Dr. Larry Swanson of Stony Brook University, Dr. Artie Kopelman of Coastal Research Education Society Long Island, George Hoffman of Setauket Harbor Protection Committee, Rob Weltner of Operation SPLASH, Matt Grove of Surfrider, Enrico Nardone of Seatuck Environmental, and Katie Muether of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo from Maureen Murphy

When it comes to water pollution, size does not matter.

That’s why a group of environmental advocates gathered along the shoreline of the Long Island Sound in Stony Brook last week to call for state legislation that would ban the tiny but potentially harmful microbeads in personal care products.

The rally was organized to coincide with June 8’s World Oceans Day and zeroed in on the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would ban personal care products made with the tiny plastic pellets called microbeads, which advocates said are hurting waterways and wildlife because New York’s wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them prior to the water’s release into the environment.

The legislation passed the Assembly in April but has remained idle in the Senate.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Republican Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), with 37 cosponsors — a total that surpasses the 32 votes it needs to pass.

William Cooke, director of government relations for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, helped orchestrate the rally and called on Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to use his new role as majority leader to help ensure a microbead ban passes before legislative session ends June 17.

“While microbeads are small, the problem they are creating is very large,” Cooke said. “The solution is unbelievably simple and absolutely free. The answer is to take them out of our products now. This legislation currently has more support than is needed to pass. The only question is will the new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan allow it to move forward.”

The New York State Attorney General reported that 19 tons of plastic microbeads enter the wastewater stream in New York annually, and the tiny beads are passing through treatment plants on Long Island and throughout the state. Plastic microbeads in state waters accumulate toxins, are consumed by fish, and can work their way up the food chain, putting public health at risk.

“The Microbead-Free Waters Act has a clear pathway to passage. If it’s not brought up for a vote, it’s a clear sign that industry has once again silenced the majority of New York’s state senators,” said Saima Anjam, environmental health director at Environmental Advocates of New York, who was at the rally. “New Yorkers expect more from new leadership. … Senators Flanagan and O’Mara need to allow a simple up or down vote on bills supported by a majority of members.”

Flanagan’s office declined to comment on the matter.

Late last year, Suffolk County committed to studying the health and economic impacts of banning microbeads on the county level to the praise of county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who argued that Suffolk needed to follow the likes of municipalities like Illinois, which was the first state to outright ban the sale of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.

“On a macro level, there is no doubt that microbeads are finding their way into our nation’s rivers, lakes and oceans,” said Hahn, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “What we need to know is to what extent, locally, these additives [impact] our environment and, if corrective action is needed, what ramifications would be expected.”

Suffolk officials discuss environmental issues facing Long Island after thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead. Photo by Alex Petroski

The estimated nearly 100,000 dead bunker fish that have washed ashore in Riverhead may seem astounding, but it wasn’t all that surprising to the panel of experts brought before the Suffolk County Health Committee on Thursday.

In late May, the thousands of dead bunker fish, formally known as Atlantic menhaden fish, began appearing in the Peconic Estuary, an area situated between the North and South Forks of Long Island. According to a June 2 press release from the Peconic Estuary Program, the bunker fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. This shortage of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s environmental quality division, who serves on the panel, which was organized by the health committee chairman, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), testified that the number of dead fish was at or approaching 100,000.

“This one is bigger and worse than any,” Dawydiak said.

According to the PEP, which is part of the National Estuary Program and seeks to conserve the estuary, bunker are filter-feeding fish and an important food source for many predatory fish, including striped bass and blue fish.

Alison Branco, the program’s director, said the fish are likely being chased into shallow waters by predators, but are dying because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the waters. In addition, an algae bloom is contributing to the low levels and is fueled by excess nitrogen loading. Much of that nitrogen comes from septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizer use.

“We’ve reach a point where this kind of hypoxia was run of the mill. We expect it every summer,” Branco, who also served as a panelist, said following the hearing.

While magnitude of the fish kill was astounding, the experts said they weren’t so surprised that it happened.

“I definitely thought it could happen at any time,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a one-on-one interview after the panel hearing. “There’s been an oxygen problem there all along.”

Gobler called it largest fish kill he’d seen in 20 years.

According to panel members, the worst of the fish kill occurred between May 27 and May 30.

Branco did suggest that this shocking environmental event could be turned into a positive if the right measures are taken sooner rather than later.

“It’s always shocking to see a fish kill,” she said. “As much as we don’t want to have things like that happen I think the silver lining is that it did capture the public’s attention.”

Prevention of a fish kill this large is possible, according to Branco. While preventing the harmful algal blooms is not possible, reducing the frequency and severity can be done if the amount of nitrogen in the coastal water supply is controlled.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental policy advocacy group, agreed that curtailing the amount of nitrogen in the water is the easiest and most impactful way for prevention of a fish kill of this magnitude.

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Esposito said in response to a question about the daunting task of fixing the Island’s sewage treatment techniques and facilities on a limited budget.

Esposito described the roughly $5 million from New York State, which was allotted to Suffolk County to deal with cleaning the coastal water supply, as seed money. Esposito and Branco both said they believe the commitment of time and money required to solve the nitrogen problem in the water supply will be vast.

“We can do this,” she said. “We have to do it. We have no choice.”

DeForest Williams property is open to public

A scene at the grand opening of Wawapek Preserve in Cold Spring Harbor last weekend. Photo from North Shore Land Alliance

Local officials gathered to mark the grand opening of the Wawapek Preserve last Saturday. Located in Cold Spring Harbor, residents will now be able to walk through the 32-acre parcel’s trails and take in its unique nature.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the North Shore Land Alliance, Huntington Town, Suffolk County, New York State and the local community, $8.5 million was pitched in to preserve the property, following a negotiation that spanned years.

This property, once part of a 600-plus acre piece of land that encompassed the Wawapek Farm, has remained in the DeForest Williams estate for more than 100 years. Originally owned by Robert Weeks DeForest, a lawyer and philanthropist, the family expressed interest in having the property preserved in 2006.

Unfortunately, Huntington and Suffolk County did not have the funds at the time to purchase the land. But three years ago, threats of development become more foreboding, and the land alliance came on board to help guarantee that the property would be conserved.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement that the town is happy to have partnered with the county and the land alliance on the purchase, and he hopes that many people will walk these trails to see some of the unique flora and fauna that call the Wawapek Preserve their home.

These partners were able to raise the millions needed to purchase the property, with the help of the residents of the community, nonprofits and local businesses.

Eastern box turtles, a species on the New York State special concern list, and at least three state-protected plants have been documented on the land, Lisa Ott, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a press release.

It has also been discovered that it’s very likely Wawapek Preserve serves as a breeding spot and stopover habitat for many migratory songbirds and other species. The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migrant species, was expected to be discovered there, although comprehensive biological surveys have been limited due to restricted access.

Long Island has a strong commitment to protecting the habitats of endangered birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Long Island Field Office has worked with state and local governments to protect the habitat of birds like the piping plovers.

More than 60 percent of the land is comprised of mature hardwood forest, which protects air quality, provides erosion control and is home to a variety of wildlife, trees and wildflowers, according to Ott.

Local lawmakers including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and former Councilman Mark Mayoka (R) gathered back in September 2013 at the DeForest Williams property, when the funds were first committed to make the purchase possible. Spencer called it an “incredible victory” at the time, and believed it was government work at its finest.

“The opening of Wawapek represents the ideal blending of conservation and community,” land alliance Chairman Carter Bales said in a statement.

Officials commend Smithtown on Friday for adopting the new geothermal code. From left to right, Michael Kaufman of Suffolk County Planning Commission; David Calone, chair of the county’s Planning Commission; Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio; Michael Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewable energy at PSEG Long Island; and John Franceschina of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

A new Smithtown code has already translated into some cash.

PSEG Long Island presented Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) with a $10,000 check last Friday for adopting a new model geothermal code.

The utility provided an incentive program for any Long Island township that embraced the new geothermal codes, which utilize the constant, belowground temperature to heat and cool buildings, and help homes save both energy and money. PSEG Long Island committed to provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 in Suffolk and Nassau counties that adopted the model geothermal code by May 31.

This particular new geothermal code helps municipal and private industry installers streamline the evaluation and installation process of the geothermal system in Suffolk County and ensures high quality installations to protect the county’s groundwater.

Vecchio said he was proud that Smithtown was the first town to adopt the code.

“I believe it’ll be a wave of the future;  we want to be the first ones to allow this new energy to come in,” he said.

When PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization unveiled the new energy code back in November, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood with the organizations, urging towns to consider the adoption.

Smithtown’s Town Board voted in March to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt the new alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties.

This is not the first time Smithtown has been one of the firsts to adopt alternative energy codes, signing onto a model code crafted at the Suffolk County Planning Commission for solar energy. The model code helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for both commercial and residential properties.

Back in March when Smithtown adopted the code, Michael Kaufman, of the county Planning Commission helped draft the model code and said he believed that Smithtown residents needed to act locally by going green as much as possible because of the energy crisis on Long Island, with Long Island having some of the highest electrical rates in the nation.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island,” Kaufman said at a previous town meeting. “We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation. Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

North Shore resident calls on neighbors to boost effort against blight

The Crooked Hill bus stop is blighted before Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as he spearheaded a community effort to clean up Commack. Photo from Mikell

By Alex Petroski

The 7 Cents Club of Commack is not a household name, but it might be one day.

Ed Mikell, a retired Commack resident, said he created the 7 Cents Club of Commack hoping to attract, as he puts it, “anyone interested in promoting Commack community pride.”

Promoting community pride might sound vague, but for Mikell it is specific and direct. He is tired of seeing the streets of the town he has called home for nearly a half-century covered with trash and he is ready to do something about it, he said.

Mikell said he plans to focus his efforts to clean up Commack on a small segment of Crooked Hill Road for now, which runs north and south for about four and a half miles almost right down the middle of Long Island. He described the site of his inaugural, and to date his only completed 7 Cents Club of Commack project, which he did by himself back in September.

“It’s the first time that I decided to do anything like this,” Mikell said. “I had a free afternoon. There were about 10 people standing in the middle of that garbage. I said, ‘this is just terrible.’”

The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell
The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell

It is hard to discern who should be responsible for the bus stop in question that now features a white bench and a brown, metal garbage can with white lettering that reads “7 Cents Club of Commack,” compliments of Mikell’s wife Linda.

The garbage can was a spare that Mikell spotted in the corner of a field on the Suffolk County Community College Grant Campus, along with about 20 other identical ones. Mikell said a maintenance worker was more than happy to help him load the can into his car to be transported to the site. Mikell wouldn’t divulge where the bench came from because he didn’t want to endanger the generous party’s employment.

And while cleaning, Mikell had found seven cents on the ground, hence the name of his volunteer project.
“He comes up with these ideas every once in a while and they usually turn out to be quite amazing,” Linda Mikell said, adding she wasn’t surprised when her husband came to her and described his plan, rather than searching for someone else to do the dirty work. “That’s the way Ed is.”

There is no question over who is responsible for the bus stop now. Mikell said he has an arrangement waiting with Cliff Mitchell of the Suffolk County Public Works Department to claim the spot, along with a larger segment of Crooked Hill Road, as part of the Adopt-a-Highway Program.

To proceed he needs signed waivers from his team that he can bring to the county, which will then provide him with gloves, sticks to pick up garbage, bags, reflective vests and anything else that the club might need.

The program requires a commitment from applicants to tend to claimed areas once a month, 10 months a year for two years.

Mikell said he is willing to commit to this cause for the foreseeable future, and thanks to his nearly 50 years of business experience, he is prepared for possible expansion. He has what he called a “project control” system in place that will help him track the sites of cleanups, when they were addressed, by whom and when follow-up was done.

“My whole thought about this was if it works in Commack it’ll work in Kings Park, it’ll work in Hauppauge, it’ll work in Wyandanch,” Mikell said. “It will work in every town and all that needs to be had is a person like me in every town who cares, who will go out and organize and structure it.”

Since he began dropping flyers in Commack mailboxes and hanging them in public places about six months ago, Mikell says he has yet to hear back from anyone interested in lending a hand. The lack of enthusiasm from others in the community has disheartened him, he said, but it has not deterred him from finding applicants in other ways.

Mikell has since enlisted the help of a few neighbors from his street, including retired mechanical engineer Nicholas Giannopoulos.

“We’d like to have the community look halfway decent,” Giannopoulos said. “Basically I think everybody should contribute to the community to make it better. If you live in an area that you like to live in, everybody should think along those lines.”

Mikell returns to the original site regularly to make sure that his efforts were not wasted. On one occasion, he noticed someone sitting on his bench at the bus stop and saw garbage next to the can. He asked the woman why she didn’t put the garbage in the can. She responded defensively and said it didn’t belong to her.

“I’m not blaming the woman. I was just making a comment,” Mikell said with a smile. “She’ll sit there and allow that to be there instead of just picking it up and putting it in the garbage. I think people are just busy as all hell. If you don’t have one job you have two.”

Mikell has a big job ahead of him with Crooked Hill Road alone. He pointed out about 15 to 20 spots that needed attention from someone. There is no doubt in his mind though as to where the attention will come from.

“People say ‘it’s the town of ‘X-Y-Z’ — you’d expect it from that town.’ Well I don’t expect it from any town.”

If you would like more information about the 7 Cents Club of Commack you can contact Ed Mikell at 7centsclubcom@optimum.net.

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