Environment & Nature

Huntington residents could find it easier to afford solar panels on their homes, thanks to new initiative backed by town and City University of New York officials. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Town residents looking to go solar can let the sunshine in at a discount, thanks to a new group-purchasing program spearheaded by town and City University of New York officials.

On Monday afternoon, town hall officials unveiled Solarize Huntington, a program that attempts to incentivize residents to go solar by offering discounts of up to 25 percent on installation costs through installer Direct Energy Solar. The level of discount would increase as the number of participants in the Solarize Huntington program grows, according to the town and Sustainable CUNY of the City University of New York. Solarize Huntington will also include educational workshops about solar energy and guidance on the process of going solar.

The program, which officially launched today, May 4,  runs through Sept. 10.

Homeowners who participate could purchase, finance or lease solar systems from Direct Energy Solar, the installer selected by CUNY through a competitive bidding process, town spokesman A.J. Carter said. Direct Energy Solar is also offering an additional $500 discount to the first 20 homeowners who sign contracts.

The average solar installation, with state and federal incentives included, could cost a Huntington homeowner around $16,000 for a 7-kilowatt system, according to Justin Strachan, a New York State solar ombudsman with Sustainable CUNY. Solarize Huntington could reduce that cost to somewhere around $12,000, he said.

Solar is already popular in Huntington Town, CUNY and town officials noted on Monday. Officials from Sustainable CUNY, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) attended a press conference launching the program on Monday at which Petrone said that last year, the town received 500 applications for solar installation permits.

“So that tells you the popularity and it tells you people are yearning for a program, for a supervised program, and something that’s going to be meaningful and cost-effective,” Petrone said.

Laurie Reilly, who directs communications for Sustainable CUNY, said the Solarize Huntington program is just one program among other solar initiatives funded by a more than $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant. She also said Huntington was selected for the program because, at the time of the grant application, the town committed to work with Sustainable CUNY to make solar more accessible to residents.

“Huntington was the first one to step up and the first one to say, ‘We would like to do this.’”

This isn’t the only thing Huntington Town has done in recent years to encourage and increase the use of solar power to cut down on the consumption of fossil fuels. The town recently approved a fast-track process for approval of solar installation permits and used a federal grant several years ago to install solar panels at town hall, the town said in a statement.

The program launch is thanks to the partnership of Sustainable CUNY, the New York Solar Smart Program, the town and the town’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables, and Sustainability, according to a town statement.

Residents interested in signing up for the program can do it online at solarizhuntington.com, or at one of the Solarize 101 informational workshops the town is sponsoring to help residents learn of the program’s benefits.

The first workshop will be held on Monday, May 11 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at town hall.

Biologist, outdoorsman Eric Powers plans special event at Smithtown spot as spring weather arrives

Ranger Eric Powers with an eastern screech owl. Photo from Carole Paquette

The warmer weather has Smithtown residents spreading their wings and one upcoming event at a town park offers a literal translation of the phrase.

Biologist and outdoorsman Eric Powers will be hitting the North Shore next week to conduct a birding walk at Smithtown’s own Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Jericho Turnpike.

Having extensively explored the historic Caleb Smith park, Ranger Eric — as most North Shore students know him — will lead attendees to some of his favorite locations to see birds and other wildlife, as well as highlighting plants and freshwater springs, the lifeblood of the park.

A former park ranger in Colorado, Powers led nature hikes until he joined the Peace Corps as an environmental education officer for two years. In 2005, he started his own company, Your Connection To Nature, dedicated to meaningful environmental education programs and ecotourism. These programs connect classrooms to field studies and give people a deeper understanding of their local environment.

Powers’ latest endeavors include a monthly cable TV series about Long Island nature, the Marine Explorers Summer Camp in Babylon and the original bobwhite quail vs. ticks project.

For more information, visit his website at www.yc2n.com.

The event, slated for Saturday, May 9, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., includes a preregistration requirement as space is limited. For more information, residents can call 366-3288 or 265-1054. The free event is part of the 2015 lecture series sponsored by the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, and will involve walking about two miles.

Walkers are urged to wear sensible footwear and bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens, if they are able.

For more information about the activities and events of the park’s friends, visit www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

Recharge basin will reduce erosion at Pickwick Beach

Town workers get moving to construct a sump near the intersection of Amagansett and Shore drives. Photo from the highway department

The town highway department started work recently on a stormwater project that could improve water quality in the Long Island Sound and prevent erosion on a troubled bluff that has homes sitting on top of it.

Brookhaven Town officials hope a new recharge basin near the intersection of Amagansett and Shore drives in Sound Beach, once completed, will collect stormwater runoff from surrounding roads and thus reduce the amount discharging onto nearby Pickwick Beach and into the Sound. The decreased flow of runoff onto the beach would relieve pressure on the bluff there, which has dangerously eroded in recent years.

The recharge basin will be located at the town’s parking lot for the beach. In late 2013, the town bought property — which had previously served as an easement — adjacent to its lot for the purpose of constructing the sump. Earlier that year, the town finished the first phase of its stormwater mitigation project in the area, repairing an outfall pipe that broke during Hurricane Sandy and filling in the bluff with more than 2,000 cubic yards of fill to stabilize it and rebuild its slope.

The bluff had already eroded to a degree, but the hurricane created a 40-foot drop-off at the site and residents at the top of the bluff were worried about safety.

Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said the work on the both bluff and the pipe were not meant to be the end of the project — the end goal was a recharge basin that would take the erosion pressure off the bluff.

“It was just a Band-Aid so the bluff didn’t erode any further,” he said in a phone interview.

Excavation on the sump has already begun, Losquadro said, and he expects the project to take at least another two months — possibly three if the weather does not cooperate.

The sump has other benefits, from both an environmental and a maintenance standpoint.

When water flows through the streets during rainfall, it picks up and carries dirt, bacteria and other pollutants with it. That contaminated water eventually drains into bodies of water like the Sound in some places. The recharge basin will filter the water naturally instead.

“Wherever we can, we don’t want water draining into the Long Island Sound,” Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) explained when the town was acquiring property for the recharge basin. “We want it to drain into the sump.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bonner said the project would save the town money in the long run, as there would be fewer erosion costs in the area.

Losquadro said the basin would also be “much less labor-intensive,” because the highway department will only have to clean it out about once every decade.

It can also hold much more water than a storm drain — the highway superintendent said storm drains can hold a couple of inches of water while the sump can take at least 8 inches, “which is an enormous rainfall.”

Sunken Meadow State Park Director Jeffrey J. Mason meets Smithtown West High School's Rachel Gladstone to review plans for the Sunken Meadow Recycling Project 5K Race and 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids. Photo from Allison Gayne

A Smithtown West High School junior is going the extra mile and hosting a recycling project in the form of a 5-kilometer race at Sunken Meadow State Park in June to promote a greener mindset across Long Island.

Rachel Gladstone, 17, has arranged the first ever Sunken Meadow Recycling Project 5K Race and 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids at Sunken Meadow State Park as her community project for the Girl Scout Gold Award she is working toward.

“I wanted to do something for the community at Sunken Meadow [State Park],” Gladstone said in a phone interview. “I really wanted to do something big and worthwhile.”

The cross-country runner said the idea came to her while passing through the park and seeing just how many recyclables were being thrown into the trash. She coupled that knowledge with knowing the park hosts several races, and let the two notions work together to form her own unique project.

“Every time I go there, I see trash cans always full to the top with bottles,” Gladstone said.

Gladstone said one of her biggest goals is to take the money raised at the run and buy recycling bins to place at various locations throughout the 1288-acre park and to also help promote recycling behavior by taking extra measures to make the bins visible to the public.

The teen said she is very big into environmental science and recycling, and she hopes to study it at the college level once she graduates form high school. Her mom, Ellyn Gladstone, said her daughter has been interested in recycling since an early age and she is happy to see her putting this project together.

The Gold Award that Gladstone is working so hard toward is the highest achievement in girl scouting, she said. It is a seven-step project that challenges the scout to change the world, and requires a minimum 80 hours of work — something Gladstone is sure to surpass as she continues to organize and promote the race.

According to one of Gladstone’s troop leaders, Paula Rybacki, the high school student has achieved all the major awards since becoming a girl scout in elementary school and the project she is working on is one of the biggest she has seen.

“This project is very different,” Rybacki said. “I’m really proud of her.”

Jeffrey Mason, the park director at Sunken Meadow State Park, said he was approached by Gladstone, who was hoping to make a difference, and he quickly got on board with the idea as he understands the six bins the park has now is not enough.

“We’re going to put them out in key locations and find the best fit where they get utilized,” Mason said. “We are going to start out small, the more people see, the more education.”

The event will kick off on June 13 with its 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids at 9:15 a.m. followed by the 5-kilometer run at 10 a.m. An award ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. to recognize top overall males and females in various age groups.

Race participants can take advantage of an early bird special entry fee of $20 until May 1. After that the fee is $25 until the day before the race. On the day of the race, runners will pay $30 to participate.

Smithtown has been doing its part to increase the frequency and accessibility of recycling, recently inking a deal with several neighboring municipalities to bring single-stream recycling to residents across the Island.

The various deals help Smithtown team up with other communities to share resources, making it easier for residents to recycle in one bin and have the items transferred at a minimal cost.

The town has already linked up with Brookhaven, the incorporated villages of Lloyd Harbor and Asharoken, to name a few.

And as the race approaches, Gladstone said she hopes this is just the beginning of a greater shift in recycling across the Island. She said she would like to hold a similar event annually at parks across Long Island to help promote recycling.

“I realize I’m not too young to make a difference,” Gladstone said. “This is just the beginning.”

Workers clean up the section of Old Mill Creek behind Village Hall. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Old Mill Creek has been an unusual sight lately for those who are used to seeing the narrow Port Jefferson waterway choked with vegetation.

A contractor recently began working on the troubled creek, uprooting invasive trees and plants a few weeks ago and clearing the view to passersby. This week, workers were standing in the stretch of the stream behind Village Hall with an excavator at its bank. They are restoring the eastern half of the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor.

Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez
Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez

Port Jefferson Village has a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to install rock supports at the creek, replace invasive plants with freshwater species, remove built-up sediment that blocks water flow, install filters to improve water quality and repair a pipe known as a culvert that channels the creek under Barnum Avenue.

That culvert repair will alleviate some flooding issues downtown, because the pipe is largely blocked up and causes problems during high tide and storms when the creek swells.

A goal of the project is to improve water quality in the creek and, indirectly, in the harbor.

Last month the village hired Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. to perform the restoration work and will use a DEC grant to cover three-quarters of the cost.

Old Mill Creek starts near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and goes under Barnum. From there it goes past Village Hall and wraps around Schafer’s restaurant before running under West Broadway and into the harbor.

Over the years, invasive species, flooding and pollution have beaten up the creek. Hazardous chemicals that had been illegally dumped over many years at the former Lawrence Aviation Industries property, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, traveled down-gradient into the creek.

Beyond the current restoration project, the village has further plans for improving and protecting the waterway, including doing similar work on the half of it west of Barnum Avenue and reducing stormwater runoff in its entire 517-acre watershed area.

Tommy the chimp looks through his cage upstate. Photo from Nonhuman Rights Project

A state judge is ordering Stony Brook University to give its two lab chimpanzees a chance at freedom.

State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe called on the university to appear in court on May 27 and justify why it should not have to release its laboratory apes Hercules and Leo to a Florida sanctuary. The decision came 16 months after the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County seeking to declare chimps as legal persons.

The judge ordered the school to show cause on behalf of the animals, to which SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and the university must respond with legally sufficient reasons for detaining them. The order did not necessarily declare the chimpanzees were legal persons, but did open the door for that possibility if the university does not convince the court otherwise.

“The university does not comment on the specifics of litigation, and awaits the court’s full consideration on this matter,” said Lauren Sheprow, spokeswoman for Stony Brook University.

The Nonhuman Rights Project welcomed the move in a press release issued last Monday.

“These cases are novel and this is the first time that an order to show cause has [been] issued,” the group said in a statement. “We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing.”

The project had asked the court that Hercules and Leo be freed and released into the care of Save the Chimps, a Florida sanctuary in Ft. Pierce. There, they would spend the rest of their lives primarily on one of 13 artificial islands on a large lake along with 250 other chimpanzees in an environment as close to that of their natural home in Africa as can be found in North America, the group said.

The court first ordered the school to show cause and writ of habeas corpus  — a command to produce the captive person and justify their detention — but struck out the latter on April 21, one day after releasing the initial order, making it a more administrative move simply prompting the university to defend why it detains the animals.

In an earlier press release from 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the chimpanzee plaintiffs are “self-aware” and “autonomous” and therefore should have the same rights as humans. The two plaintiffs, Hercules and Leo, are currently being used in a locomotion research experiment in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Sheprow confirmed in 2013 that researchers in the Department of Anatomical Sciences were studying the chimpanzees at the Stony Brook Division of Laboratory Animal Resources, which is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The project’s initial lawsuit also defended another set of chimpanzees from upstate New York, Tommy and Kiko. State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher of Riverhead initially declined to sign the project’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2013, which the group unsuccessfully appealed soon after.

For one day, Seawolves stepped aside to give red rubber duckies the spotlight.

Hundreds of organizations across the North Shore converged onto Stony Brook University’s campus on Friday to celebrate the 14th annual Earthstock, a weeklong Earth Day extravaganza at the school. By that afternoon, a throng of students and residents celebrated by floating hundreds of rubber ducks down an on-campus brook — an activity that has become a known visual for Earthstock.

The college hosted events all week long in observance of Earth Day, including public lectures, a farmer’s market, drum circles, art showcases and even beatboxing. The annual Earth party came just days after Stony Brook University was ranked fourth overall on The Princeton Review’s environmentally responsible university list, which awarded the school a perfect green rating score.

“Environmental stewardship is a commitment the university makes to students, faculty and staff; and together we are committed to the community at large,” SBU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said. “Implementation of green technologies, resources and sustainability initiatives is an investment that not only impacts the future of Stony Brook but our collective future. We share this outstanding distinction with the entire campus community.”

The school recycled the most e-waste nationally in the annual RecycleMania 2013 and 2014 competitions, and operates 10 electric vehicle charging stations.

Since 2006, Stony Brook has planted more than 4,900 trees, saplings, bushes and perennials using an on-campus greenhouse and nursery.

George Hoffman and Laurie Vetere overlook Setauket Harbor, which their new task force hopes to protect. Photo by Susan Risoli

By Susan Risoli

Setauket Harbor has a new best friend.

To speak up for this system of bays and ponds, residents have created the Setauket Harbor Task Force. Before the group met at the Neighborhood House Tuesday night, cofounders Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman said the task force can improve water quality and increase accessibility for all who love Setauket’s wetlands.

Stuck between Stony Brook Harbor and Port Jefferson Harbor, Setauket Harbor is an “orphan” that could use some of the attention given to its neighbors, Hoffman said. Stony Brook’s strong harbor advisory committee and vocal boating community, and Port Jeff’s commerce and ferry navigation, ensure that those harbors stay in good shape, Hoffman said.

“And in Connecticut, every harbor has an advisory group,” he said. “We want to be out there to help our harbor.”

Setauket Pond is the first order of business, said Vetere, chairwoman of the task force, and Hoffman, a trustee on its board. This area next to the Se-Port Deli on Route 25A has seen better days.

A walk across the footbridge spanning the pond revealed a silt-choked catch basin below.

The basin is supposed to protect the harbor by filtering oil and trash from storm water road runoff, they said, but it’s no longer doing its job.

Vetere gestured to debris and fallen trees littering the water. If the task force can clean up the pond, Vetere said, “I want to see increased boating, kayaking, paddle boarding. Maybe creating a blueway trail that could be historic,” in recognition of George Washington’s colonial spies, who snuck in and out of the harbor with secrets.The task force has formed a not-for-profit corporation so it can apply for federal and state grants, Vetere and Hoffman said.

The group also wants to train volunteers to become “water guardians,” monitors who would test Setauket waters regularly for bacteria and nitrogen levels. They said they want volunteers for a “visioning committee” on the harbor’s future.

Hoffman and Vetere said the task force could use volunteers to help with a planned “Setauket Harbor Day.” Getting a state-issued permit to cut back the phragmites — a non-native species of tall reeds that has all but taken over the shoreline — is another priority, Hoffman said.

About 45 people gathered Tuesday night at the Setauket Neighborhood House to learn about the task force’s plans and to hear what speaker Eric Swenson, executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, shared about successful efforts to restore water quality and shellfish harvesting there.

Hempstead Harbor is a success story, Swenson said, because its protection committee is a collaborative effort between citizens, villages, towns, county government, and scientists.

Advising Three Villagers to network in similar fashion, Swenson said, “You’re not a harbor unto yourself.”
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) were at the meeting.

“Know that I am an ally and I will continue to work towards us improving the harbor,” Cartright said.
Hoffman said the Setauket Harbor group hopes to meet several times a year. Their harbor has its challenges, he said, but “it’s not too late to fix this.”

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You know you’re from Long Island when …

1. You drive your car everywhere, including just up the road to the drug store or 7-Eleven. There is a car in your driveway or garage for every person in your house.
2. You water your lawn and plants even when it has recently rained because it’s on a timer and you just left it.
3. You pass at least one dead animal lying on the side of the road every day.
4. You have access to delicious foods imported from all over the country and the world.
5. You live in a terribly wasteful society.

Earth Day gives us time to reflect on what we do every day that affects the environment, both here on Long Island and the nation as a whole.

We burn up gas for every small trip we make, when we could walk or bike if we weren’t so rushed or lazy. We waste water by taking long showers or leaving the faucet on as we brush our teeth. We flush pills down the toilet or use a paper cup for coffee every morning or unnecessarily go through a ton of plastic shopping bags.
Almost all of us are guilty of at least one of these things, which all put strain on Mother Earth. But this is the only home we have — for now — so we should get our heads in the game.

Please join us in thinking about the impact of our everyday actions on the environment and make a commitment to cut out or reduce just one of those negative actions year-round — not just on a day like Earth Day.

A small change blazes the trail for larger ones, so it’s a good place to start.

The Greening of 25A Committee wraps up another successful cleanup event at the Stony Brook Railroad Station last week. Photo from Kara Hahn

By Kara Hahn and Shawn Nuzzo

The Greening of 25A Committee had an absolutely beautiful day for our 2015 spring cleanup at the Stony Brook Railroad Station. The sun was shining and volunteers worked hard to spruce up this important and extremely visible gateway to our community.

Our appreciation goes out to all the civic and community volunteers: Councilwoman Cartright, Jennifer Martin, Gretchen Oldrin-Mones, Herb Mones, Paul Willoughby, Jesse Davenport, Makenzie Gazura, Graham Ball, Alyssa Turano, Zach Baum, Charles Tramontana, Donald Amodeo and Elizabeth Zamarelli. Special thanks to the Long Island Rail Road, Frank Turano and Ron Gerry for lending us garden tools, along with other supplies and equipment that made the event possible.

Special thanks to the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and their volunteers David Woods and Bruce Reisman for opening up their office in the beautiful station house and to chamber member David Prestia of Bagel Express for the tasty bagels and coffee.

This year, we had an extremely large, contingent of undergraduate volunteers from Stony Brook University — more than 50 students participated, and thank you to Emily Resnick and Joy Pawirosetiko of Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living for help with recruiting the student participants.

Once again, we also had volunteers from Ward Melville High School Key Club — thank you to Kyra Durko, Ashley Donovan, Gianna Forni, Ben Sullivan, Jack Kiessel, Shannon Dalton, Josie Wiltse, Alyssa Abesamis and Dylan Buzzanca.

Thank you to the Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center for donating flowers.

As always we could not hold the clean up without the support of Town of Brookhaven Superintendent of Highways Dan Losquadro and his highway crew, who truly make our event possible.

Thank you to everyone involved, we could not have done it without you.

Legislator Kara Hahn represents the 5th District in the Suffolk County Legislature and Shawn Nuzzo is president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook.

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