Politics

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the swearing-in of state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). Photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

As part of New York State’s commitment to reach zero-carbon emissions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced July 3 a $55 million investment for energy storage projects that promotes commercial and residential clean energy use on Long Island. 

“With our nation-leading clean energy goals and aggressive strategy to combat climate change, New York continues to set the example of climate leadership for other states across the country,” Cuomo said. “These incentives for energy storage will help Long Islanders grow their clean energy economy and create jobs while also improving the resiliency of the grid in the face of more frequent extreme weather events.”

The initial roll out includes nearly $15 million in incentives available immediately from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for both residential and commercial installations. Additional compensation is also available from PSEG-LI’s Dynamic Load Management tariff, which pays customers to reduce the amount of grid electricity used when demand is highest. The energy storage system paired with solar can enable this to be accomplished. 

 The current NYSERDA incentive is $250 for each kilowatt hour of energy storage installed up to 25 kilowatt hours for a residential system and 15 megawatt hours for a commercial system.  

NYSERDA’s NY-Sun program also offers financing for the installation of solar panels.

 “As more renewable resources are brought online throughout the state, energy storage will improve the efficiency of the grid to better integrate resources like solar while providing residents and businesses with a cleaner, more reliable energy system,” Alicia Barton, president and CEO, NYSERDA, said. “This announcement reinforces Long Island’s position as one of the leading clean energy markets in New York and moves the state closer to reaching Governor Cuomo’s aggressive 3,000 megawatts by 2030 energy storage target.”

The state estimates that the 2030 target equates to powering 40 percent of New York homes with carbon-free technology.

The remaining funds will be allocated over the next three to five years and will be used to drive down costs and scale up the market for these clean energy technologies. The incentives support energy storage installed at customer sites for standalone systems or systems paired with solar.

“Incentivizing energy storage projects on Long Island is a necessary step in order to develop our renewable resource capacity,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said. “This will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, stabilize energy bills for ratepayers, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I applaud Governor Cuomo for this initiative and look forward to more proposals that will ensure New York State takes the lead in addressing climate change.” 

Perry Gershon, again a Democratic contender for U.S district rep., spoke at a protest early in 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

The late June Democratic debates hosted by CNBC could have been the first true coal mine canary, telling us that even more than a year out, the race for the White House is going to be a long, complicated and grueling affair.

Nancy S. Goroff, Department of Chemistry Professor, announced her run for District 1. Photo from Stony Brook University

Over two nights, the 20 candidates stood shoulder to shoulder, shouting over each other for attention and sound bites. Though it was talked well enough on every national media outlet, finding North Shore residents who watched the debates, let alone had a full opinion on the Democratic candidates, can be a chore.

However, for Suffolk County and the Suffolk Democratic Committee, it’s business as usual. According to Rich Schaffer, the county Democratic chairman, the focus starts with the local races long before any attention is applied to the congressional candidates, let alone the presidential contenders.

“You won’t get them energized this year until we finish with the local races, so our main focus will be on the town and county races,” Schaffer said. “We had minimal interest in the presidential, a couple of people calling to see about participating in a particular campaign of a particular candidate, but other than that we haven’t much.”

What’s your opinion?

Here is what a few residents from local areas thought about the current Democratic presidential candidates:

Brian Garthwaite, Port Jeff Station:

“Do I think any of the candidates that I saw talk in the last two days will go anywhere? — I hope not,’” he said. “No one really stood out to me.”

Garthwaite guessed at who would be on the final podium come 2020.

“It’s tough to say right now but if I had to guess I think it’s going to be either [Joe] Biden or [Kamala] Harris.”

Judy Cooper, West Islip:

“I’m a Democrat and I like Joe Biden, but I want to hear more about one or two of the lesser known candidates — like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar,” she said. “I haven’t thought about a ticket yet. I watched the first night of the debate, but then got sick of it the second night. It was inconsequential the second night. The first night there were many candidates, but they seemed to be more substantial candidates.”

Peggy S., Northport:

“I’m a Democrat, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I’d support anybody but a Republican. I like Mayor Pete the best.”

Anthony Alessi, Northport:

“I want anybody who can beat Trump,” Alessi said. “Kamala Harris impressed me last night. I’d love to see her beat Trump. My ideal ticket is Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.”

Quotes gathered by David Luces and Leah Chiappino

In local races, the Town of Brookhaven is becoming a hotspot. Though he sees Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) as well established, Schaffer specifically looked at Cheryl Felice, who is running against Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) for the 4th District, and Anthony Portesy, who is running for Brookhaven Highway Superintendent against Daniel Losquadro (R), specifically having a good shot considering people’s complaints with the state of their roads.

“He’s knocking on doors, and he hears a lot of complaints about the conditions of the roads and the services being provided by the highway department,” he said. 

Two Democrats have already stepped up again to face U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 2020 congressional contest. Last year’s nominee Perry Gershon is again running this year, while Stony Brook resident Jack Harrington is on the sidelines, with rumors he has considered running. On July 9, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff declared she too would be running against Zeldin, setting up what may be a heated primary race mirroring the 2017-18 Suffolk primary runup.

“As a scientist, I believe in facts,” Goroff said in a release declaring her candidacy. “And it’s a fact that Washington is hurting Suffolk families. I’m running for Congress to use my experience as a scientist to combat global warming, make healthcare affordable, protect a woman’s right to choose and end the gun violence epidemic.”

The Democratic chairman said the committee has been hands-off when it comes to congressional campaigns, letting them hire their own staff and leaving them to their own campaigns. Despite the constant attention paid to national politics, he said he expected the usual number of voters, comparing it to last year’s 22,240 primary votes out of a possible 143,700. 

“It was a little more animated than past years, but on par for where it’s been, 15 to 20 percent turnout,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be animated next year, that’s for sure.”

But to Schaffer, the national race will come down to around five or six candidates, and only then will you see the public become energized around their chosen individual. The next Democratic debate, set for July 17, may be a major tipping point. Politico has reported many Democratic presidential campaigns said they believe the next set of debates could start the culling to the top contenders.

The biggest point on the national and congressional stage is whether he feels they can defeat Zeldin and Trump. If Schaffer had to choose a candidate at this moment, it would be past Vice President Joe Biden, saying he “was part of the successful years of the Obama presidency,” and “if we’re looking for someone who can take on Trump and not just convince Democrats but those ‘persuadables’, I think Biden has the best shot.”

Rich Shaffer at his office in North Babylon. File Photo by Alex Petroski

The Democratic chairman sees Suffolk’s population as more conservatively minded than what may be seen in New York City or other progressive hot spots. 

This is despite the rise of more progressive candidates such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, with Harris’ poll numbers, in particular, surging after the CNBC debates, but Schaffer said what’s important is defeating the incumbents.

“If we win, we win as a party. If we lose, we lose as a party,” he said.

June 30, 2019- New York City, NY- Governor Andrew Cuomo on World Pride and the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall signs legislation banning Gay and Trans Panic Legal Defense and marches in 2019 World Pride Parade. (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

By Donna Deedy

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has had a banner year. As a freshman senator serving the greater Huntington region, he introduced 68 bills with more than half passing the Senate, according to his office, and 26 percent passing both branches of the state Legislature.

Looking back, Gaughran said in a recent interview the 2019 legislative session, which ended June 20, will be regarded overall as remarkable. He attributes his success rate to the fact that the Senate was comprised of so many freshman senators.

His proudest accomplishment, he said, was passing a bill to provide disability benefits to civilian public employees who responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The bill, called S5898D, offers relief to overlooked workers, such as transit employees and civil engineers who are sick, suffering from severe conditions and are dying from cleanup-related afflictions.

Timothy DeMeo, a first responder for the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, said he is grateful to Gaughran for getting the legislation passed within four months. 

“This law is long overdue and will help so many of us who need to retire to be able to fully address our health concerns,” he said.

DeMeo arrived at the Twin Towers just as the second plane struck and was injured by falling debris. His vehicle, he said, flipped over and pancaked. He has required multiple surgeries and is scheduled for more. DeMeo worked for the DEC for 20 years and logged more than 1,000 hours over the course of four months removing hazardous waste from Ground Zero. Today, he suffers from respiratory ailments and other conditions.

“I call myself the forgotten responder, because I’m not afforded the same benefits of my respected colleagues,” he said. 

Some of Gaughran’s other legislative achievements include making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, allowing for early voting in elections and backing the state’s red-flag law, which establishes rules that keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill. 

Gaughran said he opposed bail reform and allowing undocumented immigrants the ability to qualify for a driver’s license, two controversial bills that passed both the Senate and the Assembly and were ultimately signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

In the fall, while lawmakers are out of session, Gaughran expects to hold hearings with his constituents. One issue he’d like to see addressed is high property taxes. 

“We may need to open a discussion on consolidation,” he said. Schools, counties and local governments, he said, should work to share more services, which can reduce costs.

With regard to the Long Island Power Authority, Gaughran sponsored several bills. One bill, which proposed financial aid to school districts impacted by LIPA’s tax certiorari cases, stalled in committee. The other bill, S5122A, aimed to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax lawsuits. The Senate passed the latter LIPA bill unanimously and the Assembly introduced identical legislation, but it remained under legal review in the Assembly and was never put to a vote. Gaughran said that LIPA CEO Tom Falcone and LIPA lobbyists had a strong presence in Albany, after he successfully introduced the LIPA bill. He plans to take the issue up again in next year’s session.

LIPA’s press office did not respond to email requests for comments about its lobbying efforts related to the bills. Record requests filed under New York’s Freedom of Information Law are still pending.

Overall, Gaughran would like to see improvements made to the state’s budget process. Legislators, he said, are bombarded with bills right before the April 1 budget deadline.

“We really have to fix the budget process,” he said. “It’s policy as much as money.”

Photo from Governor’s office

Republican Gary Pollakusky is running again to represent Suffolk County's 6th legislative district. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Leah Chiappino

A Republican challenger for Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District is a face that should be familiar to local residents, having run for the same office two years ago.

“I’ve always appreciated where I was from and what this area could become,“ said Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point resident who is running for legislator as a Republican challenger. “Giving back has always been the cornerstone to why I wanted to go into public service.”

Gary Pollakusky, the president of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, helps put up a new tent May 4. Photo by Kyle Barr

As a Rotary member, Freemason, North Shore Community Association founding member, once a Goodwill Ambassador to Russia and the president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce Pollakusky has been involved in public service since childhood. A graduate of Cornell, he has a degree in industrial labor relations. He is also the owner of multiple small businesses including Media Barrel LLC, a media advertising agency; Travel Barrel LLC, a company that holds microbrands, which conduct travel tours; and a nationally syndicated sports talk entertainment network called Sports Garten. His latest endeavor is the race for Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District, against incumbent Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), after an unsuccessful bid for the same seat in 2016.

His biggest policy platforms are supporting small businesses as well as fiscal responsibility for the county. 

“To be able to expand the tax base and reduce the residential tax burden we need to support business,” he said. “We’re seeing seniors and college graduates, and businesses leave Long Island. Long Island is an incredible place to live but it’s very difficult to afford.” 

Pollakusky said he believes he has put this notion into practice as a board member of the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which he says brought in three-quarters of a billion dollars in new investment, as well as over 5,500 jobs. 

“We are cognizant of the fact that we are giving public benefits to private entities, but in turn we expect workforce projection,” he said, adding that the “county is hemorrhaging in debt. Our residents are being taxed out of house and home. I want to reduce taxes and spend responsibly.”

He also calls for the termination of “illegal fees to our residents,” such as the red light camera fees, park fees and mortgage recording fees, the latter of which has increased from $65 to over $600. 

“If we don’t stop the bleeding, people are going to want to leave,” he said. 

In terms of the opioid crisis, he supports holding “big pharma” accountable for its role in the crisis, but he said he feels a combination of solutions needs to occur in order to solve the problem. For one, he called for an increase in preventative education about the dangers of substance abuse in schools. He said the county has been moving backward on addressing it, calling for additional policing.

“We do not have enough officers on the streets,” he said. “We need to support law enforcement to address all of the drug-dealing homes in our community. In terms of treatment, we closed down a perfectly good treatment facility in the Foley Center. It’s disheartening to see how we could be addressing the opioid epidemic, but the county is not.”   

He also called for preventive education in schools for vaping and drunk driving. 

“Vaping has been shown to cause popcorn lung and terrible health ailments,” he said. “Kids doing that clearly don’t understand the repercussions, so constant reminders through education is very helpful to continue exposing the issue,” he said. Pollakusky added that he thinks it’s “unconscionable” to address marijuana legalization in the middle of an opioid epidemic, but sees its benefits when used medicinally. 

As far as the rise of MS-13, which Pollakusky says is tied to the opioid epidemic, he has met with the consulate general of El Salvador in Brentwood through the North Shore Community Association, with whom he worked to attempt to expand prevention education in 2017. 

“We have many law abiding, good citizens in our community that are here legally,” he said. “We don’t want to cast the light that MS-13 represents them in any way, but through the unaccompanied minor program MS-13 was recruiting.”  

Despite most MS-13 activity occurring in the towns of Brentwood and Central Islip, he cited Gordon Heights MS-13 activity as a main reason for the drug flow into the North Shore. 

When it comes to immigration policy, he said “those that break those laws should be sent home,” though dealing with children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents is “a very difficult problem.” The Republican challenger added that those children who have already lived here, such as the Dreamers, immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16 and have lived here since 2007, is a different circumstance. 

He acknowledged Suffolk’s poor water quality, including high nitrogen content in coastal waters and the presence of other chemicals like 1,4-dioxane in drinking water in high degrees across the Island. As a solution, he believes sewer districts should be funded through grants and business investments, which he feels can create revenue for the county. He supports introducing legislation that would prohibit certain kinds of pesticides and fertilizers, such as Roundup. 

“We have a duty to protect people from contaminants and certain types of cancer,” he said. 

The Republican challenger promises that he can work in a bipartisan matter if elected. 

“To be in politics you can’t have an ego,” he said. “We’ve elected the same people over and over again, and we still have the same problems.”

Pollakusky recognizes the challenges to winning his seat, noting Anker’s years in the Legislature and support from existing political action committees, but said he supports both labor and law enforcement. 

“I don’t need this job, I want it because I know I can lead well,” he said. “I am passionate about supporting our residents in an impactful way, so we can all stay here and enjoy Long Island.”

Deal looks to make headway on Station Street

The current Texaco Parking lot was phase three of the Uptown Funk project. Phase three is to be Station Street, built when the Conifer project is finalized. Photo by David Luces

A small parcel on Oakland Avenue in Upper Port Jefferson is part of a planned sale between the Port Jefferson Fire District and Port Jefferson village in order to make room for Station Street, the last part of the eponymous Uptown Funk project.

Mayor Margot Garant said the village has purchased the property for $25,000 as part of a handshake deal with the fire department as an element of creating Station Street. That project has been on hold until final design plans come forward from the Conifer project, which would create mixed-use apartments and retail space in the footprint of the old Bada Bing parcel.

Though the property sale is only one bump toward getting the new street built, it does cross over a small piece of old time village history.

The property, a sand lot of only around 20 or so feet, was once home to one of the district’s siren towers. At its infancy, it was just a simple bell rung by hand to alert neighbors there was a fire.

Fire District Manager Doug Savage said that those towers were used by the district in the mid-20th century, though they were phased out with the advent of modern communication technology. At one point the district contained three of these sirens, with one near the elementary school still being around. The one on top of the firehouse is the only one still used. 

“That’s all they had to alert people of a fire call,” he said. 

The pole that contained the bell had rotted out, cracked and fell down likely over 20 years ago, Savage said.

Garant said it is a good deal for the fire department, who hasn’t found a use for the property in years.

“They could use the coin in the bank,” she said.

Tom Totton, the fire district commissioners chairman of the board, said the property is not big enough for anyone to build upon. 

In a legal notice published by The Port Times Record, it notes the real property is valued at more than $20,000 and less than $100,000. The notice said it has also deemed the property surplus to the fire district.

“The village wants that piece of property, so we have a deal to sell them the property,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Steve Englebright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Donna Deedy

donna@tbrnewsmedia.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info for additional information. 

Photos by Donna Deedy

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SEPA Mujer shows their support for immigrants by donning yellow bracelets. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Everyone has an opinion on how to handle the border crisis. Having recently gone directly to the southwest border to talk about solutions with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, recent migrants and local politicians, several things are clear.

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

First, contrary to some of the national narratives, most border crossers today come to ports of entry and seek asylum. They do not dart or swarm the locations between ports of entry. Yes, there are some scrambling crossers, but the entire crisis has tipped toward ports of entry, which is why more efficiently processing asylum claims is so important and increasingly difficult.

Second, while human and drug trafficking are serious issues, these individuals do not comprise the bulk of current illegal crossers, even as numbers of Central American refugees continue to rise. Our border laws are designed to deter those sneaking into the country, not managing large volumes turning themselves in — hoping for asylum.

The bulk of those at our borders are economic migrants, some of whom may be entitled to asylum, but all of whom are fleeing a part of this hemisphere overwhelmed by public corruption, poverty, violent crime, drug trafficking and general disorder. 

This suggests a need not only for better processing of asylum claims, and more systematic ways of housing asylum seekers, but finding better ways to incentivize these economic migrants to stay in their countries of origin, rather than seeking escape, refuge and opportunity here. Rather than abandoning rule of law programs in these unstable Central American countries, we should be reinforcing stability and the rule of law.

Third, agents in places like Arizona speak with one, clear, consistent voice. They are legally able to monitor and enforce our border, and capture and turn illegal crossers over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but they are not responsible for processing, long-term detention or deportation. In effect, they are a small cog in a big machine, and what they face daily is both severe and growing. What they cannot control is the process of crafting a much-needed political solution.

Finally, no one can seriously discuss the border without discussing drug trafficking. Again, a dose of reality is vital. Drugs entering the United States over the southwest border include heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and fentanyl, as well as other synthetics. 

But these drugs are not typically hustled in the dark of night, between ports of entry, over big desert swatches. No, they are methodically trafficked through ports of entry — hidden in trucks and cars, and on rail cars. Many transporting these drugs are mules, beholden to powerful Mexican drug cartels. Poor people who desperately lack options often transport these drugs for the cartels or face death.  

Again, the answer must be multifaceted. First, we must work with the Mexican government to enforce their borders and get serious about stopping demand here. Second, we should provide more treatment for those seeking a way out of addiction. Third, and most important, we should be teaching kids to make smart and healthy choices by helping them never to feel desperate enough to turn to addiction.

What lessons can we draw from recent conversations from those on the front lines of our southwest border? Several are obvious. First, we need to have a more organized and efficient system to process the vast number of asylum seekers.

How do we do that? We need more administrative asylum judges, even if reassigned from other tasks temporarily. We need smoother, faster interfaces between CBP, ICE and the judicial system. In managing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services treatment of unaccompanied minors, who go from ICE to HHS after 20 days, we need more effective ways of protecting and processing claims. 

We need to work more closely with the Mexican government to agree on how to house the large numbers, optimally on the Mexican side of the border, which will prevent having to place large numbers of asylum seekers across the United States to await hearings. Finally, we should be asking Mexico to consider becoming a “safe third country” for asylum seekers, which would allow Central Americans to win asylum in Mexico also, reducing pressure on the U.S. border.

Last, and most important, we need to rethink how best to restore rule of law, stability, economic opportunity and foreign investment in Central America, to incentivize economic migrants to remain where they live, and to create opportunities and security there. This requires international engagement, and sustained commitments to neighbors. 

In the end, that investment will help us all. That is what going to the border taught me.

Perry Gershon is a national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s 1st District, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s in business administration  from University of California, Berkeley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People at the June 7 rally held signs supporting Green Light NY bill. Photo by David Luces

After a contentious back and forth between state Democrats and Republicans, the green light bill, a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license in New York State, passed the New York State Senate June 17 and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

The vote makes New York the 13th state in the nation to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. In the past, undocumented immigrants in New York were allowed to have driver’s licenses if they passed the required tests and proved their residency. In 2001, former governor George Pataki reversed the measure via executive order.

“Driving in New York State is a privilege, not a guaranteed right.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Proponents of the bill say that the bill would improve public safety and the economy.

“Today is a historic day for New York’s hard working immigrant community,” said Steven Choi, the executive director at the New York Immigration Coalition. “We are glad to see that Governor Cuomo did the right thing by signing the Green Light NY bill into law.” 

In the lead up to the vote there was some hesitation of support from some Democrats, which critics attributed to being wary of backlash to the bill and its impact on the 2020 election year.

Jay Jacobs, The Nassau County Democratic chairman, warned the six senators who represent Long Island about the potential political backlash of supporting the bill, according to an article in Gothamist.  

Jacobs told Gothamist that he personally supports the legislation but believes the bill is too polarizing to pursue in the current legislative session.

The legislation moved forward without the support of the six Long Island Democratic senators, who all voted no, as well as three other Republican senators. 

“I am disappointed that the state lawmakers in Albany voted to approve this terrible piece of legislation,” John Kennedy, Suffolk County comptroller and county executive candidate, said in a statement. “Driving in New York State is a privilege, not a guaranteed right, and we should not be extending privileges to those who do not follow the law. I strongly urge the Governor to do the right thing and veto this legislation.”

Other Republicans in the state Legislature shared opposition to the green light bill.  

“This legislation is an outrage to law-abiding New Yorkers, as well as to new Americans that have taken the appropriate steps to become citizens legally,” New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a letter. “The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers oppose issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. And yet, that is exactly what Senate Democrats did.”

The Long Island Democratic Senate Delegation said in a statement that they value the important contributions made by immigrants to the local economy and communities. 

“Following countless meetings with stakeholders, residents, and advocates on the implications of this bill, our vote is based on the continued existence of serious concerns raised by stakeholders and law enforcement,” the statement read. “We will continue to stand together in the best interest of Long Islanders.”

Some lawmakers shared concerns that the  Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could possibly obtain driver’s information and use it for deporting individuals.

Cuomo also raised similar concerns before the vote, stating that he would veto the bill if the federal government would be able to access driver’s information that could be used for deportation. He then asked the state attorney general to review the bill and would sign the bill if it didn’t give federal authorities access to DMV databases. 

State Attorney General Letitia James (D) wrote a statement the night of vote. 

“The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” James said in a statement. “If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.”

The bill would require undocumented immigrants to take a driver’s license exam and be able to buy car insurance. The measure would go into effect in 180 days and undocumented immigrants could get licenses starting
in December.

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