Tags Posts tagged with "Assemblyman Steve Englebright"

Assemblyman Steve Englebright

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin delivers a clear message in opposition to the federal governments plan to increase offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island. Photo by Alex Petroski

If it wasn’t clear following six hours of Valentine’s Day testimony, the usual suspects were at it once again delivering a unified message against the possibility of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

Representatives from the United States Department of the Interior were at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2 to hear public comments from lawmakers across the political spectrum demand its proposed plan to expand natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters be scrapped. The Feb. 14 hearing, which did not feature departmental participation, was held in the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge, an alternative to the federal bureau’s original plan for a single public hearing in Albany that took place the next day. Long Island lawmakers vehemently pushed back on the single upstate hearing, demanding at least one downstate hearing due to the impact such a plan might have locally.

Though the interior didn’t hear the first batch of testimony on Long Island in February, State Assemblyman and Committee on Environmental Conservation Chairman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said a transcript of the entire meeting would be submitted as written public comment on the proposal. Neither of the two local hearings featured a single speaker in favor of proceeding with offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island.

Lawmakers wait for an opportunity to speak in opposition to an offshore drilling plan during a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

First District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) played a vital role in securing the hearing in his home district, calling the initial one-Albany-hearing plan “unacceptable” Friday.

Zeldin and others reiterated the fact that there currently is not evidence to suggest the resources that would be drilled for currently exist off the coast of Long Island, in addition to the hazardous impact the plan would have on marine life. The congressman stopped short of joining lawmakers to his political left in calling for investment in renewable sources of energy as opposed to more drilling for oil and gas, though he has voted for such legislation in the past.

“Drilling in the ocean for gas or oil is foolhardy,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during his remarks. “We should be looking at alternative energy. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s a common-sense issue.”

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Public comments on the proposal can be submitted on the department’s website through March 9 by visiting https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments.

Notable quotes from the March 2 hearing:

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment: “Here on Long Island, we are a maritime community. We grow up with one foot in the water, one foot on the land — a fishing pole in one hand and a crab trap in the other. That’s who we are. You might think we love living on Long Island because we love the taxes, or we just love traffic, but that’s not it. We love living by the water. It’s what makes us live here.”

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 1 director: “Seismic surveys necessary for oil and gas resource exploration include air gun blasts every 10 to 20 seconds, 24 hours per day for weeks to months at a time. The low frequency, high energy sound they produce is harmful to marine mammals, including numerous endangered whales that are present off our coast.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright: “New York has committed to meeting future energy goals though clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. The state is working to shape an energy portfolio that moves away from carbon pollution toward renewable resources that will help mitigate the impacts of climate change in coastal communities from sea level rise to more extreme and frequent storms. The federal proposal is incompatible with that.”

Christine Pellegrino (D), New York State Assembly 9th District, Environmental Conservation Committee: “Our communities were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and five years later we’re still not whole. Natural disasters can greatly increase the chance of a spill. Are you willing to risk our island, because I am not. Environmental groups warn that just opening the door to oil drilling in pristine federal lands and waters could lead to more tragic spills like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil over an 87-day period before it was capped.”

Kevin McCallister, founder and president Defend H2O: “It’s not a question of if [an oil spill will happen], but it’s a question of when and where. Unlike some from New York certainly concerned about Long Island, I submit that we’ve got to keep [offshore drilling] off the entire East Coast. I think this is obviously regression when we should be moving toward renewables. To really slip back in time in environmental intelligence is quite concerning.”

Kristen Jarnagin, Discover Long Island president and CEO: “Tourism on Long Island is a $5.6 billion industry. It supports more than 100,000 local jobs. Tourism is much more than vacationers enjoying our pristine beaches. More than 80 percent of our tourism industry is made up of small business — hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, boutique owners, wineries, farmers and the endless indirect businesses that thrive on the success of our industry including banks, audio/visual companies, landscapers, lawyers, attorneys and much more … Overnight that could all change, and those revenues and jobs can be stripped from the economy if not protected.”

This post was updated March 5 to include U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s prior support for legislation directed toward researching renewable energy.

Elected officials, scientists and environmentalists fill the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building in Hauppauge Feb. 14 to provide testimony against offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Long Islanders filled the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building in Hauppauge Feb. 14 to let the federal government know that the Atlantic Ocean is not the place for offshore drilling.

In a public hearing, state legislators, including Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), listened to more than five hours of testimony provided by nearly 50 local elected officials, scientists and environmentalists. The hearing followed the Jan. 4 announcement made by the U.S. Department of the Interior proposing plans for expansion of natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters. The plan includes the potential lease of acreage in federal offshore areas such as the Atlantic region.

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park. He noted that not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling and laid out the plan for hearings across the country in the areas that may be affected.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright addresses the crowd before a Feb. 14 hearing in Hauppauge concerning the proposal of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

“The Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf is not an appropriate area for offshore drilling, period,” Englebright said in the beginning of the Long Island hearing. “There are many reasons for that, and we’ll hear some of those reasons, I’m sure, today, but the risks associated with drilling, including oil spills, far outweigh any potential benefits. Especially since the state is currently working to advance renewable energy projects on our continental shelf area rather than climate change inducing, fossil fuel-oriented projects such as the drilling.”

While the federal government chose to hold a public hearing in Albany Feb. 15, Englebright said the location, as opposed to coastal areas in the state, was not the right spot for such a hearing as inland would not be impacted like coastal areas would be if offshore drilling would occur in the Atlantic. He also said many who live by and are worried about local waters may not have been able to travel to the federal hearing.

Speakers during the Long Island hearing touched on the ramifications drilling would have on the area in regard to water quality, marine life, coastal management and more.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who wrote two letters to Zinke, one opposing drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and another one requesting a hearing on Long Island, read from one of the letters.

“Brookhaven Town has the largest coastline of any town on Long Island with three distinct coastal waters; ocean, bay and sound,” Romaine said. “As supervisor, I do not support drilling in waters off our coastline.”

The supervisor said he supported forms of renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal because an oil spill anywhere along the Atlantic coast could decimate large portions of the town’s coastline and negatively affect the coastal economy.

“The 1970s called, and they want their energy plan back.”

— Adrienne Esposito

“The Long Island coastline supports nearly 350,000 jobs and generates millions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries,” Romaine said, adding he was also concerned about the potential environmental harm to Fire Island.

Romaine said he’s also concerned about the expiration of the 9-cent per oil barrel tax which funds emergency cleanups of spills. He said the lack of a congressional plan to extend the tax makes ocean drilling riskier than ever.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, also suggested more modern energy solutions.

“The 1970s called, and they want their energy plan back,” she said.

Esposito cited a 1990 study that was conducted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. She said the study showed a $19 million decrease in tourism dollars the summer of the oil spill in Alaska and 43 percent of businesses in the Gulf of Alaska significantly or completely shut down. Esposito said the ocean generates $24 billion into New York’s economy every year. She also raised health concerns, calling crude oil a toxin.

“It causes kidney liver and lung damage and can even kill people,” Esposito said. “It can cause neurological damage and endocrine disruption — things that are vastly overlooked.”

Speakers also highlighted the effects of seismic testing, which uses air gun blasting to locate underwater fossil fuels. Guy Jacob, conservation chair of the Nassau Hiking & Outdoor Club, said seismic booms are among the loudest underwater noises recorded and the proposed plan would give businesses permission “to fire seismic air guns every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for months.” He said that a single vessel could deploy up to 96 air guns, which in turn is damaging to marine life and the fishing industry.

“Seismic blasts drive commercially-viable fish literally running for their lives. While the fossil fuel industry profits, our fishing industry suffers.”

— Guy Jacob

“Because water is such an excellent conduit for sound, seismic blasts become weapons of mass mutilation maiming and slaughtering organisms, from the largest whales to the most diminutive invertebrates throughout the web of marine life,” Jacob said. “Seismic blasts drive commercially-viable fish literally running for their lives. While the fossil fuel industry profits, our fishing industry suffers.”

Kevin McAllister, founder and president of the nonprofit Defend H2O, spoke of the ecological impacts from oil spills at the hearing. He said after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, 36,000 birds and hundreds of marine mammals died. McAllister said only 10 percent of the oil was effectively cleaned up after the Exxon Valdez spill, and as of 2007, more than 26,000 gallons of oil remain in shoreline sentiments. According to McAllister, the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico impacted 68,000 square miles of ocean, the size of Oklahoma, and washed up on 1,074 miles of coastline.

During a phone interview after the hearing, McAllister said he felt the hearing was productive. He said he hopes other Atlantic states will join in a lawsuit against the federal government if New York state moves forward in filing one. During the hearing, Peter Washburn, policy adviser in the attorney general’s environmental protection bureau, said the New York State Attorney General is prepared to sue the interior department.

Englebright said a transcript of the hearing will be submitted to the federal government prior to March 9, the end of the comment period.

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Repair work to strengthen bulkheads protecting the pier used by The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is slated to be finished in June. File photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made some waves that could be seen from the shore in Port Jefferson during his State of the State address earlier this month, specifically regarding plans for infrastructure spanning the Long Island Sound.

During his Jan. 3 speech, Cuomo revived the decades-old idea of building a bridge or tunnel that would connect Long Island to New England.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” he said. “New York State Department of Transportation has determined it’s feasible, it would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and would offer significant potential private investment.”

In December 2017, the DOT released a final draft of a Long Island Sound Crossing Feasibility Study that examined the potential of building a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination at five different sites. The 87-page study concluded that it could be economically feasible at three different locations: Oyster Bay to Port Chester/Rye; Kings Park to Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Kings Park to Devon, Connecticut.

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose jurisdictions each include Kings Park, voiced vehement opposition to the plan.

Stakeholders in Port Jefferson are also unsure if the governor’s grand plan would be a good idea.

“In the back of every ferry operator’s brain is the possibility that a bridge or tunnel could replace a ferry route,” said Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. “Given the complexity of a project such as the governor envisions, I think there will be some environmental concerns and some ‘not in my back yard concerns.’”

Hall stopped short of saying the hypothetical tunnel or bridge would harm ferry business, though he said he’d like to know where exactly the infrastructure would go before being completely for or against it. It’s far from the first time projects like this have been floated in the past, a point reiterated by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) whose district includes Port Jeff.

“I’m not sure about a bridge or tunnel, but an enhanced ferry service — invest in it, make it more efficient,” he said. He also said he would be concerned by the possible impact a massive infrastructure project like this would have on the ecosystem of the Sound.

The DOT feasibility study concluded the department should move forward with the next step: A five-year environmental evaluation process looking at the impact construction and the bridge would have.

“Gov. Cuomo has directed DOT to conduct additional engineering, environmental and financial analysis to determine the best path forward for this transformative project,” DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said in a statement. “DOT will closely examine any potential impacts as well as benefits to the local communities as part of the process.”

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Extreme low temperatures caused enough demand to require use of the Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Erika Karp

In Port Jefferson, the stacks are impossible to miss. They stick up in the sky, visible from Setauket and Port Jefferson Station when not in use. However, when electricity demand spikes, the billowing, white steam coming from the red-and-white, candy-striped stacks of the Port Jefferson Power Station is a sight to behold.

With the emergence of energy-efficient appliances and a general societal shift toward being “green conscious,” the power station is only activated in times of peak electricity demand these days, like when temperatures and wind chills start flirting with zero. From late December into early January, the New York office of the National Weather Service reported that for 13 straight days, ending Jan. 9, the maximum temperature at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip failed to exceed 32 F. It was the second longest period of below-freezing temperatures reported at the airport since 1963.

As a result of an Island-wide rush to crank up thermostats everyday from Dec. 27 through Jan. 10, the steam-powered electrical generation station was ready to go, serving as an addendum to the Island’s regularly used energy production. In 2017, the Port Jeff plant was operated for 1,698 hours through November, with an additional 260 hours of run time needed in December, according to Sid Nathan, director of public information for the Long Island Power Authority, which oversees operation of the station.

When running, its two steam units produce the white clouds or water vapor, which is a byproduct of burning oil or gas. As the vapor exits the stacks, contact with colder air causes condensation of the water vapor, producing the cloudlike white color. The two steam units ran for 1,958 hours in 2017, the equivalent of running for 41 days, or 11 percent of the year, Nathan said. The power station has the ability to generate about 400 megawatts of power.

The historic stretch of cold temperatures definitely generated an unusually high energy demand at the station, according to Nathan.

“Generally, on a typical 35 degree day, PSEG Long Island would not expect to dispatch the Port Jefferson plant,” he said.

For those concerned about the white steam yielded by the energy generation process, Nathan said the station is not producing more or different steam than normal and that the byproduct is more visible at extremely low ambient temperatures.

“There is no cause for concern,” Nathan said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the white smoke is mostly steam that could potentially contain particulates other than steam, and he reiterated residents shouldn’t be overly concerned. Although Englebright did say it would be “prudent to try to separate yourself from the atmospherics of the plant.”

As a North Shore resident and chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, Englebright said he was thankful the plant was ready to roll when needed most.

“Yes, during most of the year they are not in use,” Englebright said, of the stacks. “But when we really need it, it’s there. And we really needed it just in this cold spell and it went into high operation. Thank God it was there.”

Charles Lefkowitz, right, one of the co-founders of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, presents an award to state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, center, along with George Hoffman, left, another founding member of the task force. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Anthony Frasca

When he noticed there were issues with the cleanliness of Setauket Harbor, Charles Lefkowitz took matters into his own hands. A founding member of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Lefkowitz has become an advocate for attention to the harbor.

“Nobody was doing anything and it was just deteriorating until Charlie and a bunch of us got together and said this harbor needs a group of people that will start advocating for its improvement,” said George Hoffman, also a founding member of the task force and a vice president of the Three Village Civic Association.

By forming the task force to call attention to the issues regarding the cleanliness of the harbor, such as roadway runoff, the group was able to procure a $1 million dollar grant in state funding with the help of state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The task force was also appointed to the Long Island Sound Study, a cooperative multistate effort to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound, in existence since 1985.

“As a founding member of the Setauket Harbor Task Force he has involved himself from the very beginning,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has attended numerous task force meetings. “He has made time out of his very busy schedule to attend meetings, sometimes in the middle of a workday. He very often offers some of the most sage advice around the table. This is worth noting and saying thank you to Charlie for being part of the individual glue that holds our community together. It speaks to a level of sincerity of love of the community and serves as an example of what it means to be a community leader.”

Once an elected official in the Town of Brookhaven, Lefkowitz continues to involve himself with numerous community issues and advocacy groups in addition to the task force.

“He’s a former town councilman and his involvement in our community and to our town continues,” Englebright said. “If anything he is even more effective now because he is unshackled from politics, and he is able to express his commitment to making our community even better.”

“The subtle side of Charlie is that he is the owner of the Stop & Shop [shopping center] on Route 25A, and I’ve seen him outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds. That’s an indication of the level of detail he’s willing to invest himself in.”

— Steve Englebright

Hoffman said Lefkowitz is vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and has reinvigorated the chamber by recruiting new people, broadening the chamber’s focus and making it more representative locally.

“Charlie is responsible for reinventing the chamber of commerce,” Hoffman said. “He is a driving force in keeping the group together and focused.”

Lefkowitz was also involved in the community visioning committees for the re-examination of the zoning along the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area. Drivers along the state road in the vicinity of the Ridgeway Plaza Shopping Center can sometimes see Lefkowitz tending to the flower beds that are planted every spring.

“The subtle side of Charlie is that he is the owner of the Stop & Shop [shopping center] on Route 25A, and I’ve seen him outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds,” Englebright said. “That’s an indication of the level of detail he’s willing to invest himself in.”

Lefkowitz’s influence also extends beyond the Three Village area, according to Hoffman.

“He is a visionary on land use issues especially upper Port Jefferson in terms of its commercial viability,” Hoffman said. “He is also an advocate for electrification of the Port Jefferson branch of the Long Island Rail Road. He focuses on how to make it happen and for the first time we are seeing progress.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has worked on various projects with Lefkowitz, and he is currently working with the town on implementing aspects of the Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study on some of his properties.

“As a former councilman, chamber vice president, business owner and resident, Charlie has a unique perspective of our community,” Cartright said. “Charlie’s knowledge of real estate and of the history of the Three Village area was a valuable addition to the community forums my office held while working on the Route 25A-Three Village area corridor community visioning report this past year. The award of Person of the Year is well deserved by Charlie, and I look forward to seeing him continue to work with residents on community projects.”

John Turner is a champion for open space preservation and environmental conservation. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Anthony Frasca

A familiar face in the Setauket area is at the forefront of environmental preservation and conservation.

“It was good news when John and Georgia Turner moved to town,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “John is a legendary leader for protection of the environment and an admired naturalist and educator.”

John Turner has been involved with numerous groups whose focus is on either open space preservation or environmental conservation. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has considered Turner a vital resource since she was elected to office.

“I am constantly impressed by [the] scope of his knowledge about the town’s history and natural environment,” Cartright said. “His involvement with organizations such as the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, his teaching and author background, along with his constant desire to update existing knowledge with continued research makes John a wealth of information the town is lucky to have.”

The naturalist was co-founder of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a group whose mission is to promote education, to advocate for the protection of Long Island’s drinking water and to preserve open spaces especially in the Pine Barrens. According to the society’s website, with a large swath of land in Suffolk County slated for development, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society filed suit in 1989 against the Suffolk County Department of Health and the town boards of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton. At the time it was New York state’s biggest environmental lawsuit, leading to the Pine Barrens Act, thereby protecting the Pine Barrens and establishing the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission.

Turner is one of the co-founders of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo by Maria Hoffman

As a spokesman for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, Turner has also been active in trying to prevent Plum Island from being sold and developed. The environmentally sensitive island is currently at the center of a swirling controversy and is the subject of a legal battle against the federal government under the Endangered Species Act and other laws, according to a TBR News Media July 14, 2016, story.

Made up of numerous diverse environmental groups, from the Connecticut-Rhode Island Coastal Fly Fishers to the North Fork Audubon Society, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition has advocated for the signing of a petition to save the island along with encouraging a letter-writing campaign to local elected officials. The island provides a habitat for a diverse variety of local and migratory wildlife.

Carl Safina, founder of the Safina Center at Stony Brook University and the endowed professor for Nature and Humanity in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said he has worked with Turner on a variety of environmental initiatives on and off since the 1980s.

“I consider John Turner to be the finest naturalist, and among the top handful of most engaged conservationists on Long Island,” Safina said. “He’s a true leader.”

As the conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, Turner led the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch this past fall. The group recorded and tallied nighthawk sightings at the Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket. A significant nighthawk population was noticed at the park in 2016 and the open vistas provided an important location for cataloging the bird’s migration. The nighthawk research was supported by the board of the park, another organization that, according to Reuter, Turner “has adopted with vigor.”

“We’ve walked every part of the park, looking for opportunities to improve habitat and interpret our diverse natural environment,” Reuter said. “The man certainly knows his plants and wildlife. He’s passionate about sharing his knowledge. Rather than just toss out ideas, John has prepared for the park a written blueprint for improvements and educational opportunities. It’s an honor to have his guidance.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he considers Turner one of the finest naturalists on Long Island.

“He has brought his ‘inner pied piper’ of the environment to Setauket at the Melville Bridge,” Englebright said. “I watched through the years as the crowd grew. He has helped bring an awareness of the tidal wetlands of Setauket Harbor and has done it in a gracious and compelling manner. He is truly extraordinary, the essence of what a naturalist should be. He’s a special part of our community.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn and Stony Brook resident Cindy Smith at a Nov. 10 press conference to propose a county initiative for Flowerfield in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Local legislators are paying attention when it comes to the concerns of Stony Brook residents regarding the proposed development of a land parcel in St. James.

At a Nov. 10 press conference held on the steps of Smithtown Town Hall, it was announced that Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) introduced a bill in the Legislature asking the county to begin the process of purchasing more than 40 acres of property currently owned by Gyrodyne LLC. The first step is an appraisal of the land, which runs along Route 25A and borders Stony Brook Road and Mill Pond Road. The goal is to preserve the open space, known locally as Flowerfield, while continuing to lease the few older buildings to small businesses and artists currently renting.

The announcement was made a few days before a public hearing regarding the Gyrodyne subdivision proposal at the Smithtown Town Planning Board’s Nov. 15 meeting. On Nov. 13, the bill was approved during the county Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture committee meeting and will be voted on in the general meeting Nov. 21.

“We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

— Cindy Smith

Cindy Smith, founder of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, thanked Hahn, Trotta, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their support. Smith founded the coalition after the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved the conceptual subdivision of the 62 acres of land owned by Gyrodyne at an Aug. 2 meeting. The proposed plan includes a 150-room hotel, two medical office buildings and two assisted living facilities. There is also the possibility of opening a street behind University Heights Drive that would lead to Stony Brook Road.

“We know already what it’s like when development is done and things happen in your backyard,” Smith said of why she was hosting the press conference. “All of a sudden there’s a tremendous amount of traffic.”

The Stony Brook resident said she doesn’t want to see the same thing  occur in Smithtown, or see things get worse in her area. Due to increased traffic over the years from Stony Brook University and the Wireless Center, which borders the Gyrodyne property, she said residents along Stony Brook Road, where she lives, have witnessed 18-wheelers using the street, drivers littering and historical characteristics in the area disappearing. During rush hour, Smith said emergency vehicles have difficulty traveling down the street.

The coalition founder said no traffic studies or environmental assessments have been conducted by the county and there has been no estimate of the impact on the local infrastructure.

“We’re not against development,” Smith said. “We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said if the land is developed it could harm local bays and waterways, and agreed it would overburden roads and increase the dangers of traveling in the area. The hazards of 25A and Stony Brook Road are something she is acutely aware of after being involved in a head-on collision at the intersection in April 2001.

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved,” Hahn said, adding that she asked Trotta if she could take the lead on the bill because she felt it was critical to her district.

Cartright, who was in attendance to represent the Town of Brookhaven and spearheaded 25A-visioning meetings in the Three Village area during the last year and a half, said the main concern of Stony Brook residents was traffic congestion in the area, especially at the juncture of 25A and Stony Brook Road.

“Today there is an alternative that is being presented by our county Legislature and that is to preserve this vital open space,” she said. “And we stand in support of the preservation of this land.”

Englebright said he wrote a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation asking it to deny any application for curb cuts on 25A. He said the town needs to change the zoning in Smithtown. While it made sense for the property to be zoned for business when Gyrodyne tested helicopter blades, the assemblyman said it should no longer apply to the residential area.

“If this proposal is allowed to go forward it will paralyze the communities of Stony Brook and St. James,” Englebright said, adding it would bring mid-Manhattan-style traffic to the area. “It will be like driving a stake into the heart of St. James.”

Gyrodyne could not be reached for comments by press time.

The streets of Stony Brook were filled with more than 300 runners and an estimated 460 walkers participating in the Walk for Beauty and Hercules on the Harbor 10K Run Oct. 22. Cancer survivors along with family members and friends collect donations to support their walk or run, which takes them through the scenic and historic Stony Brook. All proceeds go directly to a targeted research fund at Stony Brook Medicine for Breast Cancer Research and The WMHO Unique Boutique for wigs.

Bob de Zafra, fourth from left, seen here April 21 during a dedication of additional land to Patriots Hollow State Forest, was committed to preserving open spaces and maintaining the historical integrity of the Three Village area. File photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

When he passed Oct. 10 at age 85 from complications following knee replacement surgery, civic leader Bob de Zafra left behind a legacy in the Three Village area that will be remembered for decades.

The professor and scientist

A resident of Setauket for more than 50 years, de Zafra was a former president of what is now known as the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Historical Society, as well as a co-founder of the Three Village Community Trust. His love for the area began when he moved from Connecticut to start his career in Stony Brook University’s physics department as a professor, according to Linwood Lee, a research professor at SBU.

“He helped establish experimental physics in our physics department, which was very heavily theoretical at the time, and he was really a leader in doing that,” Lee said.

He added that de Zafra conducted research in atmospheric physics, which led to him studying the Earth’s ozone layer. During trips to the South Pole and McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, de Zafra and his SBU colleagues discovered in 1986 that chlorofluorocarbon, a type of hydrocarbon, was a cause for the expansion of the ozone hole. In honor of his revolutionary climate-change work there, an Antarctic rock ridge now bears his last name.

The civic leader

Bob de Zafra at a recent civic association meeting. File photo

In the 2002 Men and Women of the Year issue of The Village Times Herald, in which he was named Man of the Year in Civics as a “steadfast preservationist,” the professor emeritus said he saw his hometown in Connecticut “ruined” by development.

“I was sure that wherever I lived, I was going to do my best to make sure that sort of destruction didn’t happen,” he said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said de Zafra accomplished his goal. When Englebright was running for county legislator 35 years ago, he said the Setauket resident approached him and told him there was a need to protect Detmer Farm, across from the Setauket Post Office on Route 25A. The property was eventually saved from development.

“It was the centerpiece of good planning,” Englebright said. “If we won the effort to protect that open space it would mean that we had protected an important part of the watershed of Setauket Harbor and the viewshed of everyone who visits our community, or we would have taken a step toward becoming something like Queens.”

The assemblyman said the importance of saving the Detmer Farm property was only the first of countless lessons he learned from de Zafra. Englebright said a traffic island once existed at North County Road and Ridgeway Avenue adjacent to Gallery North, and with de Zafra’s encouragement, he secured the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department to cover the road with truckloads of soil.

“It was one of the first restorations that rolled back the development wave, and it was Bob that said this should be accomplished,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman said he was impressed by how de Zafra, who was instrumental in the preservation of Forsythe Meadow in Stony Brook, used his own resources to buy older houses in the area and renovate them including his own home. With the woodlands behind his property, he bought the land parcel by parcel to protect the trees; the land includes a meadow of flowers. Most recently the civic leader bought the historic Timothy Smith House, recognized as the first town hall in Brookhaven, to renovate it.

“The model of what he did with his own personal resources to enhance our community is a heroic profile,” Englebright said. “He did it quietly without fanfare but in my mind he is a civic hero of the first order. He lived what he preached and was absolutely genuine.”

Bob de Zafra in his Stony Brook University office in 1976. File photo

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler and de Zafra met in 1974 when the Three Village Bicentennial Committee formed. Tyler said de Zafra was responsible for the greening of 25A by having 222 trees planted along the road from the Stony Brook train station to East Setauket, and he was instrumental in convincing local shopping centers to use unified signs.

In The Village Times Dec. 30, 1976, de Zafra was named Man of the Year for his greening efforts. The professor said during his commute to SBU he became frustrated with what he felt was the destruction of Route 25A. While he was part of the civic association, the organization had other priorities at the time, so he saw the forming of the bicentennial committee as an opportunity to beautify the road. Through letter writing and fundraising, de Zafra raised more than $13,000 for the planting.

“You only get a chance to do something like this once every 100 years,” he said during the 1976 interview. “I’m glad I grabbed hold of mine when it came my way.”

The success of the project and many others of de Zafra’s didn’t surprise Tyler.

“Bob was very well organized and relentless,” Tyler said. “He just took on a project and was a bear about it. He just kept at it no matter what the problem was until he got a successful conclusion. He was very good at talking to people and getting them to see his point of view without overwhelming them.”

Herb Mones, a former president of the Three Village Civic Association, met de Zafra 25 years ago through the organization and praised his friend for working with builders and local elected officials to curb development and maintain the historical and architectural integrity of the area. Mones said right up until de Zafra passed, he attended any event that was for the benefit of Three Village residents. Mones said his friend felt a responsibility to make the area a better place to live in.

“The thing that always impressed me is that Bob had a tremendous amount of energy and interest in preserving, protecting and enhancing the community in every way possible,” Mones said.

Current Three Village Civic Association President Jonathan Kornreich, who considers de Zafra a friend and mentor, echoed Mones’ sentiments.

“I can’t think of three people together who could fill his shoes, so great was the depth of his energy, passion and knowledge,” Kornreich said.

Local author John Broven also met de Zafra through the civic association and said the former president’s accomplishments were admirable as he fought random development rigorously, unknown to most residents.

“If Bob had been born in England, like his wife Julia, he would assuredly have been granted a knighthood for being such a dedicated community gatekeeper, let alone his incredible scientific achievements,” Broven said.

Bob de Zafra, second from right, with Norma and Walter Watson and his wife Julia at a Three Village HIstorical Society event. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Cynthia Barnes, co-founder of the Three Village Community Trust with de Zafra, said he knew a great deal of municipality and zoning code laws and was a skillful researcher. His contributions were vitally important to the trust’s mission of preserving local properties, which included moving the Rubber Factory Houses to the trust’s Bruce House headquarters.

“He was able to grasp the whole picture yet delve into the details to see where the trouble lay, and point to the areas of weakness to try to strengthen them,” Barnes said.

“He certainly brought us a long way toward [preserving],” Barnes said. “Because I think everything we saved, with the help of our elected officials as well, he was definitely a motivating force.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said de Zafra worked with her and her team on various issues and initiatives over the last few years. Most recently he was part of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Route 25A.

“Bob’s untimely passing is just before the acceptance of the 25A community visioning document later this month,” Cartright said. “Bob cared so deeply for community land use issues and for this project, and we would like to find a way to honor and recognize Bob’s massive body of work and contributions during the process and in the future.”

The person

On top of his accomplishments, those who knew him praised de Zafra as a modest man.

“He wouldn’t want to be called ‘doctor,’ he wanted to be called Bob,” Mones said. “He never referenced his degree, his status within his field, his experiences that he had. He never used that as criteria in determining what he had to say or what he was doing. It was always based upon on the merits of the case.”

Englebright said de Zafra will be remembered by many as a man of action.

“He was the leading voice for protecting the essence of this place,” the assemblyman said. “It wasn’t just his voice, it was his action as well.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who worked closely with de Zafra while she was president of the civic association, summed up how his family and friends were feeling the day of his funeral Oct. 17.

“The loss of Bob de Zafra leaves a hole in our collective heart,” she said. “He played a vital role in so many organizations as a watchdog for our community. Meticulous, passionate, diligent, generous, persistent and charming in his own way — he will be missed.”