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A customer paying 5 cents to purchase a plastic bag from IGA Fort Salonga. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A small fee on plastic bags in Suffolk County has made a very big impact on usage, according to an environmental advocacy group.

Beginning in January 2018, a 5-cent tax on plastic bags from retail stores took effect across Suffolk County with a stated goal to reduce bag waste and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. County officials alongside environmental advocacy groups and educators announced the new law has worked as intended at a press conference March 21. 

According to the one-year effectiveness report, Suffolk County is using approximately 1.1 billion less plastic bags compared to previous years. Other key highlights include 41 percent less plastic bag litter on beaches and plastic and paper bag use at stores has been reduced by over 80 percent. 

Data showing number of plastic bags collected on suffolk County beach cleanups. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

“We have made a difference, right here in Suffolk County,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment who presented the report’s findings, said the bill has made a real difference. 

 “This legislation has changed public behavior — that was the goal,” she said.  

The report showed more members of the public bring their own reusable bags when shopping, while some forgo bags entirely. Overall much less plastic bags were
being used. 

Esposito also mentioned that the data collected in the report is being cited across the nation as other municipalities try to promote similar plastic bag bans and fees. 

“It was a little rocky in January of last year, not everyone was a happy camper, but it takes time to adjust, [the public] did it and we move on,” she said. 

Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School science teacher said Suffolk County is a model for the future when it comes to making changes for the environment. She also pointed to student scientists who played a large role in the survey and data collection for the effectiveness report.  

“We had six school districts on Long Island that had students go out to different locations from 2017 to 2018,” Grella said. “Without the support and the work of these young scientists out in the field we would not have the data that we have today.” 

The science teacher said it shows that environmental changes take time but also stressed the involvement of our youth. 

“Engaging our youth in these pursuits is critical,” she said.  

Data explaining rate of carryout bag usage in Suffolk County. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

This turn of events could be a good sign for Long Island, whose municipalities are already struggling due to changes in the recycling industry. Though the Town of Brookhaven Green Stream Recycling facility has stopped operation since its contractor walked out on its contract with the town, when it was operating town officials said plastic bags were dangerous if they went through the facility, due to the way they could snag and constrain sorting mechanisms.

John Turner, a conservation policy advocate at Setauket Environmental Association said the legislation has had benefits on local recycling facilities as well, citing that at town municipal recycling facility machinery would be routinely clogged up by plastic bags.    

Operation would need to be shut down every couple of hours to remove all the bags, costing the town $184,000 each instance to do the work and remove the bags. 

The report comes on the heels of the county’s continuation to reduce single-use plastics. In February, legislators announced policy incentives aimed at restricting the sales of several plastics, some harmful to health and to the environment. In July 2018, a project called Strawless Suffolk started and looked for 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village to take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Sept. 3, 2018. 

From left, Bill Musto, deputy director of Huntington Parks and Recreation; Greg Wagner, town director of Parks and Recreation; Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci; Randy Howard, vice president of operations at Huntington Hospital; and Dr. Michael Dannenberg, chairman of dermatology at Huntington Hospital at the Crab Meadow Beach dispenser. Photo from Town of Huntington

Town of Huntington officials are taking steps to make sure residents can more safely have fun in the sun — without a cost to the town.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) unveiled the installment of 16 sunscreen dispensers at the town’s parks, beaches and outdoor recreational spaces July 27 at Crab Meadow Beach in Fort Salonga sponsored by Huntington Hospital-Northwell Health.

“Families and visitors of all ages can now have extra peace of mind when spending time together at Huntington’s beaches and parks,” Lupinacci said.

One person dies every hour within the United States from malignant melanoma.”

– Michael Dannenberg

The bright yellow dispensers, designed by Long Beach-based Creative Vibe Advertising, were mounted near the entrance of 14 different town-owned facilities earlier this week. The sunscreen will be provided at no cost to Huntington taxpayers under the town’s skin cancer prevention program, which is now fully sponsored by Huntington Hospital-Northwell Health.

“Skin cancer has great significance since its incident rates are rapidly increasing,” said Randy Howard, vice president of operations for Huntington Hospital-Northwell Health. “We want to help our communities stay healthy in skin-care prevention by making these dispensers available to everyone.”

Dr. Michael Dannenberg, chairman of dermatology at Huntington Hospital, said while basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma remain the most common types of skin cancer, cases of malignant melanoma — the deadliest form — have increased by 53 percent since 2008.

“One person dies every hour within the United States from malignant melanoma,” he said.

Families and visitors of all ages can now have extra peace of mind when spending time together at Huntington’s beaches and parks.”

– Chad Lupinacci

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills), previously on the town board through December 2017, had been diagnosed with skin cancer while in office. Berland sponsored legislation for Huntington to test run a free sunscreen dispenser at Crab Meadow Beach in 2016 and successfully advocated for townwide expansion of the program in 2017.

“I’m glad they are continuing the program I worked so hard and diligently to create for the town,” she said. “Nothing is more important than people’s skin.” 

Berland said that it was always her intention to find a sponsor for the program as the sunscreen cost the town approximately $600 in 2017. Now she plans to bring a proposal to expand the program before Suffolk Legislature to cover the county’s recreational facilities.

Free sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 will be provided at the following locations: Crab Meadow Beach, Crab Meadow Golf Course, Asharoken Beach, Breezy Park, Centerport Beach, Crescent Beach, Dix Hills Park swimming pool and golf course, Elwood Park, Fleets Cove Beach, Gold Star Battalion Beach, Hobart Beach, Manor Field Park, West Neck Beach and Veterans Park. Each unit will be checked once a week and restocked on an as-needed basis, according to Howard.

I’m glad they are continuing the program I worked so hard and diligently to create for the town.”

– Susan Berland

Dannenberg said that he professionally recommends that people use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15, which is proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer by more than 50 percent. He said there is a reason the town’s units will offer sunscreen with SPF of 30.

“We all have a tendency to under apply sunscreen when we put it on,” he said. “The actual SPF you are seeing on your skin is lower than the SPF on the bottle. We tell people to use a minimum SPF of 30, knowing when they under apply it will get them to approximately a 15.”

Now that the dispensers are installed, Huntington Hospital’s chief dermatologist said the most important thing is for parents to be good role models.

“If parents come to the beach, bring their kids and don’t apply their sunscreen, they are teaching the kids that it’s not an important thing,” Dannenberg said. “It gets to be as a teenager they won’t use their sunscreen.”

On Port Jefferson Harbor is the Centennial Park beach where there are four village kayak racks, each with enough space for six kayaks. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Not everyone is on board with a plan to remove non-permitted kayaks from public beaches.

A law proposal from the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees is stuck in a knot after receiving both support and opposition during a meeting on Monday night, with advocates decrying the vessels that clutter shorelines for long periods of time and critics saying the board is going a bit overboard.

Officials are looking to bring order to Port Jefferson beaches where people leave kayaks strewn across the sand without a permit, unattended for days or even weeks or months.

There are several village kayak racks at Centennial Park beach, on Port Jefferson Harbor, and at the beach at the end of Crystal Brook Hollow Road, on Mount Sinai Harbor — with room for six vessels on each rack. Each year, after receiving applications from residents for a spot on one of the racks, the village holds a lottery to determine which applicants get a slot. There are also signs at the beaches warning that kayaks must be properly stored in racks. But many without a permitted place on the racks simply leave their kayaks on the sand or tied up to a tree.

The village trustees have proposed a law that would give the head of the public works department authority to remove those unpermitted vessels after they have been left unattended for at least 48 hours. The village clerk would give notice that the boats were removed, with a description of the vessels, and after 30 days unclaimed they would be considered abandoned. At that point, the village could auction or dispose of the kayaks.

If someone redeemed a kayak from the department, the village would be able to charge the owner for the costs of removal and storage, and the price of the clerk’s public notification.

Dorothy Court, a resident of Waterview Drive who is adjacent to the Crystal Brook Hollow Road beach, was strongly in favor of the measure.

“I have to deal with these kayaks every single day,” she said at the public hearing on the law Monday, describing one that has been chained to a village sign for a year. “I have, like, a boatyard in front of my house.”

She questioned how many of the people leaving their kayaks are residents, and asked the village to move the kayak racks from her local beach to another place, to lessen the impact on neighbors.

“There are so many parks and beaches to put kayaks in,” Court said.

Bob Laravie, however, said a time limit as short as 48 hours before the village impounds a vessel is “overreaching” and it isn’t the right message to send to people in a maritime village.

“I think the ground should be a right,” he said, calling for the public land to remain open to kayaks.

Joel Levine said the law proposal was “shortsighted.” He called on the village to instead issue more sticker permits to Port Jefferson residents, which would represent both a revenue stream for the government and a way to organize the mess.

As the debate went on, Village Clerk Bob Juliano noted that there were double the number of applications than spaces available on the kayak racks this year, and in response Mayor Margot Garant suggested the village should put in more racks. When she asked for a show of hands from people in the audience without a rack slot who would want a village permit sticker for a vessel, several shot up.

Given the debate on the subject, the village board closed the public hearing but did not vote on the law proposal.

Town board to host public hearings on new proposals

The town board will consider a ban on e-cigarettes at town beaches and playgrounds. File photo by Nick Scarpa

Huntington Town residents next week will be able to weigh in on a proposal to ban e-cigarettes from town beaches and on another measure that would expedite cleanup of graffiti-ridden properties in the town.

The proposals will be the subject of two separate public hearings on June 9 at 7 p.m at Town Hall.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) has introduced the new legislation to ban e-cigarettes from town beaches and playgrounds. Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) hopes to improve on old legislation to speed up the process of graffiti removal from both residential and commercial properties.

Berland’s proposal enhances existing graffiti cleanup laws. Under the new provisions, residents of Huntington would have 10 days after they receive a summons from the town to remove the graffiti from their property, according to Berland. After the 10 days expire, the town can send Huntington Town General Services Department employees in to remove the graffiti. The resident will then be charged with the cleanup fee and a $250 administrative fee.

If the owner fails to pay the cleanup bill within 30 days, the property will be added to a graffiti blight inventory, which will cost homeowners $2,500 and owners of commercial properties $5,000. Owners who fail to pay the bill will have the bill become a lien on their property.

The time frame is even shorter for graffiti that contains hate speech. The owner has a total of three days to remove it after getting a notice of violation before the town takes action.

“I think it’s important to protect our neighborhood from unwanted graffiti,” Berland said in a phone interview.

Berland has worked with graffiti cleanup for years and is now trying to create legislation that amends the town code so that the cleanups are routine.

Cuthbertson has introduced legislation to add electronic cigarettes to the list of products banned from town beaches and playgrounds. This list already includes tobacco and herbal cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

In 2010 a county law restricted the sale of e-cigarettes to those old enough to buy tobacco. Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) sponsored legislation to ban vaping, or the act of smoking an e-cigarette, at county parks and benches in late 2012.

Many residents in Huntington approached Cuthbertson asking for legislation to end vaping on public grounds, since they have concerns with being exposed to secondhand smoke. However, this new law, if adopted, would not include private property, as well as the parking lots at beaches. New no-smoking signs would go up at each public beach and playground.

In an email through his legislative aide, Cuthbertson said he believes this legislation is important on a public health level.

“The extensive amount of medical research and published studies support our desire to protect the health and welfare of those at our town beaches from secondhand smoke,” the councilman said.

Huntington Town, Northport Village to participate in Clean Beaches Day

Clean Beaches Day kicks off in Huntington Town and Northport Village this weekend. File photo

This weekend, Huntington Town residents will get the chance to roll up their sleeves and clean up their favorite beaches.

Clean Beaches Day is set for Saturday, June 6. Huntington Town and Northport Village co-sponsor the event, which will feature cleanups at Centerport, Crab Meadow, Gold Start Battalion, Asharoken/Steers and Scudder beaches.

In an interview this week, Northport Village Mayor George Doll said he is calling on volunteers to participate in the festivities. A commercial fisherman by trade, Doll said the event is important to him and he’s been participating for several years.

“I do it because not only am I interested in the environment, but I make a living off of fish that are pretty much a natural resource,” he said. “And it’s just a way of doing something to help keep it clean.”

Those who participate in Northport will get the chance to visit Bird Island, a bird sanctuary that doesn’t get a lot of visitors, Doll said. The island was created in the 1960s with dredge spoils, and the site eventually became home to a number of birds including Canadian geese, swans and ospreys, he said.

Volunteers will get the option of registering for a cleanup at Centerport, Crab Meadow or Gold Star Battalion beaches, according to a press release from Councilwoman Susan Berland’s (D) office. Also, volunteers can register to be a part of the Clean Beaches Bus Tour, which will take them to Asharoken/Steers and Scudder beaches.

One kickoff for the event will be at 8:15 a.m. at Centerport Beach, where volunteers can enjoy breakfast before the cleanup. The bus tour leaves Centerport Beach at 9 a.m. After the cleanup, at noon, a luncheon will be held at the pavilion at Centerport Beach, where volunteers can relax and enjoy refreshments.

Doll said volunteers would also be meeting up in Northport at 8:30 a.m. at the Village Dock, where they’ll be served a continental breakfast courtesy of Tim’s Shipwreck Diner. Cleanup will start at 9 a.m.

Visit the town’s website for more information on Clean Beaches Day or contact Fran Evans at 631-351-3018.

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Volunteers search for trash during last year’s Cedar Beach cleanup. File photo by Erika Karp

The Mount Sinai Harbor Advisory Committee and Peconic Baykeeper are teaming up to host the annual William Waltz Cedar Beach Clean Up on Saturday, April 18.

From 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., volunteers will scan the shore for debris and help make the beach a little cleaner for the summer. The day will kick off at the Mount Sinai Yacht Club and volunteers will be provided with reusable water bottles, gloves and garbage bags. Breakfast and lunch will also be provided.

For more information, call 631-653-4804 or email pat@peconicbaykeeper.org.