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Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine

the Town of Brookhaven, along with the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General found a Southampton taxi company was not licensed to operate in the town.TBR News Media file photo

The Town of Brookhaven is looking into creating a program that could lower gas and electric rates for homeowners.

Town officials are planning an Oct. 3 public hearing that would be the first steps in creating a Community Choice Aggregation or CCA, which is an energy program that allows local governments to buy electricity and gas on behalf of its residents.

It would allow the town to take advantage of more competitive rates from energy suppliers for those in the CCA. The program, similar to a bulk purchasing agreement, would let the town purchase large amounts of electricity for a large pool of residents and small commercial businesses.

“The high cost of energy on Long Island continues to rise, making it difficult for many families and businesses to keep up,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in a release. “By creating a Community Choice Aggregation, the town will be able to help cut their energy costs and keep more money in their pockets.”

The program was created by the New York Public Service Commission in April of 2016. Westchester, in 2014, was the first town in New York State to launch the CCA program under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Following the public hearing, the town would have to adopt a local law authorizing the creation of a CCA, designate a CCA administrator and gain approval from the New York State Public Service Commission.

Once the town gets approval, residents will be able to join the program to take advantage of the lower energy rates. Residents are not required to be part of the CCA, do not have to sign a contract to join and can leave the program at any time without early termination or exit fees.

The public hearing will be held at 5 p.m. at Brookhaven Town Hall, located at 1 Independence Hill in Farmingville.

Compiled by David Luces

 

 

Ed Romaine presented the Town of Brookhaven's 2020 tentative operating budget at a media briefing meeting Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is proposing a $312.9 million budget that Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) called “a taxpayer’s budget.” The proposed budget is a near $10 million increase from last year’s $302 million, but officials say there will only be a minor increase in taxes.

In a budget media briefing meeting Sept. 30, officials said there will be a small increase to property taxes, but are looking to end deficit spending, reduce debt and restore surpluses. The 2020 tentative operating budget of $312,868,413 is not set to dip into the town’s fund balance, essentially its rainy day bank, for the second year in a row. The new budget stays at the 2 percent state tax levy cap.

In 2019, the town did not appropriate any use of its fund balances, effectively the rainy day funds in case of need for emergency spending. This is compared to nearly 10 years ago during the Great Recession where the town was using approximately $28.5 million in fund balance to balance the budget.

The town is also looking to decrease debt, with new capital projects coming in at $43.9 million, which is $14.6 million less than 2019. With the budget, the town is looking to eliminate the current $15.8 million pension debt and eliminate the $30.1 million in “pipeline“ debt, or the extra money left over from the close of bonded projects, either unused or unappropriated.

“It’s move it or lose it for pipeline debt,”

– Ed Romaine

The new operating budget also sets aside $1.6 million additional funds in the post-closure landfill reserve. The town’s landfill is set to close by 2024.

The 2020 tentative capital budget sets up public improvement projects established via bonds and reserves. This includes $26.4 million for the Highway Department comprising road repairs, drainage, traffic safety, facilities and machinery/equipment. This is in addition to a $5 million increase for road resurfacing in the operating budget from $10 to $d15 million.

“That’s part of the supervisor’s commitment to spend $15 million a year in road resurfacing,” said Matt Miner, town chief of operations. “This is the first year that will be going into effect.”

Those funds do not include funding from New York State, especially the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program — known as CHIPS — from the state Department of Transportation, worth on average about $4.5 million to the town, according to officials.

“The Highway Department will have sufficient funding, far in excess of what they’ve had in the past years,” Romaine said.

In attempts to reduce debt in a faster manner, the town has looked toward 12-year loans instead of 20-year loans. Brookhaven officials hope to reduce overall debt to $20 million by 2021 from $600 million at the end of 2018.

Despite a complete restructuring of the town’s garbage and recycling apparatus, the annual cost for garbage pickup will remain flat at $350 for a single home, with each home on average getting around 171 pickups per year.

Romaine said the town has looked to reduce the amount of revenues gained through property taxes. Currently property tax makes up 53.3 percent of the 2020 tentative budget.

Commissioner of Finance Tamara Branson said the town has looked to focus on getting grants instead of spending through capital expenditure involving tax-raising initiatives.

“We have 50 grant projects that are public improvement projects,” she said, adding that the town has received grant funds of $63.2 million. 

Elected officials will also see a small raise in annual pay. Council members will receive a $1,446 increase to $73,762, while the supervisor will be bumped by $2,398 to $122,273. The highway superintendent at $121,515, town clerk and tax receiver will each receive around $2,000 in increases. Elected officials have been seeing an approximate $2,000 increase in pay for the past few years.

The new budget went before the Town Board for preliminary adoption Oct. 3. A public hearing on the budget will take place Nov. 7, but town finance officials said they don’t expect the budget to change much between then and now. The full budget must be adopted by Nov. 20.

 

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It was a beautiful day for a homecoming June 23.

Village Chabad, formerly known as Chabad at Stony Brook, opened the doors to its new center at 360 Nicolls Road in East Setauket Sunday. More than 500 were on hand for the grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting to help Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum and Rivkie Grossbaum, co-directors, the Chabad’s other rabbis and family members celebrate a new beginning.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented Chaim Grossbaum with a proclamation naming June 23 Village Chabad Day.

“This is a great day for people of faith,” Romaine said. “Faith is the most important thing that we have — a strong belief in God, a strong ethics system. And this facility is a blessing and a beacon in this town, and we are so proud of this grand opening this day.”

Grossbaum thanked everyone for attending the Chabad’s ribbon cutting, calling the new center everyone’s home.

“Here at the Village you’ll spend time with your expanded community family,” Grossbaum said. “You’ll come to be inspired. You’ll come to relax. You’ll come to study or meet up with a friend over a cup of coffee.”

The grand opening event included a singing performance from a number of the Hebrew school’s children and a tour of the new facility. After the ribbon cutting, many broke into a traditional circle dance to celebrate.

The Chabad had outgrown its former location in Lake Grove, and the rabbis would rent out local venues such as The Neighborhood House and the Holiday Inn Express at Stony Brook to hold events. Grossbaum said many celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs were celebrated in tents at his house.

The 13,000-square-foot Village Chabad, which cost nearly $5 million, sits on 8.8 acres of property, 2.8 acres of it having been developed. There are classrooms, study rooms, a sanctuary, a conference room, backyard, patio and a room that can hold 200 for events and holiday dinners.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) discusses local issues with Three Village Civic Association members. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Residents filled the community room in the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library June 3 as the Three Village Civic Association hosted a conversation with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) on all things townwide. Residents and Romaine were given the opportunity to discuss the latest issues impacting the Three Village area and beyond.

Here are some important topics Romaine brought up during the conversation.

Route 25A corridor study

The town is conducting a two-phase study, starting from the Smithtown line to Nicolls Road. The second phase of the project will focus on the rest of Route 25A to the Poquott line. The origins of the study date back to 2016.

“That, to me, is a very crucial thing as it sets the future of this town — I would like to see more urgency in it,” he said. “I feel like it has lagged.”

The Brookhaven supervisor said he believes one of the reasons for the holdup is that the county is currently doing a retail study on the area.

“I haven’t seen the study but people who have seen it have told me that the study will conclude that this area is under-retailed,” he said. “I’m no expert but I believe we are over-retailed, I think we have enough and don’t need additional retail development.”

Romaine said the corridor study is very important and urged residents to be involved in the process. He also brought up zoning concerns.

“One thing I learned during my time as a supervisor is that zonings are forever,” he said. “Once you zone something, you can’t take it away.”

Romaine hopes that the corridor study will get done by the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020.

Smithtown Gyrodyne development

Romaine expressed concern with the proposed development of the 62-acre Flowerfield property, owned by Gyrodyne LLC and adjoining Route 25A in St. James, which is in the Town of Smithtown.

“I am opposed to the development that would have any interconnection to any roads that would lead to Stony Brook Road,” he said. “We do not need any additional traffic on Stony Brook Road at all. If it connects to Stony Brook Road, it would be a disaster.”

“I don’t want to see it overdeveloped, Romaine added.

Similarly, on the topic of traffic on Stony Brook Road, he said that he proposed the need for a turning lane on Oxhead Road so university students can make a left turn onto Nicolls Road. Also, he has proposed to the county to develop a third lane from Route 347 to the Stony Brook campus to alleviate traffic jams.

Stony Brook University housing

Romaine said he still had a few issues with the university regarding student housing. One idea he proposed was the school could require all non-commuter students who are freshmen to be mandated to live on campus.

“We have a lot of students who are coming from other countries,” he said. “They may be having their first experiences in this country here.”

The other issue he touched on is rooming houses, which he said are illegal in the Town of Brookhaven.

“We have spent a lot of time in the past trying to crack down on these houses,” he said.

Romaine said these owners have sometimes put up to eight or 10 students in these houses.

“A lot of times we shut these houses down — it goes empty in the summertime and then back in the fall it gets filled up again,” he said. “I hope the next university president will have a stricter policy when it comes to rentals.”

Proposed passive park

Recently, the Town of Brookhaven approved a resolution to allow Suffolk County to begin the process of purchasing land parcels which includes an old derelict building on the southeast corner of Gnarled Hollow Road on Route 25A. The resolution also authorizes the town to demolish the buildings on the property and maintain and manage the parcel as an open-space passive park.

Recycling

Residents were wondering what the town is doing to tackle the issue of recycling.

“The recycling market collapsed last year when China stopped accepting 95 percent of recycled products,” Romaine said.

The supervisor said they have looked at a few options, but nobody wanted what they had. The town had to reevaluate its recycling program and see what still had value.

“We went back to dual stream and ended glass pickup because there really hasn’t ever been a true market for glass,” he said.

Romaine mentioned the town had found a potential suitor in New Jersey that would take some of the collected glass and use it as an industrial abrasive.

The Brookhaven supervisor said he would be open to discussing the recycling topic in more detail at a future meeting.

Steven J. Crowley Memorial Park in Port Jefferson Station on Old Town Road is one of the parks affected by the new limitations. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is looking to make cleaning up their parks a little quieter and a little more environmentally friendly.

At its May 2 meeting, the town board voted unanimously to establish “green parks” at various locations within the Town of Brookhaven. This mandates the town to only use electric-powered, handheld landscaping equipment when cleaning up the parks.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) was one of the main drivers for the bill, which would establish the ordinance in only small parks, including the Steven J. Crowley Memorial Park and Block Boulevard Park in Port Jefferson Station, and Sycamore Circle Park and Parson Drive Park in Stony Brook. The Democratic councilwoman said it is a case of both noise and pollution.

“Thirty minutes running a gas-powered leaf blower pollutes the same as a Ford Raptor truck running 3,900 miles. One leaf blower creates two to four pounds of particulate matter per hour,” Cartright said.

The changes have been limited to small-sized parks in the town, according to Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), because the batteries wear out if used constantly for the larger town-owned parks, though he said the town was looking to go beyond this pilot program in the direction of all electric handheld landscape equipment for more than town employees.

Cartright said she has been looking into more general legislation that would affect gas-powered leaf blowers within the entire town. She pointed to the town of North Hempstead, which passed a law in January this year banning the use of gas-powered leaf blowers from June 15 to Sept. 15. 

The councilwoman said she wants to bring landscaping associations and other advocacy groups to the table.

“I don’t want to do something that impacts the landscapers that’s negative,” Cartright said. “I do want to bring them to the table to talk about how we can be a little more environmentally friendly.”

The new ordinance requires a budget transfer of $10,000 for the new equipment, which mostly comes in the form of electric leaf blowers.

Other parks included are Miller Avenue Park in Shoreham, the Gary Adler Park in Centereach and the Pamela and Iroquois parks in Selden. All councilors on the board cosponsored the bill with parks from their individual areas.

Cartright said she receives constant notice from residents complaining about landscapers using loud equipment not just in town-owned parks, but at all times in the day on people’s property. 

“We have constituents calling every other day telling us they’re in violation of our noise code, and that we need to do something about it,” Cartright said. 

When it comes to choosing a landscaper, the Democratic councilwoman said there is no one person helping to show which landscapers try to use electric equipment.

“If I wanted to pick a landscaper that used only electric, we don’t know who that is,” she said.

A house located at 55 Shinnecock is torn down by Brookhaven town. Photo by Bea Ruberto

There was once a house on Shinnecock Drive in Sound Beach. Now there is a vacant patch of land and rubble. From the front, it was close to idyllic, featuring a small single-floor cottage, a mason stone exterior, a picket fence and a worn birdbath sitting just behind a fence. 

The house is gone, torn down by the Town of Brookhaven for being a derelict property. Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the frontage of the home was beautiful, but everything behind the front, what one couldn’t see from the street, was torn up and run down.

“It was like on a theater stage, the front looked good, but there was nothing behind it,” Bonner said.

A house located at 55 Shinnecock is torn down by Brookhaven town. Photo by Bea Ruberto

The work to take down derelict homes is constant. At the tail end of February, the town had demolished another home on Audrey Street in Miller Place. These vacant and derelict houses have had a menacing moniker affixed to them, zombie homes, and since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, they have become endemic on Long Island. At a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting March 11, Bonner explained the process the town takes to removing these blighted structures and explained the reasons why it’s difficult to repurpose the land after the home is torn down.

Town officials are informed about zombie homes in multiple ways. Residents can call up town hall or contact the council district office directly. Otherwise, Bonner said her office learns about these derelict buildings through interacting with the community at civic meetings or by just driving around the district.

The town sends out a third-party inspector, namely Hauppauge-based engineering firm Cashin, Spinelli & Ferretti LLC, to check on the home and make sure the property is vacant. If not, the house is then put on the vacant home registry, a long list of houses in the town that no longer have legal occupants.

At its annual March 11 state of the town address, Brookhaven town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said more than 250 zombie homes had been demolished since 2014. Bonner said the town currently has approximately 2,000 zombie homes in the process of being demolished by the town.

“When I started, I never thought the town would be in this kind of business,” Bonner said. 

Bonner said her office often gathers information on a derelict property from the Suffolk County Clerk’s office, especially looking at whether the property’s taxes are current, whether there is a mortgage on the property, or whether the land is owned by an LLC. Town employees try to contact the homeowner, who is required to contact the town clerk, pay a fee of $250 and provide a point of contact for the maintenance company. However, this step is especially challenging, as often there are little means of contacting the homeowner, especially if they no longer live in the state and their contact information is not current. It could mean months of work talking to the banks or going through other channels to contact these people.

“When I started, I never thought the town would be in this kind of business.”

— Jane Bonner

If there is a significant number of problems with the property, and if there is no property management company the town can get a hold of, Brookhaven will go in and cut overgrown grass or board and secure the property, though they will only board and secure the first floor and the town does not repair roofs. After the inspection is done the inspector determines whether it meets the threshold for demolition. The inspection will also detail if there is asbestos on the property, which will mandate additional work to contain during demolition.

After the home is recommended for demolition, the town hosts a public hearing on the property. A typical town board meeting could have several of these public hearings for properties all across the town. Occasionally, the homeowner or bank that owns the property will come to the hearings and based on the arguments of the property owner, an extension could be made to allow the owner to fix up the property. Otherwise, the town allows 30 days after the public hearing before a final decision to raze a property is made.

“Occasionally, I think they don’t think we’re serious at the public hearing,” Bonner said. “Sometimes we give them time, other times we tell them they already had their 30 days.”

Brookhaven spokesperson Jack Krieger said the town expects to spend $1.8 million in 2019 on derelict properties, of which $1.2 million is directly related to demolition. The rest of that money is spent on support staff dealing with matters on contacting property owners or taking care of the property. The property owner is responsible for the demolition costs.

The town has two full-time employees who work directly on these derelict properties. Beyond that, each council member is supposed to be involved in the houses within their own district. Bonner said her office will spend a cumulative time of a full eight-hour day each week just dealing with these zombie homes.

Krieger said there have been 35 zombie homes demolished in district 2 since the zombie program began in 2013. That is peanuts compared to the likes of Mastic Beach, a village that had disincorporated in 2016. In that area, the town is dealing with more than 100 known derelict and run-down properties.

“Talk about impacting the quality of life,” Bonner said. “Talk about squatters, talk about drug dealing, talk about impacting your property values — there are a lot of components to it.”

These derelict properties often have issues with animal infestation, break-ins and squatters, which can intensify and lengthen the process of removing the run-down properties. But the biggest roadblock to bringing a house back up to standards might be the lien put on the property. 

“Talk about squatters, talk about drug dealing, talk about impacting your property values — there are a lot of components to it.”

— Jane Bonner

After the town cleans up the property, Brookhaven will often put a lien on that property for the property taxes, either expecting the property owner or the county to pay back the town. In order to buy that property, a prospective buyer must satisfy that lien first, which on the steep end could be as high as $500,000, such as the case with the house on Audrey Street, according to Bonner.

These liens could make buying the now vacant property much harder, often leaving the property vacant for years with minimal means of getting a developer to build on the property with the extra fee coming from the lien. 

“It’s kind of like a cog in the wheel, it gums up the work, it really does,” she said.

Mimi Hodges, a Sound Beach resident, asked why these houses couldn’t be rejuvenated using state loans to rehabilitate them. That, or start community projects in order to buy the property and turn it into housing for homeless veterans or other needy groups, an example of which was a land trust that was recently created in Uniondale by community members.

“To support the character of the community,” Hodges said. “Make it an affordable house.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town residents will see a small increase in their 2019 town tax bill, and minimal use of surplus to balance the proposed operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) roughly $302 million tentative spending plan, presented during a media briefing at Town Hall Sept. 28, maintains all constituent services and full-time staffing from the current operating budget, increases funding for road maintenance and keeps the garbage district rate flat at $350 annually.

The 2019 tentative budget represents an approximately $8 million increase compared to the current year. The primary cost drivers of the budget cited by Romaine are a collective bargaining agreement mandated cost-of-living raise for town employees; an extra pay day for all employees in 2019; and a more than 6 percent increase in cost of employee benefits. Still, the proposed budget complies with the state-mandated 2 percent property tax increase cap.

Romaine discussed the lack of a need to use fund balance reserve dollars to balance the budget as a point of pride in presenting the ’19 tentative budget.

“One of my key strategic financial goals since taking office in November 2012 has been to bring the town’s finances to structural balance,” he said. “The three-point plan I implemented six years ago has put an end to deficit spending, has rebuilt the town’s surpluses and has improved the town’s credit rating to a AAA with Standard & Poor’s.”

Matt Miner, town chief of operations, said it’s been more than a decade since the town had a balanced budget requiring no fund balance.

“This is really the highlight of the supervisor’s budget,” he said. “You can see that the town, prior to Supervisor Romaine’s arrival, relied heavily on the use of fund balance surplus to balance its budget and the supervisor has been very aggressive and instructed both [Tamara Wright, town commissioner of finance] and myself and all of the department heads to craft budgets to bring that application of surplus down. Each year, we’ve been doing that and to the supervisor’s credit, it is now at zero in all six major funds, something that really hasn’t been achieved.”

The supervisor touted a rededication to growing non-property tax sources of revenue, including a “huge rally” in mortgage tax receipts in recent years. The 2017 operating budget was boosted by an increase in mortgage tax revenue also not seen in nearly a decade, though 2018 estimates are falling slightly short of that performance, according to Romaine. Still, he indicated there are positive signs for the town’s housing market. In 2013, more than 62 percent of the operating budget was funded by property taxes, according to him, compared to an estimated 58.7 percent in the tentative ’19 budget.

“We have 41 grants that we have been successful in receiving, and we have another 25 in the hopper,” Romaine said, of other revenue streams for the town. “So by attracting and aggressively going after grant money, we’ve been able to cut down on our dependence on property tax.”

The town’s proposed budget includes about $87 million in capital projects for 2019. About $58 million of those funds will be set aside for new capital projects with the remainder going to projects started in prior years. Brookhaven also received a $20 million grant as the winner of New York State’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition.  

A public hearing on the budget is slated for Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall with expected adoption to take place Nov. 20.

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Joshua Ruff of The Long Island Museum and town historian Barbara Russell at the Longwood Estate. Photo courtesy of Town of Brookhaven

On Aug. 7, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and town historian Barbara Russell visited the Longwood Estate (circa 1790) in Ridge where they presented two historic paintings to Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretation at The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, to be added to the museum’s collection as a long-term loan.

The portraits, painted by Shepard Alonzo Mount, were gifted to the town by Eleanor Smith of California. The subjects are William Sidney Smith (1796–1879) and his wife, Eleanor Jones Smith (1805–1884). A year after their marriage in 1823, the couple came to Longwood Estate and raised 10 children. William Smith served as Brookhaven Supervisor from 1829 to 1834.

“These pieces were donated to the Town of Brookhaven, they still belong to the Town of Brookhaven, but they are coming to the museum and will be stored in our collections to be used occasionally for exhibition purposes,” said Ruff in a recent phone interview. “We agreed in taking them as a long-term loan because we believe they really add to our holdings on Shepard Alonzo Mount.”

Painted in the early 1830s, the two portraits were displayed in the house on the property until the last Smith family owner, Eleanor Northrup Smith, sold the estate and moved to California in the late 1960s. The paintings have been stored in a warehouse since that time. 

Albeit a loan, Ruff is thrilled to be able to add them to the museum’s current collection, which includes more than 25 of Shepard Alonzo Mount’s paintings and several hundred of his drawings and sketches, not to mention the enormous collection of paintings and drawings by his more famous younger brother, William Sidney Mount.  

According to Ruff, these particular portraits are unique in that they precede the portrait paintings the museum has, which are from the later 1830s and 1840s. “They were done just when [Shepard] was starting to launch his career as a portrait artist. This was a phase of his career that we hadn’t really documented before. They are valuable in that sense to us,” he said. “They show him beginning to mature as an artist and improve in his skills.”

By Rita J. Egan

On April 19, residents joined Stony Brook Village Center President Gloria Rocchio, Chairman Dr. Richard Rugen, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Three Village Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Polan in welcoming five new businesses to the center.

The grand opening and ribbon cutting stroll included gift and clothing store Madison’s Niche, Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions, interior design business Cervo Design, Village Florist and Events and Sweet Mama’s Family Restaurant. Before and after the ribbon cuttings, attendees had the opportunity to stroll through each establishment, and enjoyed refreshments at Cervo Design and Sweet Mama’s.

Elected officials, scientists and environmentalists filled the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building last year 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.