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Brookhaven

Sen. Kenneth LaValle, wearing hat, sits with Brookhaven National Laboratory beamline scientist Dieter Schneider. Looking on from left, BNL Director Doon Gibbs; vice president for development at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Charles Prizzi; NSLS-II director John Hill; and Stony Brook University associate vice president for Brookhaven affairs, Richard Reeder. Photo from Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thanks to the persistent support of state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Brookhaven National Laboratory secured $15 million from New York State to add a state-of-the-art microscope that could contribute to advances in basic science and medicine.

The national laboratory will purchase a new cryo-electron microscope and will use the funds to create a building attached to its National Synchrotron Light Source II.

“Cryo-electron microscopy is an advanced imaging technology that will significantly accelerate scientists’ understanding of molecular structures and processes generally, including many impacts in understanding disease and in aiding drug discovery,” Doon Gibbs, the laboratory director of BNL, said in an email.

BNL will use the funds to purchase the first of what they hope will be four such new microscopes. The lab is finalizing a bid, which is due by June 30 for funds from the National Institutes of Health for three additional microscopes.

“There is an exponentially increasing demand for the type of bio-structural information that such machines provide, and so we are competing to become an East Coast based national facility to serve this rapidly growing community,” James Misewich, the associate director for energy and photon sciences at BNL said in an email.

Having a suite of microscopes would enable BNL to have a spectrum of capabilities to serve the needs of its scientists and of researchers from around the world who flock to the Upton-based lab to conduct their research.

The new facility will create jobs associated with running the cryo-EM, Misewich said. If BNL wins the NIH proposal to become a national cryo-EM facility, it would also employ additional scientists, engineers, technicians and administrators to run the user program.

Misewich said he hopes scientists at nearby Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory will benefit from the opportunity to use a combination of its X-ray and electron microscope probes.

Senior members of the BNL team credit LaValle for helping to secure the funds.

“The $15 million in New York State funding is the culmination of a two-year effort led by the senator to bring a cryo-EM to Brookhaven and jump-start this important effort,” Gibbs said.

LaValle suggested that the funds were well worth the investment.

“It is critically important for government to embrace and support the work of the organizations that make life-altering discoveries and better our lives, health and environment,” LaValle said in an email. “This investment will further establish world-leading prominence in the field of medical research, and position the region for additional major investments by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy.”

Misewich envisions configuring one of the microscopes to allow for electron tomography, which will generate three-dimensional images of cells.

“The approach will be complementary to the X-ray imaging work we can undertake with the NSLS-II beamlines,” Misewich said.

Gibbs explained that the cryo-EM is complementary to X-ray crystallography, which is the traditional method for determining structures, which scientists already do at BNL.

“Few prescription drugs have been approved by the [Food and Drug Administration] for use in the U.S. in the last 20 years without a crystallographic study of their structure by X-rays,” Gibbs continued.

Misewich expects the new microscope could lead to new methods of detection, diagnosis and treatment for diseases like cancer or for medical challenges like antibiotic resistance.

Combining the technological tools of the new cryo-EM with the insights from the NSLS II and the nine-year-old Center for Functional Nanomaterials will enable researchers to “provide much more rapid bio-structure determination in response to needs like the ability to rapidly characterize a virus,” Misewich said.

LaValle sited this effort as a part of his ongoing commitment to build Long Island’s new high-tech economy.

The combination of BNL, SBU and CSHL “will provide a significant boost to the competitiveness of the biosciences and biotechnology communities across Long Island,” LaValle said.

Colleagues pay tribute to Peter Paul

Paul, second from right, in 2002 with colleagues David Fossan, Linwood Lee, Robert McGrath and Gene Sprouse; and Paul in a family photo. Photo from Gene Sprouse

For nearly 50 years, Setauket’s Peter Paul was a prominent member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University. With his death March 11 at the age of 84, the physicist left behind a legacy that will be remembered for years to come, especially by his former colleagues.

A native of Dresden, Germany, Paul received a Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg, and immigrated to the United States when he accepted a postdoctoral position at Stanford University. 

Linwood Lee, emeritus professor, recalled when he recruited Paul in the late 1960s. A former co-worker of Lee’s worked with Paul at Stanford University and told him how impressive the physicist was. Lee knew he had to hire him during a time when he called coming to Stony Brook University “an adventure” because the school was in its infancy.

Peter Paul. Photo from Stony Brook University

Lee said Paul was marvelous, and he’s grateful he recruited the professor.

“We established a laboratory here, and from the moment he got here, he was the driving force to make us all do better,” Lee said.

Paul was a professor at the university from 1967 to 2015 and later a distinguished service professor in the department and served as chairman twice during his tenure. One of Paul’s greatest achievements was building a first-class nuclear physics group along with his colleagues at Stony Brook.

In 1973, when the physicist spearheaded a small group to develop, design and construct Stony Brook’s superconducting linear for heavy ions, an improvement of the university’s existing Van de Graaff accelerator, it became the first such machine at a university lab.

Gene Sprouse, now a distinguished John S. Toll professor at SBU, was a graduate student at Stanford University when he met Paul. He later came to Stony Brook and worked on the accelerator project with him.

“That machine was really unique. It was a very powerful accelerator at a university,” Sprouse said.

Paul Grannis, another of Paul’s colleagues at SBU, said Paul was very proud of the accelerator project.

“It enabled research that had previously not been possible to be done, and it was quite a unique facility in the country,” Grannis said. “I know Peter was very proud of that and considered it one of his major achievements.”

Paul became a member of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee in 1980, and as chair, led the development of the 1998 Nuclear Science Long Range Plan, which in turn led to the construction of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Paul was appointed deputy director for science and technology in 1998 at BNL, and when John Marburger was appointed as President George W. Bush’s scientific advisor in 2001, Paul stepped in as interim director at the laboratory until 2003. Under Paul’s direction, BNL made many advances, including starting the construction of Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and conceptualizing the electron-ion collider as a successor to RHIC.

Peter Paul with Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, M.D. Photo from Stony Brook University

Paul returned to SBU after serving as interim director at BNL, and his ongoing success was never a surprise to those who knew him.

“Peter was very energetic and driven,” Sprouse said. “He was always pushing for excellence.”

Sprouse described Paul as a visionary who helped to create the Stony Brook University people know today, especially the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“Throughout his career he helped to build the nuclear physics groups at Stony Brook, he helped to build the department, and then he helped to build things at Brookhaven,” Sprouse said. “He always kept an eye out for putting in place instruments and institutes that could strengthen Stony Brook in particular and Brookhaven, too.”

Grannis echoed Sprouse’s praise of Paul.

“He was very motivated to do the best that he could in all of his scientific endeavors and to insist that all those who worked with him do so,” Grannis said.

Chang Kee Jung, a SUNY distinguished professor, said when Paul returned to Stony Brook after his time at BNL, he looked for a research program to be involved in. He said he was surprised when Paul knocked on his office door one day and told him he was interested in the projects he was working on at the time.

Jung said he was hesitant at first due to Paul’s extensive experience. However, Paul assured him he would never do anything to interfere. Jung said Paul was always curious to learn more in his field, and didn’t have an ego despite all of his successes. The professor said Paul was the perfect person to have on his team, and he became an advisor to Jung. The two worked together until Paul became the university’s associate vice president for Brookhaven affairs — a position he held until his retirement in 2015.

He also remembers Paul fondly on a personal level and said he was grateful for the opportunity to visit the professor at home a couple of weeks before his death.

“Among all the people I met at Stony Brook, he was the strongest supporter of me, personally,” Jung said. “For whatever reason he liked me and the projects I was doing.”

Lee added that like many professors, Paul was always proud of his students. Many left SBU for prestigious careers, including Michael Thoennessen, chair, APS division of nuclear physics at Michigan University. Thoennessen wrote in an email Paul was his Ph.D. adviser when he attended SBU in the late 1980s.

Peter Paul. Photo from Bryant Funeral Home

“In Germany the Ph.D. adviser is called the ‘Doktor Vater’ (Ph.D. Father) and that is exactly what Peter was to his students,” Thoennessen wrote. “In addition to being a brilliant scientist and a great administrator, Peter was an amazing mentor. I would not be where I am right now without Peter’s advice and guidance.”

Grannis added that despite a demanding career, Paul led a well-rounded life.

“He had a very broad range of interests not only in science but in music, in travel, in reading,” Grannis said. “He was very well-informed on many things.”

Paul was an ardent opera-goer and hiker, and Jung remembers the professor being in his 70s and still traveling upstate to go skiing. His career provided him the opportunity to travel extensively, too. Among his trips were vacations to his homeland of Germany.

In his lifetime, Paul received numerous awards including the American Physical Society Fellow, Institute of Physics Fellow, Sloane Research Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award and the Order of Merit First Class from the German government. Paul is also an inductee in the Long Island Technology Hall of Fame. However, his greatest honor may be the legacy he leaves behind at Stony Brook University.

“Peter was one of the people that made us a better university,” Lee said. “He was active in associating us with Brookhaven, and he was always a booster of the university, and we always boosted Peter. It was hard to keep him because he was recognized as a top scientist. He turned down some very good offers to stay here.”

Sprouse said Paul inspired many to come to SBU and helped them, with his encouragement and leadership, to develop their careers.

“I just think that he was somebody that was really dedicated to the university and wanted to build it,” he said. “For those of us who were at Stony Brook, 40, 50 years ago, Stony Brook was kind of a dream, and Peter really made it a reality.”

Donate Life supporters during a rally. File photo

By Kevin Redding

As of Feb. 14, National Organ Donor Day, a new state law rolled out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) permits 16- and 17-year-olds to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry when they apply for a driver’s license, learner’s permit or nondriver ID, potentially growing enrollments in New York by thousands.

Sponsored by State Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), the legislation’s altered minimum age to sign up as an organ donor, which had previously been 18, serves as a big step for New York, which currently ranks 50th out of all 50 states when it comes to the percentage of residents enrolled to be organ donors.

Kidney recipient Tom D’Antonio and Brookhaven
Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner. Photo from Councilwoman Bonner

At just 28 percent, New York State is “way at the bottom of the pack” when it comes to enrollment, according to Flanagan, a strong advocate for organ donations because of his late friend, Assemblyman James Conte (R-Huntington Station), who was the recipient of two kidney transplants before losing a battle with cancer in 2012.

“[New York] has been a leader in many ways on a wide variety of issues and we should be the premiere state in terms of organ donation,” Flanagan said. “I just want to promote organ donation, and promote awareness. There are thousands and thousands of people who are waiting for transplants here in the state, kidney being the primary one. We don’t have enough people signing up, and it’s taken too long to [get here] but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The senator said Conte is the reason he’s a donor, and after his death, he realized he could use his own political platform to advocate for this cause and encourage others to get involved.

Like Flanagan, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) is passionate about organ donation and takes every opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of becoming a donor when speaking publicly, regardless of the event.

“I could be at a civic event talking about town improvement projects or town issues, and I always use it as a soapbox to talk about organ donation,” Bonner said. “Roughly 125,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney and there are 350 million people in the United States, seemingly with healthy kidneys. If everybody who could donate, donated one, we wouldn’t have people waiting for a kidney anymore and lives can be saved.”

Bonner said that under the new law, 16- and 17-year-olds can make donations upon their death, and it includes safeguards where their parents or legal guardians have the option to rescind the decision if the minor dies before 18.

“It not only ups the amount of eligible organ donors there are to sign up and save lives, but also starts a conversation at an earlier age about its importance.”

— Megan Fackler

“Teenagers are very passionate about so many issues and I think this legislation was made because they’re employing every toy in the toolbox, knowing the state is dead last,” she said.

The councilwoman knows a thing or two about saving lives this way.

It was last April when Bonner donated her kidney to her childhood friend Tom D’Antonio, who had been diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, had suffered multiple health issues over the years and desperately needed a transplant.

“I said ‘I’ll do it, we’re the same blood type,’ and I donated blood to him when he got his first kidney transplant,” Bonner recalled.

D’Antonio was more than grateful for the donation his longtime friend made.

“I bounced back like a rockstar and I feel great, I have more energy and determination,” D’Antonio said, reflecting on the experience. “It’s my belief that there is something within a human being that takes that step and makes that heroic move to save a life; it moves me beyond a place I can easily describe. Not only did [Jane] save my life but she enriched the lives of those close to me, [like my wife].”

But D’Antonio is not a big fan of the new law, calling it “hugely irresponsible” and a “grossly inadequate response” to appease a need for more donors. 

“Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds have enough trouble making a decision about what classes to take as seniors, their minds are still developing, and I’m appalled that this is the state’s answer,” he said. “What the state should do instead is put some money and effort into organ donor awareness and make it part of the teaching curriculum in high school.”

Karen Hill, the recipient of Tom Cutinella’s heart, and his mother Kelli Cutinella. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

Alternatively, Kelli Cutinella, whose son Tom died October 2014 following a head-on collision during a high school football game, spoke in Albany to help get the law passed, and said she’s glad to see it in effect.

Tom, who wanted to register when he was 16 at the DMV but was ultimately not allowed at the time, donated all vital organs, such as his heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, bones and skin.

“He was a giver in life and would do anything for anybody, and it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to register at 16, it was just in his nature,” Cutinella said.

The mother, who has an ongoing relationship with Tom’s heart recipient and pancreas and kidney recipient, was recently notified by a New York Burn Center that a 30-year-old man from Brooklyn had received Tom’s skin after suffering severe burns in a house fire.

“Tom lives on now,” Cutinella said. “He’s not here in the physical sense, but he is with the recipients as they go on to live wonderful, fulfilling lives.”

According to Megan Fackler of LiveOnNY, a federally designated organ procurement organization, the new law is exciting.

“It not only ups the amount of eligible organ donors there are to sign up and save lives, but also starts a conversation at an earlier age about its importance,” Fackler said. “Donor family and recipient meetings have been the most touching. There are lots of things 16- and 17-year-olds can’t do, like rent a car, get a tattoo, vote, join the army, but they can save lives.”

Residents can visit the New York State Health Department’s website at www.health.ny.gov/donatelife to get more information about organ donation in New York State, including how to register as a donor.

Winter is here on the North Shore, and Brookhaven Town is upgrading their system to handle snow removal. FIle photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Brookhaven is embracing the modern age to help prepare for severe weather.

With snowstorm season fast approaching, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) is making it a whole lot easier to clear roadways with the roll out of a new app designed to help foremen streamline the process of contacting hired drivers and achieve efficiency through technology.

The “call-out app,” created by Losquadro and staff in the Division of Information Technology, will do away with the old system in which foremen had to go to their offices and make calls to each individual driver to confirm who was working, what town to respond to and what time their services would be needed. With 1,194 active snow removal vendors throughout the district, that process could take up to four hours — precious time that could be better spent plowing the streets.

A test done on Brookhaven Town Incident Management shows which vendors have and have not responded to call-outs. Image from Brookhaven Town

With the new app, drivers provide their cell phone numbers and email addresses, and from the comfort of their iPads or iPhones, foremen can simply send a text or email about the specifics of the job — what yard to report to, what equipment or vehicle to use, what time to start — and get instant yes or no responses as to who’s available to work.  Foremen are able to see, in real time, who is coming in, who isn’t, and can dictate how many total vendors will be in specific areas.

Address hyperlinks are also included, so with the click of a button, the driver is brought directly to a map with directions to the given job site.

By automating the process and having such an immediate call-out, snow removal vendors can get to roads faster by several hours, saving the Town and its residents time and money.

“There’s no reason government needs to be archaic and not operate with the same technology that we’re using everyday of our lives outside of government,” Losquadro said. “I’ve been striving to bring us into the modern age, and this is just another step toward that. This is technology that everyone is very comfortable and well-acquainted with. The app is going to make us more efficient; we can actually spend our time doing the work that needs to be done.”

Losquadro introduced and trained supervisors and field workers on a custom-built, electronic work order system last year, developed a system to track work orders during severe weather the year before that, and is currently in the process of making an electronic time sheet program that will keep track of work hours operational before the end of this snow season.

A test email of what a call-out would look like. Image from Brookhaven Town

He said he and the IT staff have been able to build these programs in-house, rather than go out to consultants and spend thousands of taxpayer dollars. From concept to reality, the call-out app took roughly four months to get off the ground and functions on an Apple-operating system, making it as user-friendly as possible. The app can run on desktop computers, tablets and iPhones.

Matt Sabatello, an IT staff member, said a test of the app was conducted in early December and feedback from foremen has been incredible.

“The app allows for better decision-making for foremen,” he said. “It gives them a good idea of which vendors are responding to work in what areas and, if need be, allows them to react immediately to reassign a vendor to an area that nobody may have been calling in about.”

With Brookhaven being such a large township, Losquadro said “there’s no reason we shouldn’t be leading the way.”

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of ideas about what I’ve wanted to do, and being able to [see them through] has been very satisfying. The app is a fully live and operational system and, God willing, I won’t have to use it that much this year.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle, at center, is honored by Centereach VFW Post 4927 at its annual Gold Chevron Ball last month. File photo from Town of Brookhaven

By Daniel Dunaief

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on big projects in the 3rd Council District, although it is his ability to hone in on some of the smaller quality-of-life details that impressed Bram Weber, a partner with the Weber Law Group in Melville.

Weber worked with Kimco Realty, the owners of Independence Plaza mall in Selden, which recently brought in new tenants and renovated the property.

LaValle has “noticed things I may not have noticed the last time I was at the property,” Weber said. “He digs deep into the details of his job.”

Indeed, LaValle, whose last name has become synonymous with public service on Long Island, is earning his own admirers as he focuses on everything from rebuilding roads, to continuing construction on a new park in Selden, to improving the aesthetics and ease of shopping in his district, to searching for businesses to bring into the area and create jobs.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle, on right, welcomes paralyzed U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Ventura to his newly renovated and handicap-accessible home in Selden. File photo from Town of Brookhaven

For LaValle’s dedication to his work on behalf of his constituents, while maintaining a job as a mortgage loan originator at Lynx Mortgage Bank in Westbury, Times Beacon Record News Media names the councilman a 2016 Person of the Year.

“The fact that he can balance [his roles] is quite tremendous,” said Zahra Jafri, president of Lynx Mortgage Bank, who described LaValle as “honest, ethical and service-oriented.” LaValle “does what he says he’s going to do.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who has known LaValle for 12 years, said he dug in from the moment he was elected.

“It’s impressive what he’s been able to accomplish so quickly,” Bonner said.

Indeed, Bonner cited the work the third-year councilman did to help bring businesses to Selden’s Independence Plaza.

“We were able to work with the property owner and redevelop that site,” which now has a Rite Aid and a Guitar Center, LaValle said. Five Guys Burgers and Fries is expected to move in within the next six months. “I am always looking to work with property owners who have vacant stores to bring in new businesses, whether they be big-name companies or new businesses just getting started.”

LaValle, whose district includes Lake Grove, Centereach, Selden and parts of Lake Ronkonkoma, Farmingville and Coram, said it is a challenge to fill large sites, and is excited that Ocean State Job Lot moved into the former Pathmark site in Centereach and Best Market took over the former Waldbaums site in Selden.

He sees his role as creating a way to share the community’s perspective with business.

At town board meetings, LaValle honors a business of the month. He instituted that process when he first entered office. He chooses a business that is recommended by a community organization, such as the chamber of commerce, for supporting the community through charitable acts.

Bonner said the spotlight on these businesses also helps deliver the message to residents to shop locally, work with fellow business owners and the Chamber of Commerce.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle, on left, celebrated the Selden Dog Park festival in October with the unveiling of a memorial bench in honor of deceased police dog, Ace. File photo from Town of Brookhaven

“You can tell he knows these businesses and has visited them,” town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. “He has taken a personal interest in knocking on doors and asking what’s going on, how can we help, and what is bothering you?”

Romaine has worked with LaValle on a sport complex in Selden that currently has what Romaine describes as two “world class” turf baseball fields, with dugouts, fencing and lights behind Grace Presbyterian Church.

LaValle was the “chief motivator and instigator in getting things moving” with this park, which sits behind Hawkins Path Elementary School, Romaine said. “He made sure everything stayed on the timetable we set.”

The park will be breaking ground soon on redeveloping a baseball field to a multipurpose field, which LaValle hopes will be done by the summer. In 2017, engineers will design the remaining part of the park as well as roadway improvements along Boyle Road and Hawkins Road to handle the additional traffic.

LaValle worked to redesign a planned dog park. He said he met with residents to talk about the park, which is divided into areas for large and small dogs, and hosted a public meeting.

LaValle worked with the owners of a batting cage site in Selden that was the regular target of graffiti. He put the property owner in touch with a security company in California that uses wireless, motion-activated cameras to take a video whenever someone walks on the property. This should reduce the number of false alarms police responded to with the other types of security systems, LaValle said. It will also help law enforcement catch those who are defacing the property.

LaValle said working as a councilman and a mortgage loan originator puts pressure on his schedule, which can require him to work 17 days in a row without a break.

“My family is understanding about my commitment,” he said. “If I show up late for a party, they get it. They understand what’s going on.”

His family has been down this road before. His cousin, Ken LaValle, has been a state senator (R-Port Jefferson) since 1976. Kevin’s brother, John Jay LaValle, is a former town supervisor and is the Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman.

“Invariably, someone comes to meetings and calls him Ken or John,” Bonner said. “He handles it really well. He has a good sense of humor about it.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle honors Centereach High School Student of the Month, Troy Lee, in October.

The councilman said each of the politicians in his family has his own style. He’s taken to the notion that working hard will bring good results.

Those who have seen LaValle in action believe he practices what he preaches.

“He’s a hard worker,” said Donna Lent, Brookhaven town clerk. “I don’t think it has anything to do with his name. I judge people by what they do.”

A resident of Selden, LaValle graduated from Centereach High School. He earned a bachelor of arts from Salisbury University in Maryland. Before running for office, he worked for then-county Legislator Dan Losquadro (R) as his chief of staff.

Bonner, who also worked for Losquadro before becoming a councilwoman seven years ago, described how LaValle’s high energy benefits everyone in the office.

“I can hear him when he’s on the phone with residents and constituents, while he’s trying to solve their problems, he’s so high energy that he’s bouncing a ball against the wall,” Bonner said.

Having LaValle as a member of the council has put a “spring in the step” of other council members. “It’s impossible not to have that [energy] affect you.”

As the liaison with the highway department, LaValle collaborated with Losquadro, who is now highway superintendent, to complete a 23-road paving project near Centereach High School and Dawnwood Middle School.

As LaValle learned from watching his brother and cousin, he knows that he’ll hear from members of his constituency wherever he goes.

LaValle is “deeply engaged with the community,” Romaine said. “It’s been a joy to work with him. He has no reticence to take the initiative.”

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Whether you plunged or supported a plunger, Long Islanders flocked to Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach Nov. 19, dressing up and gathering together with teams to jump in and out of the cold waters as part of the Town of Brookhaven’s seventh annual Polar Plunge.

By registering to plunge, applicants raised money for the athletes of Special Olympics New York.

Special Olympics New York has 67,162 athletes training and competing year-round in 22 Olympics-style sports. Athletes and their families or caregivers are never charged to participate. It costs $400 to support training and competition for one athlete for one sports season.

Algae built up on a lake where birds and other marina life inhabit. File photo

By Rebecca Anzel

Long Island’s economic prosperity and quality of life are at risk from an unlikely source, but both the Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven governments are taking steps to combat the issue.

Bodies of water in the county face nitrogen pollution, which leads to harmful algae blooms and a decrease in shellfish population, among other environmental defects. Critically, nitrogen seeps into the Island’s groundwater, which is the region’s only source of drinking water.

Fishing, tourism and boating are billion-dollar industries in Suffolk County — approximately 60 percent of the Island’s economy is reliant on clean water. County property values are also tied to water clarity, according to a Stony Brook University report.

Nitrogen enters ground and surface water from various sources of runoff, such as landscaping, agriculture and pet waste. But the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution is failing septic systems, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) designated as “public water enemy No. 1.”

Elected officials and environmental advocates gathered at the home of Jim and Donna Minei, recipients of a Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems through the Suffolk County Septic Demonstration Pilot Program. Photo from Steve Bellone's office
Elected officials and environmental advocates gathered at the home of Jim and Donna Minei, recipients of a Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems through the Suffolk County Septic Demonstration Pilot Program. Photo from Steve Bellone’s office

Which is why Bellone signed into law last month a resolution that amended Suffolk County’s sanitary code to help protect the county’s aquifer and surface water by improving wastewater treatment technologies to combat nitrogen pollution as part of the county’s Reclaim Our Water initiative.

“It doesn’t help our tourism industry, our quality of life or our ecosystems,” county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said of issues with the Island’s water. “Tackling the nitrogen problem, while not a sexy issue, is a very important one.” Hahn is chairwoman of the county’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee.

Town and county officials are tackling the problem by utilizing what Hahn called a “multipronged approach.” Brookhaven is working to track any issues with outfalls, where drains and sewers empty into local waters, and Suffolk County is employing alternative septic systems.

Municipalities like Brookhaven are required by New York State to inspect each point where waste systems empty into a body of water and create a map of their location. It is part of a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit because, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, storm sewers collect pollutants like bacteria, motor oil, fertilizer, heavy metals and litter, and deposit them directly into bodies of water.

In addition to conducting the inspections of outfalls necessary to comply with the MS4 permit, the Town of Brookhaven conducts a DNA analysis of any outfall that has indications of impacting water quality. Since 2007, Brookhaven has spent more than $880,000 on this state requirement, Veronica King, the town’s stormwater manager, said.

“You want to put your resources where it makes the most sense,” she said. “Instead of dumping millions of dollars into structural retrofits that don’t address the true problem, the DNA analysis helps us to prioritize and make educated and cost-effective decisions.”

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Brookhaven contracts with Cornell Cooperative Extension because it maintains a DNA “library” of Long Island wildlife, which it uses to identify the source of any pathogens in collected stormwater. For instance, if the DNA tests conclude they came from pets, Brookhaven might conduct an educational campaign to remind residents to clean up after their furry friends. If the pathogens come from a human source, there might be an issue with a septic system.

“This type of analysis could prove of great importance because any patterns identified as a result of this study can help determine what next steps can be taken to improve water quality where necessary,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said.

Brookhaven has applied for a state grant to help pay for these DNA tests and outfall inspections for the first time this year, because, King said, this is the first time New York State has offered a grant to cover the work.

The DNA tests are important, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said, because they help to identify ways to decrease the amount of nitrogen seeping into groundwater.

“The amount of nitrogen in the Magothy aquifer layer has increased over 200 percent in 13 years,” he said of one of the sub-layers that is most commonly tapped into in Suffolk, although not the deepest in the aquifer. “Cleaning up our waterways is not going to be done overnight — this is going to take a long time — but the waterways did not become polluted overnight.”

Suffolk County launched its Septic Demonstration Program to install cesspool alternative systems in 2014, called Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (known as I/A OWTS), on the property of participants. Manufacturers of the technology donated the systems and installed them at no cost to the homeowner.

The county’s goal in testing these alternative systems is to lower the levels of nitrogen seeping into groundwater. According to a June 2016 Stony Brook University report, “the approximately 360,000 septic tank/leaching systems and cesspools that serve 74 percent of homes across Suffolk County have caused the concentrations of nitrogen in groundwater to rise by 50 percent since 1985.”

More than 10,000 of the nitrogen-reducing systems are installed in New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — all areas with similar environmental concerns to Suffolk County — according to the county executive’s office. County employees met with officials from these states to help shape its program.

“Tackling the nitrogen problem, while not a sexy issue, is a very important one.”

—Kara Hahn

The I/A OWTS installations worked out so well during a demonstration program that on July 26, the county passed a resolution to allow the Department of Health Services to regulate their use.

Typical cesspools are estimated to cost between $5,000 and $7,000 to install. The low nitrogen systems cost between $12,000 and $20,000, Hahn said. She added that as more areas facing similar environmental concerns require lower nitrogen standards and, as the technology improves, the cost of cesspool alternatives will go down.

Until then, Hahn said county officials have been discussing the possibility of subsidizing the cost of installing the I/A OWTS. It might begin requiring new homes to install low-nitrogen systems instead of traditional cesspools. Or, upon an old system’s failure, it might require an I/A OWTS be installed.

“We hope to eventually be able to help in some way,” she said.

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she hopes local businesses begin producing the alternative systems that the county determines best work for the area since it would “keep the economic dollar here” and provide jobs.

In January, Brookhaven will be the first town, Romaine said, that will begin mandating new constructions within 500 feet of any waterway to install an alternative wastewater treatment system.

“I think alternative systems work,” he said. “In many ways, even though we’re a local government, we are on the cutting edge of clean water technologies.”

Both the initiatives by Brookhaven and Suffolk County “go hand and glove,” George Hoffman, of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said. Many of Suffolk’s harbors and bays are struggling due to stormwater and nitrogen pollution, including Great South Bay, Lake Ronkonkoma, Northport Harbor, Forge River, Port Jefferson Harbor, Mount Sinai Harbor and Peconic River/Peconic Bay.

“Living on an island on top of our water supply and with thousands of homes along the shores of our harbors and bays, it never made sense to allow cesspools to proliferate,” he said.

The success of the initiatives, though, depends on residents.

“The public needs to be always recognizing that whatever we do on land here on Long Island and in Suffolk County affects not only the drinking water beneath us but the quality of our bays and waterways, streams and rivers all around us,” Hahn said. “It’s critically important that folks have that understanding. Everything we do on land affects our water here on the Island.”

New Mobi-Mats make sand easier to navigate for those with wheelchairs, other mobility devices

Deputy Parks Commissioner Rob Maag, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Aisha Grundmann, Supervisor Ed Romaine Jason Soricelli, Program Supervisor for Wheelchair Programs, and Alex Grundmann, stand on a new Mobi-Mat at Cedar Beach West in Mount Sinai. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

By Rebecca Anzel

Brookhaven is laying the groundwork to make its beaches more accessible to residents.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) announced new sand surfacing mats, called Mobi-Mats, at Cedar Beach West in Mount Sinai and West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook.

“The mats open up opportunities that didn’t exist before for people that, whatever the reason, the sand was not easy to navigate,” Bonner said. “So often times they wouldn’t go to the beach.”

The nonslip, semi-rigid roll-up beach access mats, completely made from recycled polyester roll by New Jersey company Deschamps Mats Systems Inc., enable residents who are elderly or using wheelchairs, crutches, strollers or other mobility devices to more easily traverse sandy beaches. They are low maintenance — the tear-resistant, permeable structure allows sand to filter through — and are easily maintained by removing any excess sand buildup with a broom or leaf blower. Mobi-Mats have already been used at beaches in Nassau County, including Jones Beach, and by the Marine Corps for the past 20 years in vehicular beach landing operations.

Accomplishing this project was easy, Bonner said. She saw a picture of the Mobi-Mats online over the winter and showed it to Parks Commissioner Ed Morris, who ordered them. “Everything in government should be that simple,” she said.

Rocky Point resident Aisha Grundmann said the mats are “wonderful” and installing them was “a great idea.” Her son Alex, 11, uses a wheelchair and asks to go to Cedar Beach more frequently now that he knows the mats make it easier for him to navigate across the sand.

“Multiple people have asked Alex for a beach playdate now, where they otherwise maybe wouldn’t have,” she said. “I can’t think of a more accepting community.”

Alex, who is going into fifth grade, is a local advocate for greater mobility not just for wheelchairs, but for everyone. He influenced improvements to the playgrounds and restrooms at his school to make them more handicap-accessible.

“The feedback for this project has been some of the most positive feedback I’ve ever received since I’ve been in office,” Bonner said.

Cedar Beach West and West Meadow Beach are just the first of Brookhaven’s beaches to get the mats. According to a town spokesman, Brookhaven purchased three — and there are plans to expand the program.

“They will be placed at some point at all of our beaches to allow people with disabilities or physical limitations to also enjoy the beach — one of the great pastimes on Long Island,” Romaine said. “We think this has a large impact on people’s lives.”

He added that for wheelchair-bound Brookhaven residents, beaches also have “beach-ready” chairs with larger wheels available upon request from the lifeguards.

Mobi-Mats are available for use between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The channel that runs between the Smithtown and Stony Brook yacht clubs needs to be dredged. File photo

By Phil Corso

North Shore boaters are making waves over a lack thereof.

Members of the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club and the Stony Brook Yacht Club have been kicking up sand for weeks with hopes that county and town officials would throw them a lifesaver and dredge the waters where the Stony Brook and Porpoise Channels merge on their way out into Smithtown Bay along the North Shore. And while there has been some support vocalized via elected leaders, action is still pending.

Members of both yacht clubs, though fierce competitors when the two cast off in interclub fishing contests, came together in the name of public safety this boating season when they penned a letter on June 2 to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Using urgent language, commodores for both groups, including Mike Kozyrski and Kevin Rooney of Smithtown and Denis Lynch of Stony Brook, asked for a quick dredging of the channel leading out to Smithtown Bay in the name of boater safety.

“At dead low tide, there is oftentimes less than a foot of water in the channel leading out into the Long Island Sound,” Kozyrski said. “Should a boater experience a serious medical emergency out on the water, the bay constable or other emergency personnel may be unable to transit the channel in order to assist them. In our opinion, this is a personal tragedy simply waiting to happen.”

Rooney, coordinator of the dredging project for the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club, said the low-tide and low-water situation has reached a “critical stage” due to the continued shifting of sand and bottom material into the channel.

“It is not an overstatement to say that the very lives of our members, their families and all other boaters are potentially in serious jeopardy due to inaction by various government agencies to prioritize and complete the necessary dredging of the Smithtown Bay channel,” he said. “The situation is dire. And it is totally unacceptable.”

In their letter, the commodores said the area in question was mostly limited to where Stony Brook and Porpoise Channels merged. Navigation buoys turn in a northwesterly direction there, leading into the bay and out into the Long Island Sound. If not dredged properly, the boaters argued that personnel could be unable to reach someone in need of assistance from the shorelines of Port Jefferson or Eaton’s Neck.

“By the time they arrive, it may be too late,” Lynch said.

Bellone, who has put his administration at the forefront of the fight to improve water quality on Long Island, expressed the importance of dredging earlier this year when his administration announced the completion of a project at Champlin Creek in the Town of Islip. A spokeswoman from his office said the Town of Brookhaven submitted a formal request this week before the county’s dredge project screening committee, which will consider making the area a part of the dredging program.

Earlier this month, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) requested that Suffolk County dredge more than a dozen spots across the town for the 2016-2017 dredging season, including the waters of Stony Brook.

“Dredging our waterways is essential for both the economic and ecologic health of our region,” said Romaine, who is a past member of the Suffolk County Dredge Project Screening Committee. “Keeping these channels safe, open and usable on a consistent basis is essential for the health of these waterways, and for boaters to safely enjoy during the summer months.”

The commodores said they hoped lawmakers would put the channel on a regular maintenance dredging schedule in order to allow unlimited access to the Long Island Sound for both boaters and emergency personnel. They, along with other activists across the North Shore, have started a grass roots lobbying campaign with the goal of expediting that kind of schedule.

“This is not about boater convenience,” Kozyrski said. “This is simply about the health and safety of all boaters from our two towns — something clearly needs to be done and we hope that our county and town officials feel the same sense of urgency that we do for the safety of our club members, friends and neighbors.”

The town is taking steps to reduce the amount of nitrogen in its groundwater. File photo

The quality of the water on Long Island is worsening, and the Town of Brookhaven took an important step to reverse that trend.

The town board voted unanimously to approve a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) that establishes nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones will prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems, effective in January 2017.

“We’ve all watched our waters degrade over the last 50 years,” Romaine said after the vote at a town board meeting held on June 9. “We all know part of the problem is nitrogen.”

Romaine has long been an advocate for improving the island’s water quality on the town and county levels. He addressed the problem at his State of the Town address in March.

“Nitrogen from our sanitary systems, our lawns, our golf courses and our farms is impacting our bays and harbors, our freshwater lakes and streams and our drinking water,” he said. “The solutions to this problem are neither easy nor cheap. But doing nothing is not an option; we must act now. Our future depends on us addressing this problem.”

Representatives from three nonprofit organizations focusing on water quality spoke in support of the law last Thursday.

“I’d like to congratulate you guys and commend you again on your environmental leadership,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “It’s timely. It’s needed and I’m glad that you’re moving forward with it because there just seems to be a lot of stuff going on with harbors and waters and nitrogen but nothing seems to be getting done. So this is a good thing to see that you’re actually seeing it through and that there will be an ordinance here that will start to change what’s going on in our waters.”

Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O and Doug Swesty of the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition also spoke in strong support of the law.

“It’s critical that you do this because of the glaciated terrain in which we live on here in Long Island, that 500 feet represents approximately two years of travel time from the time something enters a cesspool or septic tank within a 500-foot radius until it reaches the water body,” Swesty said. “Groundwater travel times here are about two to three feet a day. So it’s critical that we implement something to protect our waterways from discharges that are put into the groundwater.”

According to the town’s website, there has been a 93 percent decline in Great South Bay clam harvests as a result of brown tides, which are brought about by nitrogen seepage. The island’s bay scallop industry has collapsed almost entirely due to nitrogen-caused algal blooms. These issues are in addition to the overall decreasing quality of Long Island’s water.

The law will have an added provision protecting homeowners who incur damage thanks to a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, allowing them other options should requiring the purchase of a new system be a source of financial hardship.

Third District Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), who is in favor of that protection, supports the law as a whole.

“I think it’s a great goal we’ve set for the town and for other towns as well,” he said.

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