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County Executive Steve Bellone

Legislators, police officers, local business representatives and residents enjoyed some playtime Aug. 6 on a perfect summer’s night.

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), the Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct and the Middle Country Public Library hosted the annual National Night Out at the Town of Brookhaven’s Centereach Pool Complex. The free event promotes police-community relationships and neighborhood camaraderie.

This year more than 1,000 residents came out to swim in the pool, play games and interact with first responders and military personnel as well as community vendors.

Residents enjoy a day on the Nissequogue River. Photo from the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation

County officials are asking residents for help in creating Suffolk’s new blueway trail.

According to the National Park Service, a blueway trail is a water path that provides recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline.

The county’s blueway trail plan will make nonmotorized water sports — kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and rowing — more accessible to residents and visitors by identifying information needed for a safe and fun paddling experience.

As part of the first phase, the county has launched a survey to solicit feedback from residents to see what they would want in a blueway trail. The comments and recommendations received through the survey will be open until July 15.

“Our ultimate goal is to link the blueway trail to our great recreational assets, such as our parks, beaches, and hike and bike trails, as well as provide opportunities to advance ecotourism and economic development within the county,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time. The county is committed to working with residents to add to the enjoyment of the experience.”

The survey will help identify existing and potential launch sites throughout the county’s more than 1,000 miles of waterfront and develop a wish list to improve the sites for water access.

“Paddlers have long enjoyed Suffolk’s scenic waters, and we want to make it easier for residents and visitors to learn how to take advantage of the magnificent waterways we have available to us while doing it in a safe and fun way,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

The origins of a countywide blueway trail date back three years ago, when Hahn was developing a similar plan for her North Shore district.

In June 2016, Hahn sponsored bipartisan legislation authorizing the county to pursue state funding, which resulted in the award of a $60,000 grant.

“It is an exciting next step,” she said. “I grew up in Stony Brook, and there’s nothing like being out in the water.”

Once priority sites have been identified, Suffolk County will work with the various municipalities to identify funding sources for specific project improvements and develop a management, communication and marketing plan.

Hahn said the trail would help drive new opportunities for tourism and benefit the local economy.

“We are looking for inexpensive ways for residents to access the shoreline,” she said.

The trail would provide suggested routes depending on skill level, locations of features such as rest stops, scenic locations, bird-watching and amenities including restrooms, concessions, nearby businesses and parking. It will also include signage to help paddlers find launch locations and provide information such as maps, environmental educational information and safety information.

Though the first phase of the plan is underway, Hahn said this will be a long planning process that could take a few years.

She said it depends on how much funding they can get as they will need to reapply for more grants as well as fixing and preparing the launch sites to be used as part of the blueway trail.

For residents who want to contribute to the blueway trail survey visit, www.arcg.is/1KyPDq.

By Donna Deedy

donna@tbrnewsmedia.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info for additional information. 

Photos by Donna Deedy

Victoria Glass demonstrates with ease to county and town officials how slip leads work with an intrigued dog from Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

By Leah Chiappino

Victoria Glass demonstrates with ease to county and town officials how slip leads work with an intrigued dog from Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

It came as quite a surprise to her: Suffolk County police do not routinely carry leashes. So, 13-year-old Girl Scout Victoria Glass sprang into action. For the last two months she’s been collecting leads that officers can use when responding to calls about loose animals. The slip leads work as leashes and collars, and are made to fit any size animal. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart accepted Victoria’s donation of more than 150 leads at a press conference at Smithtown Animal Shelter June 18. Glass placed the first lead in a patrol vehicle, as shelter workers demonstrated how the lead works on Blossom and Sammy, two stray dogs that were brought to the shelter.

The project will help Victoria earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award for a Girl Scout Cadette, after identifying an issue and making a difference with a solution. 

“It’s been awesome to see the widespread effects of what I did.”

Steve Chassman, executive director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, speaks at a May 21 press conference. Photo from Suffolk County

Legislators are asking high school athletic coaches to help combat substance abuse in Suffolk County and are looking to give them the training needed to do so.

“This program will help save lives. I have no doubt about that.”

— Steve Bellone

On May 21, at a press conference held at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) announced a partnership with the nonprofit Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Bellone said a new, county-funded program will provide athletic coaches and trainers in middle and high schools with a 75-minute training course designed to combat substance abuse among student-athletes. Ward Melville coaches have already been through the awareness training that now will be offered to all county secondary schools.

“This program will help save lives,” Bellone said. “I have no doubt about that.”

Krista Bertschi, who lost her son Anthony Mazzella to drug addiction, attended the press conference, holding a photo of her son, to show support for the training.

Mazzella passed away Jan. 22, 2017, from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. Bertschi said her son was a boxer who was clean for two years when he dislocated his shoulder before Thanksgiving of 2016. While he refused pain medication at first, as the pain lingered, he decided to take them.

The program, developed with LICADD and Stony Brook University, will look to provide coaches with the knowledge of the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse in student-athletes and how to engage and intervene with team members suspected of abusing addictive substances. Bellone said a coach’s knowledge of an injury may be especially critical in that they may be able to link subtle changes in a player’s behavior to the treatment they are receiving as many times opioids are prescribed for pain.

Hahn had piloted the program with several local school districts, working alongside LICADD and SBU to develop the training. The county will be providing $100,000 to LICADD to aid in developing the program.

Hahn, a graduate of Ward Melville High School, said she was pleased to launch the program at her alma mater. As a former student-athlete and the mother of a recent Ward Melville cheerleader and current Three Village athlete, Hahn said she recognizes how influential a coach’s role can be in a student’s life both on and off the field. She added that the training course was customized to address the various scenarios coaches may encounter, from an injured teenager being prescribed opioids to a marijuana bag falling out of a backpack to team members talking about a big party coming up.

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing.”

— Kara Hahn

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing,” she said.

Hahn said social workers are still needed when a problem is identified but coaches can be the first line of defense.

“They can play an important role in the fight against student drug abuse, and through this training, we have invited them to be among the traditional stakeholders working to save lives,” she said.

Steve Chassman, executive director of LICADD, said the seeds of drug disorders usually start in high school, and he thanked the legislators and coaches for their help in solving what he called a public health crisis.

“We are encouraging the coaches to create a culture where people can work together and come forward not just from a disciplinary standpoint but from a public health standpoint,” he said.

Peter Melore, executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics for the Three Village Central School District, said during training the district coaches had numerous questions, including how to approach a student, and what to say if they were approached first.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to be the first to do this,” he said. “I would be remiss if I did not thank our coaches for their engagement in the workshops.”

Bertschi said she believes the program will foster essential communication between coaches and parents if an issue is identified. She will continue to support awareness and prevention programs such as the coach training course, she said, “In memory of my beautiful son and all of the other angels gone too soon to this horrific disease so that no other parent has to walk in the ugly shoes that I walk in every day.”

Districts interested in participating in the program can reach out to LICADD at 631-979-1700 to schedule a training session.

Singer Billy Joel, bottom right, joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local legislators in the signing of the bill. Photo from Steve Englebright's office

Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), while Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced that police would be cracking down harder on those who violate the Move Over law. And with temperatures rising, county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) challenges residents to get out and enjoy their local parks.

Governor signs Englebright’s legislation banning offshore oil and gas drilling

With singer Billy Joel on hand, Cuomo signed legislation sponsored by Englebright and state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) into law April 30.

The legislation will prohibit the use of state-owned underwater coastal lands for oil and natural gas drilling, and prevent state agencies from authorizing leases that would facilitate the development and production of oil or natural gas. It also prohibits the development of pipelines and other infrastructure associated with exploration, development or production of oil or natural gas from New York’s coastal waters.

“This legislation takes aggressive action to protect New York’s marine environment by prohibiting offshore drilling,” Englebright said in a statement. “This law will protect and defend our waters, keeping them safe for recreation, fishing and wildlife.”

Despite the Atlantic Coast being off limits for drilling for decades, in 2017, the federal government proposed a new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program which would open more than 90 percent of the nation’s offshore waters to oil and gas drilling.

Englebright said the legislation will ensure the protection of endangered and threatened species as well as the state’s tourism and recreational and commercial fishing industries.

Bellone announces new campaign to crack down on Move Over state law violators

Suffolk County is cracking down on Move Over law violators with a multipronged awareness and enforcement campaign.

Bellone announced the campaign April 25 at a press conference in the hopes of increasing roadway safety for law enforcement personnel, emergency vehicles and road workers.

“Move Over is enforced for a reason — to ensure the safety of law enforcement, first responders and highway personnel,” Bellone said. “This public awareness effort is intended to protect our roads while protecting those whose job it is to enforce the rules of the road.”

Under New York State law, drivers traveling in the same direction must reduce speed and move from an adjacent lane to avoid colliding with a vehicle parked, stopped or standing on the shoulder or any portion of the highway when the vehicle is an authorized emergency response, tow truck or maintenance vehicle with its lights flashing.

The original legislation was signed into law by New York Gov. David Paterson (D) and took effect from Jan. 1, 2011. Cuomo expanded enforcement in 2012 to include maintenance and tow truck workers, and again in 2017 to include volunteer firefighters and volunteer EMTs.

Drivers who violate these laws are subject to fines of up to $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense within 18 months and $450 for a third offense within 18 months.

Public service announcements, including a 30-second television ad and a one-minute social media version, will educate residents on the importance of the law and how it helps keep the roads safe for police officers, emergency services personnel and roadway workers.

On April 25, the Suffolk County Police Department began using both unmarked and marked cars to crack down on violators. The department partnered with Maryland-based Rekor Recognition Systems earlier in the year to conduct a two-week study of compliance in the county.

The number of citations for the Move Over law has increased over the last five years with nearly 800 summonses issued in 2018, and since 2013 the SCPD has issued more than 2,600 summonses for Move Over law violations, according to SCPD.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn announces the A Park a Day in May challenge. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Hahn kicks off annual park challenge

County Legislator Hahn is encouraging Long Islanders to get out and explore once again.

On May 1, Hahn held a press conference at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket to announce her fourth A Park a Day in May challenge. The location was the first of 31 parks that will be featured in the social media event.

For every day in May, participants will find a description with photos of a different park through Facebook. Participants are then invited to take and post a picture of themselves with the hashtags #APADIM and #aparkaday. Daily A Park a Day in May posts will be added to www.facebook.com/karahahnld5.

“The May sun has always been a beacon, drawing me back out after the biting cold of winter,” Hahn said. “With life returning to nature, my intention was to find a way to return life back into our parks.”

Linda Sanders, Frank Melville Memorial Foundation trustee, said she hopes residents will enjoy the challenge and thanked Hahn for including the park.

“I grew up visiting parks, beaches and open spaces in my youth in Southern California,” Sanders said. “My family’s trips and times together spent outside in nature are some of my fondest memories.”

Hahn’s office will also once again have Park Passport booklets available. Children can collect badges by traveling to any of 24 local parks contained in the booklet. At each park, participants search for a hidden sign and check in by either scanning a QR code or entering the web address listed on the sign, which then loads a printable logo page that the child cuts and pastes into his or her passport. Residents can call 631-854-1650 for more information.

— compiled by Rita J. Egan

County officials joined Legislators Sarah Anker and Kara Hahn and County Executive Steve Bellone in announcing new changes to Cathedral Pines County Park. Photo by David Luces

County to increase accessibility options

As the weather begins to improve and with summer just around the corner, residents may begin to enjoy Suffolk County-owned parks. With their minds on attracting nature tourism, county officials came together April 26 to announce the start of a $5 million multiyear modernization project at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island. 

“We are announcing our next phase of the Stay Suffolk campaign, where we are encouraging our residents to stay local,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We want them to enjoy the things that we have here particularly in the summertime.” 

The renovation project is part of an effort to promote Suffolk County parks, local tourism and highlight popular destinations, as well as regional attractions. 

The first phase of the project will be a restoration of some of the park’s most used areas. Roads will be widened and realigned to reduce congestion, while areas are planned to be reconfigured to accommodate 74 additional campsites. All sites will be outfitted with concrete paved picnic table pads, barbecue grills, fire rings, a Wi-Fi system, water and electricity. 

Additionally, the renovations will create a designated recreation area away from the current campsites in the center of the park, where visitors can have oversight over children without disturbing other campers. 

“When we invest in our parks, it improves our quality of life,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the chair of the Legislature’s parks committee, said.

“This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

— Kara Hahn

In 2012, the county had an analysis and study done on the park to develop a master plan, which has led to the $5 million expansion.

A playground will be converted into additional visitor parking, while the county would create a new children’s playground located adjacent to the activity building. New projects also include a new picnic pavilion area, additional picnic tables and grills, bathhouses with upgraded showers that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility, five new horseshoe courts, two new boccie courts and a new sand volleyball court. The final phase of the plan is to create a new drive-up check-in station for campers to streamline the check-in process and updates to sanitary systems and the installation of a new central dump station with tanks to store sanitary waste from the bathhouses.

Hahn added that the project will go a long way in providing the necessary activities for residents to take a vacation locally.  

“There are so many spectacular spots available for hiking, camping and biking,” she said. “This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

Cathedral Pines consist of 320 acres of parkland located along the headwaters of the Carmans River and is one of 10 Suffolk County parks that offer overnight camping and possesses a 6-mile mountain bike trail system.  

The county has also announced new accessibility options at other county-owned parks.

Handicap-accessible golf carts will be available at West Sayville Golf Course for free for disabled veterans. Wheelchair-accessible beach chairs will be available at the Cupsogue, Meschutt and Smith Point beaches. Patrons can call the beaches in advance to have the wheelchairs ready upon their arrival. Mobility mats will be rolled out this summer at Smith Point to make it accessible for wheelchair users, elderly and families traveling with children.  

“I’m a part of the senior committee and I hear a lot of complaints that some residents are not able to come to our parks because it’s not accessible,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “So now moving forward we are investing in this very important issue.”

From left, Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Photo from the governor’s office

Cuomo lauds LIRR reform, hints at renewable energy initiatives

By Donna Deedy

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled April 11 his Long Island agenda to a crowd of some 400 politicians, business leaders, local residents and students at Stony Brook University’s Student Activities Center. It was one of two stops statewide, where the governor personally highlighted regional spending for a local community. 

Overall, the $175 billion fiscal year 2020 budget holds spending at 2 percent.

“This year’s budget builds on our progress and our momentum on Long Island, and it includes $18 billion for Long Island — the largest amount of money the state has ever brought back to the region, and we’re proud of it,” Cuomo said. 

Nearly half of the revenue that Long Island receives goes toward school aid and Medicaid, $3.3 billion and $6.9 billion collectively, according to Freeman Klopott in New York State’s Division of the Budget. But the spending plan funds several bold initiatives, such as an overhaul of the MTA and Long Island Rail Road and the phase in of free public college tuition for qualified students. 

Long Island Association president and CEO Kevin Law, who had introduced the governor, suggests looking at the enacted budget as five distinct categories: taxes, infrastructure, economic development, environmental protection and quality of life issues, such as gun safety reform. 

On the tax front, Long Islanders, according to the governor’s report, pay some of the highest property tax bills in the United States. Over the last 20 years, Cuomo said, local property taxes rose twice as fast as the average income. 

“You can’t continue to raise taxes at an amount that is more than people are earning,” he said. His goal is to stabilize the tax base. 

On the federal level, the governor will continue to fight with other states the federal tax code, which last year limited taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes over $10,000 from their federal income tax returns. Long Island reportedly lost $2.2 billion. 

Otherwise, the governor considers his plan to be the most ambitious, aggressive and comprehensive agenda for Long Island ever. 

The budget’s regional development goals emphasize a commitment to Long Island’s research triangle: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Northwell Health, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The governor envisions the Island as New York’s potential economic equivalent to California’s Silicon Valley. The objective is to bridge academic research with commercial opportunities.

Some of the largest investments include $75 million for a medical engineering center at Stony Brook University, $25 million to Demerec Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, $12 million for a new college of veterinary medicine at Long Island University Post, $5 million in additional research investments at Stony Brook University and $200,000 cybersecurity center at Hofstra University.

“Governor Cuomo’s presentation was uplifting,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). “It was also a preview of the future of Long Island as an indelibly important part of the state the governor and Legislature appreciate and are continuing to invest into.”

Offshore wind initiatives will be announced in the spring, with a goal of providing 9,000 megawatts of wind power by 2035. As part of Cuomo’s New Green Deal, the state target is 100 percent clean energy by 2040.

Highlights of Gov. Cuomo’s 2019-20 budget for Long Islanders

Taxes: Permanently limits local tax spending to 2 percent annually. The 2 percent property tax cap, first implemented in 2012, has reportedly saved Long Island taxpayers $8.7 billion. Now that the property tax cap has become permanent, the governor reports that the average Suffolk taxpayer will save an estimated $58,000 over the next 10 years. The budget also supports the phase in of middle-class tax cuts. By 2025, under the reforms, middle-class filers will save up to 20 percent income tax rate and impact 6 million filers. 

Internet taxation: Requires internet purchases to charge sales tax to fairly compete with brick-and-mortar retail establishments. This reform is expected to raise sales tax revenue by $33 million for Suffolk County in 2019. 

LIRR reforms: Dedicates $2.5 billion to the Long Island Rail Road. $734 million will be used to purchase 202 new trains, $47 million will fund the Ronkonkoma train storage expansion project, which adds 11 tracks to the railyard. Another $264 million is allocated to reconfiguring and rebuilding the Jamaica station. An additional 17 stations will also be upgraded. A third track will be added between Hicksville and Floral Park to address bottlenecking. Many projects are already underway and expected to be completed
by 2022.

The new LIRR Moynihan Train Hall will become an alternative to Penn Station in New York City. It will be located in the old post office building. Construction is underway with completion targeted for the end of 2020. The cost is $2.5 billion with $600,000 million allocated for 2020. A new LIRR entrance at mid-block between 33rd Street and 7th Avenue will also be built at a price tag of $425 million. 

School aid: Increases school aid to $3.3 billion, a nearly 4 percent uplift. The 2020 budget includes a $48 million increase of foundation aid.

College tuition: Funds tuition-free education in public colleges to qualified students, whose families earn less than $125,000 annually. The program annually benefits more than 26,100 full-time undergraduate residents on
Long Island.

The DREAM Act: Offers $27 million to fund higher education scholarships for undocumented children already living in New York state. 

Higher education infrastructure: Spends $34.3 million for maintenance and upgrades at SUNY higher education facilities on Long Island. 

Downtown revitalization: Awards Ronkonkoma Hub with $55 million for a downtown revitalization project. Nassau County will receive $40 million to transform a 70-acre parking lot surrounding Nassau Coliseum into a residential/commercial downtown area with parkland, shopping and entertainment, where people can live and work. Hicksville, Westbury and Central Islip will also receive $10 million each to revitalize its downtowns. 

Roads and bridges: Among the initiatives, $33.6 million will be used toward the Robert Moses Causeway bridge. Safety will be enhanced with guardrails along Sunken Meadow Parkway for $4.7 million. The Van Wyck Expressway is also under expansion for improved access to JFK air terminals. 

Health care: Adds key provisions of the Affordable Care Act to state law, so health insurance is protected if Washington repeals the law.

Plastic bag ban: Prohibits most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other retailers beginning in March 2020. Counties and cities can opt to charge 5 cents for paper bags. It is projected that 40 percent of revenue generated will fund local programs that purchase reusable bags for low- and fixed-income consumers. The other 60 percent will fund the state’s environmental protection projects.

Food waste recycling program: $1.5 million will be allocated to establish a clean energy, food waste recycling facility at Yaphank. 

Clean water initiatives: Awards Smithtown and Kings Park $40 million for installing sewer infrastructure. A shellfish hatchery at Flax Pond in Setauket will get an additional $4 million. The new budget offers $2 million to the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission and $5 million in grants to improve Suffolk County water supply. The Long Island South Shore Estuary will get $900,000, while Cornell Cooperative Extension will receive $500,000. The state will also fund another $100 million to clean up superfund sites such as the Grumman Plume in Bethpage. The state has banned offshore drilling to protect natural resources. 

Criminal justice reform: Ends cash bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Mandates speedy trial to reduce pretrial detention. Requires that prosecutors and defendants share discoverable information in advance of trial. 

Gun safety: Includes one of the nation’s first “red flag” laws. Passed in February 2019, the law enables the courts to seize firearms from people who show signs of violent behavior or pose a threat to themselves or others. The new law, which takes effect later this year, also authorizes teachers and school professionals to request through the courts mental health evaluations for people who exhibit disturbed behavior related to gun violence. Bans bump stocks. Extends background check waiting period for gun purchases. 

Anti-gang projects: Invests more than $45 million to stop MS-13 gang recruitment and improve youth opportunities.

Opioid crisis: Allocates $25 million to fund 12 residential, 48 outpatient and five opioid treatment programs. The state also aims to remove insurance barriers for treatment.

Tourism: Promotes state agricultural products with $515,000 allocated to operate Taste NY Market at the Long Island Welcome Center with satellite locations at Penn Station and East Meadow Farm in Nassau County. The PGA Championship next month and Long Island Fair in September, both at Bethpage, will also feature New York agricultural products. 

Agriculture: Continues support for the New York State Grown & Certified program to strengthen consumer confidence and assist farmers. Since 2016, the program has certified more than 2,386 farms.

Voting: Sets aside $10 million to help counties pay for early voting. Employers must offer workers three hours of paid time off to vote on election day.

Nicolls Road. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

County Road 97, commonly known as Nicolls Road, is one of Long Island’s main thoroughfares, connecting Stony Brook on the North Shore to Patchogue on the South with nearly 16 miles of highway. For years the county has examined ideas to relieve rush hour traffic; now it is proposing a rapid-transit bus system, high-occupancy vehicle lanes and 16 roadside bus stops.

“It’s going to be dual function, and also reduce congestion on Nicolls Road, so its two birds, one stone effect,” said William Hillman, a chief engineer at Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works.

In a 2015 county report prepared by multinational engineering firm Parsons Brickerhoff, the project cost was originally estimated at upward of $200 million, though plans have been scaled down slightly since then.

“By making the buses faster, more reliable, more frequent, we may have a chance to get people to sit in it and get out of their cars.”

— Kara Hahn

Babylon-based engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, which was the latest company tapped to research the Nicolls Road project, presented April 2 summaries of its initial plans at Suffolk County Community College. 

The plans, as they currently exist, call for 16 new stations positioned along Nicolls as bus terminals connecting to existing Suffolk County Transit routes. The plans would also include 16.5 new miles of dedicated lanes to bypass traffic congestion. Service of these bus lines include a frequency much higher than any current county bus, from a weekday peak of every 10 minutes to a weekend peak of 20 minutes.

Presenters did not offer details on the buses’ fuel source nor did they describe where new stoplights or other traffic slowing devices may be implemented. Larry Penner, who worked for more than three decades in the Federal Transit Administration regional office and now comments on ongoing projects as a self-described transit historian, said that buses typically get right of way in among normal traffic.

Mike Colletta, a project engineer at engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, which created the most recent presentation on the road, said the firm was recently put onto the project by Suffolk County, and is still in the very early stages of design.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said the Legislature has been approving the project, applying for grants and getting funding toward the corridor studies for years. The project still has a while to go before the county can estimate the true impact on traffic. County officials worry that people will not use buses.

“By making the buses faster, more reliable, more frequent, we may have a chance to get people to sit in it and get out of their cars,” Hahn said. 

While representatives from the county and engineering firm could not give an estimate into the amount of vehicles, Penner said the county still has many things to consider, including costs of roughly 10 new buses, 16 stations and proposed amenities, such as real-time bus locators, similar to the units found at the train stations. Seating and overhangs for the stations themselves must also be factored in.

“Here’s the challenge they face: The density in Suffolk County is far less than Nassau, and far less than New York City,” Penner said. “How many people would drive to one of these 16 Bus Rapid Transit stations and how many people will take a commuter bus and switch to the rapid transit when you can get in your car and get there much more quickly, that will be the challenge they face, because time is money for people.”

These proposed stations would link up to existing Suffolk County Transit bus routes. Multiple existing bus routes already travel along or intersect with Nicolls, including the 3D, the S62, S69, 6B, S58 and 7A, though only two routes use the county road for a significant distance. Service on Suffolk County Transit has also been spotty for a long time, with users often left waiting for buses for over an hour. 

Bruce Morrison, the president of the Selden Civic Association, said he is skeptical of the project, questioning how many people would use it, especially with existing issues on the regular county buses.

“If it’s not attractive to the public, you’re going to have empty buses.”

— Bruce Morrison

“Will they get the ridership?” Morrison said. “If it’s not attractive to the public, you’re going to have empty buses.”

Buses would operate in the HOV lanes on the inside of the road and along the specialized bus lanes along the outside portions of the road. One proposed route would take these buses down the Long Island Expressway, through the Ronkonkoma Train Station and the expected Ronkonkoma Hub project as well before linking back up to Nicolls. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has been touting his Connect LI plan for years. In 2014 the county started exploring several other possible projects. Expanding Route 110 and the Sagtikos Parkway is among the other options. In 2015, Bellone shared his expanded plans for $300 million bus transit plan to connect Long Island’s downtowns, colleges, research and business centers. 

At one point, the county executive’s office floated the idea of building a rapid transit in the median of the well-populated road. Environmental impact studies are ongoing and necessary to ultimately receive federal funding.

In addition to the new route, engineers are also touting designs for a new trail that could run parallel to Nicolls. This path would be akin to the Rails to Trails project, but unlike the 3-mile Greenway Trail from Setauket to Port Jefferson Station, and the upcoming 10-mile project from Wading River through Mount Sinai, this path could be well over 15 miles of trail, crossing under the LIE and over other high trafficked roads like Middle Country Road. The 2015 study allocated $15 million for the biking and hiking trail.

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

People enrolled in county septic program say it’s political

Suffolk homeowners, who received county grants to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems as part of the county’s septic program, are facing the reality of additional tax burdens and payments after they received IRS 1099 tax forms in the mail.

Participants in the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, which helped install prototype home septic systems that filter out nitrogen in participants homes, were told since the program’s inception in 2017 that only the contractors who did the installation of the systems would need to declare the grant money as taxable income because they received disbursement of funds from the county. 

This year, the office of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) sent tax forms to the program participants, and in many cases both homeowners and contractors received 1099s for the same job, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not homeowners. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully sent a letter to the comptroller’s office on March 14 requesting that Kennedy rescinds the 1099 forms issued to homeowners. After getting no response, Scully sent a second letter on March 26 asking Kennedy again to rescind the 1099s and mentioned since the first letter there had been new information that had come to light in the issue. 

Scully stated that the county’s Department of Health Services has confirmed that some of the homeowners who received 1099s have declared the grants as income and like the contractors will be paying taxes on the same grants. 

“It boggles the mind that anyone can believe that having both homeowners and installers declaring the same grants as income and having taxes paid by both parties on the same disbursement of funding is an acceptable outcome,” the deputy county executive said in a statement. 

In a Newsday article earlier this month, Kennedy said he planned to ask the Internal Revenue Service for a private letter ruling on the matter. Scully said that would be unnecessary, citing again the county’s legal counsel advice and other municipalities who have similar programs and are structured the same way. The letter ruling would cost close to $30,000 and could take more than a year, Scully added. 

Some residents who are enrolled in the program have claimed Kennedy, who recently announced he is running against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in the next election, is politicizing the issue and potentially sabotaging the program. 

“I have no doubt in my mind,” Tim Sheehan of Shelter Island. “I don’t understand the rationale behind double taxing participants besides politicizing water safety and punishing homeowners for doing the right thing.” 

The Shelter Island resident was one of the early applicants of the program and had an advanced septic system installed in his home August 2018. He said without the help of county and town grants he and his wife would’ve not been able to afford the upgrade. 

The deadline to file taxes is April 15.

While Sheehan expected to pay taxes on the town grant, he didn’t anticipate the county liability. He said he is facing close to a $3,000 higher tax bill on the $10,000 grant and as a result has put him into a higher tax bracket and is required to pay a higher percentage on his income.

“Nowhere in the grant contract is there a mention of a tax liability to homeowners,” the Shelter Island resident said. “From the get-go we were told there would be no tax burden.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Oysters are one way in which Brookhaven Town hopes to clear up nitrogen in coastal waters. File photo by Kyle Barr

The Shelter Island resident was surprised when he received a 1099 form for the system and reached out to county officials for help. When they said they couldn’t help, Sheehan called the comptroller’s office hoping to speak to Kennedy directly. After numerous calls without getting a response, Kennedy finally called him. 

When questioned Kennedy blamed the current administration for mishandling the issue and told Sheehan that he never agreed with the county’s legal counsel decision. 

Kennedy has not responded to requests for comment.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the tax form issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for a program that not only helps homeowners but improves water quality and waterways on Long Island. 

Hoffman said excess nitrogen, from homes with outdated septic systems or cesspools, seeps through the ground causing harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

“These people are pioneers, we should be applauding them for doing the right thing,” the task force co-founder said. 

Hoffman added he supports any effort to reduce excess nitrogen in our waterways and said many homes on Long Island have septic system that are in need of replacement. He is also concerned that the comptroller’s decision could stunt the progress the program has already made. 

Bellone has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, and with the issue of being taxed, dozens of applicants have dropped out of the program after learning of Kennedy’s decision to issue forms 1099 to homeowners, according to Scully. 

Officials in the county executive’s office are concerned it could endanger the future of the program and impact funding from the state. In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarded Suffolk County $10 million from the Statewide Septic Program to expand the county’s denitrifying systems. 

State officials in Albany are aware of the ongoing situation and are similarly concerned, according to Scully. If the IRS were to side with Kennedy, he said they would turn to representatives in Congress for assistance, arguing that those funds shouldn’t be going to Washington but back into taxpayers pockets. 

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