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DEC

A demonstration is done at the King Kullen in Patchogue, showing how to use the drug take-back drop box. Photo from Adrianne Esposito

By Kevin Redding

With the recent launch of the first statewide pharmaceutical take-back initiative, New York residents are encouraged to be more careful, and environmentally friendly, when it comes to getting rid of their old and unwanted medications.

On Dec. 28, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that 80 retail pharmacies, hospitals and long-term care facilities across the state  will be the first to participate in its $2 million pilot pharmaceutical take-back program, and encouraged more to get on board.

This program allows residents to safely dispose any unused and potentially harmful pills into a drop box at these locations beginning in April, when the boxes are slated for installation.

Once collected, the drugs will be weighed, tracked and incinerated.

The free, volunteer public service, funded by the state Environmental Protection Fund, is modeled after a successful safe disposal program started at King Kullen in 2014 — which, in the past three years, has safely disposed more than 7,600 pounds of pharmaceutical drugs — and aims to improve the region’s drinking water, which has become increasingly contaminated by people flushing medications down the toilet and pouring them down the sink.

Flushed pharmaceutical drugs have been found in state lakes, rivers and streams, negatively affecting the waterways and the wildlife that inhabit them.

Roughly 40 percent of groundwater samples have trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, with the most common being antibiotics and anticonvulsants, according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens
Campaign for the Environment.

“Prescription drugs should come from our pharmacists — not from our faucets,” said Esposito, whose Farmingdale-based organization founded the King Kullen program and lobbied the state to provide funding in its budget in 2016 for the DEC to create the pilot program. “Pharmaceutical drugs are considered an ‘emerging contaminant’ in our drinking water and the flushing of unwanted drugs is one contributor to this growing problem. Safe disposal programs [like this] are critical in combating this health risk. The goal really is to provide people with an easy, safe and convenient option to dispose of their drugs. We can get ahead of this problem now rather than wait until it becomes a bigger problem later.”

The pilot program is currently open and is accepting applications, according to the DEC website, which also outlines that the $2 million  will be used to cover the full cost of purchasing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-compliant medication drop boxes, as well as the cost of pickup, transport and destruction of collected waste pharmaceuticals for a two-year period.

Esposito said the program also serves to prevent accidental exposure or intentional misuse of prescription drugs.

“This is a service that all pharmacies should be providing their customers,” she said. “Not only does it protect the environment, it will keep drugs out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

While there aren’t many participants so far in Suffolk  — among six volunteers are Huntington’s Country Village Chemists, St. James Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center and Stony Brook Student Health Services — many local pharmacy owners said they were interested in enrolling, while others have already been offering something similar.

At Heritage Chemists Pharmacy & Boutique in Mount Sinai, owner Frank Bosio said he offered a take-back box for more than two years, but funding ended.

“It was a great program and the community loved it,” said Bosio with interest in enrolling in the new pilot program. “I definitely want to get on board with this.”

Manager of Echo Pharmacy in Miller Place, Beth Mango, said her store has a disposal box system in place that complies with Drug Enforcement Administration requirements.

“We had a lot of customers asking us what they could do with their old medications,” Mango said. “We wanted to do something for the community. We’re trying to save our Earth for our children and for future generations — this is one way we know is safe.”

Esposito made clear that most disposal systems outside of the launched program aren’t authorized by the DEC or other agencies, and hopes the list for this particular effort will grow.

Retail pharmacies, hospitals and long-term care facilities can enroll to participate in the pilot pharmaceutical take-back program on the DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov/.

New law closes loophole to permanently ban replacement of old, primitive cesspool technology to reduce nitrogen levels in water

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, displays the new county law banning the updating or instillation of primitive cesspools and the technology associated with them, as he’s surrounded by local leaders and environmental group organizers during a press conference. Photo from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office

Repairing old cesspools is now a thing of the past in Suffolk County.

As part of an ongoing effort to improve water quality on Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed into law a ban on installing new cesspools, ending the practice of grandfathering inadequate
sanitary system fixes with the now-primitive technology.

“It marks another historic step forward in our ongoing effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution that has degraded water quality in our lakes, bays and harbors, and it is a step that is long overdue,” Bellone said. “It is fairly unusual for the local governments, environmental groups and the region’s largest builders group to agree on the importance of tightening up outdated regulations to protect water quality, but that is exactly what happened in this instance. This inclusive, collaborative approach is making a huge difference in our efforts to reduce decades of nitrogen pollution.”

Cesspools have been identified as primary sources of nitrogen pollution that have degraded water quality throughout Suffolk County, contributing to harmful algae blooms, beach closures and fish kills. The use of cesspools in new construction has been banned in the county since 1973, when a requirement for the addition of a septic tank was added, but the county sanitary code did not require that homeowners add a septic tank when replacing an existing cesspool, making it legal to install a new cesspool to replace an existing one. By now closing this loophole, it will advance the water quality efforts undertaken by the county and set the stage for the evolution away from the use of nonperforming cesspools and septic systems to the use of new, state-of-the-art technologies that reduce nitrogen in residential wastewater by up to 70 percent, according to Bellone.

“With this action, I would like to say that we, as a county, have adopted the policies necessary to adequately address our region’s nitrogen pollution problems, but in reality, this gets us closer to where we should have been in the decades following 1973,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a co-sponsor of the Article 6 revisions and chairwoman of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “I look forward to continuing the process of finally bringing Suffolk County’s sanitary code into the 21st century.”

In addition to banning the installation of new cesspools, the law approved by the Suffolk County Legislature Dec. 5 requires the wastewater industry to provide data regarding system replacement and pumping activities to the Department of Health Services beginning July 1, 2018. It also mandates permits for replacement of existing systems effective July 1, 2019, and requires business properties with grandfathered nonconforming wastewater flows to install nitrogen-reducing advanced systems if making significant changes to the use of the property.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, joined forces with other environmental group leaders in thanking the county for what was a necessary step in eliminating nitrogen from groundwater.

“We can no longer allow inadequately treated sewage to mix with our sole source of drinking water,” she said. “Modernizing our health codes is a commonsense action that is critically needed for water protection.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said he was overjoyed by the “huge step,” ending pollution by what he called Suffolk’s No. 1 threat to clean water.

“Now, we’re not just complaining,” he said. “We’re doing something about it.”

For the past three years, Suffolk’s Legislature has instituted a pilot program to test the new technologies, using a lottery system to select homeowners willing to have a donated system installed to demonstrate system performance. Under the pilot program, a total of 14 different technologies have been installed at 39 homes throughout the county. Four have been provisionally approved for use after demonstrating six months of acceptable operating data. As part of continued efforts, a voluntary Septic Improvement Program, the first of its kind in the state, was launched in July 2017 to provide grants and low-interest financing to make the replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new innovative/alternative technologies affordable for homeowners who choose to upgrade their systems. Over the first five months, nearly 850 homeowners have registered for the program, 228 have completed applications and 160 have been awarded grants and are moving toward installation of the new systems.

Suffolk County was the first in the state to apply for funding from New York State’s newly created $75 million Septic System Replacement Fund and will use the funding to expand its efforts to see the new technologies installed throughout the county.

The changes are the first in what is expected to be a series of updates to the county sanitary code over the next several years as county officials consider whether to put in place policies that require new nitrogen-
reducing systems in new construction projects, require installation of the new systems when a cesspool or septic system fails and needs to be replaced, or upon sale of a property. For now, all parties involved are on the same page moving forward, including both a working group comprised of county legislators, town planners and engineers with members of environmental organizations, as well as the Long Island Builders Institute.

“There is more work to do,” said Kevin McDonald, conservation finance and policy director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “But passage of this bill means less nitrogen pollution in our water, and more resilient, healthy bays and people for generations to come.”

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

Not seeing the forest for the trees is one thing, but a recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to not preserve the forest or trees for the sake of solar installation is causing a major stir among Suffolk County elected officials.

On Dec. 18, Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that called for the expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens to include more than 1,000 acres in Shoreham and Mastic Woods — “museum quality” stretches of open space that should never be developed by private owners, according to the sponsors. Their legislation aimed to pull the plug on solar plans for the sites.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish,” Englebright said. “And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone. I am the legislator that sponsored and spearheaded solar more than 20 years ago — these are not good sites for solar.”

A solar farm is still being proposed near the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Currently, there are plans near the Pine Barrens in Mastic for a solar installation. Photo by Kevin Redding

A large chunk of the Shoreham property — made up of approximately 820 acres of undeveloped vegetable land, coastal forest, rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife on the shoreline of Long Island Sound — was almost demolished last year under a proposal by the site’s owners, National Grid, and private developers to knock down trees, level ridges and scarify the property to build a solar farm in the footprint. This “replace green with green” plan garnered much community opposition and was ultimately scrapped by Long Island Power Authority, leading civic association and environmental group members to join Englebright in proposing to preserve the parcel by turning it into a state park. The assemblyman also pledged that while there is a great need to install solar panels as a renewable energy source, there are ways to do so without tampering with primeval forest.

In Cuomo’s veto of the proposed bipartisan legislation to preserve these properties, which had been worked on over the past year and passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June, he said that it “unnecessarily pits land preservation against renewable energy.” The governor voiced his support of developing solar energy projects on the sites and said the legislation as written prevented environmental growth.

“I am committed to making New York State a national leader in clean energy,” Cuomo said in his veto message. “New York’s Clean Energy Standard mandates 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, to be aggressively phased in over the next several years. … Siting renewable energy projects can be challenging. But it would set a poor precedent to invoke laws meant for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land in order to block projects that should be addressed by local communities or through established state siting or environmental review processes. To sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.”

Among some of the veto’s supporters were the League of Conservation Voters and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Jerry Rosengarten, the Mastic site’s owner and managing member of the Middle Island Solar Farm, a proposed 67,000-panel green energy development on a 100-acre parcel in Mastic which would cut down woods near the headwaters of the Forge River, voiced his support of Cuomo’s decision in a statement.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish. And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone.”

— Steve Englebright

“Gov. Cuomo’s bold leadership today is hope that we will be able to effectively fight Trump-era climate denial and the ‘not in my backyard’ shortsightedness that would otherwise prevent crucial environmental progress at the most critical time,” said Rosengarten, an environmentalist who has been working for six years to place a solar farm on the site, making numerous applications to Long Island Power Authority to obtain power purchase agreements. “We look forward to working with the Town of Brookhaven on the next steps toward realizing a solar farm that we can take great pride in together.”

Englebright took issue with the not-in-my-backyard claims, which were also made by the League of Conservation Voters.

“I find that most unfortunate because it’s a falsehood,” he said. “I don’t represent Shoreham. I live in Setauket, and these sites are nowhere near my district. But, on merit, the properties deserve preservation. To have my sponsorship characterized as NIMBY is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting.”

Those who are against the veto have been championing preservation on both sites, including Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Andrea Spilka, president of Southampton Town Civic Coalition.

“The land is so valuable, environmentally, that it should be preserved,” Amper said of the Shoreham site in the spring when the legislation was first being pushed.

He added that solar is an important renewable energy in combating global warming, but that panels should be installed on roofs and parking lots rather than ecosystems.

“The reality is that once taken, these forest lands will never be recovered,” LaValle said in a statement outlining his disappointment over the veto. “These lands are particularly critical for the ecology of the Forge River. Destroying the forest and the trees to install solar power just does not make sense at either the Mastic Woods or Shoreham Old Growth Coastal Forest properties. … Currently, over 30 percent of New York state’s solar power is generated on Long Island, the majority of which is produced in my senate district. We can continue to expand the green energies where they will benefit Long Island without damaging the environment as we proceed. Destroying the environment is never the direction I wish to take.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on manufacturers to keep harmful chemicals out of child products sold in New York. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a career advocate for the environment who worked tooth and nail alongside Englebright and LaValle to preserve these sites, said vetoing the bill “was the wrong thing to do.”

“[It’s] the reason why Brookhaven Town adopted a solar code that allows for both the preservation of our open space and the development of solar energy,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town was committed to preserving these lands, and worked right up to the hours before this veto was issued to provide the developer with up to 60 acres of alternative, town-owned sites that did not require the removal of a single tree.”

Some of these alternative solar sites, Englebright later explained, were the paved parking lot of the State Office Building in Hauppauge and the nearby H. Lee Dennison Building, each of the Brookhaven Highway Department yards and the roofs of numerous local schools. Englebright successfully pushed for solar panels to be placed on the roof of Comsewogue’s elementary school.

“Regrettably, the developer did not respond to these offers, and the governor did not take these alternative sites into account when issuing the veto.” Romaine said. “I thank the sponsors, Sen. Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and their colleagues for their hard work to preserve these ecologically important woodlands, and urge them to re-submit legislation for this in the coming session of the state Legislature.”

Englebright said he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

“We are going to revisit this, and I hope that the governor keeps an open mind going forward,” he said. “It just requires a little bit of thought to realize that we have a vast amount of the Island where you can place solar panels without cutting down forest. By contrast, there are very few opportunities for preservation on the scale of these two properties. This is a source of some frustration.”

Conceptual drawing of the proposed new marina at Nissequogue River State Park. Image from NYS DEC

New York State officials have revealed a $40 million proposal for the next phase of Nissequogue River State Park development.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in partnership with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, held two public presentations Nov. 2 at the Kings Park Fire Department for Phase 3 of rehabilitation and restoration of  Nissequogue River State Park, built on the former grounds of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center. Wayne Horsley, regional director for the state office of parks, said that with Phase 3 residents will start to see a substantial improvement in the park.

“This is a community effort; Nissequogue River State Park is worth the effort,” he said. “The park is going to come to life. This will be a positive thing for everybody concerned.”

A state official and resident discuss plans for Phase 3 of the Nissequogue River State Park rehabilitation revealed Nov. 2. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

At the center of the preliminary plan is the construction of a new 25,000 square-foot headquarters for the DEC’s Division of Marine Resources in the existing footprint of Building 40, the former child care center, which would be demolished. The move would bring more than 100 DEC employees in the marine fisheries, marine habitat, shellfisheries and oceans program bureaus to Kings Park. It would also house the DEC’s Marine Enforcement unit and bring year-round law enforcement into the park.

“This is a much more ideal place for us,” said James Gilmore, director of the DEC’s Marine Resources Division. “Having a marine program next to the water makes so much more sense than where we are right now, in a medical park that’s six miles from the water.”

The $26 million building would also be equipped with the state’s only FDA-certified shellfish laboratory, for testing and maintaining the health and safety of harvested shellfish, in addition to a marine permit office. Construction of the new facility is expected to begin in the winter of 2018 with a targeted completion date of winter of 2020.

The DEC would also partner with the state parks’ office to design and construct a brand new marina. With a proposed $8 million budget, a new Nissequogue State Park Marina would be built to the south of the existing marina with a 151-boat capacity, new year-round floating docks, boat pump-out facility,  comfort station including restrooms and improved parking area for boaters.

“The advantages I think are pretty clear,” said Craig Green, with the consulting firm D&B Engineers and Architects that has been hired to oversee engineering and design of Phase 3. “It would provide new facilities. It has capacity for existing boats plus DEC’s boats, greater security, better lighting and better access to the boats.”

The parks’ existing north and south marinas would be largely demolished and restoration efforts would be made to return them to wetlands. The existing boat ramp may be retrofitted to be used as a launch for nonmotorized boats, kayaks and paddle boards, according to Horsley. Construction of the new marina would be tentatively slated to begin in 2019.

“The park is going to come to life.”

— Wayne Horsley

The proposed Phase 3 sets aside $1.5 million to bring new water mains and fire hydrants to the park. The announcement was answered with loud applause by approximately 85 attendees at the Nov. 2 meeting.

“If we ever had a fire, [the firefighters] would have adequate water supply to put out the fire,” Horsley said. “It will bring potable water to the DEC building, the administrative building and the park.”

The parks regional director called it a “win-win” as he said new lines would be water to the soccer fields frequently used by local teams.

Other improvements under the proposed Phase 3 include demolition of three fire-damaged buildings and several upgrades to the park’s administrative headquarters including a new roof, window restoration, new heating and cooling systems and improved handicapped access to the building in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Detailed conceptual renderings of the proposed DEC building can be found on the agency’s website at www.dec.ny.gov/about/796.html.

Individuals who were unable to attend the two public meetings can comment on the plan until Nov. 30. Feedback may be submitted via email to FW.Marine@dec.ny.gov or via mail to: Stephanie Rekemeyer, NYSDEC, 205 Belle Mead Road, Suite 1, East Setauket, New York 11733.

Deer hunting via long bow has been a controversial topic in Huntington Town since first permitted in September 2015. Stock photo

Huntington Town Hall was as tense as a drawn bowstring as residents agreed to disagree on bow hunting as a means to address deer overpopulation.

The Town Board held its public hearing Sept. 19 on proposed changes to rules regulating the use of longbows for hunting.

The proposed changes, sponsored by Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), take aim at further restricting the use of a long bow under the town’s firearm regulations, not directly regulating deer hunting, which falls under the oversight of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

One major change would expand the definition of what is considered a dwelling to include farm buildings, school buildings, school playgrounds, public structures,  occupied factories or churches, as hunters would be prohibited from firing an arrow within 150-feet of these structures.

Diana Cherryholmes, an Eaton’s Neck resident of 15 years, said she has concerns about the potential of hunters accidentally shooting a resident, their children or pets.

“I’m very uncomfortable during deer hunting season taking a walk…”

— Diana Cherryholmes

“Currently, I’m very uncomfortable during deer hunting season taking a walk, riding my bike and I’m scared for the kids playing outside,” Cherryholmes said.

Her concerns were echoed by  Eaton’s Neck residents Charlotte Koons and Christine Ballow. Town officials first voted to permit bow hunting in September 2015 to see if it would help address issues of deer overpopulation in the shoreline communities. The proposed changes are in response to safety concerns raised by community residents about unknown persons traveling through properties and arrows being fired in close proximity to houses and people.

“I think this is a trial that didn’t work,” Ballow said. “I think the 150-foot setback is hard to comply with given the density that we have. [The] density is not right for this type of hunting in this type of situation.”

Doug Whitcomb, speaking on behalf of Eaton Harbors Corporation civic group, said hunters realize there are additional efforts that must be made in a small community  where they must interact with neighbors who don’t agree with the sport.

“We are challenged by it as well,” Whitcomb said. “We similarly feel compromised when we have people around us when we’ve been in the woods since 5 a.m. trying to do a service to the community.”

Mike Lewis, a volunteer for NYSDEC who has taught hunter education classes since 2006, told town officials the five-year average for hunting-related accidental shooting incidents in New York is 20 to 25 people a year — a total for hunters using firearms, shotguns, pistols and bows.

“The majority of these incidents are two-party accidents where two or more people are hunting in close proximity and someone makes a mistake,” Lewis said.

He said there has only been one reported accident which involved an accidental shooting while long bow hunting, involving an elderly father and son pair. During that incident the father mistook his son for a deer and shot him in the leg, resulting in a minor injury.

“To understand our frustration and fears, understand we are taking part in an activity that’s as old as mankind itself.”

— John Marcinka

“If you put in your time and practice, you can tell a deer with antlers from a female with no antlers, or someone’s cat, dog or child,” Lewis said. “The last thing anyone wants to see is any innocent person get hurt.”

Several avid deer hunters spoke out to ask town officials to continue to permit bow hunting, despite the regulatory changes, believing they provide a valuable community service.

“Your arrow is like a surgical utensil as it pierces right through, and is the most humane way of taking out a deer,” said Joseph Wine, a hunter from Eaton’s Neck. “I think hunting is one of the best ways to control the deer. It’s free and it’s cheap.”

Huntington hunter John Marcinka requested additional clarification from the board on the proposed change that would require hunters to provide written notification to the town’s Department of Public Safety and local police departments prior to beginning a hunt.

“To understand our frustration and fears, understand we are taking part in an activity that’s as old as mankind itself,” Marcinka said. “When we’ve gone hunting on other people’s property in the past, we get permission from the farmer or landowner and it’s done with a handshake and nothing in writing.”

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) directed Marcinka and other hunters to speak with the town attorney to work out specifics on how the written notice must be sent to property owners, how far in advance, and how frequently.

Town board members did not vote on the proposed changes Sept. 19. Their next town board meeting is not until Oct. 17, after the Oct. 1 start of the 2017 hunting season.

“I support amending the law as moving forward to a more permanent solution for relationships between people who don’t want deer hunting, like myself, and the hunters,” Cherryholmes said. “There must be a solution to help control the deer population and for the residents to have peace of mind.”

Deer hunting via long bow has been a controversial topic in Huntington Town since first permitted in September 2015. Stock photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Deer hunters may need to memorize a new set of regulations in the Town of Huntington before the start of the 2017 hunting season.

Huntington Town Board has scheduled a public hearing for its Sept. 19 meeting on a series of proposed changes affecting the use of longbows for deer hunting.

“Over the past few years we’ve learned some things that have gone on during deer hunting season and want to make it safer for our residents,” Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said.

The proposed changes take aim at restricting the use of a longbow under the town’s firearms regulations, not directly regulating deer hunting which falls under the oversight of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Edwards, sponsor of the legislation, said the changes include requiring all hunters to provide written notification to the Town’s Department of Public Safety and the police department prior to hunting and expanding the definition of what’s considered a dwelling.

“If [hunters] are going to use the longbow we want to ensure that there’s written notification to the police department as we’ve had instances of people walking around the neighborhood, armed, and no one knows who they are,” Edwards said.

The proposed code changes will also expand the definition of a “dwelling”  to include “farm building or farm structures actually occupied or used, school building, school playground, public structure, or occupied factory or church” to prevent hunters from firing at deer within 150 feet of these buildings unless they are the property owner.

“Hunting is already regulated by the DEC so the town … is outside of their scope.”

— Michael Tessitore

If the proposed amendments are passed, anyone violating the regulations would face up to a $500 fine per day and prosecution by the town attorney’s office.

The  public hearing is set to take place mere days before the start of the 2017 deer hunting season, which runs from Oct. 1 to Jan. 31 under NYSDEC regulations. Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town board will have the option to immediately enact the proposed code changes Sept. 19 if there are no substantial objections.

The board’s decision to permit bow hunting in September 2015 remains a contentious issue among local residents, particularly in the areas of Eatons Neck and Asharoken, which routinely deal with deer overpopulation.

“We’ve been having big issues with hunting with it since it began in Asharoken and Eatons Neck,” said Nadine Dumser, an Asharoken Village resident.

Dumser, who also owns property in Eatons Neck, said she has dealt with hunters who did not properly notify her as a homeowner they were active in the area but also entered her yard without permission.

“We would call police and complain about hunters being on our property,” she said. “When they finally do come, they are pretty powerless to do anything.”

Others believe that the Town’s efforts to further regulate longbow use oversteps its legal authority.

Michael Tessitore, founder of the nonprofit  Hunters for Deer, said the more than 85 hunters who are members of his organization will continue to follow the DEC regulations.

“Hunting is already regulated by the DEC so the town, by taking these extra steps to regulate hunting, is outside of their scope,” Tessitore said. “I believe they are going to open themselves up to litigation.”

Tessitore, who is a licensed nuisance wildlife control operator, said he helps manage more than 100 private properties including areas in Eatons Neck, Fort Salonga, and Smithtown to make agreements between hunters and homeowners who support hunting as a form a deer population management. He’s also worked with  Southampton Town to design a deer population management plan.

“I support deer hunting as a management tool,” Tessitore said. “It’s the only proven effective management tool for the overpopulation of deer.”

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

Jeannean Mercuri, vice president of the Nassau-Suffolk Horsemen’s Association, mounts Cricket the horse on the new trail hub in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens. Photo from DEC

By Desirée Keegan

A day when Montauk and New York City are connected across Long Island by trails might not be too far off.

On Sept. 22, the Department of Environmental Conservation celebrated the completion of a piece of the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest Multi-Use Trail Hub Project. The project is an effort to connect trail systems across Rocky Point, Ridge, Yaphank and Shirley. The entire trail system when completed will pass through the DEC’s Pine Barrens, Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven parkland, and end in the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge.

The new trail hub can be found on the north side of Middle Country Road in Ridge, between Wading River Road and Woodlot Road.

“The completion of this trail hub is an instrumental step in the effort to connect Long Island’s trail systems,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “The multiple features of this hub will allow local residents and visitors, young and old, and of any ability, to take advantage of Long Island’s stunning natural diversity.”

The new hub, located on the south end of the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, is expected to be one of the central public access spots for the new trail system. It features a car and horse trailer parking lot, a newly built half-mile Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible hiking trail, an accessible horse mounting platform, and a half-mile connector to an existing horse and hiking trail.

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation's Regional Director, speaking during the grand opening of the new trail hub in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens. Photo from DEC
Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s Regional Director, speaking during the grand opening of the new trail hub in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens. Photo from DEC

“I am fortunate to represent one of the most beautiful regions of New York State,” Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said. “As the sponsor of the legislation that created the Pine Barrens Preserve, I am pleased that we are creating an opportunity for more individuals to access the trails. The ADA accessibility will enable those with mobility issues to enjoy more of Long Island’s natural beauty firsthand.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also commended the DEC for its work with the ADA.

“It’s very important that all residents get the opportunity to share in the natural beauty that surrounds us and we must do whatever we can to preserve it for generations to come,” he said.

The project began in October 2014, with funding from NY Works, and was completed in June for a total cost of $460,000. The trail hub is located on the property of the former Lustgarden Nursery in Ridge. In April, the DEC worked with Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment in an Arbor Day reforestation effort. The student volunteers planted 250 seedlings of native New York tree species.

“The new trail hub is about connecting people with nature and making it easier to get out and explore Long Island’s treasure of trails and the beautiful wildlands they traverse,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

The DEC acquired the 274-acre site in 1996 from Baier Lustgarten. It was the site of Baier Lustgarten Farms and Nursery, which used the acreage to plant nursery stock, including native and non-native trees, shrubs and ornamentals. Several neglected structures were razed from the property, including a house, a barn, greenhouses and cottages for farm hands.

“The new multi-use trail hub is a wonderful community centerpiece that gives residents greater access to enjoy the beautiful Rocky Point Pine Barrens,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “The new hub connects several communities and allows for hiking, horseback riding and bike riding. The DEC has done a wonderful job in creating this very important greenway park that will truly make a difference as we experience our spectacular outdoor environment.”

A fearless Long Island deer forages for food. Photo by Rohma Abbas

With the first deer-hunting season in Eaton’s Neck coming to a close, Huntington residents and town board officials are evaluating if the new bow hunting rules are a success.

Huntington Town spokesperson A.J. Carter said in a phone interview that the board plans to gather different viewpoints and “assess what to do going forward,” to see if the town achieved its stated goal of cutting down the deer population.

The board voted to allow bow hunting of deer in early September, amending the town code to allow it in Eaton’s Neck under the direction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation during the state’s deer hunting season, between Oct. 1 to Jan. 31.

Joe DeRosa, an Eaton’s Neck resident and president of the civic group Eaton’s Neck Corporation, said he thinks this season has gone well.

A petition on Change.org calls for an end to deer hunting in Eaton's Neck. Screen capture
A petition on Change.org calls for an end to deer hunting in Eaton’s Neck. Screen capture

According to DeRosa, the community has hunted and removed more than 60 deer — and residents have noticed a difference.

“During the day, you don’t see too many deer at all,” DeRosa said in a phone interview. “The number of sightings has drastically declined since this time last year.”

DeRosa said his expectations for the town measure have been met.

Some residents do not share that sentiment.

A petition on activism website Change.org, created in November, now has more than 500 supporters who want the Huntington Town Board to stop allowing hunting in residential areas. The petition expressed safety concerns from neighbors who have hunters on adjacent lots acting close to their own properties.

“These deer slayers now roam freely in the Town of Huntington with no enforced restrictions, regulations or policing of any kind,” the petition states. “They come and go, killing and wounding at will.”

When the law passed in September, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said measures would be taken so “it’s not just ‘Joe the hunter’ coming in.”

According to the resolution, anyone with a DEC permit can hunt on their own Eaton’s Neck property or on such a property where they have the owner’s consent.

DeRosa said residents were advised to call the Suffolk County Police Department with any complaints or concerns they had after the law was enacted, but neither a police spokesperson nor a DEC spokesperson could immediately confirm whether their departments received any complaints.

Many of the people who signed the petition are not actually from the Huntington area, with some living as far as Delaware and Pennsylvania.

DeRosa said the petition does not reflect the overall consensus of the community.

The Eaton’s Neck Corporation conducted a resident survey earlier this year, before the town took action, and more than 85 percent wanted something done about the perceived overpopulation of deer in their area, according to DeRosa.

“The community asked for help and they got what they wanted,” he said. “This is a community effort.”

The issue was a hot debate in the summer and fall, with many people concerned about the traffic danger deer posed as well as the threat of spreading Lyme disease.

In addition to the bow hunting law, the town board created a deer management program to research alternative methods of lowering the deer population, such as contraceptives or herding programs. Carter said that program is still in the early stages of development.

Local shellfish, like oysters and clams, are harvested on the North Shore. File photo

Citing recent bacteriological surveys, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced emergency regulations to change the designation of underwater shellfish lands in Suffolk county. Shellfish harvesting will be closed or limited to particular months in approximately 1,844 acres of bays and harbors in Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold, East Hampton and Oyster Bay, to comply with state and national standards to protect public health.

Through the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, states are required to conduct routine water quality sampling in shellfish harvesting areas. Failure by a state to comply with these national water quality-monitoring protocols could lead to a prohibition of the sale of shellfish products in interstate commerce.

The DEC’s analyses of water quality in these areas showed increased levels of fecal coliform bacteria. The increased bacteria indicates that shellfish harvested from these areas have the potential to cause human illness if consumed.

Bacteria can enter the waters from a variety of human, animal, cesspool and storm water sources. The DEC is working with local governments in Suffolk County on major projects to improve water quality in the region, an effort that will reduce discharges of bacteria and nitrogen. The DEC will work with partners to track down the bacteria sources and oversee mandated local efforts to address illicit discharges of sewage into storm sewer systems, while also continuing to evaluate sources of bacteria in an effort to resolve the issue.

The DEC’s emergency regulations will change the designation of the affected shellfish areas to “uncertified,” or closed, for the harvest of clams, mussels, oysters and scallops, either year-round or seasonally.

In Mount Sinai Harbor in Brookhaven Town, approximately 200 acres will be reclassified as closed for the harvest of shellfish during the period May 1 to Oct. 31.

In Stony Brook Harbor, approximately 300 acres shall be reclassified as closed from May 15 through Oct. 31, to closed instead from May 1 through Dec. 31, for the harvest of shellfish.

In Cold Spring Harbor, approximately 99 acres shall be designated as closed during from May 1 through Oct. 15, for the harvest of shellfish.

For more information about shellfish safety and New York’s role in the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, visit the DEC’s website. The emergency regulations adopting the changes are effective immediately. Additional information may also be obtained by contacting the DEC’s Shellfisheries office at (631) 444-0492.

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