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DEC

From left to right: Laura Curran, Peter King, Tom Suozzi and Lee Zeldin urge tighter federal rules to protect drinking water and Long Islanders health. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

The Long Island congressional delegation has reached a tipping point. They’re ready for the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to better address concerns over water quality and its potential impact on human health.

U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Peter King (R-Seaford) and Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were joined June 18 by local elected officials and environmental advocates at the Town of Hempstead Water Department to demand that the EPA sets maximum contaminant levels for drinking water and act to help protect Long Islanders from contaminated drinking supplies.

“When it comes to our communities’ drinking water, there is no room for error,” Zeldin said following the press conference. “This is the drinking water for so many Long Islanders, and failure to act is not an option.”

New York Public Interest Research Group or NYPIRG, found in a recent study that Long Island has the most contaminated drinking water in New York state. Several contaminants, such as 1,4-dioxane and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — were detected above the EPA’s reference concentrations, which are health-based assessments. 

The problem is widespread. Locally, the chemical 1,4-dioxane was found in at least two private drinking wells in Smithtown and also in wells serviced by Suffolk County Water Authority, including the Flower Hill Road well field in Halesite, as reported in The Times of Smithtown April 30 article, “County acts to address drinking water contamination concerns.” 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that 65 out of 80 commonly used household products that the organization had tested included at least trace amounts of the potentially toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane. CCE is calling for a ban on its use.

Zeldin is a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force which was established to address the urgent threat of PFAS to help better protect communities from the harmful effects of the chemicals.

The use of industrial strength firefighting foam during past training exercises, such as those undertaken at the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton and Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, have been known to introduce chemicals, such as PFAS, into the surrounding groundwater, potentially contaminating drinking supplies.

PFAS is a man-made substance that is persistent in the human body and the environment. It can also be found in nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and packaging.

Some PFAS are no longer manufactured in the U.S., according to the EPA website, but can be produced internationally and imported to U.S. in consumer goods such as carpets, textiles, paper and packaging, rubber and plastics. 

The EPA Region 2 Office spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment before press time. 

Juvenile clams maturing in Brookhaven’s hatchery. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Huntington and the State Department of Environmental Conservation have separate rules and regulations related to shellfishing, which may confuse some people. Erica Ringewald, a spokesperson for the DEC agreed to answer a few general questions about shellfish harvesting in local bays and harbors. 

Are diesel boats dredging or sail dredging in Huntington Harbor and have they “stolen” millions of dollars’ worth of clams and oysters? Does the state punish this? 

The Town of Huntington has jurisdiction over the method of shellfish harvesting in town waters, which comprise Huntington Bay, Hunting Harbor, Centerport Harbor and Northport Harbor. Shellfish harvesting, regardless of method, is prohibited by DEC in Huntington Harbor, which is closed to the taking of shellfish year-round. 

Has shellfish dredging been identified as a problem?

DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement responds to a few complaints each year, particularly in winter, and often works with the Town of Huntington to investigate depending on the type of complaint made and where the alleged harvesting may be taking place. DEC has not received reports of the illegal harvest of millions of dollars of shellfish at this location.

Fines for violations include: 

First offense for taking shellfish in closed section ranges from $250 to 1,000 (misdemeanor) and value of shellfish illegally taken can be added to the fine. First offense for taking shellfish by mechanical means ranges from $250 to 1,000 (misdemeanor) and the subject could lose the boat and all equipment. In addition, two convictions within a five-year period would result in mandatory license revocation and an administrative suspension of up to 6 months.

Are there different rules and catch limits for commercial vs. recreational shellfish harvesting? 

No permit is required for recreational shellfish harvesting from state lands. Local towns have additional restrictions on catch limits, size limits, season, type of gear and may require residency and additional permits. Recreational harvesters are required to check with the local town they are harvesting from for specific information.

Commercial shellfish harvesters are required to obtain a New York State Shellfish Digger Permit. This permit allows only the permit holder to harvest, cull, sort or tag clams, oysters, mussels and scallops taken from certified or open waters for commercial purposes. An additional Shellfish Digger Vessel Endorsement is required to allow a Shellfish Digger Permit holder to endorse his or her permit to a single vessel which covers all people on board the vessel while harvesting, culling, sorting or tagging hard clams and oysters. For state shellfish harvest limits visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/29870.html.

How long has shellfishing been prohibited in Huntington Harbor?

Huntington Bay is certified (open) for the harvest of shellfish. Approximately 50 percent of Huntington Harbor (southernmost portion) was closed to shellfish harvesting in 1975. The harbor was entirely closed to shellfish harvesting by 1986. For information on shellfish closures in Huntington Harbor, refer to www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/103483.html#Huntington_Harbor11.

Russell Burke, a professor of biology at Hofstra University, shows how newly state-mandated terrapin excluder devices keep turtles out while crabs can still get in. Photo by Kyle Barr

It has been a slow crawl saving Long Island’s turtles, but local conservation groups are hoping new state regulations will speed up the process.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Long Island environmental groups gathered May 23 at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip to celebrate new rules requiring crab cages — used in Long Island’s coastal waters including many of the bays, harbors and rivers that enter Long Island Sound — to have “terrapin excluder devices” (TEDs) on all entrances. As carnivores, terrapins are attracted to bait fish used in commercial, or what’s known as Maryland style crab traps or “pots.” As a result, male and female turtles of all sizes push their way through the entrance funnels and end up drowning.

John Turner, a conservation policy advocate for the Seatuck Environmental Association, shows the North Shore areas where turtles are getting caught and drowning in crab cages. Photo by Kyle Barr

“With each and every season these traps are not required to have TEDs, there are likely hundreds of terrapins that are drowning,” said John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association, which operates the Islip center. “To me, one of the signs of a real civilized society is how we treat other life-forms. We haven’t treated terrapins very well.”

He said in Stony Brook Harbor alone there are dozens, maybe hundreds of terrapins that will spend the winter in the mud, emerging once the water runs up high enough. Turner said many of the North Shore areas that are home to these turtles, like Setauket Harbor, Conscience Bay, Port Jefferson Harbor, Mount Sinai Harbor and Nissequogue River, play a key role in preserving the species.

“In contrast to where I am in South Jersey, I can go by the canals and I can see a dozen [terrapin] heads bobbing up and down,” said James Gilmore, director of the marine resources division at the state DEC. “Here, it’s very rare to see one. Hopefully these new rules will help us see more.”

Gilmore said the DEC began working on changing state regulations in 2013 but have known long before there was a problem.

Carl LoBue, The Nature Conservancy’s New York ocean program director, said it was in the late 1990s he’d witnessed recreational crab traps in Stony Brook Harbor. One day he lifted a cage out of the water while trying to move his landlord’s boat and saw it was filled with trapped terrapins. Two were still alive, but five
had already drowned.

“With each and every season these traps are not required to have TEDs, there are likely hundreds of terrapins that are drowning.”

— John Turner

“I’m sure the crabber wasn’t intent to kill turtles,” LoBue said. “But when I looked across the bay at the 60 or something crab traps this person had set, I was crushed thinking of the terrapins drowning at that very moment.”

In the early 2000s terrapins became a popular meal in New York, but the harvest of those turtles led to a massive decrease in population, especially the diamondback terrapin, which was identified as a species of greatest conservation need in the 2015 New York State Wildlife Action Plan. In September 2017 the DEC passed regulations banning the commercial harvest of diamondbacks.

Terrapin population has slowly increased since then, but researchers say there’s still little known about the population, like life expectancy or habits while in water. The species has a very slow birth rate, with low local clutches of 10 or so eggs — sometimes only one or two of which hatch and mature. 

Russell Burke, a professor of biology at Hofstra University, said terrapins could live very long lives, pointing to older specimens he has seen living to 60 years old, but he estimated some could be twice that age. While Burke said it’s hard to estimate the total population on Long Island, he said in Jamaica Bay alone, he knows there are approximately 3,500 adult females.

Terrapin, or turtles, are carnivores, attracted to fish typically used to catch crab. Photo by Kyle Barr

The TED devices are 4 3/4 inches by 1 3/4 inches, an exact measurement, to ensure that while crabs can get through, turtles cannot. According to Kim McKown, leader of the Marine Invertebrate and Protected Resources Unit at the state DEC, the small, plastic TEDs cost $10 for the three needed to secure a normal crab trap. The cost exponentially increases depending on how many traps a fisherman has, with some owning up to 1,000 traps.

Turner said his organization used its own funds and purchased 5,000 TEDs and gifted them to the DEC. The state agency is giving them to Long Island crab fishermen on a first come, first served basis.

Commercial crab fisherman Fred Chiofolo, who hunts in Brookhaven Town along the South Shore, experimented with TEDs on his own for years before the regulations were passed. He said the devices
even improved the number of crabs caught.

“It made a significant difference with the pots that had them versus the pots that didn’t,” Chiofolo said. “Last year I put them in every pot I had — about 200 of them. I’m not going to lie it’s a lot of work to put them in, but we don’t want to catch the turtle. I don’t want them, and [the TED] does keep them out.”

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.