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Environment

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Interim SBU President Michael Bernstein meet with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to discuss energy effeciency improvements. Photo by David Luces

In an effort to fight climate change, Stony Brook University will receive $79 million in energy efficiency improvements and upgrades throughout the campus. 

New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was on hand at the school Aug. 19 to announce the planned upgrades in front of the university’s Center of Molecular Medicine. 

The improvements build upon the State University of New York’s Clean Energy Roadmap, a partnership between SUNY and state energy agencies that aims to accelerate progress toward the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. 

The energy efficient upgrades will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28,000 tons a year, which is the equivalent of taking over 5,000 cars off the road. It will also save the university nearly $6 million in energy and maintenance costs annually. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” Interim President Michael Bernstein said. 

The improvements, which will be financed and implemented by the New York Power Authority, will include a number of energy-saving upgrades such as lighting, ventilation and building management upgrades at university buildings, including residence halls, science buildings and the hospital. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint.”

— Michael Bernstein

The planned upgrades continue the university’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint. NYPA and SUNY have already partnered to complete more than $50 million in energy efficiency improvements at Stony Brook. If all goes according to plan, expectations are for the removal of nearly 16,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. 

Some of those projects included interior and exterior LED lighting upgrades, replacement of older HVAC equipment, pipe insulation and lab HVAC modernization. 

PSEG Long Island provided more than $500,000 in rebates to Stony Brook University for projects underway. 

“We have a moral responsibility to protect this Earth while it is in our hands,” said Hochul. “Forty percent of buildings owned by the state of New York are on SUNY campuses … If we are going to make an impact this is where we start.” 

SUNY and NYPA, together, have completed energy-saving projects at more than 600 SUNY facilities, reducing energy consumption by more than 6.2 megawatts, removing more than 48,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, and saving $12.1 million annually, according to SUNY. The public college institution and power authority are currently partnering to implement energy-saving measures at more than 30 additional SUNY buildings. Once completed, they expect it will reduce SUNY’s energy consumption by an additional 1.6 megawatts.

Michael Schwarting presents the study's findings to village officials. Photo by Kyle Barr

If Port Jefferson experiences another “100 year flood” sooner than a century, then at least it knows where the water is coming from.

Professionals from Port Jefferson-based Campani and Schwarting Architects attended the Aug. 19 village meeting showing map after map of where the problem areas for Port Jeff flooding are, and offered suggestions, some big and some small, of how to combat the issue of flooding.

Michael Schwarting said many of the issues are due to an excess of hardscape, both building roofs and roads, and a significant lack of permeable spaces, especially in areas where the depth of the water table is less than 11 feet below ground. Forty percent of village property is non-water-permeable.

“There’s a fair density of buildings that contribute to the groundwater conditions,” he said. “That contributes in bringing water from the watershed to the lowest point.”

In the three-square-mile village, with a population of just over 8,000, the vast majority of land sits within the Port Jefferson watershed area.

The village tapped the PJ-based architectural firm back in February to construct a water management and storm surge study. While the study still needs to be finalized, with map after map, the architect discussed numerous issues contributing to flooding. One such map described how there were numerous roads that sloped down toward Port Jefferson Harbor. Some roads house catch basins to collect the water before it reaches trouble points, some streets have too few or no catch basins while others had more than is likely necessary.

Last September, Port Jefferson was bowled over with water, with nearly 4 inches of rain collected in a short span of time. Buildings like the Port Jefferson firehouse and the venerable Theatre Three were drowned in 3 to 4 feet of water, causing thousands of dollars in damages in the case of the theater.

The architect said what is likely a major cause of this is due to piping systems that draw a lot of water to the end of Barnum Avenue and the driveway to the Port Jefferson high school. Schwarting added there are stories of when that pipe was being built, children used to walk to school along it, meaning the system sits close to the surface.

“All of these pipes, some coming from North Country Road to Main Street with a lot of catch basins are contributing to this one point at Barnum and high school,” he said.

Mayor Margot Garant said they have received a report from Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting about the pipe running from that culvert to the outfall pipe behind village hall. That report said there was sediment buildup at a low point in the pipe, also showing the pipe had “a pinch and a jog” that leads down toward the harbor. 

In June, Port Jefferson Village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding. 

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds not to exceed $1 million from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies. 

The architects point out numerous small projects that can be done around the village to aid in flood mitigation, mostly in increasing permeable surfaces around the village. This would include rain gardens and bioswales, a landscape element designed to concentrate or remove debris and pollution out of surface runoff water, permeable paving systems, tree trenches and bioretention planters, acting as plant bed medians with grooves cut in the curb allowing water to drain in and flow into local outlets.

Though the architectural firm also endorsed several major projects, such as “daylighting” Mill Creek and the firm’s own plan proposal, given to the village in 2013, to completely remake the Brookhaven Town parking lot and boat ramp, adding significantly more greenery and passive recreational space in what is now hardscape. 

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

How do you compete with the Big Mac and plastic straw?

That’s the dilemma facing the Democratic Party. You see, beyond squaring off against the tweets and the sideshows, the Democrats are hoping to win the hearts and minds of voters against a billionaire president who endorses products and ideas that carry broad appeal for his base and for some voters on the fence.

People don’t want to be told how to live their lives. They don’t want a government to say, “Hey, red meat isn’t good for you. Stop eating it and focus on the foods that will keep you healthy and be good for the Earth.” They also don’t want to give up something, like a plastic straw, that has been a part of their lives forever.

Now, there are plenty of solid arguments for reducing red meat and for cutting back on plastic straws. Those straws, among many other forms of plastic, are killing marine life. Plastics are so prevalent in marine waters that whales are dying of starvation because they have more than 80 pounds of plastic in their stomachs.

But that’s not what some voters think or care about. That dead whale probably didn’t eat the plastic straw that the voter used. And, even if it did, the plastic straw is only one of many other plastics that the mammal ate. Besides, it was probably a plastic straw that someone in China threw into the ocean or that an illegal immigrant used and discarded. I recycle my plastics, so why shouldn’t I use them as often as I’d like?

The problem for Democrats is simpler than that, though. It’s really a question of the present versus the future. As we are currently constructed, we, the American people, aren’t accustomed to sacrifice. It’s not considered a modern virtue by a president who says what he thinks and does what he likes. We want what we want when we want it. We are the culture of instant gratification. Someone says something awful about us, we want to hit back.

It’s why some people adore the president. He is the ultimate counterpuncher, he says what he thinks and he always wants the last word. Misspelling that word is irrelevant and, in its own way, it appeals to some people because proper spelling seems so elitist.

It’s also why he can roll back environmental laws designed to protect endangered species. Sure, long term, we might lose a few snakes, birds or trees, but we will also be able to make more money from the land, create more jobs and live for the present.

The great, big, beautiful tax cut helped boost the stock market. Why? Companies used that extra money to buy back their stock. That didn’t do much to help the economy or create jobs. It didn’t enhance the companies’ revenues or encourage corporations to take risks to fund important research or pursue innovative ideas. It was a for-the-present gift to companies which boosted their current bottom lines.

Conspiracy theories fit into the mold of a present focus. Until irrefutable facts come to the public’s attention, these theories — including some about how or even whether disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein died — burn like a bonfire, without requiring a discussion or even a preparation for an unknown future.

Looking past the present to the future that will affect our children and grandchildren is difficult. Besides, instead of worrying about what the world will look like in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time, we can sit down with the younger generation, pull up a chair, and eat a Big Mac and drink a sugar-filled soda through a plastic straw. Democrats need to create a picture that makes whatever changes they seek understandable, worthwhile and palatable.

Many who attended the 3rd annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire in Port Jefferson were first greeted to was a bear — hulking, rusted statue of a bear with arms of wood and corroded steel, a torso of used tires and organs made from oil filters and oil sumps. In the center of his chest was a cow heart suspended in formaldehyde.

“Bear” the sculpture by local team Dirt People Studios, was just one of many demonstrations of science, art and ingenuity at the fair, hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium.

Scientists demonstrated the dangers of storm surges on Long Island, while robotics teams from Stony Brook University and other local high schools showed off what they have worked on for the past year.

Local DiYers like Jim Mason of LB Robotics, a maker of strange and interesting robotics, showed his work with a 3D printer and his projects using parts and tools he has found around his home.

“The music, the sun, the fun and play, see ya next year, Robo say,” Mason posted to his Facebook page.

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Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Miller Place School District has closed its high school gym after mercury vapors were detected within the recreation space.

A letter sent home to parents dated April 28 stated the district was made aware of a possible situation regarding the original synthetic flooring used in the gym when the school was built back in the 1970s, which had also been covered over with wood flooring in the late 1990s. The synthetic flooring, made several decades ago, contained a mercury catalyst that breaks down over time.

The district conducted the testing April 25 in the gymnasium and adjacent rooms, including under the stage in the auditorium, in the girls and boys locker rooms, the weight room, the corridor from the boys locker room to the cafeteria and ambient levels outside the school. That testing revealed recordable levels of mercury vapor in the gym, girls locker room and under the stage in the auditorium. Since there are no federal or New York State standards for mercury vapor levels, the district said it used Minnesota State guidelines instead. 

The district, along with environmental consultants, sectioned off the gym interior and retested the areas Friday, April 26 into the following evening. The letter stated all other areas except the gym were cleared of air monitoring and testing for mercury vapor.

It is unsure how long the mercury vapors have been present within the high school.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and all who visit our schools remains our top priority,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in the letter. “As we move forward with this process, we will keep the community informed accordingly.”

A representative of the school district was not available to comment on how long the vapor could have been in the gym, how the district was initially alerted to the vapor, or how much it is expected to cost to remove the flooring from the gym.

This issue with this particular type of synthetic flooring has been seen in schools across the nation. Other school districts have reported spending several million to remove the floors.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and all who visit our schools remains our top priority.”

— Marianne Cartisano

The State of New Jersey has recently had to deal with this mercury vapor situation in several of its schools. The New Jersey Education Association has released information on its website specifically about this type of flooring, and said such floors had to be removed as hazardous waste.

The New Jersey organization said the polyurethane floors use 1,000 to 2,000 parts per million of phenylmercuric acetate catalyst, which breaks down over time into a colorless, odorless mercury vapor. The floor could release this vapor indefinitely.

This vapor may do damage to lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes, though it depends on how much and how frequently people are exposed to the gas. It’s expected that physical education teachers, coaches, certain sports teams and maintenance staff would be the most frequently exposed.

Minnesota Department of Health guidelines regarding mercury flooring testing and mitigation state that a floor containing 20 parts per million of mercury may lead to health concerns. The guidelines also state that the public should not be exposed to air concentrations above 1,800 milligrams per cubic meter. For longer exposures, gym teachers should not be exposed to more than 750 milligrams per cubic meter in a 40-hour workweek. The guidelines instruct that good ventilation is an effective way to reduce mercury vapor concentrations inside the location, though of course the only way to reduce the vapor entirely is to remove the flooring.

The letter sent to parents states all activities that normally happen in the gym will be relocated to other areas. Activities that normally happen in the auditorium will continue to take place within that room, and events, such as concerts or drama productions, will not need to be rescheduled.

Gerald Cohen during a 2010 interview with TBR News Media. Image from video by TBR News Media

The former CEO of Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson, Gerald Cohen, has been ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground from the now-defunct airplane parts manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the charges April 15 after a district court judge in Central Islip ruled Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc, a former defense contractor that was based on Sheep Pasture Road, and its longtime owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, were liable for environmental cleanup costs.

“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this office and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for cleanup costs,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed Cohen’s wrongdoing based on the court’s 37-page memorandum. In the early 1980s, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances, among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property, resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene, among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent.”

— Pete Lopez

In a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the regional EPA administrator said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent,” said EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez. “Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long term.”

Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the court. The 126-acre property was named a Superfund site in 2000 and was expected to take 20 years to complete the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup of the site, now into its 19th year, has included a remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in the size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of more than 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of 36 months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.

A customer paying 5 cents to purchase a plastic bag from IGA Fort Salonga. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A small fee on plastic bags in Suffolk County has made a very big impact on usage, according to an environmental advocacy group.

Beginning in January 2018, a 5-cent tax on plastic bags from retail stores took effect across Suffolk County with a stated goal to reduce bag waste and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. County officials alongside environmental advocacy groups and educators announced the new law has worked as intended at a press conference March 21. 

According to the one-year effectiveness report, Suffolk County is using approximately 1.1 billion less plastic bags compared to previous years. Other key highlights include 41 percent less plastic bag litter on beaches and plastic and paper bag use at stores has been reduced by over 80 percent. 

Data showing number of plastic bags collected on suffolk County beach cleanups. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

“We have made a difference, right here in Suffolk County,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment who presented the report’s findings, said the bill has made a real difference. 

 “This legislation has changed public behavior — that was the goal,” she said.  

The report showed more members of the public bring their own reusable bags when shopping, while some forgo bags entirely. Overall much less plastic bags were
being used. 

Esposito also mentioned that the data collected in the report is being cited across the nation as other municipalities try to promote similar plastic bag bans and fees. 

“It was a little rocky in January of last year, not everyone was a happy camper, but it takes time to adjust, [the public] did it and we move on,” she said. 

Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School science teacher said Suffolk County is a model for the future when it comes to making changes for the environment. She also pointed to student scientists who played a large role in the survey and data collection for the effectiveness report.  

“We had six school districts on Long Island that had students go out to different locations from 2017 to 2018,” Grella said. “Without the support and the work of these young scientists out in the field we would not have the data that we have today.” 

The science teacher said it shows that environmental changes take time but also stressed the involvement of our youth. 

“Engaging our youth in these pursuits is critical,” she said.  

Data explaining rate of carryout bag usage in Suffolk County. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

This turn of events could be a good sign for Long Island, whose municipalities are already struggling due to changes in the recycling industry. Though the Town of Brookhaven Green Stream Recycling facility has stopped operation since its contractor walked out on its contract with the town, when it was operating town officials said plastic bags were dangerous if they went through the facility, due to the way they could snag and constrain sorting mechanisms.

John Turner, a conservation policy advocate at Setauket Environmental Association said the legislation has had benefits on local recycling facilities as well, citing that at town municipal recycling facility machinery would be routinely clogged up by plastic bags.    

Operation would need to be shut down every couple of hours to remove all the bags, costing the town $184,000 each instance to do the work and remove the bags. 

The report comes on the heels of the county’s continuation to reduce single-use plastics. In February, legislators announced policy incentives aimed at restricting the sales of several plastics, some harmful to health and to the environment. In July 2018, a project called Strawless Suffolk started and looked for 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village to take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Sept. 3, 2018. 

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A rendering of the proposed development in Mount Sinai. Image from Steven Losquadro

With the sounds of senior living facilities construction echoing up and down Route 25A, another developer has one more project coming down the pipeline for Mount Sinai, this time for a facility geared toward millennials.

The proposed development, Mount Sinai Meadows, will be a 30-acre mixed-use majority rental and part commercial facility geared toward creating a living space for young adults and young professionals.

“For people in the ages of 20 to 34, an increasing subset of the population here on Long Island, there is not appropriate housing or opportunities for such individuals who wish to stay here,” said Rocky Point-based attorney Steven Losquadro, who is representing the developer. 

Representatives of the site’s developer Mount Sinai Meadows LLC, headed by Woodmere-based real estate developer Basser-Kaufman, attended a Town of Brookhaven board meeting March 14 seeking a change of zoning from J-Business 2 to Planned Development District along with approval of the draft environmental impact study. No final decision was made on the property, and the board confirmed it would leave the proposal open for another 30 days to allow for additional comments.

“We felt it was very important for us to broaden our offerings of housing.”

— Ann Becker

In terms of amenities, the site plans to have bike racks, walkable grounds, communal barbecue areas, electric car charging stations, a large open lawn for the use of residents and four spaces toward the northern end of the property that will be used for large retail spaces. There will be 21.78 acres used for residential housing, while 8.3 acres will be retail. 

The project looks to include 140 housing units, including 106 two-bedroom apartments and 34 one-bedroom apartments. Losquadro said none of the apartments will be subsidized housing.

Engineer Charles Voorhis, a partner of the Melville-based firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC, said the project includes a 170-foot buffer, incorporating a 40-foot natural buffer between the site and the surrounding woods and residential communities to the south and west of the planned development.

The Mount Sinai Civic Association president Ann Becker said approximately 20 percent of the housing stock in the hamlet is for those 55 and older. She said the developer has offered assurances that the development is not expected to bring in an overwhelming number of children into the Mount Sinai School District.

“We have worked with the developers and have been provided with assurances that the number of children … will not burden our community,” Becker said. “We felt it was very important for us to broaden our offerings of housing.”

A number of residents on Mount Sinai Facebook groups were concerned about the traffic impact these new developments could have. The developer’s representatives did not rule out a potential increase in traffic.

Maureen Bond, the communications director of the Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance, said she also supports the project.

“In my opinion, this is the best plan so far,” she said. “There are traffic issues that need to be addressed; however, I believe having traffic is better than having no traffic.”

The civic has been supportive of the development for years, helping to shape its identity into the millennial housing proposal. One of its most recent requests for the development was to ensure the developer would not seek and would not be given any financial assistance or tax aid from the town, especially any help from the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. Two senior developments at the corner of Echo Avenue and Route 25A, one an assisted living facility, had recently been given a generous 13-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement, and though the civic had been supportive of that project, it was heavily against the loss of taxes from the PILOT.

“For people in the ages of 20 to 34, an increasing subset of the population here on Long Island, there is not appropriate housing or opportunities for such individuals who wish to stay here.”

— Steve Losquadro

The Mount Sinai Meadows project has been in the works for several years. Anthony Graves, Brookhaven town’s chief environmental analyst, said he had talked to Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) in 2012 about creating a “true town center” for each of the communities in Council District 2 along Route 25A. A prior project for the site was originally proposed by a different developer specifically for J-2 business zoning, Voorhis said. That project included 805 square feet of retail, 37,000 square feet of office and a 2,000-square-foot bank.

Representatives of the developer said there was no final decision on the expected price on the rentals, but Losqaudro said they have promised the civic it will be at market rate.

Voorhis added the developer is currently in talks with the owner of the neighboring strip mall to allow access between the two retail centers. The developer is also in talks about acquiring the neighboring music store property and incorporating it.

Graves said the town was interested in the PDD zoning because it could more accurately reflect the mixed-use nature of the proposed development.

“[We] believe this development is in the spirit of that original efforts we made in Mount Sinai,” the environmental analyst said. “We look at it as a true town center for Mount Sinai.”

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Mill Creek running after Feb. 12 snows. Photo by Kyle Barr

At a Port Jefferson village board meeting Feb. 4, Mayor Margot Garant held up a picture of West Broadway in front of Ecolin Jewelers from March 2, 2018. It’s a panorama of part of the village underwater after the area was hit by winter storm Riley, taken by photographer Craig Smith. 

Though that photo spoke of how the village had once been known as Drowned Meadow, Garant said it was telling that the picture could have been any number of occasions in the past year.

“Unfortunately, this is becoming an all too familiar picture,” Garant said. “We have probably had five or six events since 2018 that caused the three-way intersection to flood … flooding in and around Barnum Avenue is becoming a regular concern.”

“In short, I think it’s going to get worse.”

— Frances Campani

In July 2018, Port Jeff put in an application to New York State for a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant to update the 2013 Waterfront Revitalization Plan, an appendix to the village Comprehensive Plan Update. At the Feb. 4 meeting the board voted to go forward with Port Jefferson-based Campani and Schwarting Architects, who in part submitted for the grant last year, to create a visioning study to address the issue of stormwater runoff, storm surges and future rising tide protection in an effort to resubmit for the grant in July.

The proposed analysis would look at the flooding problem in the harbor, including Main Street and East and West Broadway, what causes it and what is predicted to happen in the next two, five and 10 years.

“In short, I think it’s going to get worse,” said architect Frances Campani. 

In addition, the proposal document for the visioning study states they would study the watershed groundwater flooding problem, including bringing in existing data on stormwater catch basins, the culvert running to the Mill Creek at Village Hall, flooding and ponding at Barnum Avenue and flooding in the area between Wynne Lane and Maple.

While the shoreline and Harborfront Park would be the expected areas of concern, Campani said the most concerning areas are East and West Broadway and the main stormwater drainage line, which partially runs underground and has become overcharged with water in the past. She added another problem could be the amount of asphalt in the village, which unlike dirt cannot absorb any water. In addition, there could be a mention of widening certain parts of Mill Creek to allow more water flow.

“Two things should be studied, certainly the park itself with an eye to flood mitigation and waterfront park design methods to help the uplands areas,” said Campani at the Feb. 4 meeting. “Also the watershed area — it’s so closely linked we should tie them together as a study.”

“A thing that really needs to be looked at is where do you put the water.”

— Larry Lapointe

In September 2018, Port Jefferson was hit with major rains that inundated the village in water, causing people to become trapped in their cars and thousands of dollars in damage to local businesses, especially village staple Theatre Three. In the basement of the venerable theater, waters rose as high as four or five feet. New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he was concerned that such damaging flooding could happen at low tide.

He and other local officials feared what could happen if the same circumstances occurred at high tide.

The visioning study proposal said it would be completed in four months, adding up to a total cost of $9,800.

Village trustee Larry LaPointe said it was important to consider just where the water might go in efforts to drive it away from the village business hub.

“A thing that really needs to be looked at is where do you put the water,” LaPointe said. “How do you get the water to go into places where it’s not interfering with our use of the village?”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with other legislators propose plastic legislation. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

County legislators are looking to restrict the sales of several plastics, some harmful to health and others harmful to the environment.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), along with members of the Legislature’s Single-Use Plastic Reduction Task Force announced four policy initiatives intended to reduce plastic and polystyrene waste in the county at a press conference Feb.13. 

“Today we announce policies that will come to define our county’s environmental legacy for generations to come,” Hahn said in a press release.

“Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.”

— Sarah Anker

Hahn and the task force have outlined regulations directed at local businesses and the county. One of the proposed bills focuses on polystyrene, banning it in food service products including plates, cups, containers and trays. It would require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products, though the bill would exempt items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, pork, fish, seafood and poultry. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States. 

“[Styrene has] recently been upgraded from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen — a cancer causing chemical,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.” 

Hahn said polystyrene and plastics are causing a waste management problem as well. 

“You see waste in waterways, on our beaches, on our roadways,” she said. 

A second bill would require single-use plastic beverage straws and stirrers to only be given in Suffolk County by request as a means of reducing plastic consumption. As an alternative to plastics, businesses would give customers biodegradable products, such as paper straws. There is an exception for those who have a disability or medical condition. 

Hahn and the task force also plan to prohibit the use of plastic products in all Suffolk County parks as part of their third initiative.  

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) supports the proposed bills. 

“We see that these things are happening — I know with the plastic bag ban there was some push back,” he said. “But it is nice to be able to do something that will make a difference and that works.”

In conjunction, the task force proposed a requirement that all future contracts with concessionaires at county parks include a restriction on the use of plastic and nonbiodegradable cups, utensils and
beverage straws. 

Hahn and the task force advised the issue of waste produced by these products is a more urgent problem than some people realize, and the county needs to clean up its act. 

“We as a society as a whole need to continue to research and study this issue and product.”

— Kara Hahn

These bills are a continuation of Hahn’s and others countywide initiative to reduce single-use plastic straws. One project, called Strawless Suffolk, started in July 2018 and looked for 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Sept. 3, 2018.

Hahn cites some landfills on Long Island are almost at full capacity and said that it not just about recycling more, rather its reducing the use of plastic items and to reuse things.

“We as a society as a whole need to continue to research and study this issue and product,” she said.”

To further decrease the use of plastic products, a fourth initiative will call to replace existing water fountains with new ones designed to allow bottle filling at county facilities that have 10 or more employees and in county-owned parks that have water dispensers. 

“People will be less likely to use plastic water bottles and will be able to fill their own reusable bottle if they bring it with them to our county buildings, parks and beaches,” the Setauket legislator said.  

The two nonlocal laws in the initiatives package, the installation of water fountains in county facilities and the concessionaires requirement, could be passed as early as March 5, depending upon legislative discussion and a vote. The other two local laws that apply to businesses in the county will require a public hearing, but could end up as law as early as April 9. 

“Plastic waste has become a tangible threat to our $5.6 billion tourism-driven economy,” Hahn said. “We are Long Islanders, our identity is tied to the water.”