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Environment

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.”

A scene from Steiner's Woods. Photo from Beth Dimino

By David Luces 

A nearly 30-year fight to protect 10 acres of land known in the Sound Beach community as Steiner’s Woods has finally come to an end. 

On Dec. 20, Town of Brookhaven purchased the land for $5 million, effectively preserving the site as open space. 

“Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.”

— Beth Dimino

The stretch of land, situated near Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, had been owned by Robert Toussie for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-based developer proposed to build up the site as Villages on the Sound, a 15-home development clustered on the northern portion of the property near the bluff, with a single access road extending northward from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

For years, the proposed plans have been marred by environmental and logistical issues raised by town officials and community members. 

Local residents have voiced their concerns the development would have led to more vehicular traffic on existing narrow roads that were already overburdened in the neighborhood. The property also serves as protection for Scott’s Beach, and residents have argued development could have led to negative environmental impacts due to stormwater runoff into the Long Island Sound. 

The woods serve as a natural drainage site and water recharge basin for the surrounding communities, according to an environmental analysis conducted by the town in 1989. If development went through, the town would have spent close to $2 million to mitigate stormwater runoff from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

Sound Beach resident and retired science teacher Beth Dimino, who lives adjacent to the property, is glad the town was able to purchase the site. 

“The woods provide natural drainage in the community,” the Sound Beach resident said. “Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.” 

The 1989 environmental report also stated the trees support the environment and also protect the community from winds from hurricanes and rainstorms. 

Dimino said she has to give credit to Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). 

“She understood the problem and understood the concern of the community,” Dimino said. “I told her it would cost millions to mitigate the water drainage issue. We are indebted to her — she has helped save the environment in that area and it’s going to help preserve the wildlife.”

“The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

— Bea Ruberto

Bonner said this has been a long process, one that started before she took office. 

“This is a win for the community and the Town of Brookhaven,” Bonner said. “It’s a beautiful parcel of land and it’s great that it won’t be developed.”

Bonner said her office has received many positive phone calls from residents who are happy with the recent news. 

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto said the community is elated about the news. 

“I’ve been involved for the past ten years,” she said. “The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

Ruberto said if development went through they would have had to instead fill the ravine, located in the vicinity of Steiner’s Woods, which serves as a drainage point. Filling that would have led to issues of water runoff that normally flows into the area.  

“They would’ve had to mitigate the stormwater and it would’ve cost millions of dollars,” she said.  “If it could be done.”

Bonner points to the advocacy done by local residents and the town as the reason the property was able to be preserved.

“This has been a total group effort,” the councilwoman said. “It’s nice to finally put this to bed.”

Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about funds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local environmental groups are anticipating expanding Long Island Sound education and cleanup initiatives, thanks to both state and federal funds.

As part of the 14th annual National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund initiative, federal and New York State officials announced Dec. 3 that 36 new grants totaling $2.57 million will go to environmental groups in Connecticut and New York, and $586,000 of those funds will benefit New York organizations.

“The funding is seed money investment for launching additional resources, pulling people together and bringing people together in conversation,” said Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) attended the event in the Port Jefferson Village Center and spoke about the grants. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lynn Dwyer, the program director of the fund, said the projects were selected by an unbiased, unaffiliated group of environmental experts. The money is reaching these groups as experts say the marine life in the sound has come under threat. In September the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, an advocacy collective supported by the Rauch Foundation, released its yearly report that showed dangerous amounts of poisonous algae blooms in coastal regions from Port Jefferson Harbor to Huntington Harbor. In addition, more and more areas are expressing hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen in water necessary to support marine life. Experts in the partnership said both of these are due to excess amounts of nitrogen in the water, mostly due to aging septic tanks and cesspools all across Long Island.

Several of the projects center on beach cleanup and environmental stewardship. The North Fork-based nonprofit Group for the East End will be receiving $67,542 to remove invasive plants and develop habitat restoration plans for the Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead.

Environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment received $45,000 in grants to conduct a public education campaign to reduce plastic pollution on local beaches in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. Adrienne Esposito, the director of CCE, said the project will gather 500 pledges to reduce throw-away plastic use and engage close to 200 volunteers in coastal cleanups on beaches across the North Shore. The group will be adding an additional $45,000 in matching funds from its own funds for the project.

“We will be distributing reusable metal straws, so people can use those in place of plastic straws,” Esposito said.

In addition to the public education campaign, which will start in January 2019, she said the advocacy group is commissioning a local artist to build a giant metal wire-mesh turtle to be placed in Sunken Meadow State Park. The turtle will be filled with all the plastic debris the volunteers pick-up during their beach cleanup to be viewable by the public. Esposito said she expects the beach cleanup and mesh turtle to be done during summer 2019.

“These birds depend on our Long Island beaches to safely nest, rest, forage and raise their young without the threat of disturbance.” — Sharon Bruce 

The New York chapter of the National Audubon Society is receiving $41,009 from the fund for its continuing Be a Good Egg environmental education program encouraging people to share the waterside with shorebirds. The society will be focusing its efforts on a number of beaches, including at Hallock State Park Preserve, Stony Brook Harbor and along Nissequogue River. Sharon Bruce, the communications manager for Audubon New York, said some of the birds they wish to protect include the piping plover, least tern and American oystercatcher, all of which nest directly on the sand.

“These birds depend on our Long Island beaches to safely nest, rest, forage and raise their young without the threat of disturbance,” Bruce said.

Other projects look to beautify and increase biodiversity in coastal areas. The Long Island Explorium, located in Port Jefferson Village, is receiving $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.

“There’s a visual component to it and an educational component,” said Angeline Judex, Long Island Explorium executive director. “It will show to the 800,000 visitors to [Port Jefferson Village] how rain gardens improve the water quality of the harbor.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). Photo by Kyle Barr

Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is there for his constituents. While he is a champion for the environment in New York state, he always keeps a foot in his district and has his mind on local issues.

When proposed plans by the federal government to drill in coastal waters threatened our local waterways, Englebright wasted no time in organizing hearings in Hauppauge that gave local residents, scientists and environmentalists the opportunity to present their concerns about drilling to legislators.

The fact that the assemblyman’s Republican opponent Christian Kalinowski declined to take part in the debate at our office and doesn’t even have a campaign website speaks volumes to us. The most important steps a budding politician can take is showing up and discussing the issues.

Englebright shows up and he has no problem discussing the issues, even reaching across party lines. “Parties are not the goal,” he said at our office. “Parties are the tool. The goal is always serve the people.”

The assemblyman told us his mission is to leave things better than how he found them, and we think he is accomplishing that goal in New York State’s 4th Assembly District. Elected 13 times as assemblyman and a Suffolk County legislator before that, he has proven time and time again he cares about the 4th District — but also just cares in general — and we support him for re-election.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). Photo by Kyle Barr

In the race to represent New York State’s 4th Assembly District, incumbent Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is up against Republican newcomer Christian Kalinowski, a 25-year-old who works as a trainer at an animal shelter and lives in Port Jefferson. Traditionally both candidates sit down for a debate at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, and while both were invited, Kalinowski declined to attend or answer questions about the race via phone or email.

“The way that the environment has been treated by this administration in Washington has been savage.”

— Steve Englebright

The assemblyman, as he does whenever he runs, cited the environment as a key issue for his candidacy.

“The way that the environment has been treated by this administration in Washington has been savage,” he said.

Earlier in the year Englebright, who is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, held hearings in Hauppauge regarding the possibility of offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic coast after the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed plans for expansion of natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters.

He said he was disappointed legislation passed in the Assembly and supported by the governor to stop drilling off the Atlantic coast did not get passed in the state Senate.

The assemblyman is proud of the $2.5 billion he advocated for in last year’s state budget slated for water protection. He has also advocated for having waterways defined as infrastructure which can lead to increased protections of watersheds and reservoirs.

Safety is also on the assemblyman’s mind. When it comes to gun regulation, Englebright is a proponent of the microstamping of firing pins. A microscope is needed to see the
microstamp, but when it hits a shell casing while ejecting, it prints a number onto the shell, theoretically leaving a trace for investigators when necessary.

“We have the ability with lasers where we can cut little numbers into the firing pin, and then the firing pin — without changing the mechanism, without doing anything to take away gun rights — there is at least forensic evidence that if the gun is used in another crime, you can join the two crimes together through the forensic evidence,” Englebright said.

“I’m generally cautious about bringing hardware like that into public spaces of any kind.”

— Steve Englebright

He said some challengers say the cost for microstamping would be felt by the consumer in that it would cost several hundred dollars more for a handgun, which he said he believes is holding up the legislation, though he disputed the cost would be prohibitive.

The assemblyman said he doesn’t agree with teachers having guns on school campuses, but he would consider retired police officers working as guards if needed. He said it would be better to have more efficient lockdowns and safer designed entrances before bringing guns into schools.

“I’m generally cautious about bringing hardware like that into public spaces of any kind,” Englebright said.

The incumbent also reiterated his support to advance electrification of the Long Island Rail Road between Huntington and Port Jefferson, an idea he has supported for years and is now gaining momentum, as state funds have been put toward studying the possibility. The study will examine the possible benefits and ramifications of electrification for communities along the line. He said state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) succeeded in appropriating state funds toward the plan.

“I think it’s a game changer, and I think we’re at the moment when it can happen,”
Englebright said.

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When done drinking a bottled water or soda, we usually make a conscious effort to get it into a recycling bin. No further thought given, our good deed is done. We’ve recycled the plastic bottle rather than throwing it out to sit in a landfill.

The photos released that clearly show the Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling facility was nearly buried in mountains of collected recyclables from the residents of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington townships this August are shocking. It should serve as an alarming wake-up call.

This is a direct result of China implementing its National Sword policy to ban the import of recycled plastics. The visual impact of recyclables piling up like trash, and learning some items are now being sent to the landfill, have led us to the conclusion this is an issue that requires careful thought and attention.

We, and we’re sure many of our readers, have lived with the presumption our recycled plastic bottles, aluminum cans and used paper were sorted, cleaned and reformed into reusable materials locally. However, we were blissfully unaware that China imported nearly half of the world’s recyclables to turn into raw goods through its manufacturing economy.

Now, with changing international trade policy, shipping our recyclables — or honestly, still household garbage — halfway around the world is no longer an option. Suffolk County’s townships are struggling to figure out a new way to handle the piles of debris. Finding a new market for these recycled raw materials will pose an obvious challenge. Striking a balance of recycling items beneficial from a fiscal and economic viewpoint while weighing environmental impact is a challenge on the horizon as well.

One of Brookhaven’s recycling staff suggested Suffolk residents need to be more discerning. Get back to the basics of checking plastic bottles for a number inside a triangular arrow on the bottom and rinse all containers out first. It will help improve the value of the recycled material we are trying to sell in a drastically reduced global market.

It’s a good first step. But we need take it one step further.

The most direct way we, as individuals, can help provide a solution to the problem is to cut back on our dependency on one-time use items. It’s been said for years, but we truly need to start regularly grabbing a refillable water bottle rather than a disposable. Think about taking up the “hipster” trend of using Mason jars to store food. Go back to old-fashioned, but traditional Pyrex to store leftovers instead of limited-use thin plastic containers.

These small changes may seem hard at first, but we have proof it’s possible. Sure, every Suffolk resident balked at the idea of paying 5 cents for a plastic bag at retail stores when the policy was implemented in January. In less than a year, it’s seemed to have had a dramatic effect in changing behaviors. Many shoppers now simply carry their own reusable canvas and plastic bags.

Permanent change is necessary if we don’t want to be buried up to our necks in trash on Long Island. Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has predicted a “garbage crisis” within the next seven to eight years as Brookhaven looks to close its landfill. Let’s be part of the solution, and not the problem. Let’s focus on using reusable products, not recyclable or disposable.

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