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Legislature

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With mounting pressure to preserve the sanctity of Long Island’s coastal waters, Suffolk County is teaming up with specialists at Stony Brook University to educate the public on marine pollution.

“Folks on Long Island are more involved with [marine pollution] than other parts of the country because they are spending time around the sound and beaches,” said Katherine Aubrecht, the faculty director for coastal environmental studies at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s such a bigger part of people’s lives, and there is a more receptive audience here to be thinking about this.”

The county Legislature unanimously passed a resolution June 5 to direct the Division of Planning & Environment in the Department of Economic Development and Planning to collaborate with SoMAS to establish a marine debris pollution awareness program.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Though it is just in its preliminary stages, according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) who sponsored the resolution, the awareness program would be used to educate school-aged children and the general public on the dangers of garbage pollution to the marine ecosystem.

“We want the education to be generalized, so that we can have flexibility in who we speak to and about what,” Anker said.

Anker said the two goals for the upcoming program are to educate the public on how we are affecting and degrading our oceans, and to teach people what they could do about it, including the need for beach cleanups and how to properly recycle plastics.

Aubrecht said that there are three unpaid interns from the Stony Brook University’s environmental humanities program charged with compiling data on ocean pollution, and looking into what other marine debris  education efforts exist on Long Island. Data is also being collected on demographics the program wishes to target with the campaign.

Kathleen Fallon, the coastal processes and hazards specialist for New York Sea Grant, said educating young people is of the utmost significance.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious,” she said. “Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

“Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Anker said she expects the program to have a full formal presentation ready by the end of next year. She also expects by next Earth Day, the debris awareness program will have presentations to show what citizens can do to help clean up the local marine environment.  

Microplastics ending up in local waters are among the most pressing issues on Long Island. Microplastics are plastics that have broken down due to erosion into pieces smaller than 5 millimeters — they end up being swallowed by sea life endangering the health of the animal and, if the issue is untreated, those plastics can easily end up on the dinner table.

At the county Legislature’s April 19 Health Committee meeting Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School research scientist and teacher, said she had surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and that in 1 square meter of shoreline, found 17 grams of microplastics. She said there were approximately 400 pounds of plastic in 1 mile of shoreline in the pond.

Aubrecht said that when these plastics enter a marine environment they can also cause organic pollutants — which are often too dispersed and not dangerous — to merge onto these plastics, but have a larger effect on marine wildlife. Ocean debris also cause animal entanglement, like a small fish or turtle getting caught in a plastic ring that holds a six-pack of cans. These entangled creatures often suffer major injuries or die if they can’t free themselves.

Though all these problems may seem daunting, Fallon said that education is the starting line in a race that will hopefully end with the elimination of marine pollutants and debris.

“A community that is made aware of the impact that they are having on their environment will hopefully be more likely to avoid harmful actions,” Fallon said.

Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez sponsored two bills regarding sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace for county employees. Photo from Suffolk County

All those in favor say #MeToo and #TimesUp. In a unanimous 18-0 vote, county lawmakers passed legislation last week that will set better standards and practices regarding sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace for county employees.

During its Feb. 6 meeting, members of the Suffolk County Legislature pushed forward two bills sponsored by Legislator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood).

“My hope with these laws is that we become a safer county, that it gives something to build a foundation on and that people can feel comfortable in the workforce here,” Martinez said. “To me, it was mind-boggling that we didn’t really have anything set in the county, especially being one of the biggest counties and employers, so I’m proud of it and I really thank my colleagues for supporting me.”

“My hope with these laws is that we become a safer county, that it gives something to build a foundation on and that people can feel comfortable in the workforce here.”

— Monica Martinez

The first bill mandates the director of the Office of Labor Relations provide county legislators statistics on “the number, type and disposition of employee disciplinary proceedings” involving sexual harassment or discrimination for 2015, 2016 and 2017 within 90 days; and submits this information by Feb. 28 of each year, starting in 2019. The bill also states that the county attorney must issue a report that contains a list of all sexual harassment and discrimination claims filed against Suffolk County in court, plus the settlement of any litigation claims, for 2015, 2016 and 2017 within 90 days; and, again, submit this annually starting in 2019.

“The way the resolution in the policy is designed is that it would be broken down between county departments and, within each department, the division within that department will have a more concise gathering of data,” Martinez said, adding that names will be redacted from the data to protect the privacy of those involved. “This will really help us hone in on what’s going on and who we need to focus on in each department.”

She added she hopes the bill can help prevent sexual harassment lawsuits and reduce costs for taxpayers in the future.

According to Martinez and the elected officials who co-sponsored and supported the bill — including Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Legislator
Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) — the legislative body as a whole has never been made aware of these kinds of settlements or given insight into how many active complaints there are or the nature of those complaints, until now.

“In the past, if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get it,” Anker said. “But basically, here, we’re not asking, we’re telling them.”

Gregory said this will help make things more transparent.

“This will give us information so that we can fully exercise our oversight function as a policy-making branch of government.”

— DuWayne Gregory

“If we see there are things going on and there’s a pattern, then we have to be sure that the proper training is being provided to the various departments, or [an] individual department,” Gregory said. “This will give us information so that we can fully exercise our oversight function as a policy-making branch of government.”

Hahn agreed, saying that all the women in the legislature are eager to crack down on this issue.

“We want to be sure that our voices are heard,” she said. “When we say ‘me too,’ we are protecting all the women that work for the county and work within the county, and we’re all looking for ways to do more.”

She said there’s no question there have been incidents at the county level.

“There’s clear understanding that there’s a pervasive problem in our society, and a clear recognition that those statistics are important for us to understand,” Hahn said. “The better question now is, do we know how many? Do we know how pervasive this is? Do we know if we need more training or better training?”

The other bill passed will create a county policy in which all employees hired will be given a “Know Your Rights” pamphlet, maintained by the Department of Civil Services and Human Resources and issued by the director of the Office of Labor Relations. All new employees will be required to sign a document acknowledging they have received the pamphlet.

This will inform new employees who to contact if an issue arises and provide accountability.

“We need to get people aware that there is information pertaining to protecting their rights and protecting them from sexual harassment or discrimination, or both,” Anker said. “It’s a proactive measure … we are taking.”

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.”

Stock photo

Suffolk County shoppers, get your nickels ready.

In an effort to encourage residents to shop with reusable bags instead of plastic and paper “carryout” bags that harm the environment, the Suffolk County Legislature is rolling out a 5 cent fee on all disposable bags at a variety of retail establishments, from supermarkets to department stores beginning Jan. 1.

The new law, which was officially passed by the Legislature in September 2016, applies only to the single-use plastic or paper bags provided by cashiers at the end of a sale and used to carry goods from the store. There won’t be a fee, however, on bags found in produce sections for fruits and vegetables, frozen foods or on bags by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, according to the law.

Cashiers are required to add the total fees to a customer’s receipt based on how many bags are used. Residents can avoid the fee by either buying a reusable bag — ones made of cloth or canvas, which are available in many retail stores — or shopping with a bag from home.

“Hopefully people will say ‘I’m not paying 5 cents’ and go with the other options,” said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who wrote the legislation to reduce the influx of plastic bag waste that gets trapped in trees, blocks storm drains and causes significant damage to water supplies and wildlife. “We’re hoping to change behaviors. While we won’t change everyone’s, this will change a lot of people’s and that can make a big difference. I think once people start to not use the plastic bags, they’re not going to really miss them.”

Spencer’s bill began in March 2016 as a ban on all single-use plastic bags, piggybacking off an initiative adopted by the Town of Southampton, but it didn’t receive enough support. This revised bill was co-sponsored and pushed by five legislators, including Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), and 140 out of 150 residents who weighed in on the initiative during a public hearing testimony.

As of Jan. 1, shoppers will be paying for paper and plastic bags at most retail stores, encouraging others to use reusable bags. Stock photo

The legislators also worked alongside a Suffolk County plastic bag working group, which consists of local scientists, educators, environmentalists, business people and government employees.

“We have to curtail the use of plastic bags,” Krupski said. “They’re everywhere. I would encourage people not to pay the fee. It’s all just a matter of changing your habits and keeping a shopping bag in your vehicle to have it at the ready. It’ll take time for people to get used to that, but like anything else, people will get used to it.”

A 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags was adopted in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and the accumulated nickels have contributed a total $10 million to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, as of 2015.

As mandated by New York State, however, the fees collected in this bill will be retained by the stores. Not being able to apply the collection to an environmental cause convinced a Democratic legislator not to support the law.

“That 5 cent charge should go back into the environment,” said Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who voted “No.” “Instead, the fees are going back into the pockets of the stores. The legislation needed work.”

Anker also said she received outcry from constituents over the concept of fees.

“A lot of the community, especially the senior population, did not want to pay extra for the plastic bags,” she said. “But I will say, plastic is a really harsh environmental pollutant.”

Spencer said he plans to revisit the legislation after a year to evaluate the financial impact it’s having and ask the state to allow funds to be used for environmental purposes.

“It would be great to do that, but only the state has that ability,” Spencer said. “The state may make that decision.”

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations at Food Industry Alliance, which represents 800 state supermarket chains, convenience stores and wholesalers, including Stop & Shop and King Kullen, which will be charging the fees, said it’s a current law where everybody wins.

“It will help the environment and it will help the stores,” he said. “It’s a thoughtful, productive law and is the only way to both reduce plastic bag distribution while incentivizing people to increase their use of reusable bags.”

He added that the fees may be used to help pay for higher minimum wages expected to be put in place in the coming year, but store owners are still weighing the options.


Survey: Shoppers still prefer plastic
By Desirée Keegan

A local survey conducted shows that just 5 percent of shoppers bring reusable bags.

The finding, coming ahead of a 2018 Suffolk County law banning the free use of plastic and paper bags at a vast majority of retail stores, was concluded after students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip and North Babylon, with member of St. Joseph’s College, surveyed 11,395 shoppers in November and December, in front of grocery stores, convenience stores and a pharmacies.

New Suffolk County environmental law prohibits plastic and paper bags in favor of eco-friendly reusable ones. Stock photo

The polling, organized by a county-created task force to help educate the public about the bill, found 71 percent of individuals use plastic bags, while the balance use paper, a combination, or no bag.

The survey will be repeated next year to analyze the effect of the law on consumer behavior, according to
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said she hopes between 60 and 70 percent of residents are bringing reusable bags by next year.

“Reducing litter, marine pollution and saving our oceans are worth changing our habits,” Esposito said.

While plastic bags drew the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers, the law also requires stores to charge for paper bags, as well as thicker “reusable” plastic bags, to prevent stores from circumventing the law, Spencer said.

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s primary sponsor, said county residents should contact his office at 631-854-4500 for a reusable bag, especially if you cannot afford one.

“If you need a reusable bag, come see me,” Spencer said, adding he bought 1,000 reusable bags to give away.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

After two terms at the helm of Suffolk County’s 13th District, Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) remains extremely critical of how the county functions — specifically its handling of finances.

The Republican incumbent has called the current system “broken,” “totally corrupt” and “horrible.” If re-elected Nov. 7, he said he plans to keep fighting to control spending and shed light on government mismanagement.

“I don’t want to see people struggling — I want this to be a prosperous place but it’s not a good situation we’re in,” Trotta said in a discussion at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, with the editorial staff Sept. 22.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta is running for his third 13th District term. Photo by Kevin Redding

He talked about his plans moving forward as the representative of his district, which encompasses Smithtown, Fort Salonga, Kings Park, Nissequogue, St. James, Head of the Harbor and portions of Commack and East Northport.

First elected in 2013, he is running for another two years as legislator against Democratic challenger Colleen Maher, who did not respond to a request for an interview.

Trotta said the legislative bills that he’s passionate about pushing through will ultimately “die in committee.” They include a law to limit Suffolk County “backdoor taxes,” or fee permits and registrations imposed on residents, to 2 percent per year — a reflection of the state’s cap for property tax increases — in order to make living on Long Island cheaper for residents; one that imposes justification for a fee increase; and a campaign finance bill to limit the amount of money in donations elected officials running for office can accept from contractors and public employee unions within the county.

Trotta said the campaign finance bill is the most crucial one because it will serve to clean up the “cesspool” of county government and curb money being tossed around in campaign contributions.

“Campaign finance is the root of all evil,” the legislator said.

A member of the Suffolk County Police Department for 25 years, Trotta pointed to County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) 28.8 percent pay increase to the police department as a prime example of the county’s “out-of-control” spending.

“We’re in debt, we have to cut spending,” he said. “I see the county budget as a pie. Cops came in and ate everything and left the crumbs for everybody else. Why would you give them a $400 million increase? It’s because they gave him $3 million to get elected.”

“I don’t want to see people struggling — I want this to be a prosperous place but it’s not a good situation we’re in.”

  Rob Trotta

Trotta overall outlined a grim portrait of the future of the county, especially for young people looking to stay and start families here.

“If it wasn’t for Manhattan, we’d be dead — we’d be finished,” the legislator said. “I want young people to be able to buy houses here but … a third of the people in their 20s are moving. People always say, ‘Oh the beaches.’ How many times in the last year were you at the beach? Apartment buildings popping up are a last resort.”

He also spoke out against the county’s Red Light Safety Program, which he has long advocated against, chalking the system of cameras at traffic signals to ticket cars that run red lights up to a “money grab” by the county against residents that’s only causing more damage along busy intersections.

The day before the debate Oct. 17, Trotta publicly called for an investigation into the county’s annual report of the program, accusing it of purposefully, and illegally, eliminating data on car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Cameras are at 100 locations and accidents are up at about 46 of them, some as much as 100 percent,” he said. “Now, if it’s about safety, wouldn’t you shut those cameras down immediately? It’s not about safety. It’s about money … it’s not a happy place to live.”

The legislature approved hiring an outside contractor to perform a six-month study of the county’s red-light camera program at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Members of the Davis Town Meeting House Society, with Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, received a grant from the Legislature to improve Coram’s Lester H. Davis House. Photo from Legislator Sarah Anker's office

By Desirée Keegan

The Davis Town Meeting House Society has raked in some needed cash flow.

The nonprofit organization that works to protect Coram’s Lester H. Davis House received a $5,000 omnibus grant from the Suffolk County Legislature to assist with community event and program planning.

“We were very excited and very happy,” society president Maryanne Douglas said on receiving the grant. “We’re buying things to improve and further our community outreach and to help us finish our renovations.”

Coram’s Lester H. Davis House. File photo

After applying and being approved for the grant, the society presented a detailed list of expenditures to the Legislature, which then approved the purchases of various items and allocation of funds. The organization will spend the money and provide receipts to Suffolk County, which will then reimburse the society.

Some items on the purchase list include sconces to light the upstairs of the house, archive boxes, stamps and ink cartridges to send out newsletters, a PA system and a rack to display artifacts, according to Douglas. Other funds are allocated for guest speakers, like the 3rd New York  Regiment, which recently performed a reenactment for the organization.

“We aren’t completely electrified, so lighting is a big deal,” she said.

The society currently operates out of the Swezey-Avey House at the corner of Yaphank-Middle Island Road and Main Street in Yaphank, but anyone is free to visit the Davis house, at the corner of Mount Sinai-Coram Road and Middle Country Road.

The grant from the Legislature to help Coram’s historical Lester H. Davis House will help grow community outreach, like paying for a presentation by the 3rd New York Regiment at the organization’s community yard sale. File photo

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) presented the check to the organization.

“The members of the society do a wonderful job preserving the beauty and integrity of the Davis House, while providing educational programs for residents,” Anker said. “I’m proud to present the grant and I look forward to continuing to partner with the organization and its members to improve the quality of life in our community.”

Upcoming meetings and presentations at the Swezey-Avey House include Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan’s “George Washington’s Long Island Spy Ring,” Oct. 2; Jonathan Olly’s “Midnight Rum — Long Island and Prohibition,” Nov. 6; and Paul Infranco’s “Camp Upton,” Dec. 4 at the society’s annual holiday party.

The Davis Town Meeting House Society is also in the midst of its annual membership drive.

For more information about the organization, to volunteer, or to receive a membership application, visit www.davistownmeetinghouse.org.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference July 25 about creating a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.

“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”

The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.

“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.”

Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.

A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.

Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.

“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”

On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.

“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”

Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab.

“Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on right, gets signatures from residents in support of the Community Protection Act outside Stop & Shop in Miller Place. Photo from County Executive Bellone's office

By Kevin Redding

In light of recent court rulings and pending lawsuits in favor of sex offenders, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is urging the New York State Legislature to follow in the county’s footsteps and get tough on sex criminals by passing legislation that gives the county authorization to uphold its strict laws against them.

On Feb. 11, Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spoke with parents and residents in Miller Place about supporting and protecting the rules within the Suffolk County Community Protection Act — a private-public partnership law developed by Bellone, victims’ rights advocates like Parents for Megan’s Law and law enforcement agencies. It ensures sex offender registration and compliance, and protects residents and their children against sexual violence — much to the dismay of local sex offenders, who have been suing the county to try to put a stop to the act.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker talk to residents about the Community Protection Act. Photo from County Executive Bellone’s office

“We’re encouraging people to go on to our Facebook page and sign the online petition,” Bellone said. “We want to get as many signatures as we can to communicate to our partners in the state that this is a priority that we pass legislation that makes it clear Suffolk County has the right to continue doing what it’s doing to protect our community against sex offenders.”

While the county executive said Suffolk representative have been supportive of the law, which was put in place four years ago, he wanted to make sure they’re armed with grassroots support to convince state colleagues they have a substantial evidence to prove it’s popularity and show it’s the right thing to do.

Since it was enacted in 2013, the Community Protection Act has been the nation’s strictest sex offender enforcement, monitoring and verification program, cracking down on all three levels of offenders when it comes to their proximity to a school facility or child-friendly area, and reducing sex offender recidivism in Suffolk County by 81 percent. Ninety-eight percent of Level 2 and more than 94 percent of Level 3 registrants are in compliance with photograph requirements, what Bellone said is a significant increase from before the law took effect.

Through its partnership with Parents for Megan’s Law, the county has conducted more than 10,000 in-person home verification visits for all levels of sex offenders, by sending retired law enforcement to verify sex offenders’ work and home addresses and make sure their registry is accurate and up to date. More than 300 sex offenders have also been removed from social media under the law.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the act is a critical piece of legislation.

“The program has been incredibly successful, which is why sex offenders don’t like it.”

—Steve Bellone

“The numbers don’t lie, there’s a lot of hard evidence and data that shows this act has done precisely what it was designed to do: monitor sex offenders and make sure they’re not doing anything they’re not supposed to be doing,” Deputy Commissioner Justin Meyers said. “To date, I have never met a single resident in this county who didn’t support [it].”

Besides the sex offenders themselves, that is.

The act has made Suffolk County one of the more difficult places for registered sex offenders to live and, since its inception, Suffolk sex offenders have deemed its strict level of monitoring unconstitutional, arguing, and overall winning their cases in court that local law is not allowed to be stricter than the state law.

In 2015, the state Court of Appeals decided to repeal local residency restriction laws for sex offenders, claiming local governments “could not impose their own rules on where sex offenders live.”

In the prospective state legislation, Bellone hopes to close the sex offender loophole that would allow high-level sex offenders to be able to legally move into a home at close proximity to a school.

“The program has been incredibly successful, which is why sex offenders don’t like it,” Bellone said. “This is what we need to do to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect kids and families in our community. As a father of three young kids, this is very personal to me and I think that while we’ve tried to make government more efficient and reduce costs here, this is an example of the kind of thing government should absolutely be spending resources on.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on right, with a community member who signed his petition urging state lawmakers to uphold the Community Protection Act. Photo from County Executive Bellone’s office

To conduct all the monitoring and fund educational resources offered to the community by Parents for Megan’s Law — teaching parents what to look out for and how to prevent their children from becoming victims — costs roughly $1 million a year, according to Bellone.

In addition to the residential restriction, Bellone is calling on the state to authorize the county to verify the residency and job sites of registered sex offenders, authorize local municipalities to keep a surveillance on homeless sex offenders, who represent less than 4 percent of the offender population in Suffolk County, and require them to call their local police department each night to confirm where they’re staying, and require an affirmative obligation of all sex offenders to cooperate and confirm information required as part of their sex offender designation.

“If people really knew this issue, I couldn’t see how they would oppose the Community Protection Act, because sex offenders are not a common criminal; there’s something fundamentally and psychologically wrong with somebody who commits sexual crime and we as a society have to understand that,” said St. James resident Peter , who held a “Protect Children” rally in the area last years. “Residents should know that the sexual abuse of children is out of control.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls are abused and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

“It is imperative that we, not only as a community, but as a state, make efforts to further ensure the safety of our children from sexual predators,” Anker said. “We must do everything in our power to ensure that this law is upheld and that’s why I’ve joined [Bellone] in calling on the New York State Legislature to consider an amendment to grant the county the ability to uphold it.”

To sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/new-york-state-protect-our-children-support-the-community-protection-act.

Stephen Ruth Jr. reached a plea deal for tampering with red light cameras, which will place him on probation for a year in lieu of prison time. Photo from Stephen Ruth Jr.

The merry adventures of Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” continued last week as the Centereach resident who took matters into his own hands by tampering with red light cameras across county intersections struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement reached will place him on interim probation for one year in lieu of any prison time.

Stephen Ruth Jr., who has been crusading against the county’s red light camera program since 2015 in an effort to “take the power back” by exposing what he considers government corruption and helping save Suffolk resident’s lives — for which he’s been called a domestic hero on social media — pleaded guilty in Riverhead Feb. 8 to a felony charge of criminal mischief.

Red light cameras along Route 25A, which is where some of the cameras were located that Stephen Ruth Jr. tampered with. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Since the county first installed red light cameras at busy intersections in 2010, which snap flashing photos of cars that run a red light or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red, they’ve been widely opposed across the county.

Ruth, who’s become the boastful face of the opposition — as evidenced by his smiley mug shot after first tampering with the devices in 2015 —has consistently called for the program’s repeal before the Suffolk County Legislature. He said the cameras and shortened yellow lights, “shortened to cause red light running for a profit,” are responsible for fatalities and accidents on the roads, have been illegally constructed without an engineer signing off on them, and are nothing more than a Suffolk County “money grab.”

“I was willing to go to jail from the beginning because I’m sticking up on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice anymore,” Ruth said. “These cameras are completely illegal and the [county] is not allowed to collect any money off them whatsoever … I knew this was going on and made my own news.”

Under the plea deal, Attorney David Raimondo said if Ruth successfully completes his probation, the felony plea will be dropped to a misdemeanor.

Stephen Ruth Jr.’s mug shot. File photo from SCPD

The 44-year-old real estate salesman may also have to pay up to $85,000 in restitution for all the cameras and equipment he’d left inoperable — a charge that will be challenged during a restitution hearing in April. Raimondo said he and his client will fight because “we believe that the entire red light camera system program is illegal and every single ticket issued from day one is a nullity.”

In the wake of the court ruling, Raimondo acknowledged that it was a good plea.

“This is something the county has to atone for and will atone for in civil litigation … it is not Stephen’s or his family’s cross to bear,” Raimondo said. “Why should Stephen sacrifice his personal freedom for what I think is nothing more than enterprise corruption?”

As Ruth has always worn his criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration as a badge of honor — even proudly demonstrating on his YouTube channel how he uses a painter’s extension rod to reach high-positioned red light cameras to turn its lens away from the road — Raimondo applauded his client for always taking responsibility for what he’s done.

“While I absolutely don’t condone or approve of any form of violence or destruction of property, I admire Stephen’s willingness to bring attention to the public the failures in the engineering behind the camera and how it’s affecting the taxpayers as a penalty and tax,” he said. “I [especially] admire that Stephen brought to the public’s attention the fact that the yellow light times have been shortened by the engineers because unfortunately people have been seriously injured and perhaps killed as a result.”

Red light camera. File photo

Ruth, in calling for a full investigation into the camera program to prove it’s an illegal operation, also wants to spotlight that the county continues to delete videos of any and all accidents that take place at intersections.

James Emanuel, a retired Suffolk County police officer, has dedicated himself to researching and testifying against the program, and is one of Ruth’s avid supporters.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of police officers who privately are a big fan of what he did,” Emanuel said. “You get to the point where you have to push back against the system; you just don’t have a choice. The guy saw a danger and his attitude was, ‘I’m gonna push back.’ He turned himself in every single time and he didn’t have to do that.”

In regards to Ruth’s plea deal, he said the county wants to prevent the program from being put on trial.

“There are thousands of infuriated people,” he said. “How would they find a jury of 12 people that wouldn’t find Stephen not guilty?”

Suffolk County Leg. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said she understands Ruth’s strong feelings and acknowledges that red light cameras, although useful in some intersections, are overused and costly.

“I think what Ruth thought he was doing was making a statement, and he clearly did make a statement,” she said. “But you have to stay within the parameters of the law to make a statement that’s not going to get you in big trouble.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pitches the proposal. Photo from Steve Bellone

Suffolk County is delaying a bold proposal that would have charged residents a minimal fee to enhance water quality protection efforts.

In April, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) staged a press conference in the company of environmentalists and lawmakers to announce his plan to address nitrogen pollution in drinking and surface water across the region by charging an additional $1 per 1,000 gallons of water. It needed the state legislature’s blessing in order to go before Suffolk County residents in a referendum vote in November, and this month, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said in reports that the county would be holding off on the plan to allow more time before putting it on the ballot.

The proposal would have kicked in in 2018 and established what Bellone called a “water quality protection fee,” which would fund the conversion of homes from outdated septic systems to active treatment systems, the county executive said. He estimated the $1 surcharge would have generated roughly $75 million in revenue each year to be solely dedicated to reducing nitrogen pollution — and still keep Suffolk County’s water rates nearly 40 percent lower than the national average.

Peter Scully, deputy county executive and head of the water quality initiative, said in an interview that some state lawmakers showed no interest in advancing the proposal, forcing the county’s hand before putting it to a referendum.

He said that Bellone preferred this kind of surcharge be decided by residents via referendum.

“We received kind of a sobering indication from the state Senate that there was not enough support for the proposal to let the people of Suffolk County vote,” he said. “We decided that this appears to be more of a timing issue.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, endorsed the initial county proposal but said he was “mad as hell” over the decision to halt the plan for another year. In an interview with TBR News Media, Amper said the administration was handcuffed by state lawmakers who did not want to see Bellone’s plan come to fruition.

“If I had children, and they pulled something like this, I’d send them to their room,” Amper said. “The Bellone administration felt the Senate had made this decision for them. It was killed — not withdrawn.”

Amper said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) expressed little interest in allowing Bellone’s proposal to come to a vote this November and accused him of playing political games with the environment.

“This is something they can’t not do something about,” Amper said. “It’s the biggest environmental and economic crisis this island ever faced.”

A spokesman for Flanagan issued the following statement: “Our office has always considered the merits of any legislative proposal advanced by Suffolk County’s elected officials, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) — a known environmental activist — said the measure would have done wonders for the state’s water supply.

“We’re really looking at an opportunity to correct some deficiencies that could, if left uncorrected, unhinge our economy, which is based upon people bathing and recreating in our coastal waters, fishing and otherwise enjoying our waters,” he said when it was announced. “For the first time, we are pulling a program together that integrates both our fresh water and saltwater in one protection initiative, and that is very significant.”

Some lawmakers, including county legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) staged a press conference following Bellone’s proposal to express opposition, calling it unwelcomed taxation.

George Hoffman, of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, also stood behind Bellone’s proposal when it was announced and said it would benefit Suffolk County for decades to come. He said it was “one of the most far-reaching and important public policy issues in decades,” and said it was important to proceed slowly and “get it right” moving forward.

“I worked with the supervisor of Brookhaven in 2003 when the town put forward a $100 million dollar open space fund referendum that received over 70 percent voter approval — but we spent many months going out to the various communities and explaining why it was needed,” he said. “You can’t cut corners on big policy issues and when you need the voters to approve new funding sources like the proposed water surcharge.”

Roughly 90 percent of the population in Nassau County operates under an active wastewater treatment system through connections to sewage plants. But in Suffolk County, there are more than 360,000 individual cesspools and septic systems — representing more unsewered homes than in the entire state of New Jersey — that are more likely to release nitrogen into the ground and surface water.

Scully said the county would be workshopping the proposal with civics and business and other stakeholders across Suffolk in order to perfect the proposition before putting it to a vote.

“If there are folks who are opposed to our proposal and don’t have one of their own, that means they’re not concerned about solving the problem,” he said. “We’re hoping we can get productive discussions.”

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