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Long Island Sound

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The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is temporarily operating with a significantly scaled down schedule. File photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made some waves that could be seen from the shore in Port Jefferson during his State of the State address earlier this month, specifically regarding plans for infrastructure spanning the Long Island Sound.

During his Jan. 3 speech, Cuomo revived the decades-old idea of building a bridge or tunnel that would connect Long Island to New England.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” he said. “New York State Department of Transportation has determined it’s feasible, it would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and would offer significant potential private investment.”

In December 2017, the DOT released a final draft of a Long Island Sound Crossing Feasibility Study that examined the potential of building a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination at five different sites. The 87-page study concluded that it could be economically feasible at three different locations: Oyster Bay to Port Chester/Rye; Kings Park to Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Kings Park to Devon, Connecticut.

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose jurisdictions each include Kings Park, voiced vehement opposition to the plan.

Stakeholders in Port Jefferson are also unsure if the governor’s grand plan would be a good idea.

“In the back of every ferry operator’s brain is the possibility that a bridge or tunnel could replace a ferry route,” said Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. “Given the complexity of a project such as the governor envisions, I think there will be some environmental concerns and some ‘not in my back yard concerns.’”

Hall stopped short of saying the hypothetical tunnel or bridge would harm ferry business, though he said he’d like to know where exactly the infrastructure would go before being completely for or against it. It’s far from the first time projects like this have been floated in the past, a point reiterated by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) whose district includes Port Jeff.

“I’m not sure about a bridge or tunnel, but an enhanced ferry service — invest in it, make it more efficient,” he said. He also said he would be concerned by the possible impact a massive infrastructure project like this would have on the ecosystem of the Sound.

The DOT feasibility study concluded the department should move forward with the next step: A five-year environmental evaluation process looking at the impact construction and the bridge would have.

“Gov. Cuomo has directed DOT to conduct additional engineering, environmental and financial analysis to determine the best path forward for this transformative project,” DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said in a statement. “DOT will closely examine any potential impacts as well as benefits to the local communities as part of the process.”

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Kings park residents and their elected officials stand opposed to any plans to build a bridge or tunnel across Long Island Sound. File photo

Kings Park residents and their elected officials find the idea of building a bridge or tunnel from their backyard to Connecticut illogical and nearly comical.

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) has come out as a strong opponent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) statement that it’s time to pursue building a bridge or tunnel to connect Long Island to Connecticut to help reduce traffic — with an eye on Kings Park as a potential site.

“I find it inconceivable that you would destroy Sunken Meadow State Park and put truck traffic on the Sagtikos [State Parkway] to get over to Connecticut,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s one of these things that everybody in theory thinks is a good idea but no one wants the disruption.”

 “I find it inconceivable that you would destroy Sunken Meadow State Park and put truck traffic on the Sagtikos [State Parkway] to get over to Connecticut.”
— Mike Fitzpatrick

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) called the governor’s suggestion of building a tunnel “outlandish” given the state is facing a budgetary deficit. He echoed Fitzpatrick in “it’s not going through the center of a state park.”

In his State of the State address Jan. 3, Cuomo revived the decades-old idea of building a bridge or tunnel that would connect Long Island to New England.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” Cuomo said. “DOT has determined it’s feasible, it would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and would offer significant potential private investment.”

The concept of a bridge across the Long Island Sound was proposed by Sen. Royal Copeland (D-NY) in the 1930s and has been tossed around for decades. A 1957 Oyster Bay-Rye Bridge study was conducted but never moved to fruition.

In December 2017, New York State Department of Transportation released a final draft of a Long Island Sound Crossing Feasibility Study that examined the potential of building a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination at five different sites. The 87-page study concluded that a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination could be economically feasible at three different locations: Oyster Bay to Port Chester/Rye; Kings Park to Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Kings Park to Devon, Connecticut.

The study concluded that the DOT should move forward with the next step: A five-year environmental evaluation process looking at the impact construction and the bridge would have on the three proposed locations.

Historically, when you see a bridge, tunnel or major interstate built you wind up with blight.”
— Tony Tanzi

“Gov. Cuomo has directed DOT to conduct additional engineering, environmental and financial analysis to determine the best path forward for this transformative project, which could reduce traffic on Long Island,” said DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey in a statement. “DOT will closely examine any potential impacts as well as benefits to the local communities as part of the process.”

Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said that he is not in favor of the project. He doesn’t see any benefit for Kings Park.

“I think physically these generally wind up with a blighted area,” Tanzi said. “Historically, when you see a bridge, tunnel or major interstate built you wind up with blight.”

Fitzpatrick agreed, citing that the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge forever changed the character of Staten Island. The assemblyman said he’d rather see Cuomo focus on the $5.6 billion Long Island Rail Road transformation plan to electrify the Port Jefferson line and build a third rail to improve traffic conditions.

Trotta suggested the state consider road widening to add lanes and reduce congestion, or start by fixing potholes on Route 25A.

If the state moves forward with construction plans for a bridge or tunnel in Kings Park, it is sure to face opposition.

“If the state tries to jam it down our throats, they’re in for one hell of a fight,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s not the right place for it.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, center, and representatives from community groups, who work to improve the Long Island Sound, attend a press conference Dec. 4 announcing the distribution of $2.04 million in grant funds. Photo by Kevin Redding

The future of Long Island Sound is in very capable, and now well funded, hands.

Federal and state officials gathered Dec. 4 in East Setauket to officially announce $2.04 million in grants to support 31 environmental projects by local governments and community groups mostly in New York State and Connecticut actively working to restore the health and ecosystem of Long Island Sound. Of the 15 New York-based projects — totaling $1.05 million in grants — nine of them are taking place across Long Island, including Salonga Wetland Advocates Network in Fort Salonga and Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment in Huntington, Smithtown and Riverhead. 

This year’s recipients of the Long Island Sound Futures Fund — a collaborative effort between the Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation  — were encouraged by a panel of guest speakers to continue efforts to monitor and improve water quality; upgrade on site septic systems for homeowners; protect vital habitats throughout the watershed; and engage other residents to protect the 110-mile estuary.

“This fund is supporting and celebrating real-life solutions — grassroots-based solutions — that make a difference in our quality of life, in our quality of environment and the overall fabric of our community,” said Peter Lopez, the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to a room of grant recipients at the Childs Mansion on Shore Drive in East Setauket, overlooking the Sound. “We have this amazing resource in our backyard and we have to support it.”

“It’s your spirit and hard work that got us to this point. It’s important we’re making our impact right now.”

— Lee Zeldin

The Sound, which was designated an estuary of national significance in the 1980s, supports an estimated 81,000 jobs and activities surrounding it such as boating, fishing and recreational tourism, which generates around $9 billion a year for the region.

Lopez stressed that community involvement is the key to its perseverance in the future. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has long fought for federal funding and support for the estuary, was in full agreement.

“Since I got to Congress at the beginning of 2015, I’ve been watching all of you and your advocacy is why we’re here today,” Zeldin said.

The congressman addressed members of the crowd whose phone calls, emails, social media blasts and trips to Washington, D.C., he said served to mobilize elected officials around the importance of the Sound and its watershed and boost the funding of the Long Island Sound program to $8 million in May.

“I just want to say a huge thank you for what you do,” he said. “It’s your spirit and hard work that got us to this point. It’s important we’re making our impact right now. What will be our legacy in these years to ensure the water quality, quality of life, economy and environment of Long Island Sound is preserved and protected? Because of all of you, the legacy will be that in 2017, we all gathered to celebrate more than doubling the funding for [Long Island Sound].”

The LISFF was started in 2005 by the Long Island Sound Study and has since invested $17 million in 380 projects, giving way to the opening of 157 miles of rivers and streams for fish passage and restoring more than 1,000 acres of critical habitat, according to Amanda Bassow, the Northeast region director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

This year’s grants will reach more than 870,000 residents through environmental and conservation education programs, and will be matched by $3.3 million from its recipients. In New York, the $1.05 million in grant funds will be matched with $2.58 million from the grantees, resulting in $3.63 million in community conservation.

One of the grantees, Mike Kaufman of Phillips Mill Pond Dam fish passage project in Smithtown, plans to restore the native migratory fish runs from Long Island Sound to the Nissequogue River for the first time in 300 years.

“This is the final piece of the puzzle,” Kaufman said of the grant. “It’s an incredible, historic opportunity. We’re reversing 300 years of habitat destruction and these grants enable us to engineer the restoration.”

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

Asharoken Village beach. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers rescued five men after their boat struck a rock and began taking on water in the Long Island Sound Sept. 9.

Francisco Aguilar and four friends were on a fishing trip in a 20-foot Pro Line runabout when the boat struck a submerged rock, damaging the engine’s lower unit and breaching the hull, causing the vessel to take on water.

Alerted by a 911 call, Marine Bureau officers responded aboard Marine Bravo. Marine Delta, the U.S. Coast Guard, Huntington Harbormaster, Asharoken Police Department and a SCPD helicopter also were dispatched. Asharoken police spotted the disabled vessel from shore and guided Marine Bravo to the location.

Arriving about seven minutes after being dispatched, Marine Bureau officers Charles Marchiselli and Erik Johnson took Aguilar, 34, and the four other men, Walter Sanchez, 19; and brothers Banos Villalobos, 25; Jose Villalobos, 29; and Elmer Villalobos, 22, aboard the police boat. The Marine Bureau crew began efforts to keep the men’s boat from sinking, securing the vessel to the police boat and setting up a dewatering pump. Once the vessel was stabilized and in tow, the five men, all from Brentwood, were transported to Soundview Ramp in Northport.

Conditions at the time of the rescue were northwest winds of 15 knots and 3 to 4 foot seas. There were no injuries and all of the men refused medical attention. Aguilar was issued two summonses for violations of the New York State Navigation Laws.

The Suffolk Police Marine Bureau reminds boaters to check the marine weather forecast before boating, make sure that properly-sized life jackets are available for all passengers, and to check that all legally-required safety equipment is carried aboard, serviceable and accessible.

The Aug. 17 suit opposes dumping in Long Island Sound

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Assemblyman Steve Englebright are joined by environmentalists to support a state lawsuit against the EPA's practice of dumping dredged materials in the Long Island Sound during an Aug. 28 press conference at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is picking a fight with the federal government, and as of Aug. 28, he officially has backup.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), joined by town board members, environmentalists and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), announced the town’s support of a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Aug. 17 against the United States Environmental Protection Agency regarding the open dumping of dredged materials in the Long Island Sound. The lawsuit alleged the Long Island Sound Dredge Material Management Plan, which was approved by the EPA, violates the Ocean Dumping Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and also cited a “failure to address environmental impacts on the Long Island Sound.”

“The state of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

—Ed Romaine

In 2016, the EPA increased the number of open water dumping sites in the Sound from two to three, despite a call from state government leaders of both New York and Connecticut in 2005 to reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of dumping in the Sound. According to the suit, the dumping is also inconsistent with several investments of taxpayer dollars and policies that have sought to clean up the vital Long Island waterway. Cuomo opposed the additional dumping site in late 2016, and Romaine and the town sent a letter to the governor in support of legal action against the federal agency.

“We’re here to send a very strong message — that we are opposed to dumping in the Sound,” Romaine said during a press conference Aug. 28 at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. “The state of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

Romaine accused the EPA of taking the expedient course of action rather than the most environmentally sound course with dredged materials, some of which are contaminated by pollutants.

Though a spokesperson for the EPA declined via email to comment on ongoing litigation, an April 2016 statement from the agency spelled out the motivation for continued dumping in the Sound.

“Dredging is needed to ensure safe navigation in the sound,” EPA spokesman John Martin said in an email to Times Beacon Record Newspapers. He added the agency felt the proposal struck “an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe and efficient navigation and our desired outcome to restore and protect Long Island Sound.”

Kevin McAllister, the president of Defend H20, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and restoring the quality of Long Island’s waterways, spoke in support of the town and the governor during the press conference.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on water quality improvements and the open water dumping of contaminated silt flies in the face of these efforts.”

—Kevin McAllister

“As a federally designated Estuary of National Significance, Long Island Sound is in need of greater protection,” he said. “We’re spending billions of dollars on water quality improvements and the open water dumping of contaminated silt flies in the face of these efforts.”

Representatives from the nonprofits Sierra Club Long Island and the Setauket Harbor Task Force also pledged support in opposition of the dumping plan.

Englebright offered a suggestion for an alternative to the continued dumping in the Sound.

“It is ironic that at a time when we’re watching a terrible hurricane devastating the great state of Texas and reflecting on the reality that sea level is rising, that the federal government is proposing to take a vast amount of sediment that will be needed to bulwark our coastal investments, our coastal communities from a rising sea level to augment our beaches with that sediment, to take it instead and use it in the most harmful possible way,” Englebright said. He added the dumping is “radicalizing the ecology” of the waterway, saying the sediment could be needed and should be used to strengthen coastlines. Englebright cited a deadly 1953 storm in the Netherlands that inspired the same fortification he proposed, a practice that nation has continued since.

Brookhaven Town Council members Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) also voiced support of the lawsuit. Romaine said he had been in contact with 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) regarding the town’s support of the lawsuit, and Romaine said the congressman is strongly opposed to dumping in the Sound.

Zeldin has sponsored and supported bills designed to improve the health of the Sound in the past and has opposed long term dumping at the designated sites.

“The Long Island Sound shouldn’t be a dumping ground, especially when there are many viable alternatives to open water dumping, including recycling and safe disposal on land,” Zeldin said in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena.

This post was updated to include comments by Lee Zeldin.

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers rescued a man who became stranded on a sailboat in the Long Island Sound Aug. 5.

Carlo Brita, 33, of Shoreham, launched a 22-foot Catalina sailboat out of Mount Sinai at approximately 4 p.m. Saturday. The craft encountered problems with high seas and winds and became completely disabled.

Suffolk County Police received a 911 call from a friend of Brita’s to report him missing at approximately 10:25 p.m. Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau and Aviation Section responded, and a police helicopter located the sailboat in the Long Island Sound north of Mount Sinai at approximately 11:20 p.m. Marine Bureau Officers George Schmidt and Terrence McGovern in Marine Delta reached the vessel at approximately 11:35 p.m. and pulled Brita aboard. Brita suffered no injuries and was transported safely ashore.

Asharoken Village beach. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers rescued three people from the Long Island Sound after their sailboat overturned Sunday, July 23.

Marine Bureau Officers Keith Walters and Erik Johnson, aboard Marine Bravo, responded to a VHF call for a capsized sailboat with three people in the water in the Long Island Sound, approximately ¾ of a mile off Asharoken Beach according to police. When officers arrived, they pulled the occupants, William Bradford, 58, his son, Joseph, 24, both of Asharoken, and Brianna Bowlry, 16, aboard their vessel

Officers brought the sailors and their boat to shore. All three sailboat occupants were wearing life jackets and no one was injured.

Men on the boat stranded in the Long Island Sound wave to officers. Photo from SCPD.

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers rescued four men who became stranded in a 10-foot inflatable raft in the Long Island Sound Thursday night, June 29 while a small craft advisory was in place.

Suffolk Police said they received a 911 call at approximately 9:15 p.m. from a man who was stranded in a 10-foot inflatable raft, along with three other male occupants. The men, who launched from Sunken Meadow State Park to go fishing, were pulled out to the Long Island Sound approximately one mile and a half north of the Nissequogue River. Their boat did not have a motor, and they were unable to paddle back due to winds blowing between 20 to 25 miles per hour.

Marine Bureau Officers Charles Marchiselli, Edmund McDowell and Erik Johnson, responded in Marine Bravo and located the men within 15 minutes of the 911 call. The boat’s owner, Marco Murillo, 36, of Massapequa, and three additional men, were taken aboard Marine Bravo and transported along with their raft to Sunken Meadow State Park.

All of the men were wearing life vests and there were no injuries.

USCG vessels. File Photo

A man’s body was found floating in the Long Island Sound about three miles north of Belle Terre Village at about 2 p.m. June 19, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Gregory Blanco, a 41-year-old Commack man.

Someone on board the Park City, a Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company ferry, spotted a body floating in the water Monday afternoon. The Stratford Fire Department responded and recovered the body which was transported to the Town of Brookhaven Port Jefferson Marina.

The victim had launched in a kayak from Northport. He was pronounced dead by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner who will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

On June 11, 24-year-old Huntington Station resident Selvin Vasquez-Enamorado launched his kayak from a beach near Crab Meadow Beach in Northport and never returned. His kayak was recovered, and the police have since called off the search.

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