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Long Island Sound

Choppy conditions in Port Jefferson Harbor forced the cancellation of the race portion of the 2018 Village Cup Regatta Sept. 8,  but the annual fundraiser was a success anyway.

For the ninth year, the Port Jefferson Yacht Club and the Port Jefferson Village Center were the home for the event, which features a parade past the village-owned pier at Harborfront Park, a race out in the open water between sailboats representing the village and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, and a banquet to conclude the festivities. This year, conditions weren’t conducive to holding the race, but the event still raised about $70,000 for two worthy causes, according to Mather’s Facebook page.

Funds raised by the regatta will be split between Mather Hospital’s Palliative Medicine Program and the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

For the sixth year,  actor/director and local resident Ralph Macchio served as community ambassador for the event. Macchio helps to publicize the important work of the two programs funded by the regatta. His wife, Phyllis, is a nurse practitioner in Mather’s Palliative Medicine Program.

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This skiff belonging to Wen Zhong Wang, 37, of Ronkonkoma, was found empty in the Long Island Sound. Photo from SCPD

A man spent 45 minutes treading water in the Long Island Sound Sept. 4 after being knocked off his small boat by a wake, according to Suffolk County police. The man was rescued from the water after his unoccupied skiff was spotted floating in the Sound.

Marine Bureau officers Cory Kim and Gregory Stroh responded aboard Marine Delta after a fisherman reported finding an unoccupied skiff floating in the Long Island Sound at about 12 p.m. Tuesday, police said. While officers were responding to that call, a 911 caller reported a person yelling for help in the water off Old Field Road in Setauket.

Officers Kim and Stroh located the man, Wen Zhong Wang, 37, of Ronkonkoma, approximately 1/10 of a mile from shore. Wang, who was not wearing a life jacket, had been in the water approximately 45 minutes after he was knocked off his 9-foot skiff when it was hit by wake from a passing boat. Wang was transported to the Port Jefferson boat ramp where he was evaluated by Port Jefferson Ambulance personnel and released.

The fisherman towed the boat to shore where it was secured by the Port Jefferson Harbormaster.

A Suffolk County Police Department boat. File photo by Alex Petroski

An overturned kayak in the Long Island Sound required emergency rescue services from the Suffolk County Police Department Aug. 23.

The Suffolk County Police Department received a 911 call regarding a man who was in distress after his kayak overturned in the Long Island Sound, approximately two miles north of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant at 11:52 a.m. Thursday, according to police. Aviation Section Officers John Carey and Richard Davin responded in the police helicopter, located the kayaker and guided Marine Bureau Officers Steven Tarolli and Christopher Erickson, who were onboard Marine Delta, to the victim. Officers Tarolli and Erickson were able to pull the victim onto the boat. The Wading River Fire Department and Town of Brookhaven Bay Constable assisted in the rescue.

The victim, Andrew Punella, 61, of Queens, was transported by the Wading River Fire Department to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead for treatment of hypothermia.

Long Island Sound. File photo

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers rescued three men after their canoe overturned in the Long Island Sound in Northport Friday.

An employee of PSEG’s Northport Power Station observed three males in the Long Island Sound hanging onto their canoe that had overturned approximately 300 yards off shore July 6, according to police. The individual called Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau directly and Officers Paul Carnival, Keith Walters and John Falcone responded at approximately 2:50 p.m.

The officers arrived approximately three minutes later and assisted Javier Villatoro, 27, of Brentwood, his brother Jose Villatoro, 25, of Central Islip and Odir Vilorio, 30, of Huntington Station, onto Marine Bravo. Villatoro was the only person wearing a life jacket.

The men and their canoe were transported to the Soundview boat ramp in Northport. The men refused medical attention.

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.

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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.

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