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Long Island Sound

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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.

A 12-year-old boy was killed as a result of a boating accident in Centerport July 18. 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.

Participants to create water report card for harbors and bays of the Long Island Sound

Tracy Brown shows the most recent report card for the water quality of the open Long Island Sound. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

There’s a team collaboration happening across Long Island to ensure the Long Island Sound’s water is as healthy as possible.

Save the Sound, a nonprofit organization based out of Connecticut, is working with local groups and volunteers to create a water quality report card for the Sound’s bays and harbors, in an effort to increase available data for residents to have access to information on the health of the Sound.

Monitoring of the open Sound, the areas of the water body beyond bays and harbors, in the last decade has revealed the increasing presence of nitrogen pollution — which leads to algae blooms, red tides, loss of tidal marshes and fish die-offs — and the incremental improvements brought about by wastewater treatment plant upgrades. But researchers have acknowledged that results found in the open Sound may not reflect conditions in the bays and harbors, where a large part of the public comes in contact with the Sound.

A volunteer conducts a water test. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

In May, Save the Sound started conducting the Unified Water Study in 24 sites across the Sound, and participants will be testing the water twice a month through October, looking at dissolved oxygen levels, temperature, dissolved salt levels, water quality and more.

Organizers gathered at Huntington Harbor in Halestie to conduct a test Tuesday, June 13, and explained why the report card is so important for the future of bays and harbors across Long Island.

“The Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative funded a report card for the sound, with the first one coming out in 2015, and through the report card process we realized that most of the data we had collected to talk about water quality and the health of the sound was for the open Sound,” Tracy Brown, director of Save the Sound said at the harbor. “And when we published the report card and showed the scores of water quality but we didn’t go into all the bays and harbors the public said, ‘well how about my harbor, how about my cove?’ The bays, harbors and coves are their own unique ecosystems. So we realized we had a data gap.”

Brown said certain groups have been doing their own studies in smaller areas but nothing uniform to have a comparative level. The report card focuses on the ecological health, not bacteria levels and risk of contamination for humans entering the water, but rather the creatures living in the water 24/7.

“The pollutant of concern is nitrogen,” Brown said. “This study was designed to get into all 116 little bays, harbors and coves that encircle the sound, and our goal is to get into each of them taking the exact same measurements for an assessment to say which of the bays and harbors are not handling the nutrient input well, which ones are really suffering from nutrient pollution and then we can direct conservation resources.”

Brown said one of the leading causes of increased nitrogen is contamination from the septic systems, as urine has high levels of nitrogen. She said efforts like Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) initiatives to improve groundwater and limit nitrogen pollution are a step in the right direction.

“Nitrogen pollution has been identified as the single greatest threat to water quality, but for the first time in decades, we have a historic opportunity to turn the tide in our effort to reclaim our waters,” Bellone said in a statement when announcing countywide nitrogen-reducing initiatives for homeowners.

Brown reiterated some of the dangers of high levels of nitrogen.

“High levels of nitrogen feed growth, creating algal blooms, and when the algal blooms die they suck the oxygen out of the water in that decay process so you create these low oxygen zones,” she said.

Low oxygen levels mean finfish and shellfish can’t live in the area, and high nitrogen levels also lead to the destruction of coastal wetlands, which not only serve as a habitat for animals but also are a defense for homes from destructive storms. Brown also said high nitrogen levels are being linked to high acidification levels, which prevent shellfish from forming their shells and reduce the population’s ability to reproduce.

About a year ago Peter Janow, a Cold Spring Harbor resident, got in touch with Save the Sound, after hearing about their efforts, and extended an offer to help if they needed any hands for the Huntington and Northport bay areas.

A reading done after volunteers test the water quality in the Huntington Harbor. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“Once they created the Uniform Water Study they got in contact with me and asked if I could help out and I said ‘absolutely brother,’” Janow said of how he first got involved. He eventually ended up joining more volunteers to work on the area together. He said he was motivated to get involved to both make a difference and help become a stronger part of his community.

“Most folks, especially on Long Island we’re surrounded by gorgeous scenes, the harbors, all the water sports,” Janow said. “We [the volunteers] share in the duties, and the role is covering the greater Huntington and Northport complexes including Lloyd Harbor, Huntington Harbor, Centerport Harbor, Northport Harbor and Duck Island Harbor, and each one of those areas has its own qualities. We have a total of 25 specific locations we’re testing water samples from.”

Janow said he and the others divide the areas up into two different days, spending about three hours each day testing water samples.

The combined efforts are for the benefit of all Long Islanders, and residents can help without getting on the water themselves.

“We really hope the public will see the significance,” Brown said. “If you want a better grade, you need to take care of your wastewater, and reduce your lawn fertilizer. The science community has identified nitrogen as enemy number one to the Long Island Sound, and the philanthropic community said, ‘what can we do,’ and then they reached out to regional groups to execute their vision, and then we’ve reached out to local groups for help. That’s what’s so interesting about this study — the collaboration.”

The collaborative effort is far from over. Brown said there is still a need for more volunteers to cover areas east of Huntington, including areas in the towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven, especially near the Nissequogue River and Port Jefferson Harbor.

This effort travels all the way to Connecticut, and one science teacher at a town in Dover took the initiative to volunteer himself and his Advanced Placement students to help contribute.

“One of the things that makes it possible for groups to organize to participate in this study even if they’re not already a group is that we provide the equipment, we provide the training, we provide the standard operating procedures and Save the Sound is available to help them get off the ground and make sure they succeed,” Brown said. “If we’re going to reach all 116 systems around the Sound that we want to reach, we’re going to need more groups. We’re going to need new groups that don’t exist yet to organize around the study and ask if anyone is in their bay or harbor yet.”

Anyone interested in getting involved with Save the Sound should reach out to Peter Linderoth, the Save the Sound water quality manager at Plinderoth@savethesound.org.

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro and Councilwoman Jane Bonner inspect the Sound Beach shoreline stabilization project. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Sound Beach’s shoreline is now stabilized.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy changed the typography of much of the North Shore’s beaches and dunes. In Sound Beach, the bluff at Shore Road and Amagansett Drive became severely eroded. With roads and homes at risk, the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department began a four-year, multiphase $1.3 million project in May 2013 to steady it.

“The hardening of our infrastructure leaves us less vulnerable to damage from future storms,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said. “In the long run, the results of this project will save taxpayer dollars due to fewer erosion costs in the area.”

To stabilize the bluff, almost 2,000 cubic yards of clean fill was added and an outfall pipe replaced, which broke during Hurricane Sandy. The work was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and $233,651 in federal assistance was received to help with the cost of the project.

The work on the bluff and the repair of the pipe were never meant to complete the project, but, according to Losquadro, was just a first phase.

“In the long run, the results of this project will save taxpayer dollars due to fewer erosion costs in the area.”

— Dan Losquadro

“It was just a temporary ‘Band-Aid’ so the bluff wouldn’t erode any further and jeopardize the structural integrity of the drainage pipe,” he said. “Our ultimate goal was to eliminate the outfall over the bluff completely, abandon the drainage pipe and direct all of the water from this stream into a newly constructed recharge basin to the east of Amagansett Drive.”

He said the project offered the town the rare ability to eliminate an outfall pipe, preventing stormwater runoff from flooding the beach and entering the Long Island Sound, while also taking erosion pressure off the face of the bluff.

Once construction of the recharge basin near the intersection of Amagansett Drive and Shore Drive was completed in 2015, the final phase of the project began, which included the abandonment of the pipe and permanent stabilization of the bluff through the installation of a three- to four-ton armoring stone revetment wall, erosion control matting, wood terracing and native plantings. The project also included the installation of a new staircase from Shore Drive.

“As a town, we need to make sure there is reliable access that will be there season after season for our fire department and police in the event of an emergency,” Losquadro said.

This phase was completed with in-house resources and came in under budget.

Although the temporary stabilization of the bluff received funding from FEMA, the storm hardening and total bluff restoration was paid for through town capital funds. The total cost for Phase II — construction of the recharge basin — was $633,333 and for Phase III — storm hardening and bluff restoration — was $450,000.

“Completion of this project on time and under budget after being stalled by [Hurricane] Sandy is a welcome event to the residents of Sound Beach,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “The bluffs along the North Shore are especially vulnerable to erosion, but the more we can do to stabilize our shoreline, the safer it will be.”

A little girl enjoys last year's SOUND-OFF event. Photo from Whaling Museum

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor will be hosting its 2nd annual indoor-outdoor event, SOUND-OFF, to help protect the Long Island Sound on Sunday, April 23 from noon to 4 p.m., with activities for all ages including science experiments, water monitoring, a touch tank and more! Bring the whole family to spend a day in picturesque Cold Spring Harbor Village engaging with leaders in the field of conservation to learn how to protect our local waters.

A family attends last year’s SOUND-OFF event. Photo from Whaling Museum

Funded in part by a grant from Long Island Sound Futures Fund, The Whaling Museum will engage people who live and work in the communities surrounding the Sound to foster a new generation of advocates and caretakers. Since 2005, the Futures Fund has provided millions of dollars for hundreds of projects to protect and preserve this critical ecosystem, restoring valuable habitats and treating and cleaning polluted waters.

The Long Island Sound is an amazing natural resource providing economic and recreational benefits to millions of people while also providing habitat for more than 1,200 invertebrates, 170 species of fish and dozens of species of migratory birds.

The main objective of SOUND-OFF is to help visitors understand, protect and advocate for the Sound by promoting a greater awareness of people’s impacts on the Sound’s health, either directly or indirectly. Visitors will leave the event with a stronger understanding of our relationship with the Sound, including gaining knowledge to help monitor its water quality and wildlife inhabitants, and practical ways to contribute to a cleaner Sound.

A little boy touches a crab at last year’s event. File photo

“The Long Island Sound is an essential economic and environmental treasure in need of careful stewardship to protect its integrity,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“The museum’s major goal is to help visitors make informed decisions about our marine environment, and ultimately adopt behaviors to better protect it,” said Nomi Dayan, the museum’s executive director. “Taking place in the spring season, this event is poised to have an impact through the rest of the summer months as Long Islanders get ready to hit the beaches, spend time on boats, and fertilize their lawns,” she added.

Local conservation groups will be on-site to host workshops, conduct experiments and educate the public, including The Waterfront Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society, Friends of Wildlife and Jump In! Water Campaign. There will be environmental craft stations for children as well as a “Travel the Sound” passport to follow around the museum stations to help children decide on their own Pledge for the Sound.

Admission is free and includes all activities. Held rain or shine. For more information, call 631-367-3418 or visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org.

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