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Long Island

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”

Students take samples from Nissequogue River to analyze. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Hundreds of students from Smithtown to Northport got wet and dirty as they looked at what lurks beneath the surface of the Nissequogue River.

More than 400 students from 11 schools participated in “A Day in the Life” of the Nissequogue River Oct. 6, performing hands-on citizens scientific research and exploring the waterway’s health and ecosystem. The event was coordinated by Brookhaven National Laboratory, Central Pine Barrens Commission, Suffolk County Water Authority and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Northport High School students analyze soil taken from the bottom of Nissequogue River. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“’A Day in the Life’ helps students develop an appreciation for and knowledge of Long Island’s ecosystems and collect useful scientific data,” program coordinator Melissa Parrott said. “It connects students to their natural world to become stewards of water quality and Long Island’s diverse ecosystems.”

More than 50 students from Northport High School chemically analyzed the water conditions, marked tidal flow, and tracked aquatic species found near the headwaters of the Nissequogue in Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Teens were excited to find and record various species of tadpoles and fish found using seine net, a fishing net that hangs vertically and is weighted to drag along the riverbed.

“It’s an outdoor educational setting that puts forth a tangible opportunity for students to experience science firsthand,” David Storch, chairman of science and technology education at Northport High School, said. “Here they learn how to sample, how to classify, how to organize, and how to develop experimental procedures in an open, inquiry-based environment. It’s the best education we can hope for.”

Kimberly Collins, co-director of the science research program at Northport High School, taught students how to use Oreo cookies and honey to bait ants for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Barcode Long Island. The project invites students to capture invertebrates, learn how to extract the insects’ DNA then have it sequenced to document and map diversity of different species.

Children from Harbor Country Day School examine a water sample. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Further down river, Harbor Country Day School students explored the riverbed at Landing Avenue Park in Smithtown. Science teacher Kevin Hughes said the day was one of discovery for his fourth- to eighth-grade students.

“It’s all about letting them see and experience the Nissequogue River,” Hughes said. “At first, they’ll be a little hesitant to get their hands dirty, but by the end you’ll see they are completely engrossed and rolling around in it.”

The middle schoolers worked with Eric Young, program director at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, to analyze water samples. All the data collected will be used in the classroom to teach students about topics such as salinity and water pollution. Then, it will be sent to BNL as part of a citizens’ research project, measuring the river’s health and water ecosystems.

Smithtown East seniors Aaron Min and Shrey Thaker have participated in this annual scientific study of the Nissequogue River at Short Beach in Smithtown for last three years. Carrying cameras around their necks, they photographed and documented their classmates findings.

“We see a lot of changes from year to year, from different types of animals and critters we get to see, or wildlife and plants,” Thaker said. “It’s really interesting to see how it changes over time and see what stays consistent over time as well. It’s also exciting to see our peers really get into it.”

Maria Zeitlin, a science research and college chemistry teacher at Smithtown High School East, divided students into four groups to test water oxygenation levels, document aquatic life forms, measure air temperature and wind speed, and compile an extensive physical description of wildlife and plants in the area.

Smithtown High School East students take a water and soil sample at Short Beach. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The collected data will be brought back to the classroom and compared against previous years.

In this way, Zeitlin said the hands-on study of Nissequogue River serves as a lesson in live data collection. Students must learn to repeat procedures multiple times and use various scientific instruments to support their findings.

“Troubleshooting data collection is vital as a scientist that they can take into any area,” she said. “Data has to be reliable. So when someone says there’s climate change, someone can’t turn around and say it’s not true.”

The Smithtown East teacher highlighted that while scientific research can be conducted anywhere, there’s a second life lesson she hopes that her students and all others will take away  from their studies of the Nissequogue River.

“This site is their backyard; they live here,” Zeitlin said. “Instead of just coming to the beach, from this point forward they will never see the beach the same again. It’s not just a recreational site, but its teeming with life and science.”

Huntington Hospital volunteers pose with MD Anderson Cancer Center nurses in Houston. Photos from Meghan Billia

Huntington nurses went to work and rolled up their sleeves to help out the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Three Huntington Hospital nurses stepped forward to answer a call for aid from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Texas hospital had put out a nationwide request for volunteer nurses to provide relief for their own staff members impacted by the storm.

“I got into nursing because I wanted to help people,” Meghan Billia, an oncology nurse at Huntington Hospital, said. “When you hear there’s a greater scale on which you can help people, it feels like something you should do.”

Billia, of Huntington, stepped up for the first time as she knew firsthand the havoc that storm and flooding could wreak on one’s personal life. She had lived on the South Shore of Long Island when Hurricane Sandy hit Oct. 22, 2012.

ER nurse Demetrios Papadopoulos, of Bellmore, traveled to Houston from Sept. 9 to 16 with Billia.

“When I got down there, the first thing I asked was if I could work every day,” he said. “Houston is a lovely city, but I’ll go down another time to see it.”

Papadopoulos said he learned that roughly 70 percent of the employees of MD Anderson had been affected in some way by the storm. To further add to its problem, the Houston hospital had been forced to cancel approximately 300 surgeries scheduled the week that Harvey hit.

Meghan Billia stands with co-worker and friend at MD Anderson. Photos from Meghan Billia

“They were adding on 100 cases a week in order to catch back up,” Papadopoulos said. “In addition to being understaffed, they were overbooked.”

The volunteers were given a one-day crash course on MD Anderson’s computer systems then immediately scheduled to work up to 12-hour shifts. By taking over Houston nurses’ schedules, Huntington Hospital’s staff was providing much-needed time for them to file insurance claims on flooded homes, begin ripping out damaged floors and sheetrock, and grieve the death of loved ones.

“We were covering nurses who were affected by the hurricane personally,” Billia said. “It’s not often you get to go somewhere and help other nurses. You usually go to help the patient. This was helping the staff and giving back to fellow nurses.”

While rolling up their sleeves and putting in long hours at the hospital, the volunteers also said it turned out to be an unexpected learning experience.

“There are parts of MD Anderson that are highly specialized,” Papadopoulos said. “I got to see what they have and what they are capable of. They had a few ideas that I hope to bring back here.

MD Anderson is nationally ranked as the No. 1 hospital for adult cancer treatment by U.S. News & World Report.

Billia said working in oncology she learned about a different style of IV pump and equipment that allows chemotherapy to be administered differently to cancer
patients. She brought a sample product back to Huntington Hospital for staff members to review and discuss.

Both first-time volunteers said they were surprised, and nearly overwhelmed, by the appreciation and gratitude of MD Anderson’s staff. Papadopoulos said Houston staff members attempted to take him out to dinner on his last night in the city, while Billia was given a few small presents for her hard work including a T-shirt.

A third nurse who volunteered, Shaneel Blanchard, could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Gerard Brogan Jr., the executive director of Huntington Hospital, said he fully supported the actions of his employees taking time to volunteer in Texas.

“I’m very proud of our dedicated staff who went down to Houston to help the people
affected by Hurricane Harvey,” Brogan said in a statement. “As a hospital that turned into a community resource during Hurricane Sandy with caregivers who constantly go above and beyond for their patients, it’s not surprising that our staff would feel compelled to help people whenever they can.”

Billia and Papadopoulos said they have both stayed in touch with those they met while volunteering. Papadopoulos hopes to make a trip down once the city has recovered, while Billia is keeping in touch via text messages.

Stony Brook University professor Christopher Gobler discusses the quality of local bodies of water at a press conference Sept. 12. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

There’s still something in the water — and it’s not a good kind of something.

Scientists from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences released an annual report highlighting the concern over the prolonged existence of toxic algae blooms, and a deficiency of oxygen in Long Island waters caused high levels of nitrogen.

Stony Brook Professor Christopher Gobler and several members of the advocacy collective Long Island Clean Water Partnership, a conglomerate of several Long Island environmental groups, revealed the findings of a study done from May to August.

The Roth Pond, a Stony Brook University body of water that plays host to the annual Roth Regatta, is affected by blue-green algae. File photo from Stony Brook University

“In order to make Long Island sustainable and livable, clean water needs to be established,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The challenge has been very great over the last decade … though the problem, unfortunately, is getting a bit worse. Algae blooms and the degradation of water quality across Long Island are serious threats to Long Island’s health.”

On the North Shore, there are several severe cases of hypoxia, or a depletion of dissolved oxygen in water, which is necessary for sea life to survive. Cases were found in Stony Brook Harbor, Northport Bay, Oyster Bay and Hempstead Bay. Measured on a milligram per liter of water scale,any case of hypoxia below two milligrams per liter can be harmful to fish, and almost anything else living on the bottom of the bays.

There were also periodic outbreaks of blue-green algae in Lake Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook University’s Roth Pond. This algae releases a poison harmful to humans and animals, but Gobler said students at the university shouldn’t worry, because he and other scientists at Stony Brook are constantly monitoring the water, especially before the annual Roth Regatta.

“[If nothing is done] the areas could expand — it could get more intense,” Gobler said. “We use a cutoff of three milligrams per liter, which is bad, but of course you can go to zero. An area like Hempstead Harbor went to zero, [Northport and Oyster Bays] went to zero at some points in time. There’s a usual day-night cycle, so it’s at night that the levels get very, very low.”

“We have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

—Dick Amper

As a result of the possibility of hypoxia expanding, Gobler said he and other scientists have also been monitoring Port Jefferson Harbor and Setauket Harbor.

Though Setauket Harbor is not currently experiencing any problems with hypoxia or algae, the harbor has experienced periods of pathogens, like E. coli, some of which were born from runoff into the harbor, but others might have come from leakage of antiquated cesspools in the area, according to George Hoffman, a trustee of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, which is also a member of the Clean Water Partnership.

Next May the task force hopes to start monitoring directly inside Setauket Harbor. Runoff from lawn fertilizers can also increase the nitrogen levels in the harbor.

“If our problem isn’t hypoxia, we have a problem with pathogens,” Hoffman said in a phone interview. “Prevention is really [Dr. Gobbler’s] goal — to know what is happening and to start taking steps. I think people’s information levels [on the topic] are high in the surface waters that they live by.”

In addition to hypoxia and blue-green algae, some of the water quality problems found in the assessment were brown tides on the South Shore, rust tide in the Peconic bays and paralytic shellfish poisoning on the East End — all of which are also nitrogen level issues that can be  traced back to cesspool sewage and fertilizers.

Port Jefferson Harbor is being monitored due to the speading of hypoxia across local bodies of water. File photo by Alex Petroski

“Make no mistake about it, this is so big that even … still, we have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dick Amper, the director of The Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “What’s the solution to this problem? We have to do more.”

There have been several efforts to help curb water degradation on Long Island. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation in April that put $2.5 billion toward clean water protection, improving water infrastructure and building new sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park, and adding a rebate program for those upgrading outdated septic systems.

Despite doing more, the repairs will take some time.

“This is going to be a long, long marathon,” said Kevin McDonald, the conservation project director at The Nature Conservancy said.

There is also worry that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — announcing the dumping of dredged materials into Long Island Sound — could compound the problem.

“We have more political funding and will try to implement solutions,” Esposito said. “The problems are getting worse, but the solutions are becoming clearer.”

A scholarship has been launched to honor the memory of Northport resident Scott Martella who died in 2016. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Smithtown family is hoping to honor the life of their son by providing others with an educational opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

Stacy and Stephen Martella announced the creation of the Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund in partnership with The United Way of Long Island in memory of their son, who was killed a year ago.

Scott Martella was a Smithtown student who worked with local politicians. File photo

Scott Martella, a Smithtown native and Northport resident, died in a three-car crash on the Long Island Expressway Aug. 21, 2016.

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service,” his parents said in a statement. “We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

The memorial fund aims to provide scholarships to low-income students who will be attending college and whose studies may include international or public relations.

In conjunction with the scholarship fund, Smithtown Central School District announced it will be creating a series of service learning projects for students that will run from October 2017 to May 2018. This will be done in partnership with the United Veterans Beacon House, a nonprofit partner agency of United Way, to work together on a host of activities such as painting, planting a garden, landscaping and more.

Scott Martella, who was 29 when he died, is widely remembered for his career in public service and his involvement in New York State government and politics. Martella got started when, at age 22, he became the youngest board of education member elected in Smithtown school district’s history in 2009.

From 2011 to 2015, Martella  served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Suffolk County representative before being promoted to Long Island regional representative. In June 2015, he started working as the director of communications for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service. We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

— Stacy and Stephen Martella

“Scott was clearly one of the most engaging people that I’ve come across in government,” Bellone said in an interview. “Beyond the fact that he was smart, talented and hardworking, he had that something extra special that he was able to make that connection with people.”

In addition to the scholarship fund, Martella’s parents and Bellone hosted a Back-to-School Drive this month to provide supplies for underprivileged students. They said their goal was to prepare 5,000 backpacks for homeless or at-risk children.

“One of the last major events [Scott] did before he died was put together this Back-to-School Drive with Long Island Coalition for the Homeless,” Bellone said. “It’s obviously sad to think that he’s gone, but this was also a way to carry on his legacy of public service, a very appropriate way to carry on his legacy of public service.”

Charitable contributions to The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made online at www.scottmartella.com or www.unitedwayli.org/ScottMartellaMemorialScholarshipFund.

All donations made by check should be written out to include The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund on the envelope as well as the memo section. Checks should be made payable to United Way of Long Island, 819 Grand Blvd., Deer Park, NY 11729.

We all have our routines. We go to certain restaurants, drive certain routes to work and support certain gas stations, where we know we’ll get a competitive price, a friendly response from the attendant and rapid service.

When we travel, everything changes. We sleep in unfamiliar beds, flick the channels on television stations where the stations aren’t the same numbers as they are on Long Island, and navigate along routes that aren’t our familiar pattern.

Breaking the routine offers us a chance to step away from our lives and to experience something new. Maybe we’ll go to a museum in a new city or visit a place we’ve seen in a movie, which blends both the familiar and the unknown.

Our level of adventure and appetite for risk — as in, what happens if I don’t like the experience — can rise or fall depending on our travel companions.

Recently, I visited another city for a weekend with my daughter, who was traveling with a group of her teenage contemporaries and their parents. We all managed to get to our designated stops in our cars and to return to a hotel chain so ubiquitous that, with the blinds closed and without access to the local weather on TV, we could have been in Anywhere, USA.

We each had a GPS and an address for our activities which reduced both the stress and the adventure that came from the unknown.

While we could have gotten lost, the probability of that seemed slim. Getting lost, nerve-racking as it might have been 20 years ago, is almost an impossibility with navigation systems built into cars, phones and watches.

Following an afternoon activity, several of the girls decided they were hungry. One of the members of the group suggested a national pizza chain, to which the others readily agreed.

I wrinkled my brow at the suggestion and wondered, as a cellphone order was quickly placed, whether we might want to try a local pizza restaurant instead.

“No, that’s OK,” I was assured. “This will be better.”

I waited in a packed car until the order was placed, at which point the girl in the back transferred the address to her mother, who was riding shotgun during my weekend away with my daughter.

“Honey,” the mom said, “are you sure you dialed the closest restaurant?”

“Yes,” the daughter grumbled, shaking her head at her mother.

“I just checked the address for this restaurant and it’s two hours from here. You sure you want a pizza that far away?”

“Wait, what?” the daughter said, double-checking the address and the phone. Sure enough, the restaurant was on the other side of the state.

“Wait, before you order from a closer one,” I said, as she was already searching her phone for a nearby restaurant, “we’re sitting right outside a pizza restaurant. Don’t you want to try this one?”

“No, thanks,” she said, trying to be polite to someone else’s parent. “We want this one.”

When we got to the closer restaurant, we ran into another parent who was picking up pizza for his family. With so many other local choices, how did both families make the identical choice?

I suppose they might have discussed their food preference during the day. That was unlikely, given the social split in the group.

Alternatively, they have become so accustomed to the familiar that they prefer it, even when traveling.

I suppose when the opportunity for something new and different knocks, people don’t always feel the urge to answer the door.

 

Elected officials, religious leaders, volunteers and residents gathered at the Long Island State Veterans Home on the campus of Stony Brook University May 26 to give thanks to a roomful of United States military veterans. The annual ceremony, which includes a color guard, firing detail and wreath laying, honors the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country — whose brothers and sisters in arms reside at the home on campus.

The Long Island State Veterans Home is dedicated to serving the more than 250,000 veterans who live on Long Island. Opened 26 years ago, the facility’s relationship with Stony Brook University’s medical department has been a winning combination for the care of veterans — providing skilled nursing services that many veterans wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Veterans who fought in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II sat together in the home’s Multipurpose Room, some of them tearful as singer Lee Ann Brill performed moving renditions of “Amazing Grace” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Marine Corps veteran Edward Kiernan read “In Flanders Fields,” a famous war memorial poem written during World War I. Korean War veteran Richard Seybold was honorary bearer of the wreath.

“Every minute, of every hour, of every day, Americans enjoy the blessings of a peace-loving nation — blessings protected by the selfless service of men and women in uniform,” Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home, said to the crowd. “The America we know would not be the same were it not for the men and women we honor on Memorial Day … a single day during which we honor the spirit of all those who died in service to our nation, but whom we continue to remember and honor in our hearts.”

Stressing the holiday means much more than a three-day weekend, Sganga recognized the collective shift in thinking when it comes to Memorial Day.

“In recent years,” he said, “a new awareness of the sacrifices our military members are making is emerging, becoming an ingrained part of our American experience.”

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who delivered the keynote address, read excerpts from President Ronald Reagan’s (R) 1984 address commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day. LaValle prefaced by saying, “Whether you served in the second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War or Gulf War, these words apply to you.”

“President Reagan said, ‘Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here … you were young the day you took these cliffs, some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? … It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. All of you loved liberty, all of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew people of your countries were behind you.’”

LaValle ended his address by thanking the veterans in attendance for their service.

“On behalf of the Senate and majority leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), we really appreciate what you do and we try each and every day to make sure this veterans home is everything that you would want it to be,” LaValle said. “We all say thank you.”

To learn more about the Long Island State Veterans Home, visit www.listateveteranshome.org.

A scene from a recent plane crash in Setauket. File photo

Following a spike in small plane crashes over the last few years, U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called for an investigation, and he got answers.

On March 3, Schumer sent a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board asking for an in-depth analysis of recent U.S.-registered civil aircraft accidents on Long Island to help develop recommendations to prevent future incidents.

“I strongly urge you not just to conduct yet another investigation … but to also undertake a comprehensive and system-wide review to understand why these accidents are happening, and what can be done in order to decrease the occurrences,” he wrote in the letter. “The number of airplane crashes across the system must be reduced.”

This request came after a recent crash in Southampton, though others have also occurred in Shoreham, Port Jefferson, Setauket, Kings Park and Hauppauge in recent years.

The board, in a letter of response to Schumer, said it examined data from accidents in New York over the last five years, including the number of accidents, types of injuries, types of operations, causes of accidents and locations.

Since 2012, 156 aviation accidents have occurred, with 140 of these aircraft operating as flights under Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — small noncommercial aircraft. The causes have been similar in nature for the incidents with completed investigations. Most included safety-related issues, like loss of control, which occurred in one-third of aviation accidents. An in-flight loss of control accident involves an unintended departure from controlled flight, which could be caused by an engine stall, pilot distraction, loss of situational awareness or weather. According to the letter, the board said that preventing loss of control in flight in general aviation is currently on its 2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Other causes of aviation accidents included loss of engine power, controlled flight into terrain and hard landings.

Moving forward, the board plans to reach out to the general aviation community and host a safety seminar later this year.

“We consider Long Island a suitable venue for this safety seminar because a number of general aviation accidents have occurred in that area and because we believe the robust general aviation community there will be receptive to our safety outreach,” the letter stated. “We anticipate that this seminar will help raise awareness about these recent accidents in New York and around the country and about specific issues affecting the general aviation community.”

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

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