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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Smithtown United Civic Association member Mark Mancini. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A conceptual plan for revitalizing downtown Smithtown has community support, but faces a number of serious challenges.

Smithtown United Civic Association debuted its proposal for western Main Street’s revitalization Jan. 25 before the Smithtown Town Board to find solid community backing. Yet, elected officials and business leaders note there are serious challenges to its implementation.

Mark Mancini, a Smithtown resident and architect, presented Smithtown United’s conceptual design for Main Street which focuses on the preservation of the Smithtown school district’s New York Avenue administrative building and its fields. Public outcry halted plans to demolish the building for a 251-unit apartment complex in 2017.

“It became pretty clear that we have to take steps first as a community to make something happen on Main Street that we all can deal with,” Mancini said. “We are going to develop no matter what you might think or what you may want. Everything changes.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) assigned $20 million from the state budget for the installation of sewer mains in Smithtown, which Mancini said brings opportunity for development that residents need to have their say.

The first step in the civic association’s plan is to preserve the New York Avenue building and its property as open green space.

“I consider it a diamond in the rough in the Smithtown downtown Main Street area,” said Bob Hughes, one of the 10 members of Smithtown United. “I would like to see it as a downtown central park, to make it a destination.”

Pasquale LaManna, president of the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club board, said he backed the proposal as it preserves the fields for recreational use. LaManna said the Smithtown Kickers is the third largest soccer club on Long Island with more than 2,000 children who play at New York Avenue.

“It’s extremely vital for us to have the green space,” he said.

Smithtown United calls for Smithtown elected officials to purchase the New York Avenue building from the Smithtown school district and use it to consolidate all town departments and services in one location.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said negotiations between the town and school district over the potential sale of the New York Avenue property had broken down in late 2017, after an appraisal determined a fair market price would be $6.8 million. The supervisor was hopeful that these negotiations could be picked up in the future.

“If the community in that area is amicable to having those discussions about developing the property, I think the school board would get back engaged,” Wehrheim said.

Other key components of the revitalization plan call for the construction of mixed-use retail stores with apartments above on the south side of Main Street with transit-oriented housing alongside the Smithtown Long Island Rail Road station.

Jack Kulka, a real estate developer and founder of Hauppauge Industrial Association, strongly supported the construction of apartments in a new “mixed imaginative zoning” code.

“If you are serious about revitalizing downtown Smithtown, you are going to have to increase the density of population in downtown Smithtown,” he said. “You need to have creativity. I think the concept, which is very important, of having residential next to the train station … has to come to Smithtown.”

Kulka stressed that Smithtown United’s plan would not work if town officials didn’t utilize the $20 million set aside by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install sewers in Smithtown. Wehrheim agreed on the importance of sewers, stating that it is moving forward, but said he has also scheduled meetings with different developers in February.

“I have meetings set up with a couple developers, whose names I cannot divulge, to see if there are other developers that now have an interest in looking at the conceptual plan Smithtown United drew up and see if it’s feasible to embark on a project,” Wehrheim said. “That’s the first step.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

Like a tidal wave slamming into the shore the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, born of high-profile sexual assault and sexual harassment cases becoming public, are decimating decades-old culturally accepted standards regarding behavior in the workplace and otherwise. In an effort to keep up with rapidly shifting societal norms, lawmakers from local town governments all the way up through the federal level are examining existing laws pertaining to workplace sexual misconduct while also crafting new ones to cover potential lapses — in government and the private sector.

Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the executive director of The Crime Victims Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse and rape, as well as providing support for victims of violent crimes, said she views the #MeToo movement as a valuable opportunity.

“The #MeToo movement has created an ideal climate for us to call upon legislators to help us change a culture which has minimized sexual harassment and a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and sexual harassment,” she said, adding her organization, which runs the Parents for Megan’s Law website, has many state-level legislative priorities currently in the works.

“Women have been taught to believe that performing sexual favors for their bosses is part of the job.”

— Marjorie Mesidor

While cases of harassment, assault and general sexual misconduct involving prominent men in government and the entertainment industry are resulting in serious consequences, through loss of employment or social pariah status, low-profile offenders, especially from the private sector, are likely avoiding them. Creating concrete ways to punish offenders operating out of the public eye will be a challenge for lawmakers going forward.

According to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the county passed legislation in December mandating all elected officials and department heads be trained on sexual harassment and assault by the Office of Labor Relations.

The law mandates elected officials and department heads be trained starting 2018, and again every two years. Anker said she’s hoping to amend the law to make it mandated that every new hire be educated once taking a position.

Marjorie Mesidor, a partner at New York City’s Phillips & Associates law firm, which specializes in employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases, said she was floored to hear the law was only just put in place.

“Great progress,” she said. “I’m not mocking it, but my stomach is churning.”

Mesidor pointed at state and federal laws that require a complaint to be filed in order for businesses with management-level employees accused of harassment to be legally held liable as a deterrent in justice being achieved for victims. She said when formal complaints are made by employees, cross examination follows that takes on the tone of “slut shaming.” She said that in itself is enough to prevent many women from filing initial complaints, thus harming their harassment cases in the future.

“I’ve seen a trend of cases come into our office of women who are in forced sexual relationships with their bosses over time,” she said. “They’ve been taught to believe that performing sexual favors for their bosses is part of the job.”

“What about someone working in a deli, the restaurant waitress — their jobs, their life depend on that paycheck from the boss who might just be making them uncomfortable … It might be much worse.”

— Kara Hahn

Employees and employers in the private sector are often unaware of their rights and what constitutes harassment that would hold up in court, according to Mesidor. She said New York City Human Rights Law doesn’t require formal complaints, and should be looked to as an example for writing harassment laws.

Bills are currently in committee in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would amend the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, a law passed to require Congress to follow employment and workplace safety laws applied to the business world. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), if passed, would reform procedures for investigating harassment complaints in Congress and require public announcement of the offender and the dollar amount in the cases where settlements are reached. This week, Newsday reported more than $10 million of taxpayer money has been used to settle 88 sexual harassment, discrimination and other related cases in state government over the last nine years.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she would like to see laws put in place requiring businesses to adopt best practices when it comes to sexual harassment, rather than simply providing legal cover for the ones that do.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) agrees.

“What about someone working in a deli, the restaurant waitress — their jobs, their life depend on that paycheck from the boss who might just be making them uncomfortable,” she said. “It might be much worse.”

In October 2015, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation to prevent harassment in the workplace. The legislation directed the state Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights to make training available to employers to help them develop policies, procedures and their own training to address and eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Cuomo signed legislation “Enough is Enough” that year, which requires all colleges to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy and expanded access to law enforcement.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., second from right, joined by his wife Tina, right, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone during his inauguration Jan. 12. Photo by Kevin Redding

Just days before the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous dream, Errol Toulon (D) made history by taking the oath as Suffolk County Sheriff, making him Long Island’s first African-American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo administers the oath of office to Errol Toulon Jr., Suffolk County’s new sheriff, during his inauguration ceremony Jan. 12. Photo by Kevin Redding

Toulon, 55, was officially sworn in by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 12 during an inauguration ceremony held at Van Nostrand Theater on the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College in the company of his wife, Tina Toulon, family members, friends and town and county elected officials, including County Executive Steve Bellone (D), recently sworn-in District Attorney Tim Sini (D), Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and former sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C). A former Rikers Island corrections officer and captain who emerged victorious against Republican candidate Larry Zacarese after just two months of campaigning, Toulon entered the race determined to utilize his more than 35 years in corrections and law enforcement to tackle gangs and the opioid crisis, while creating a stronger environment within the county’s jails.

“I have to say, this is a long way from my days being a batboy with the New York Yankees,” Toulon laughed, referring to his two-year stint in the 1970s serving on the team. “For me, this race was a whirlwind, but this job is one I’ve been preparing for my entire life.”

After serving at Rikers Island from 1982 to 2004, Toulon, starting in 2012, worked for two years in Bellone’s administration as assistant deputy county executive for public safety and in 2014 was named deputy commissioner of operations for the New York City Department of Corrections. In the midst of his career, he has also beaten cancer twice — in 1996 and 2004.

“He is a man who has confronted great challenges in his life,” Bellone said. “I have personally seen him face these difficulties with incredible grace and dignity and fortitude. He has confronted all these challenges and has perseverance, which is exactly what you want to have in a leader. I am proud to be here today to support a friend, a colleague and a leader.”

During the ceremony, Cuomo called attention to the historical significance of Toulon’s victory.

“It says something about the people of Suffolk County, says something about the progress of society, says something about acceptance and it says that we’re one step closer to Martin Luther King’s dream of one day judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin,” Cuomo said. “This sheriff is different in a number of ways, but the first precedent he sets is that he’s the most qualified man to ever serve in this position … I am selfishly overjoyed by Sheriff Toulon’s election because in government, job number one is public safety.”

“This sheriff is different in a number of ways, but the first precedent he sets is that he’s the most qualified man to ever serve in this position.”

— Andrew Cuomo

Toulon assured the cheering audience he is committed to making the county a better and safer place for all, with plans in place to continue and create initiatives in the sheriff’s office to combat gang and substance abuse-related problems, as well as rehabilitation services and re-entry programs for those incarcerated. He also said the office, under his leadership, will routinely participate in community events, civic association meetings and will do everything in its power to prevent young people from going down the wrong path.

“I am ready to work and I am ready to lead,” Toulon said. “We have to ensure that we deliver as a society and assist those who need help and keep those who do harm off our streets. These gangs might think they’re tough, these gang members might think they have all the answers and can outsmart us, but they’re going to have a lot of time to think about their decisions when they’re sitting behind bars because they were no match for the men and women in the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.”

A look at Port Jefferson Harbor from the Village Center during Winter Storm Grayson as blizzard-force winds and more than a foot of snow pound the coast Jan. 4. Photo from Margot Garant

Winter Storm Grayson arrived early Jan. 4 and pounded Port Jefferson, and the surrounding areas to the tune of more than 16 inches of snow.

The storm was officially categorized as a blizzard by the New York office of the National Weather Service, with sustained winds or frequent gusts greater than 35 mph, “considerable” falling and blowing snow, visibility of less than a quarter of a mile and more than three hours of duration. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Luppinacci (R), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) declared states of emergency for each of their respective jurisdictions.

“This storm was actually worse than predicted for us,” Bellone said during a briefing Jan. 5. “We saw up to 16 inches of snow in certain parts of the county. This was, as we discussed, a very difficult and challenging storm because of all the conditions — high rate of snowfall, very rapid rate and high winds. It made it very difficult. I want to thank all of those who heeded our calls to stay off the roads yesterday. There were far too many people on the roads. The result was hundreds of motorists ended up stranded.”

Based on unofficial observations taken Jan. 4 and 5, the highest snowfall total reported by the New York NWS office was in Terryville, where 16.4 inches of snow fell during the storm. Suffolk County appeared to take the brunt of Grayson’s wrath according to the NWS data, not only in actual snowfall, but also as the home to the highest wind gusts in the state during the storm, with gusts exceeding 60 mph.

Despite the substantial snowfall totals, Main Street in Port Jeff Village was up and running and open for business Friday morning, according to Garant, who said the village’s Department of Public Works did an “A++” job in an email.

“We have a good system and a great team in place,” she said, adding she was thrilled with how quickly village streets were passable. “The community really makes this possible for us by staying home and avoiding parking on the snow emergency streets.”

Steve Gallagher, the village’s DPW superintendent, said 22 village DPW employees worked using nine trucks equipped with plows and nine trucks with both plows and sanders to clear the streets. He estimated the village used between 150 and 200 tons of salt and sand mix to mitigate the impact of road and sidewalk icing. He reiterated Garant’s point that cooperation from the public is critical in returning the village back to business as usual following a storm.

“Village roads were passable at all times thanks to the dedication and commitment of the men in the DPW,” he said. “People staying off the roads and not parking in the streets would help expedite the clearing of the roads and allow a better job.”

PSEG Long Island reported 97 percent of the 21,700 of its customers who lost power as a result of the storm had their service restored by 9 p.m. Jan. 5.

“Our goal, always, is to restore power as quickly and safely as possible,” a spokesperson for the utility said in a press release. “We ask our customers for a fair amount of patience and to know we will be there just as soon as it is safe.”

The storm came in the midst of a record-setting stretch of below freezing temperatures, according to the NWS. A streak of 13 straight days with a maximum temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit measured at Long Island McArthur Airport in Islip was snapped Jan. 9. The 13-day duration was the second longest period of below freezing temperatures reported at the airport since 1963.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said residents of Port Jefferson Village would get “whacked” by the elimination of the SALT deduction in the federal tax reform bill. File photo by Alex Petroski

Governmental leaders from virtually all levels in New York have come out in opposition to the federal tax reform bill, and now the Port Jefferson Village board can be added to the list.

The village passed a resolution at its Nov. 20 board meeting “expressing its strong opposition to any federal tax reform legislation that would eliminate or limit access to the state and local tax deduction.” The SALT deduction, which was enacted about 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid “double taxation.” The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle class families.

“We’re going to get whacked,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said of the bill during the board meeting.

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

“New York residents already send $41 billion more to the federal treasury than the federal government returns to New York,” the village resolution reads. “The state and local tax deduction is a fundamental principle of federalism and without it our residents would be faced with double taxation, as they would be forced to pay federal income taxes on the taxes they must pay to state and local governments.”

Garant joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), and U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) in opposing the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it.

“I view the elimination of the SALT deduction as a geographic redistribution of wealth, picking winners and losers,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The proposal taxes additional funds from a state like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere. For anyone who incorrectly argues that the rest of the country subsidizes our state, I would point out that New York is a net contributor to the federal coffers with regards to both tax policy and spending policy and that is even with the SALT deduction.”

According to www.censusreporter.org, about 62 percent of Port Jefferson Village residents earn between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual salary.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill shortly after Thanksgiving.

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills.

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.

Extreme low temperatures caused enough demand to require use of the Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Erika Karp

The Long Island Power Authority is tied up in a battle with communities including Port Jefferson Village that host, by LIPA’s estimation, outdated and increasingly obsolete power plants with steep property tax sticker prices. After the release of a study on the possibility of refurbishing and repowering, among others, the Port Jefferson Power Station, the power authority now has the data to back up their assertions.

LIPA released its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan and Repowering Studies April 22, a report conducted by their partner PSEG Long Island’s engineers, energy specialists, planners and consultants, which was later independently reviewed by consulting firm the Brattle Group and the New York State Department of Public Service.

Trustee Bruce Miller speaks at a hearing opposing National Grid’s proposal to lift limits on peaker unit output. Photo by Alex Petroski

In August 2016, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, by 2030. The study found that if LIPA were to achieve compliance, it would be overkill to cover times of peak demand that renewable sources couldn’t cover by repowering the Port Jefferson steam unit plant, which runs on oil or gas, and increasing its use. Currently the plant, which was built in the 1950s, is only used about 11 percent of the time. LIPA’s study suggested that number could be as low as six percent by 2030 if trends regarding the efficiency and availability of renewable sources of energy continue.

The study also concluded forecasts for peak demand are decreasing, due to an increase of energy efficiency products on the market for consumers, meaning the repowering of the Port Jefferson Power Station would not be necessary in years to come. The plant has the capacity to produce about 400 megawatts of power, and LIPA’s study said they need to add about 800 megawatts of renewable power sources to be compliant with Cuomo’s mandate by 2030 as is.

A lawsuit is currently pending that includes Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson School District as plaintiffs against LIPA, associated with the power authority’s desire to pay less in property taxes at sites like the Port Jefferson power plant because of its condition and infrequent use. The village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from property taxes because of the presence of the plant. The lawsuit alleges LIPA is breaching their contract, which runs until 2028.

The village has proposed that upgrading and repowering the plant with updated technology would be a fair compromise to allow them to continue receiving the same amount of revenue.

“A plant like this should really run about 80 percent of the time,” LIPA chief executive officer Thomas Falcone said in an interview. “In the ‘90s they were running about 50 percent of the time. Right now Port Jeff is running 11 percent of the time, which basically implies it’s running in the summer … it’s not to say we’ll never build another power plant, it’s just to say that these aren’t the right power plants to build. You put in all of this investment optimized around a plant that is going to run 24 hours a day. If it doesn’t run 24 hours a day it’s a very, very expensive plant, which is the wrong kind of plant.”

Falcone added LIPA still needs the plant, and utilizing more peaker units, which are meant to supplement other energy sources and are only used in times of peak demand using gas or oil, would be a sensible way to utilize Port Jefferson going forward. He said LIPA’s goal is to reach an amicable solution for everyone involved.

“We’re a state-run utility. We’re a state-owned, community-owned utility,” he said. “We find ourselves in a situation that is a real sticky wicket for everybody. The community obviously is entitled to compensation for hosting a power plant. On the flip side we have 1.1 million customers and I think only about 3,500 of those customers live in Port Jeff Village. So those other 1.1 million customers are also entitled to pay a fairer level of compensation and not an excessive one.”

Falcone and village Mayor Margot Garant both said settlement discussions are ongoing between the two sides, and Garant said a proposal was submitted to LIPA about 30 days ago.

“We’re a state-run utility. We’re a state-owned, community-owned utility. We find ourselves in a situation that is a real sticky wicket for everybody.”

— Thomas Falcone

Garant weighed in on the findings of the reports in a phone interview.

“We’re digesting these reports, we’re doing our homework and gathering data, and we don’t agree [with the findings of the report on the possibility of repowering],” she said. “Our concern is that report is driving a conclusion that they wanted to have instead of being objective.”

The Brattle Group issued a statement regarding the possibility of repowering.

“None of the plants are needed for reliability or economic purposes. For all the options the plant costs exceed their benefits for at least the next decade,” the statement said in part.

In March, Port Jefferson Village hosted two public hearings to allow residents to voice opinions on a petition issued by National Grid, another LIPA partner in delivering power to the island, to the New York State Public Service Commission asking for caps on peaker output to be lifted. Village residents and trustees contended at the time the move was a thinly-veiled effort to squash the hopes of repowering the steam unit.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common, LLC, was contracted by Port Jefferson Village to study the plausibility of a scaled-down plant that would utilize peakers and upgraded steam units at the current Port Jefferson site, a compromise that Falcone said he would be open to. Foxen’s study is ongoing.

Clearing trees to build solar farms, like this one in Shoreham, would be illegal in Brookhaven Town if a proposed amendment passes. Photo by Nicole Geddes

By Nicole Geddes          

Brookhaven Town is all for going green — but not at the expense of green.

The town board held a public hearing to discuss a resolution that would amend its solar code during a meeting Sept. 29 and would make land clearing for solar energy production illegal. If passed, solar energy production equipment could only be installed on land that was cleared prior to January 2016.

“It is a starting point and that is the best part,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said of the amendment in a phone interview. “We will not be clearing trees to create solar farms in business and industrial zones. … While I’m a believer in solar power, we don’t want to trade one green for another green.”

Community members spoke in favor of the amendment during the public comment period of the meeting.

“We will not be clearing trees to create solar farms in business and industrial zones. … While I’m a believer in solar power, we don’t want to trade one green for another green.”

— Ed Romaine

“We need not sacrifice forests for solar,” Richard Amper, executive director of Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said in an interview. “It’s equivalent to destroying the environment to protect it. We don’t have the open space to meet the requirements of Governor Cuomo’s ‘50 by 30’ initiative, without alternative transmission lines such as offshore wind farming.”

New York Gov. Cuomo’s (D) Clean Energy Standard requires 50 percent of New York’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by 2030.

Amper said he is in favor of alternate energy sources, and welcomed the amendment.

“We need renewable energy sources, solar is important,” he said. “We just need to be careful where it’s sited. It shouldn’t be on forested land, on farms where food is grown or in residential communities. It should be on rooftops, parking lots and previously cleared lands.”

Other members of the town board expressed their support for the amendment.

“My constituents in Council District 1 have expressed support for renewable energy and smart energy alternatives,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement. “They want to ensure that government is thinking strategically about how to limit and reduce nonrenewable energy, improve air quality and diversify power sources.”

Additionally, the amendment would reduce the amount of acreage allowed for solar farming, from 10 to 5 acres in business and industrial zones.

Restrictions in the town’s solar code also require a buffer zone of 25 feet around all mechanical equipment and solar panel arrays for aesthetic reasons. Director and vice president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, Jim Gleason, spoke in favor of the amendment during the meeting, but advocated for increasing buffer zones.

“Solar panels are ugly,” he said. “A 25-foot minimum buffer is not enough, 7-foot evergreens are not tall enough. Some panels are 20 feet.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) disagreed.

“I think that shopping centers and housing developments are more unsightly than solar panels,” Bonner said. “There’s no noise, no traffic, no pollution and no long-term health risks for residents in communities where solar farming and energy production is located.”

The town board will vote on the resolution at the meeting Thursday, Oct. 27.

New standards will require school districts in New York state to test for lead in water. File photo

By Rebecca Anzel

Drinking water in public schools across the state will soon conclude testing for lead contamination. Legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in September makes New York the first state to mandate such testing.

The law established a level of lead allowed in drinking water, initial and future testing requirements for schools and deadlines for notifying parents and staff of results.

“These rigorous new protections for New York’s children include the toughest lead contamination testing standards in the nation and provide clear guidance to schools on when and how they should test their water,” Cuomo said in a press release.

Schools are more likely to have raised lead levels because intermittent use of water causes extended water contact with plumbing fixtures. Those installed before 1986, when federal laws were passed to restrict the amount of lead allowed in materials, might have a higher amount of lead.

“We know how harmful lead can be to the health and well-being of young children, and that’s why the Senate insisted on testing school water for lead,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “As a result, New York becomes the first state in the nation to perform this testing and protect millions of its students from potential health risks.”

Lead consumption by children is especially harmful because behavioral and physical effects, such as brain damage and reduced IQ, happen at lower levels of exposure, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Even low levels of lead exposure can cause hearing loss, nervous system damage and learning disabilities.

“We know how harmful lead can be to the health and well-being of young children, and that’s why the Senate insisted on testing school water for lead.”

—John Flanagan

In adults, lead can cause damage to the reproductive system, kidneys and cardiovascular system.

The new law required schools teaching children in prekindergarten through fifth grade to test drinking water by Sept. 30 and schools with children from grades six through 12 to complete testing by the end of October.

This affects in excess of 700 school districts and 37 BOCES locations in the state, consisting of more than 5,000 school buildings, according to the state. Private schools are exempt from this testing.

Any lead level exceeding 15 micrograms per liter must be reported by the school to the local health department within one business day. Schools are also mandated to share the test results with parents and staff in writing and to publish a list of lead-free buildings on their websites.

Glenn Neuschwender, president of Enviroscience Consultants, a Ronkonkoma-based environmental consulting firm, said to a certain extent, these deadlines are a challenge, especially those pertaining to the test results.

“I’ve been speaking to the county health department — they’re currently not prepared to receive that data,” Neuschwender said in a phone interview. “The same would go for the state Department of Health. They’re not currently prepared to start receiving data yet, but they’ve told me that they will be within the coming weeks.”

The cost of a lead analysis ranges from $20 to $75 per sample and must be conducted by a laboratory approved by the Environmental Laboratory Approval Program. Long Island Analytical Laboratories in Holbrook and Pace Analytical Services in Melville are two approved labs, according to the state Department of Health.

If the level of lead in a sample exceeds what the law allows, the school is required to prohibit the use of that faucet until further testing shows the issue is rectified. The law also requires schools to conduct testing every five years.

“The law is certainly, I would say, a work in progress,” Neuschwender said. “The law is very short in discussing remediation — it’s more specific to sampling and action-level objectives — so we expect to see some clarification on the remediation side of things as the law is revised.”

Port Jefferson school district conducted voluntary testing of fixtures throughout the district this summer before Cuomo signed the law, and found small amounts of lead in nine locations. All nine fixtures have been replaced, according to Fred Koelbel, district plant facilities administrator.