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Suffolk County

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police 5th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that seriously injured a 53-year-old Port Jefferson Station man in Bohemia early July 3.

Eric Cohen exited his 2015 Ford F350 on the right shoulder of westbound Sunrise Highway, just west of the Oakdale-Bohemia Road overpass, when he was struck by an unknown vehicle at approximately 4:30 a.m.

Cohen was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore for treatment of serious injuries.

Detectives are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to call the 5th Squad at 631-854-8552.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different smells, like various plants, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

Guide Dog Foundation puppies were tested for their obedience at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13.

Dogs aged 4-to-11 months were invited to the garden, designed to stimulate children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to acclimate the animals to a place they may soon be visiting with new owners.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different sounds, like drums, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

Human guests of the garden can test their hearing by playing one of the giant instruments or smell the vertical hanging herbs like basil and mint.

The Smithtown-based nonprofit’s nine four-legged members did the same, as they became familiar with strange sounds, textures and smells and walked over pavers, asphalt, rocks, dirt, grass and puddles in the garden’s splash pad.

“We are here today to be able to give back to the community — to give our puppy raisers the opportunity to have their dogs experience all these different sights, sounds, smells and distractions,” said Jordan Biscardi, a puppy adviser in charge of the volunteer dog raisers who guided the event.

He tested each puppy on how well it could remain seated between its raiser’s legs under a table, seamlessly walk past another dog and react to its raiser with a “paw” shake.

“When you go out in the real world with a guide dog, they are going to come across everything,” Biscardi said, adding the owners raise the dogs from 8 weeks to between 1 and 2 years old.

This is the sensory garden’s second season, and the first time hosting the Smithtown-based Guide Dog Foundation.

A trainer walks her dog around Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“It’s designed for the purpose of stimulating the senses,” said Leeana Costa, director of development of the nonprofit AHRC Suffolk. “We have some residential services here that we have for the individuals that we support, and this space is designed to be available to them and to their families — anyone in the community — and that way it is an integrated space, which is something that’s important to AHRC Suffolk.”

Residents of the campus Monica Marie Antonawich, Chrissy Koppel and Pam Siems enjoyed watching the
puppies, learning about the Guide Dog Foundation and later getting the chance to interact with them. They said they are big animal lovers and as members of AHRC Suffolk’s self-advocacy group, recently collected food, blankets and beds for the animals at the Smithtown Animal Shelter.

“I thought it was wonderful, I really did,” Siems said of the event. “I’ve had dogs all my life and I would love to take one home — I love them. We wanted to help the animals this year. We collected dog bones and some things for the cats, too, and we want to continue doing this for the summer.”

Inviting the Guide Dog Foundation felt like a natural tie-in, Costa said. It was an educational, interactive and engaging experience for everyone.

“We serve a different population of individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We thought that this would be a nice partnership between both organizations, so that we could build awareness for the great work that each organization is doing — and everybody loves puppies. It was a successful and productive partnership for all.”

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With mounting pressure to preserve the sanctity of Long Island’s coastal waters, Suffolk County is teaming up with specialists at Stony Brook University to educate the public on marine pollution.

“Folks on Long Island are more involved with [marine pollution] than other parts of the country because they are spending time around the sound and beaches,” said Katherine Aubrecht, the faculty director for coastal environmental studies at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s such a bigger part of people’s lives, and there is a more receptive audience here to be thinking about this.”

The county Legislature unanimously passed a resolution June 5 to direct the Division of Planning & Environment in the Department of Economic Development and Planning to collaborate with SoMAS to establish a marine debris pollution awareness program.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Though it is just in its preliminary stages, according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) who sponsored the resolution, the awareness program would be used to educate school-aged children and the general public on the dangers of garbage pollution to the marine ecosystem.

“We want the education to be generalized, so that we can have flexibility in who we speak to and about what,” Anker said.

Anker said the two goals for the upcoming program are to educate the public on how we are affecting and degrading our oceans, and to teach people what they could do about it, including the need for beach cleanups and how to properly recycle plastics.

Aubrecht said that there are three unpaid interns from the Stony Brook University’s environmental humanities program charged with compiling data on ocean pollution, and looking into what other marine debris  education efforts exist on Long Island. Data is also being collected on demographics the program wishes to target with the campaign.

Kathleen Fallon, the coastal processes and hazards specialist for New York Sea Grant, said educating young people is of the utmost significance.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious,” she said. “Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

“Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Anker said she expects the program to have a full formal presentation ready by the end of next year. She also expects by next Earth Day, the debris awareness program will have presentations to show what citizens can do to help clean up the local marine environment.  

Microplastics ending up in local waters are among the most pressing issues on Long Island. Microplastics are plastics that have broken down due to erosion into pieces smaller than 5 millimeters — they end up being swallowed by sea life endangering the health of the animal and, if the issue is untreated, those plastics can easily end up on the dinner table.

At the county Legislature’s April 19 Health Committee meeting Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School research scientist and teacher, said she had surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and that in 1 square meter of shoreline, found 17 grams of microplastics. She said there were approximately 400 pounds of plastic in 1 mile of shoreline in the pond.

Aubrecht said that when these plastics enter a marine environment they can also cause organic pollutants — which are often too dispersed and not dangerous — to merge onto these plastics, but have a larger effect on marine wildlife. Ocean debris also cause animal entanglement, like a small fish or turtle getting caught in a plastic ring that holds a six-pack of cans. These entangled creatures often suffer major injuries or die if they can’t free themselves.

Though all these problems may seem daunting, Fallon said that education is the starting line in a race that will hopefully end with the elimination of marine pollutants and debris.

“A community that is made aware of the impact that they are having on their environment will hopefully be more likely to avoid harmful actions,” Fallon said.

A free alcohol testing kit comes with one urination cup and test strip. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff's Office

A new Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department program is looking to keep kids safe this prom and graduation season, while creating a way for parents to more easily open a dialogue with kids about underage drinking and drugs.

“We just want everyone to be prepared,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “It’s a celebratory moment for people graduating high school and moving on, and they feel a little empowered.”

On May 22 the sheriff’s office announced it is passing out free alcohol and drug testing kits.

“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”

— Janene Gentile

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for people in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 is motor vehicle crashes. In Suffolk County, the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes are driving while ability impaired by alcohol or dugs and reckless or distracted driving.

The test kits include standard urine test that contains a single cup and stick that changes color depending on the presence of alcohol.

“We want parents to ask tough questions and [have] tough discussions early on so that they don’t get the knock on the door by a police officer telling them that their child is in the hospital or telling them that their child was driving while intoxicated,” Toulon said. “We would rather let them take care of their children so that law enforcement does not [have to] get involved.”

The North Shore Youth Council already offers these kits. Executive Director Janene Gentile said she doesn’t see the kits as a punitive measure, but as a way for parents to more easily talk about the topic with their children.

“Drinking is cultural in our society, but it’s an adult choice and not a young person’s choice,” she said.
“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”

Local schools have long tried to curb drug and alcohol use at prom while still trying to ensure graduating classes celebrate the final days before graduation.

Frank Pugliese said in his first year as principal of Shoreham-Wading River High School, he hopes his students can enjoy prom while staying safe.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“We strongly advise all students to always make appropriate decisions,” Pugliese said in an email. “With that being said, we have great students. The vast majority make smart choices regardless of the policies in place, and we trust that they will continue to do so on prom night.”

Smithtown High School West participates in the county District Attorney’s Office new Choices and Consequences program that shows the dangers of reckless and drunk driving. Members of the DA’s office will be in the high school June 18.

In a letter to students, Smithtown West High School Principal John Coady said anyone caught drinking during prom will be suspended and kicked out. Prom tickets will not be refunded, and the student may be barred from the graduation ceremony.

Fifty alcohol and 25 drug testing kits were sent out to numerous schools to kick off the program. The kits are also available free at each Suffolk County legislator’s office and will remain offered through the North Shore Youth Council.

Each alcohol testing kit costs .74 cents while drug testing kits are $1.50. The $5,000 program is being paid for with asset forfeiture funds.

“I would like for all of them to enjoy the moment,” Toulon said of seniors attending prom and graduation. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”

Graphic by TBR News Media

Suffolk County’s police department has new numbers to get excited about.

Despite being less than halfway through the year, the police department and medical examiner’s office report the county is on trend to see a nearly 100-person decrease in opioid-related deaths in 2018, compared to the last two.

Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante and Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan confirmed at the May 31 Suffolk County Legislature’s health committee meeting that if numbers remain low through June and July, Suffolk might see overdose deaths drop to 2015 levels — 260 total — compared to 2016 and 2017, where there were 362 and 359, respectively.

“It feels like we’re making headway,” Gigante said. “Like we’re getting somewhere.”

The total number of opioid deaths for this year is 120 as of May 1, which includes 78 cases still pending, in which the medical examiner could not yet attribute the overdose to causing the victim’s death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 64,000 people nationwide died from drug overdoses in 2016. Caplan said Suffolk mirrors the national statistic that approximately 80 percent of all drug overdoses are caused by opioids.

Gigante attributed the decrease to large-scale drug busts, like the arrest of six people involved in a Brookhaven-based drug ring in Middle Island in March.

In the last few years the number of overdoses involving prescription drugs has decreased, according to Caplan, while those involving illegal and nonprescription substances have increased.

“[2011] was the peak of where prescription medications like oxycodone were our biggest problem,” the medical examiner said. “We saw the trend going away from prescription opioids and to semisynthetic opioids like heroin and fentanyl.”

Members of the health committee said the trend down is uplifting.

“We’re amazed,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. “These numbers are nearly 10-fold less than previous years.”

Gigante also spoke during the meeting about the department’s High Intensity Drug Tracking Area system, which maps overdose detections in real time for police officers out in the field. SCPD members can report the location, time and other details of an overdose, which is used to determine where to concentrate resources.

The police department used the system to map 13 opioid overdoses Memorial Day weekend, three of which were fatal. This is compared to last year’s Memorial Day weekend where nine of 40 reports resulted in a fatality.

The numbers reflected in the statistics do not account for people who drive themselves to hospitals, but Gigante said he hopes to get medical institutions involved in reporting those numbers too.

“If we can override June and July then we will really start to see the ratio decrease,” Gigante said. “I’m cautiously optimistic we can turn that corner.”

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By Bill Landon

Smithtown West’s boys lacrosse team found itself in an unfamiliar position this season.

Down four goals in the third quarter, the Bulls bounced back to tie the game 7-7 and eventually take a 10-9 lead, but a last-minute goal forced overtime, where the No. 2-seeded boys lacrosse team fell to No. 3 Half Hollow Hills East in the Class A semifinals May 24.

With Smithtown West down four goals, seniors Kyle Zaradski and Andrew Arce each scored twice, and junior Matt Caddigan made the go-ahead goal to give the Bulls their first lead of the game with six seconds left in the third quarter.

Half Hollow Hills East’s Mike Gomez found the net four minutes into the final quarter, but Arce stretched the net three minutes later to retake the lead, 9-8. The Colts countered again, but Arce continued to have an answer, scoring his fourth goal of the game for a 10-9 Bulls lead with 3:22 left to play.

With a minute left, Half Hollow Hills East forces overtime, and held the ball for one shot in the final seconds of a four-minute overtime period, which gave the Colts a sudden-death victory.

Smithtown West, which had outscored its opponents 202-82 this season, ended the year with a 14-2 record.

Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill and PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti field resident questions at Comsewogue Public Library May 22. Photo by Alex Petroski

A viral video of a lewd act in public and rumors about a large-scale new development project are probably why most attended the meeting, but emotions set the tone.

Anger, passion, fear and compassion flowed like a river during a nearly three-hour meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association at the Comsewogue Public Library May 22. It was the civic’s scheduled meeting for May, but the regular members acknowledged this was an out-of-the-ordinary community gathering.

Earlier this month, a cellphone video of two people, believed to be homeless, having sex at a Suffolk County bus stop in Port Jefferson Station spread not only across the community, but the country. As a result of that incident, and in an effort to ascertain the facts about an announcement made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office May 10 that he was allocating about $8 million in funding for a large-scale affordable housing apartment complex for the homeless in Port Jeff Station, the civic association invited leaders from across local government to attend and field resident questions and concerns.

“This is how it starts,” civic association President Edward Garboski said at one point during the meeting, as tensions rose among the approximately 200 people who crammed into The Richard Lusak Community Room at the library. “None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts. We invited all these people here. They’re going to hear us speak. We continue to fight — together.”

“None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts.

— Edward Garboski

The discussion began with Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill answering questions for about an hour. O’Neill was pressed with questions about the concentration of shelters for the homeless in the Port Jefferson Station area, oversight of the locations and curfew rules, and how the locations are selected. He said it was against the law to publicize the location of homeless shelters, though he said if he were legally allowed he would compile a list by zip code. He said the shelters in most cases are privately owned, and if they are compliant with state and federal regulations, they are approved with no consideration taken regarding volume of like facilities in the area. O’Neill also said checks are done regularly at all county shelters to ensure they are in compliance with regulations.

“The argument with the homeless is they need help, we know this,” PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti said. “Everybody here in one way, shape or form has collected food, done something for a homeless individual. I think our biggest issue is the lack of supervision at these locations.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct Inspector Patrick Reilly also attended the meeting and fielded questions from the attendees.

“I live in Port Jefferson Station as well, so I’m not coming from another community saying ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’” Cartright said. “I love where I live, but there are issues and we need to deal with them. It’s a complex
issue and it doesn’t happen overnight. We are committed — I can say that for each of us that are sitting here today — to trying to make a difference and coming up with solutions.”

One suggestion that emerged from the meeting is the necessity for a 24-hour hotline to contact the county DSS when issues occur in the community. Currently the hotline only operates during business hours. Reilly said he believes a viable answer to reduce crime in the area, especially in the vicinity of Jefferson Shopping Plaza, would be the installation of more police surveillance cameras. Residents were also repeatedly urged to call the police when observing illegal activities, and to stay engaged with civic association efforts to foster a strength-in-numbers approach.

Many of the elected officials said they plan to be back at the association’s next meeting July 24 to unveil plans for revitalization in the area near the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

No. 9 Harborfields will travel to No. 8 Westhampton today at 4 p.m. in the second round of playoffs

By Bill Landon

Harborfields’ strength lies in its singles play. The No. 9-seeded boys tennis team swept all four singles spots — all the Tornadoes would need in a best-of-seven series — and went on to blank visiting Brentwood 7-0 in the first round of the Suffolk County playoffs.

Harborfields junior Alex Rzehak, who earned All-State honors the last two years, led his team at first singles. He shut down Brentwood’s Armando Santana 6-0, 6-0.

“He’s our No. 1 player,” Harborfields head coach Bob Davis said of his state tournament alternate. “He plays the best kid on every other team in our division. In fact, the top four finishers in the county are all from our division. This is the second year in a row he’s the alternate. He’s a junior, so he’ll get another bite at the apple.”

Eighth-grader Chris Qi, at fourth singles, also shut out his Brentwood opponent.

“He wound up with a 9-3 record this year in our division — that’s not easy,” the coach said. “We have some kids who are serious about tennis, and [slowly but surely] we’re getting there.”

Other young Harborfields athletes shined during the match. Freshman Michael Singer nipped his challenger 6-1, 6-0 at second singles. Singer made the All-County team this year, and won a round in the county singles tournament.

“We’re hoping for big things from him [moving forward,]” Davis said.

Rounding out singles action was junior Bobby Bellino, who won his match 6-0, 6-1.

“He could wind up being the best of all,” the coach said of his third singles player. “He’s got amazing tools, he just has to work on his consistency.”

The second doubles pair of John Mulé and Luke Verdon competed in the only match that went to three sets. After falling 3-6 in the first, the seniors rallied back 6-3, 6-1 to claim a win in the second-to-last match of the afternoon.

“It was interesting,” Mulé said. “We really didn’t play much at all last week because of the weather. We may have underestimated our opponent at first, they’re pretty good.”

Davis, although thinking his team should have been seeded higher, said he’s under no illusion that his team will have to work hard to prepare for No. 8 Westhampton May 23. The Tornadoes will travel to Westhampton for a 4 p.m. match.

“I think we should’ve gotten a high seed … so now we have to go out and prove it,” he said. “Westhampton is a very good team. It’ll be a very good match, so we’ll see what happens.”

Bellino said he’ll be prepared, but added the doubles pairs will also need to be ready to back up the singles players.

“It’ll be a lot of pressure on our doubles guys — they have to come up big and get those crucial points because if one of us in singles loses, we need a doubles team to pull through,” he said. “I’m just going to go in with a clear head and not think about the pressure that’s riding on the game … just go out and have fun, try to find my opponent’s weakness and use that to my advantage.”

This version was updated May 22 at 9 p.m. to change the date of Harborfields’ next game, which was postponed due to rain.

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group, representative from the Long Island Rail Road Ryan Attard, grant writer Nicole Christian, Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, Leg. Kara Hahn, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, village Mayor Margot Garant, village Trustee Larry LaPointe, Trustee Bruce Miller, and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright during a groundbreaking for an upper Port Jefferson revitalization project May 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

After years of planning upper Port’s redevelopment to deal with blighted buildings, traffic and a lack of parking space, Port Jefferson Village officials are finally ready to say, “Don’t believe me, just watch.”

As part of the village’s revitalization efforts — a project dubbed “Uptown Funk” — village, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town officials held a groundbreaking ceremony May 9 for a new parking lot in the space at the corner of Texaco Avenue and Linden Place. The lot should allow for another 74 parking spaces, largely for Long Island Rail Road commuters using the Port Jefferson train station.

“The village is thrilled to partner with the county, Empire State Development and the Long Island Rail Road on improvements in upper Port to enhance pedestrian connectivity and safety, revitalize blighted commercial properties, and promote safe living and economic growth,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

The revitalization of upper Port is part of the Connect LI project of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The plan behind the initiative is to use both existing and new public transportation options to connect people to commercial centers and main streets as in Port Jefferson.

“This is a model of what we need to be doing around the region,” Bellone said. “My administration is committed to providing funding to assist our towns and villages with these revitalization projects. The project we broke ground on today is a major step in continuing our efforts to make Suffolk County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Phase one of the project will cost $850,000 to be funded by grants from the county’s Jumpstart program and other financial contributions. Along with the parking lot the first phase of the project will improve sidewalks that lead to the train station from The Hills at Port Jefferson apartment complex.

Phase two of the project will include a renovation of the north, east and south LIRR parking lots with new pavement, lighting and plaza entryway.

Phase three will create “Station Street,” a new one-way road that will provide access to the new renovated parking lots. Garant said the road should also reduce congestion on Main Street and allow for smoother access into the train station parking lots.

Part of the hope for the project is that students coming from Stony Brook University and other commuters will help create interest in the area, which in turn should incentivize businesses to invest in upper Port and remedy the blighted property seen on Main Street, according to Garant.

“We want feet on the street,” Garant said.

Last year Nicole Christian, a consultant at law firm HB Solutions and grant writer for the village, helped apply for several grants for the Uptown Funk project. Last year Port Jefferson Village was awarded $250,000 in Jumpstart money to start plans on the project and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000.

“Empire State Development is excited to support this roadway realignment that will foster this transit-oriented development and revitalize this community to create a true linkage from upper Port Jefferson to the waterfront,” Howard Zemsky, ESD president, said in an email.

Part of the purpose of the new parking lot is also to help facilitate foot traffic from The Hills at Port Jefferson to the train station across the street. “All of the apartments in two separate buildings, which were completed in 2016, have already been rented out and there is already a long wait list to get in,” said Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, the real estate development company behind development of the apartment complex, during the event.

The Town of Brookhaven and Port Jefferson Village worked with Gitto and his company to create the two-building complex. To incentivize the creation of the apartment complex, Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects to stimulate job creation and economic growth, gave Gitto and his company sales tax exemptions on construction items, a mortgage tax exemption and a 10-year property tax abatement.

Gitto said that they provided money toward the funding of the new parking lot.

“They hired the contractors and we made a financial contribution,” Gitto said.

This post was updated May 15.

Citizen's Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, on left, shows the decrease in single-use plastic bags (in blue) from a survey done in December 2017 to one done in April 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though there are still people in Suffolk County who regularly kick themselves for forgetting to bring their reusable bags into stores, a newly-released survey says the law that enforces a five-cent per bag fee has so far been effective.

Legislature to vote on statewide ban of plastic bags

By Desirée Keegan

At the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags across the state April 23, which would begin in January 2019 if passed. The three-page bill, introduced by the governor a day after Earth Day, comes a little more than a year after he blocked a 5-cent surcharge that New York City had sought to place on plastic bags.

Cuomo described the measure as an effort to counteract the “blight of plastic bags” that is taking “a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources,” he said in a statement.

Seeking re-election for a third term in the fall, Cuomo then quoted an adage: “We did not inherit the Earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children.”

If the bill were to pass, New York would join California, which approved a statewide ban of plastic bags in 2016. Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags; all of its counties have instituted bans.

But the measure faces an uncertain path in the Legislature, where leaders of the Assembly and the Senate had opposed the city’s bill. The measure would very likely face a stiffer challenge in the Republican-majority Senate.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, a variety of bags would be exempt from the ban, including those that contain raw meat, fish or poultry; bags sold in bulk; those used in bulk packages of fruit and dried goods; those used for deli products; newspaper bags; trash, food storage and garment bags; and takeout food bags. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation would also be allowed to exempt certain bags through regulations.

The news comes after advocates from across the state gathered the same day in Albany to hold Cuomo accountable for meeting his climate and clean energy commitments.

“Today, New Yorkers delivered a message to Governor Cuomo: Walk the talk on climate action; follow through on your words, because lasting change only happens through action and putting goals into law,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “New York has a remarkable opportunity to be an international leader on climate if, and only if, we embrace a future powered by renewables. The people of the state will continue to remind Governor Cuomo of this opportunity until he takes advantage of it.”

“And this is only in three months since the law passed,” Executive Director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito said to the Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee April 19. “This is a great success. Public behavior is changing.”

In November and December of last year, her environmental advocacy group conducted a study that showed 70 percent  of 20,000 Suffolk County shoppers surveyed left a store with a plastic, non-reusable bag in tow. Only 6 percent of customers surveyed used a reusable bag.

After a new survey of 6,000 people this month in 20 grocery stores throughout the county, just 30 percent of those surveyed bought plastic bags and 43 percent were now carrying reusable. Twenty-one percent of people shopping in those grocery stores decided not to take a bag.

“As we celebrate Earth Day it’s great to have news that the bag fee is effective, said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “I know that there were concerns with adopting the bag law, but to see real, tangible results in such a short period of time, I think it’s very exciting.”

Ocean plastics have become a real concern to a number of environmental scientists and advocacy groups, and Esposito said the next goal is to see if there’s a way to reduce the use of other sources of plastic, like straws and utensil.

“Plastic is becoming a real threat to the environment,” she said.

Dr. Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood schools research scientist and teacher, surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and said the amount of plastics found in the water was extremely troubling.

“What we found at the Flax Pond in one square meter [was] 17 grams of microplastics, which are plastics under 5 millimeters [large],” Grella said. “In the entire shoreline of Flax Pond — over a mile of shoreline — we extrapolated there is about 400 pounds of plastic.”

The microplastics are from larger pieces that have eroded along the sea floor until they are smaller in size. They are often ingested by sea life, which not only endangers aquatic creatures but any creature who eat them, including people.

Spencer said that while a total ban on bags would have been more efficient, there was no way to get it passed by the Legislature.

“I think in order to get to this point after years of negotiation, the nickel offered a successful compromise,” Spencer said. “I think the law has worked so well because people don’t want their nickels going to the store.”

“By charging people 5 cents there seems to be a lot of people getting angry and agitated,” Grella said. “In all actuality, it isn’t as easy to put a 5-cent fee on paper or plastic.”

Despite the success, Esposito admitted there is a chance to eventually see an increase in purchased bag use as more people get used to the law.

“We do get concerned about people getting used to the nickel and just paying it,” she said. “So that’s why we need to keep up public education.”

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment is planning to conduct another survey in November and December to gather a much larger sample size, and survey more than just grocery stores.

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