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Suffolk County

New York State's native ladybug population, coccinella novemnotata, in major decline.

By Donna Deedy

Who doesn’t love a ladybug? Everyone seems to hold at least a certain amount of affection for the insect. So, people might find the news somewhat heartbreaking: Certain species of the
polka-dotted bug are threatened and nearly extinct in the Northeastern United States.

In 1985, the ladybug coccinella novemnotata was considered a very common insect. Its range that year is shown in the gray area of the map. The Lost Ladybug Project said that sightings east of the Mississippi have become extremely rare, as indicated by the black dots on the map. Image from The Lost Ladybug Project website.

Scientists say they don’t know precisely how or why the ladybug population has declined so rapidly in recent decades or what impact it will ultimately have on the ecosystem, but they’re asking the public to assist with their efforts to both search for the bug to document the population and to help revive the species by purchasing insects to set free.

“It’s a now or never,” said Leslie Ladd Allee, an entomologist from The Lost Ladybug Project, an affiliate of Cornell University. “If citizens act as scientists, they can help.”

If you see a ladybug, people are asked to simply upload a photo of it to The Lost Ladybug Project’s website or its app, called LLP. If you don’t see any on your own land, the project organizers consider that “zero” still important to report. Searching can be done from May to October, with June, July and August being the best time frame. 

Over the last eight years, the project has gathered more than 40,000 pictures of different species of the ladybug from every state in the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico. The data is providing researchers with a more complete understanding of what’s going on. 

What they’re seeing is a rise in foreign species of the insect, such as the Asian ladybug, while some native species were feared to be eliminated, according to Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

“The New York state insect is the nine-spotted lady beetle — some people call these ladybugs which is fine, too — that was once common in the state, but no longer,” he said.

Researchers initially learned that the top three most common species of ladybugs, the nine-spotted, two-spotted and transverse, were no longer found on Long Island, or New York state or New England. 

Then in 2011, during a Lost Ladybug event sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, volunteer participant Peter Priolo found a nine-spotted ladybug living happily on a sunflower. 

Kathy Kennedy, senior outreach manager for Peconic Land Trust, said that she’s been sponsoring a search as a citizen science activity every summer since then to connect people with nature and raise awareness about the decline in native species. 

A nine-spotted lady bug found in 2011 at Quail Hill Organic Farms in Amagansett, New York. The population of native ladybugs found at Quail Hill have been the source for The Lost Ladybug Project’s breeding program to repopulate coccinella novemnotata, a native ladybug species.

“The trust runs Quail Hill Farm organically, which we think helps to actively steward the home population of the nine-spotted variety of ladybugs,” Kennedy said.

Scientists with the ladybug project since 2011 have been raising offspring from the Amagansett colony in a lab in Ithaca. For the last few years, they’ve been selling the bugs to people in the Northeast. They hope to revive the species the same way wolf populations were reestablished in Yellowstone National Park. So far, 60 people have released ladybugs on Long Island through the program. There have been 16 locations on Long Island’s North Shore.

Families and youth groups can purchase ladybug restoration kits for $50 plus shipping from The Lost Ladybug Project. Allee said that the project loses money on each transaction but wants to keep the price affordable to encourage participation. 

The Lost Ladybug Project is supported by donations, sales and grants from the National Science Foundation. Allee said the project is underfunded, but the importance of the mission keeps the people involved motivated to continue.

“There are many kinds or species of lady beetles,” Gilrein said. “Some kinds of lady beetles are black with red spots, some have other colors like orange or yellow.” 

Some feed on aphids, some specialize on pests like mites, mealybugs or scale insects, he said. 

Many are considered beneficial, including the invasive Asian ladybug.

“Yes, they also consume aphids and other crop and garden pests,” Allee said. “Each species fills a different niche with somewhat different life cycle timing and diets.”

While some species of the insect are no longer common, the abundance of certain species, such as the seven-spotted lady beetle and the Asian ladybug concerns Allee. 

“We need to preserve the biodiversity of ladybug species,” she said. “The decline of the three lost ladybugs threatens the biodiversity of ladybugs and the stability of food webs.”

A seven-spotted lady bug eats aphids from the underside of an apple leaf. Photo from Laurie McBride

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

Suffolk County will look to address the ongoing issue of nitrogen pollution in surface and groundwater with an ambitious plan that will look to transition away from the reliance on cesspools and septic systems. 

The Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, which would invest $4 billion to combat nitrogen pollution, would last more than 50 years and sets a blueprint for the county to replace hundreds of thousands of old and inadequate septic systems. 

A map detailing the phases of the proposed project. Images from Suffolk County. Click for full view.

The plan sets a goal for the county to eliminate 253,000 cesspools and septic systems by replacing them with new nitrogen reducing systems or by connecting them to existing sewers. According to Suffolk health officials, approximately 74 percent of the county remains unsewered, so individual residences and businesses rely on antiquated onsite wastewater disposal systems. Studies show that about 70 percent of the nitrogen input to local bays comes from approximately 360,000 cesspools and septic systems.

“Scientists have warned that continued reliance on primitive wastewater disposal systems is a mounting threat to both our environment and our economy,” said Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk health commissioner. “Now, for the first time, there is a long-term plan to diminish nitrogen pollution and put Suffolk County on a path to cleaner, healthier water resources.”

The SWP has highlighted more than 190 individual watershed areas in Suffolk County and established goals and recommendations for reducing nitrogen inputs into each area. If those goals are met, health officials said it will begin to reverse the decline in water quality within 10 years and bring it back to a more pristine condition.

To get that process started, officials said the county will use more than $500 million in already allocated grant sources toward the replacement of 10,000 cesspools and septic systems and expand connections to sewer systems over the next four years as part of the first phase of the plan. 

“This plan represents the first meaningful strategy to address legacy septic nitrogen pollution since countywide sewering objectives were abandoned some four decades ago,” Walter Dawydiak, director of Environmental Quality for Suffolk County, said. “In those four decades, we learned a great deal about how toxic excess nitrogen is to the ecosystem. However, we consistently failed to solve the single largest environmental health problems of our generation. Finally, we have a response plan that will restore our ecosystems and protect our drinking water.”

In the second phase of the plan, which would begin 2024, the county would look to eliminate more than 177,000 cesspools and septic systems near shorelines and high priority areas. It also recommends a requirement that cesspools and septic systems be replaced with new technology when properties change hands, or when those cesspools and septic systems fail. Officials estimate that the requirement could increase the number of cesspools eliminated from 1,000 to more than 5,000 per year. 

The third phase of the SWP will tackle all other priority areas during a 15-year period. The fourth and final phase would address the remaining areas of the county beginning in 2068.

Currently, county grants of up to $20,000 are available for residents who qualify and wish to replace their cesspool. There is also an additional state grant of up to $10,000, which can mean a total of up to $30,000. As of July 1, Suffolk County residents who voluntarily decide to replace their cesspools will need to replace them with a system consisting of a septic tank and leaching pool at a minimum, according to previous reporting by TBR News Media. Contractors will need to register the system with the Department of Health Services.

The SWP will undergo a detailed review by the county’s Council on Environmental Quality and will include an environmental impact statement which is expected sometime in mid-August, according to officials. From there, a 30-day comment period will begin, with two public hearings being scheduled.

Perry Gershon, again a Democratic contender for U.S district rep., spoke at a protest early in 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

The late June Democratic debates hosted by CNBC could have been the first true coal mine canary, telling us that even more than a year out, the race for the White House is going to be a long, complicated and grueling affair.

Nancy S. Goroff, Department of Chemistry Professor, announced her run for District 1. Photo from Stony Brook University

Over two nights, the 20 candidates stood shoulder to shoulder, shouting over each other for attention and sound bites. Though it was talked well enough on every national media outlet, finding North Shore residents who watched the debates, let alone had a full opinion on the Democratic candidates, can be a chore.

However, for Suffolk County and the Suffolk Democratic Committee, it’s business as usual. According to Rich Schaffer, the county Democratic chairman, the focus starts with the local races long before any attention is applied to the congressional candidates, let alone the presidential contenders.

“You won’t get them energized this year until we finish with the local races, so our main focus will be on the town and county races,” Schaffer said. “We had minimal interest in the presidential, a couple of people calling to see about participating in a particular campaign of a particular candidate, but other than that we haven’t much.”

What’s your opinion?

Here is what a few residents from local areas thought about the current Democratic presidential candidates:

Brian Garthwaite, Port Jeff Station:

“Do I think any of the candidates that I saw talk in the last two days will go anywhere? — I hope not,’” he said. “No one really stood out to me.”

Garthwaite guessed at who would be on the final podium come 2020.

“It’s tough to say right now but if I had to guess I think it’s going to be either [Joe] Biden or [Kamala] Harris.”

Judy Cooper, West Islip:

“I’m a Democrat and I like Joe Biden, but I want to hear more about one or two of the lesser known candidates — like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar,” she said. “I haven’t thought about a ticket yet. I watched the first night of the debate, but then got sick of it the second night. It was inconsequential the second night. The first night there were many candidates, but they seemed to be more substantial candidates.”

Peggy S., Northport:

“I’m a Democrat, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I’d support anybody but a Republican. I like Mayor Pete the best.”

Anthony Alessi, Northport:

“I want anybody who can beat Trump,” Alessi said. “Kamala Harris impressed me last night. I’d love to see her beat Trump. My ideal ticket is Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.”

Quotes gathered by David Luces and Leah Chiappino

In local races, the Town of Brookhaven is becoming a hotspot. Though he sees Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) as well established, Schaffer specifically looked at Cheryl Felice, who is running against Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) for the 4th District, and Anthony Portesy, who is running for Brookhaven Highway Superintendent against Daniel Losquadro (R), specifically having a good shot considering people’s complaints with the state of their roads.

“He’s knocking on doors, and he hears a lot of complaints about the conditions of the roads and the services being provided by the highway department,” he said. 

Two Democrats have already stepped up again to face U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 2020 congressional contest. Last year’s nominee Perry Gershon is again running this year, while Stony Brook resident Jack Harrington is on the sidelines, with rumors he has considered running. On July 9, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff declared she too would be running against Zeldin, setting up what may be a heated primary race mirroring the 2017-18 Suffolk primary runup.

“As a scientist, I believe in facts,” Goroff said in a release declaring her candidacy. “And it’s a fact that Washington is hurting Suffolk families. I’m running for Congress to use my experience as a scientist to combat global warming, make healthcare affordable, protect a woman’s right to choose and end the gun violence epidemic.”

The Democratic chairman said the committee has been hands-off when it comes to congressional campaigns, letting them hire their own staff and leaving them to their own campaigns. Despite the constant attention paid to national politics, he said he expected the usual number of voters, comparing it to last year’s 22,240 primary votes out of a possible 143,700. 

“It was a little more animated than past years, but on par for where it’s been, 15 to 20 percent turnout,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be animated next year, that’s for sure.”

But to Schaffer, the national race will come down to around five or six candidates, and only then will you see the public become energized around their chosen individual. The next Democratic debate, set for July 17, may be a major tipping point. Politico has reported many Democratic presidential campaigns said they believe the next set of debates could start the culling to the top contenders.

The biggest point on the national and congressional stage is whether he feels they can defeat Zeldin and Trump. If Schaffer had to choose a candidate at this moment, it would be past Vice President Joe Biden, saying he “was part of the successful years of the Obama presidency,” and “if we’re looking for someone who can take on Trump and not just convince Democrats but those ‘persuadables’, I think Biden has the best shot.”

Rich Shaffer at his office in North Babylon. File Photo by Alex Petroski

The Democratic chairman sees Suffolk’s population as more conservatively minded than what may be seen in New York City or other progressive hot spots. 

This is despite the rise of more progressive candidates such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, with Harris’ poll numbers, in particular, surging after the CNBC debates, but Schaffer said what’s important is defeating the incumbents.

“If we win, we win as a party. If we lose, we lose as a party,” he said.

Republican Gary Pollakusky is running again to represent Suffolk County's 6th legislative district. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Leah Chiappino

A Republican challenger for Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District is a face that should be familiar to local residents, having run for the same office two years ago.

“I’ve always appreciated where I was from and what this area could become,“ said Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point resident who is running for legislator as a Republican challenger. “Giving back has always been the cornerstone to why I wanted to go into public service.”

Gary Pollakusky, the president of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, helps put up a new tent May 4. Photo by Kyle Barr

As a Rotary member, Freemason, North Shore Community Association founding member, once a Goodwill Ambassador to Russia and the president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce Pollakusky has been involved in public service since childhood. A graduate of Cornell, he has a degree in industrial labor relations. He is also the owner of multiple small businesses including Media Barrel LLC, a media advertising agency; Travel Barrel LLC, a company that holds microbrands, which conduct travel tours; and a nationally syndicated sports talk entertainment network called Sports Garten. His latest endeavor is the race for Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District, against incumbent Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), after an unsuccessful bid for the same seat in 2016.

His biggest policy platforms are supporting small businesses as well as fiscal responsibility for the county. 

“To be able to expand the tax base and reduce the residential tax burden we need to support business,” he said. “We’re seeing seniors and college graduates, and businesses leave Long Island. Long Island is an incredible place to live but it’s very difficult to afford.” 

Pollakusky said he believes he has put this notion into practice as a board member of the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which he says brought in three-quarters of a billion dollars in new investment, as well as over 5,500 jobs. 

“We are cognizant of the fact that we are giving public benefits to private entities, but in turn we expect workforce projection,” he said, adding that the “county is hemorrhaging in debt. Our residents are being taxed out of house and home. I want to reduce taxes and spend responsibly.”

He also calls for the termination of “illegal fees to our residents,” such as the red light camera fees, park fees and mortgage recording fees, the latter of which has increased from $65 to over $600. 

“If we don’t stop the bleeding, people are going to want to leave,” he said. 

In terms of the opioid crisis, he supports holding “big pharma” accountable for its role in the crisis, but he said he feels a combination of solutions needs to occur in order to solve the problem. For one, he called for an increase in preventative education about the dangers of substance abuse in schools. He said the county has been moving backward on addressing it, calling for additional policing.

“We do not have enough officers on the streets,” he said. “We need to support law enforcement to address all of the drug-dealing homes in our community. In terms of treatment, we closed down a perfectly good treatment facility in the Foley Center. It’s disheartening to see how we could be addressing the opioid epidemic, but the county is not.”   

He also called for preventive education in schools for vaping and drunk driving. 

“Vaping has been shown to cause popcorn lung and terrible health ailments,” he said. “Kids doing that clearly don’t understand the repercussions, so constant reminders through education is very helpful to continue exposing the issue,” he said. Pollakusky added that he thinks it’s “unconscionable” to address marijuana legalization in the middle of an opioid epidemic, but sees its benefits when used medicinally. 

As far as the rise of MS-13, which Pollakusky says is tied to the opioid epidemic, he has met with the consulate general of El Salvador in Brentwood through the North Shore Community Association, with whom he worked to attempt to expand prevention education in 2017. 

“We have many law abiding, good citizens in our community that are here legally,” he said. “We don’t want to cast the light that MS-13 represents them in any way, but through the unaccompanied minor program MS-13 was recruiting.”  

Despite most MS-13 activity occurring in the towns of Brentwood and Central Islip, he cited Gordon Heights MS-13 activity as a main reason for the drug flow into the North Shore. 

When it comes to immigration policy, he said “those that break those laws should be sent home,” though dealing with children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents is “a very difficult problem.” The Republican challenger added that those children who have already lived here, such as the Dreamers, immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16 and have lived here since 2007, is a different circumstance. 

He acknowledged Suffolk’s poor water quality, including high nitrogen content in coastal waters and the presence of other chemicals like 1,4-dioxane in drinking water in high degrees across the Island. As a solution, he believes sewer districts should be funded through grants and business investments, which he feels can create revenue for the county. He supports introducing legislation that would prohibit certain kinds of pesticides and fertilizers, such as Roundup. 

“We have a duty to protect people from contaminants and certain types of cancer,” he said. 

The Republican challenger promises that he can work in a bipartisan matter if elected. 

“To be in politics you can’t have an ego,” he said. “We’ve elected the same people over and over again, and we still have the same problems.”

Pollakusky recognizes the challenges to winning his seat, noting Anker’s years in the Legislature and support from existing political action committees, but said he supports both labor and law enforcement. 

“I don’t need this job, I want it because I know I can lead well,” he said. “I am passionate about supporting our residents in an impactful way, so we can all stay here and enjoy Long Island.”

Victoria Glass demonstrates with ease to county and town officials how slip leads work with an intrigued dog from Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

By Leah Chiappino

Victoria Glass demonstrates with ease to county and town officials how slip leads work with an intrigued dog from Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

It came as quite a surprise to her: Suffolk County police do not routinely carry leashes. So, 13-year-old Girl Scout Victoria Glass sprang into action. For the last two months she’s been collecting leads that officers can use when responding to calls about loose animals. The slip leads work as leashes and collars, and are made to fit any size animal. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart accepted Victoria’s donation of more than 150 leads at a press conference at Smithtown Animal Shelter June 18. Glass placed the first lead in a patrol vehicle, as shelter workers demonstrated how the lead works on Blossom and Sammy, two stray dogs that were brought to the shelter.

The project will help Victoria earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award for a Girl Scout Cadette, after identifying an issue and making a difference with a solution. 

“It’s been awesome to see the widespread effects of what I did.”

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21, 2018. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

After a successful statewide lobbying campaign resulting in the restoration of nearly $4 million in funding for a veterans peer support program some have called vital, and given an additional $300,000 for expansion, New York State officials introduced bipartisan legislation April 22 to expand the program nationally. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R.1749), which would expand the peer-to-peer support program nationally for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical traumas. The Dwyer bill was co-sponsored by NYS Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Peter King (R-Seaford) and others. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well.”

— Joe Cognitore

“Expanding nationally the Dwyer program, which is currently operating in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, eventually to all states in the U.S., will ensure that every veteran can have access to a peer-to-peer support group,” Zeldin said in a statement. “With the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] reporting that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide, this national expansion is long overdue.”

This is the second time Zeldin has introduced legislation to expand the program nationally. Two years ago, the congressman proposed a bill that would authorize the VA to support veteran support programs modeled after the Dwyer project with federal grants. 

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, was in Albany with other veterans groups in March urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the Dwyer program, and he said the new bill is a great opportunity to expand these resources to other veterans throughout
the country. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well,” he said.

The main goal of the Dwyer project, which is currently overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

The commander of the VFW Post is glad the funds were restored as part of the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and in April stopped by the office of state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) to thank him for his support for the Dwyer program. The veteran group presented the senator with a framed picture of the famous photograph of Dwyer helping an ailing Iraqi child. 

“I support anyone who supports veterans, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat,” Cognitore said. “It is gratifying that we were able to do that, and we have officials that are doing the right thing.”

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008.

County officials joined Legislators Sarah Anker and Kara Hahn and County Executive Steve Bellone in announcing new changes to Cathedral Pines County Park. Photo by David Luces

County to increase accessibility options

As the weather begins to improve and with summer just around the corner, residents may begin to enjoy Suffolk County-owned parks. With their minds on attracting nature tourism, county officials came together April 26 to announce the start of a $5 million multiyear modernization project at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island. 

“We are announcing our next phase of the Stay Suffolk campaign, where we are encouraging our residents to stay local,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We want them to enjoy the things that we have here particularly in the summertime.” 

The renovation project is part of an effort to promote Suffolk County parks, local tourism and highlight popular destinations, as well as regional attractions. 

The first phase of the project will be a restoration of some of the park’s most used areas. Roads will be widened and realigned to reduce congestion, while areas are planned to be reconfigured to accommodate 74 additional campsites. All sites will be outfitted with concrete paved picnic table pads, barbecue grills, fire rings, a Wi-Fi system, water and electricity. 

Additionally, the renovations will create a designated recreation area away from the current campsites in the center of the park, where visitors can have oversight over children without disturbing other campers. 

“When we invest in our parks, it improves our quality of life,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the chair of the Legislature’s parks committee, said.

“This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

— Kara Hahn

In 2012, the county had an analysis and study done on the park to develop a master plan, which has led to the $5 million expansion.

A playground will be converted into additional visitor parking, while the county would create a new children’s playground located adjacent to the activity building. New projects also include a new picnic pavilion area, additional picnic tables and grills, bathhouses with upgraded showers that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility, five new horseshoe courts, two new boccie courts and a new sand volleyball court. The final phase of the plan is to create a new drive-up check-in station for campers to streamline the check-in process and updates to sanitary systems and the installation of a new central dump station with tanks to store sanitary waste from the bathhouses.

Hahn added that the project will go a long way in providing the necessary activities for residents to take a vacation locally.  

“There are so many spectacular spots available for hiking, camping and biking,” she said. “This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

Cathedral Pines consist of 320 acres of parkland located along the headwaters of the Carmans River and is one of 10 Suffolk County parks that offer overnight camping and possesses a 6-mile mountain bike trail system.  

The county has also announced new accessibility options at other county-owned parks.

Handicap-accessible golf carts will be available at West Sayville Golf Course for free for disabled veterans. Wheelchair-accessible beach chairs will be available at the Cupsogue, Meschutt and Smith Point beaches. Patrons can call the beaches in advance to have the wheelchairs ready upon their arrival. Mobility mats will be rolled out this summer at Smith Point to make it accessible for wheelchair users, elderly and families traveling with children.  

“I’m a part of the senior committee and I hear a lot of complaints that some residents are not able to come to our parks because it’s not accessible,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “So now moving forward we are investing in this very important issue.”

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Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) during a press conference about an alleged sex trafficking operation in Sound Beach. Photo from DA's office.

A Sound Beach man was indicted for allegedly conducting a human trafficking ring out of his parents’ house since at least 2014.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and the Suffolk County Police Department said Raymond Rodio III, 47, allegedly operated a sex trafficking ring of over 20 women by luring them with the promise of crack cocaine and heroin, and then using that addiction as leverage against them. The man also allegedly kept the women in horrible conditions in his parents’ basement for long stretches of time.

“This is a dangerous and depraved individual,” Sini said in a release. “He kept women locked up in the basement of his parents’ house, using the basement as a dungeon. He preyed on women using their vulnerabilities and their drug dependencies to maintain his control over them. With this indictment, we are putting an end to his criminal operation and his victimization of over 20 women.”

In August 2018, the Suffolk County Police Department identified a suspected victim of human trafficking during a routine traffic stop. An investigation by the Police Department’s Human Trafficking Investigations Unit revealed evidence that the victim had allegedly been forced into sex trafficking by Rodio in the spring of 2018.

Further investigation by county police and the DA’s human trafficking sections revealed Rodio was allegedly trafficking women out of the basement of his parents’ residence, located on Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, since 2014. The investigation identified more than 20 victims of Rodio’s alleged sex trafficking operation. Rodio was arrested March 18.

Rodio would allegedly post advertisements on websites, including Backpage and Craigslist, promoting prostitution by the victims and would keep either a large percentage or all of the profits of their prostitution, according to the district attorney’s office.

“This man preyed on vulnerable women, using threats and drugs to manipulate them for his own financial gain,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said.

The district attorney’s office said the investigation also revealed evidence Rodio would allegedly occasionally keep victims in the basement for extended periods of time and force them to use a bucket as a toilet because the basement does not have a bathroom. The door to the basement has an exterior lock to which Rodio had the only key. In addition to the house, Rodio also allegedly forced the victims to perform prostitution at various motels throughout Suffolk County.

Rodio is alleged to have used threats of violence to force victims to continue engaging in prostitution on his behalf. He also allegedly provided his victims with heroin and crack cocaine before prostituting them to impair their judgment.

“This creates a vicious cycle that is extremely difficult for victims to break,” Sini said. “That is precisely why my office and the Suffolk County Police Department have shifted the paradigm in how we deal with these cases. We treat the women as victims, because they are.”

Rodio has been charged with seven counts of sex trafficking, a B felony, one count of sex trafficking, a B violent felony, one count of promoting prostitution in the second degree, a C felony, one count of promoting prostitution in the thirddDegree, a D felony, and four counts of promoting prostitution in the fourth degree, an A misdemeanor. If convicted of the top count, Rodio faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

In addition to the sex trafficking charges, the Suffolk County Police Department’s Narcotics Section, in conjunction with the Human Trafficking Investigations Unit, began a subsequent investigation into alleged drug dealing by Rodio. The investigation resulted in Rodio being indicted by the District Attorney’s Office on March 22 and charged with five counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, a B felony.

Rodio was arraigned on the indictment in connection with the alleged human trafficking operation today by Suffolk County Acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho. Bail was set at $1 million cash or $2 million bond. He is due back in court May 21.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Daniel Cronin, of the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau’s Human Trafficking Team.

County officials at Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place announce free park access. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County legislators announced April 16 all county residents will have free access to all county parks April 20 through April 28.

Parks Appreciation Week will coincide with National Parks Week, which promotes free access to all federally-owned parks.

Normally residents require the county parks Green Key Card, which charges $30 for a three-year pass; otherwise they would have to pay a parking fee. During the week the county will have no admission required.

“We have this luscious, beautiful woodland that we can enjoy,” said legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

During the week, Suffolk officials are also promoting a number of programs in many county parks.

For more information, go to Suffolk County’s parks website at https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/Parks  or call Suffolk County Parks Department at 631-854-4949.

Here are some of the events going on during the week:
  • St. James General Store –New Spring Displays and old fashioned items available at the store. The St. James General Store is an historic and is a National Historic Landmark has been in continuous operation since it was built in 1857 by Ebenezer Smith. It held St James’ first post office. It is considered to be the most authentic general store in the United States.
  • Long Island Maritime Museum is hosting fun Spring Break Classes for Children April 22-26
  • The Seatuck Environmental Association (550 South Bay Ave Islip, New York 11751)  is hosting their The 10th Annual Eco-Carnival Saturday, April 27, 2019 A full day of educational family fun featuring nature programs , live animals, music, art and food to celebrate Earth Day 2019
  • Vanderbilt Museum will be hosting its annual Bunny Fest, located at 80 Little Neck Road in Centerport Saturday, April 20
  • The Vanderbilt Museum’s Spring Creative Workshops for Children (180 Little Neck Road) Centerport, April 22-26 offering a different program each day
  • Versatile Steel Silk Band Returns to Planetarium (180 Little Neck Road) April 27 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
  • North Fork Environmental Council  is hosting a 5K Walk/Run –  Help “Save What’s Left” April 28. Indian Island Proceeds will be used to fund the 2019 NFEC Scholarship Fund. This fund will give two scholarships to high school seniors that plan to pursue environmental.
  • DEC Free Fishing at Southaven Park April 23 10am-12pm. In this fishing event participants can fish for free, where they supply all bait, rods, and tackle for free, no freshwater fishing license necessary. In addition to fishing, participants can learn about fish identification, fishing equipment and techniques, angling ethics and aquatic ecology.
  • Long Island Greenbelt is holding its STUMP POND CIRCULAR “CHOCOLATE” HIKE April 25 at 9:00 AM – 5.7 miles – moderate – varied – Info Nancy B., 631-682-0035. Hike around the 120-acre pond in Blydenburgh Park: bring drinks and snack: rain or shine, although extreme weather cancels; meet at the south entrance of Blydenburgh County Park, opposite the County Offices on NY 347 in the parking lot just east (above) the entrance booth; enjoy a chocolate snack when over.
  • Long Island Greenbelt LAKELAND County Park TO WESTBROOK: April 27 9:00 AM – 6 miles – moderate – flat – Info: Tom or Sherri, 631-567-9484. See Honeysuckle Pond, the Connetquot River, historic hatchery and mill and more on a walk-through Lakeland County Park and Connetquot River State Park Preserve; rain cancels; bring water; meet at Westbrook sports complex; from So. St. Pkwy. Exit 45E, follow Montauk Hwy. east over LIRR bridge to an immediate left onto Wheeler Rd.; park at bottom of hill.
  • Long Island Greenbelt San Souci Stroll April 28 10:00 AM – 4 miles – moderate – mostly flat – Info: Kathie, 631-682-5133.    We will explore two trails in the pine barrens of this county park in Sayville; heavy rain cancels; meet at park entrance on Broadway Avenue turn left to park; parking is limited; overflow parking on Broadway Ave. or side street opposite entrance.
  • Long Island Beach Buggy Association Beach clean-up of Smith Point County Park on April 27
  • Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center at Munns County Park Nanny Class. Learn how to assist our hospital staff in feeding the orphaned babies this Spring in this class. No experience necessary. We will train you. Commit to a minimum of 3 hours per week. Ages 16 and over. Call 631-728-WILD(9453) to register
  • North Fork Audubon-Earth Day and Get To Know Your Local County Park Saturday April 20 at 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Inlet Pond County Park 64795 County Rd 48 Greenport Celebrate Earth Day and “Get To Know Your Local County Park Day” with The North Fork Audubon Society at Inlet Pond County Park.  The Nature Center will be open and there will 2 guided nature walks at 10 AM and 12 PM respectively. This is a family fun day, so adults and children are welcome. Come discover Inlet Pond County Park and learn about the North fork Audubon Society as well. For more information contact Tom Damiani at (631)-275-3202
  • Sagtikos Manor Earth Day Clean-up Monday April 22 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 677 Montauk Highway West Bay Shore Bring your gardening gloves and weeding tools and we will provide the rest.
  • Nissequogue River and Kayak Rentals open for Paul T. Given County Park, Smithtown call for tide and rental information 631-979-8422.
  • Scout Stewardship Day at SCMELC Mon 4/22/19 Hours 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Calling all scout troops. Join us for a celebration of Earth Day to learn about and get directly involved with the restoration and stewardship efforts of CCE’s Marine Program. Projects will include eelgrass restoration, shellfish population enhancement, a beach clean-up and more!
  • This program is intended for scouts ages 6-18 with their leaders. All children must be accompanied by an adult, this is not a drop-off event. Advanced registration REQUIRED via Eventbrite Fee $10/person
  • Blydenburgh Rowboat rentals available daily 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Southaven Rowboat rentals available daily 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn holds up straws during Legislature's meeting. Photo from the Suffolk County Legislature Facebook

Several businesses have already converted to renewable products

Come January next year, Suffolk residents will likely be slurping down their iced coffees using paper straws, instead of the usual plastic.

As Suffolk lawmakers passed bills aimed at reducing plastic and polystyrene waste in the county April 9, food business owners will need to begin the process of adjusting to the new restrictions on plastic straws and polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam, food service products. 

As per the new bill, food establishments would be required to provide straws and stirrers by request only, and they would have to be biodegradable — not plastic. For customers with a disability or medical condition, plastic straws will be made available by request.  

“The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”

— Kara Hahn

“The scale of the worldwide single-use plastics problem has become an ever-increasing threat to our environment and everything that relies on it, including human health,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”

Some businesses in Suffolk County have already made the switch over to biodegradable options. Local’s Cafe in Port Jeff doesn’t use plastic straws and stirrers, and only uses paper goods, while Soul Brew in St. James said they switched over to paper goods at the end of last summer.  

Constantinos Drepaniotis, co-owner of the Setauket Village Diner, said he and others have advocated for the environment and said the bans are quite a big step in right direction. 

Drepaniotis’ diner hasn’t used Styrofoam food service products for close to two years and has begun reaching out to vendors for plastic straw alternatives. He has considered distributing reusable straws to his customers as well. 

While the price of these alternatives has concerned business owners, the restaurant owner said it is business’ responsibility to be proactive and help in this environmental cause. The owner said he will not let the cost affect the business and it will adapt. 

The Styrofoam bill would bar businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products, though the bill would exempt items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood and poultry. Changes would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States. 

“[Styrene has] recently been upgraded from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen — a cancer causing chemical,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said at a Feb. 13 press conference advocating for the bills. “Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.”

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world’s oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

An employee from Tiger Lily Café in Port Jefferson said she dislikes plastic straws and hopes the new ban will potentially get people to bring their own reusable straws, mentioning that it is very expensive right now to purchase biodegradable alternatives, like paper straws. 

While acknowledging the ban would be good for the environment, she said the cost is something a lot of entrepreneurs will have to deal with. The employee also hopes as the demands for these paper goods increase eventually the prices will go down and manufacturers will make it more cost effective. 

Other businesses have been using alternatives to polystyrene containers. Setauket Pita House said it doesn’t use Styrofoam food containers and currently uses aluminum foil containers.   

Officials also passed a third bill that would prohibit the sale of single-use plastic cups, utensils and beverage straws from county beaches and parks. 

Last month, the Legislature approved a companion bill that would replace existing water fountains with new ones designed to allow bottle filling at county facilities and county-owned parks that have water dispensers. 

The bills will now go to the county executive’s office to be signed into law.