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Water Quality

Lawyer Edward Flood is challenging incumbent Kara Hahn for the county legislator seat in the 5th district. Photos by Desiree Keegan.

By Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fourth term Nov. 7. Challenging her is Republican Edward Flood of South Setauket. A lawyer with offices in Smithtown and Port Jefferson, he is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

Hahn and Flood sat down at the Times Beacon Record News Media office in October to discuss their stances on various issues, with the county’s growing debt and poor credit rating serving as a backdrop.

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said she has worked on a water quality program that helps homeowners obtain grants up to $11,000 to replace their outdated septic systems or cesspools with advanced wastewater technologies, which are designed to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution. Hahn said older septic systems create nitrogen issues in local waterways since they don’t remove the chemical and can leave between 55 and 80 parts of nitrogen per million — drinking water is acceptable at 10 parts per million.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises.”

— Edward Flood

“It degrades our resilience — coastal resiliency — by degrading our marshlands, the nitrogen in the water actually hurts the grasses that grow and protect us and as an island that’s important,” Hahn said.

She said the county secured grants for $6 million over three years for which homeowners can apply.

“I’m fully supportive of that project; it’s just that we have to find ways to pay for it ourselves,” Flood said.

He pointed out the county borrowed $30 million against the sewer stabilization fund and will have to start paying the money back. He said the county needs to work with other levels of government, especially federal, to come up with more money for projects in the future.

Both candidates discussed providing more affordable housing options. Hahn said she is in favor of increasing the percentage of inexpensive options available, which is now 15 to 20 percent, and working with developers to ensure that buildings include more one-bedroom and studio apartments.

Flood said he supports programs where first-time homeowners receive assistance with down payments. He also suggested mandate relief to bring property taxes down by having every organization that receives tax benefits go through their budgets and find state mandates that may not be regionally appropriate.

Flood said to stimulate the county’s economy new businesses need to be attracted to the area. He is supportive of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip building a strip in Suffolk County. He said it is estimated it could bring in $40 million in tax revenues due to concessions, ticket sales and businesses that open around tracks such as high-end motor vehicle parts stores and hotels.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn said she believes a convention center near MacArthur airport, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood or Kings Park would be a boon to the economy because it would bring in off-season visitors.

Flood said the high cost of living and poor economic outlook is his top concern as he has watched friends leave the island for better opportunities. He said the county needs to stem the tide on taxes.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises,” Flood said.

The legislator-hopeful pointed to Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy’s (R) auditing receipts, which led him to discover overpayments to one emergency homeless shelter.

“We have a lot of money that we waste, and not just the way we grant and the way we give out grants, and we’re finding [this] out as we audit,” he said.

Hahn said she feels the county legislators have been responsible budget managers.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments,” Hahn said. “We have done fiscally responsible things to get a handle on it, and when you have a budget of $3 billion and have a structural imbalance over three years of a $150 million, give or take, it’s reasonable,” Hahn said.

The area east of Comsewogue High School and south of Route 112 will be protected under new legislation. Image from Google Maps

A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.

The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.

The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.

“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”

The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.

“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”

Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.

“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”

Task force inspires local governments to join forces

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, sign a memorandum of understanding to protect Setauket Harbor Sept. 23. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Cooperation between members of government, especially from differing political parties, is a scarce natural resource these days, but don’t tell that to leaders from Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and New York State. Setauket Harbor and the surrounding area is set to be the beneficiary of that cooperation, as leaders from each of the three municipalities formed an agreement Sept. 23 aiming to protect the historic and natural resources of the harbor.

“The Parties are committed to conserving, improving, protecting and interpreting Setauket Harbor’s historic and natural resources and environment through preservation of historic sties, wildlife areas and viewsheds to enable appropriate uses of harbor resources,” the agreement read in part. It also stated that preventing, abating and controlling water, land and air pollution will be a part of enhancing the health and safety of the people who live within or visit the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

The agreement is a Memorandum of Understanding, meaning it is not law, but rather a set of guiding principles or a moral commitment to follow in the years ahead.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cosigners of the document, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation and Setauket Harbor Task Force left the agreement open-ended in the hopes that other branches of government and organizations will follow suit. The Setauket Harbor Task Force, a three-year-old community organization dedicated to improving water quality and the marine habitat in the harbor, spearheaded the agreement after finding local levels of government share a common interest in protecting and improving the harbor, though they were working concurrently rather than coordinately in some ways.

The memorandum was signed on a town dock off Shore Road in Setauket as part of the third Setauket Harbor Day, an annual event established by the task force in 2015.

The first mission laid out by the document is to develop a natural and cultural resource inventory of the harbor, which will be a springboard toward creating a management plan designed to achieve the preservation goals of Setauket Harbor and the roughly three-square miles surrounding it, known as the watershed, by acquiring lands within it, preserving historic sites, sharing ideas, engaging in open, ongoing discussions and contributing funds.

“You need to have a starting point and a vision for how all these pieces come together, and I think that’s what’s so great about this designation,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force.

Englebright credited the task force with getting everyone involved and focused on the problems associated with Setauket Harbor, which among others include nitrogen pollution and the presence of coliform bacteria, mostly due to storm water runoff into waterways. The harbor falls within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, which lets out into the Long Island Sound.

In Sept. 2016, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he had secured a $1 million grant from the state to be used on enhancing the quality of the harbor’s waters, and the town dock on Shore Road. Englebright thanked Flanagan for his leadership in bringing issues regarding the harbor to light, but a recent annual study completed by Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences still shows the body of water is an area of concern.

“Some of the parcels we’re trying to protect are very vulnerable,” Englebright said. He added although the agreement is only an understanding and not law, he hopes that will change in the future. “What I’m hoping we can do within the context of a completed plan is that we can revisit that question at the state legislative level and write something that may have broad applicability. I think this whole plan has the potential to be a model.”

Romaine said he was excited for the possible benefits to the environment the agreement could bring, but also for the potential economic benefit of a healthier harbor.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Harbor has been closed to shell fishing for more than 10 years,” he said. “We’d like to see it open up. We’d like to see some of the contaminants eliminated from this harbor so that it can restore itself. It’s very important to the town. I want to thank Steve because he’s done tremendous work, and we’ve worked together as colleagues for more than 35 years.”

Hahn suggested homes in the watershed could be prime candidates for Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program, an initiative that offers funds to homeowners within the county to replace outdated cesspools and septic system, which are major contributors to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The federal government is not currently on board as part of the agreement, though DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek Gallagher said she expects that to change once a plan is in motion. The significance of the collaboration across party lines and municipality lines in lockstep with a community group like the task force was not lost on Cartright.

“This should be a prime example of how government on all levels should work together with the community,” she said.

Kevin McAllister, the founder of the nonprofit Defend H20, said while the agreement is a positive step, it will be largely symbolic if it is not followed up with action, and more importantly, funding.

“Providing greater funding for a host of projects, land acquisition, more protective zoning, denying shoreline hardening permits — these type actions, individually and collectively will define the resolve as put forth in the MOU,” he said in an email.

Englebright implored members of the public and community groups to not only get on board, but to take the additional step of holding elected officials to the terms of the agreement, including those who come after the incumbent lawmakers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local politicians and members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force announce a state grant that will improve water quality. From left, Setauket Harbor Task Force Chairwoman Laurie Vetere, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Setauket Harbor Task Force Co-founder George Hoffman and state Sen. John Flanagan. Photo by Alex Petroski

Advocates for the health of the Setauket Harbor were given an essential resource to aid in efforts to improve water quality in the North Shore port this week.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he secured a $1 million grant from New York State for Brookhaven Town at a press conference Sept. 20 to be used to improve water quality in the harbor.

The announcement came on the heels of a recent water quality study of Setauket Harbor done by Cornell Cooperative Extension and commissioned by Brookhaven, which turned up troubling results. Setauket Harbor is part of the larger Port Jefferson Harbor complex.

“The recent water quality report commissioned by Brookhaven pointed out that Setauket Harbor has significant water quality issues caused mainly by road runoff from rain water flooding into the harbor after storms,” Laurie Vetere, chairwoman for Setauket Harbor Task Force, a volunteer group, said during the press conference.

“It’s clear that the harbor has some serious challenges.”

— George Hoffman

The grant will fund three projects relating to the harbor.

Half of the $1 million will go toward improvements to the dock. Forty percent will be used on storm water infrastructure improvements and the remaining $100,000 will be used to remove silt that has accumulated in the harbor and its water sources.

Nitrogen pollution and coliform bacteria have plagued Setauket Harbor in recent years.

“I don’t think we were surprised — the harbor has been struggling for years,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said in an email. “It has been closed to shell fishing for more than a decade and the main creek leading to the harbor is filled with sediment and not stopping contaminants in storm water from flowing into the harbor … it’s clear that the harbor has some serious challenges.”

Restrictions were placed on shell fishing in other Long Island waterways by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2015 because of water quality concerns.

Flanagan said the grant should be a step in the right direction to improve the harbor’s waters.

“Long Islanders are blessed with access to magnificent waterways like Setauket Harbor,” he said during the press conference. “That’s why it is important that all levels of government work together to preserve and protect these fragile ecosystems. This state funding will help support critical improvement projects to restore and revitalize this beautiful natural resource and it is my pleasure to partner with [Brookhaven Town Supervisor] Ed Romaine, the Town of Brookhaven and Setauket Harbor Task Force to help bring this project to reality.”

Flanagan, who is up for reelection in November, said in an interview following the press conference that environmental issues are an “A-1 priority” to his constituents.

“They deeply care about the environment,” he said. “I have a lot of coastal property in the district I’m fortunate enough to represent … it’s all important stuff.”

Romaine (R) has been an advocate for legislation to improve Long Island’s water quality for decades. In June, the town approved a law proposed by Romaine that prohibits structures being built within 500 feet of any Long Island waters from having cesspools or septic systems.

“I thank Sen. Flanagan for his strong advocacy on behalf of the Town to help us get started on improving the water quality in Setauket Harbor and the watershed that surrounds it,” Romaine said. “By acting now, I believe we can prevent further contamination, reverse the damage that has already been done and begin to restore this beautiful natural resource back to a healthy and environmentally sound waterway.”

It’s not hard to find dirty spots in our local waters. Photo by Elana Glowatz

There’s no time to waste.

Actually that’s not true — Suffolk County residents have plenty of time to add our own waste to our water supply, and we do it every day.

That’s why it bothers us that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposal to charge a $1 water quality protection fee for every 1,000 gallons of water that homes and businesses use will not be on the ballot for voter approval this November.

He has estimated it would generate roughly $75 million each year toward the environmental cause. Normally, new taxes and fees bother us even more, but these dollars would not be just thrown into the general fund. The plan was to put the money toward expanding sewer systems in Suffolk County — a dire need — and reducing the nitrogen pollution in the water we drink and in which different species live.

Much of Suffolk relies on cesspools and septic systems that can leak nitrogen from our waste into the ground. Nitrogen is in the air and water naturally, but high levels are dangerous. One harmful side effect of nitrogen is increased algae growth, which decreases the water’s oxygen supply that fish and other creatures need to live and produces toxins and bacteria that are harmful to humans.

According to Bellone’s administration, state lawmakers would not get on board with the idea to put his water surcharge on the ballot so the voters could make the final decision. Officials said more time was needed before the proposal was brought to a vote.

On the county level, Republican lawmakers also stood strongly against the proposal.

Most people use 80-100 gallons of water each day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, so some people may have had to pay up to an extra $37 a year under the fee proposal. Big whoop — if it could help us stop poisoning ourselves and the rest of the ecosystem, we’ll pay up.

We’re disappointed this measure won’t be on the ballot this year. But it could be an opportunity for Bellone to show some leadership by making sure progress is made before 2017. Instead of worrying about being disliked for adding $37 to residents’ water bills each year, he should just take the tough action and enact the surcharge. We’ve already waited too long to get rid of our cesspools. Let’s not waste any more time and water.

The town is taking steps to reduce the amount of nitrogen in its groundwater. File photo

The quality of the water on Long Island is worsening, and the Town of Brookhaven took an important step to reverse that trend.

The town board voted unanimously to approve a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) that establishes nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones will prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems, effective in January 2017.

“We’ve all watched our waters degrade over the last 50 years,” Romaine said after the vote at a town board meeting held on June 9. “We all know part of the problem is nitrogen.”

Romaine has long been an advocate for improving the island’s water quality on the town and county levels. He addressed the problem at his State of the Town address in March.

“Nitrogen from our sanitary systems, our lawns, our golf courses and our farms is impacting our bays and harbors, our freshwater lakes and streams and our drinking water,” he said. “The solutions to this problem are neither easy nor cheap. But doing nothing is not an option; we must act now. Our future depends on us addressing this problem.”

Representatives from three nonprofit organizations focusing on water quality spoke in support of the law last Thursday.

“I’d like to congratulate you guys and commend you again on your environmental leadership,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “It’s timely. It’s needed and I’m glad that you’re moving forward with it because there just seems to be a lot of stuff going on with harbors and waters and nitrogen but nothing seems to be getting done. So this is a good thing to see that you’re actually seeing it through and that there will be an ordinance here that will start to change what’s going on in our waters.”

Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O and Doug Swesty of the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition also spoke in strong support of the law.

“It’s critical that you do this because of the glaciated terrain in which we live on here in Long Island, that 500 feet represents approximately two years of travel time from the time something enters a cesspool or septic tank within a 500-foot radius until it reaches the water body,” Swesty said. “Groundwater travel times here are about two to three feet a day. So it’s critical that we implement something to protect our waterways from discharges that are put into the groundwater.”

According to the town’s website, there has been a 93 percent decline in Great South Bay clam harvests as a result of brown tides, which are brought about by nitrogen seepage. The island’s bay scallop industry has collapsed almost entirely due to nitrogen-caused algal blooms. These issues are in addition to the overall decreasing quality of Long Island’s water.

The law will have an added provision protecting homeowners who incur damage thanks to a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, allowing them other options should requiring the purchase of a new system be a source of financial hardship.

Third District Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), who is in favor of that protection, supports the law as a whole.

“I think it’s a great goal we’ve set for the town and for other towns as well,” he said.

East Beach in Port Jefferson is on the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Giselle Barkley

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got more than it bargained for at a North Shore library earlier this month when concerned residents showed up to oppose a plan that would allow dumping of dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound for the next 30 years.

EPA officials had finalized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed open water dredging plan in January, and had set the public hearing at the Port Jefferson Free Library to get input on possible rules and regulations for the 30-year plan, which calls for the Army Corps of Engineers to dump upward of 50 cubic yards of dredge material from Connecticut waterways into the Long Island Sound.

The group has practices this type of dumping for years, but has recently faced opposition from environmental advocates.

About 60 community members attended the EPA’s hearing on the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan.

“We’re not offering … specifics in the rulemaking because we’re not going to approve a plan that pollutes the Long Island Sound,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We’ve been having public hearings for 10 years and all of the public input has been unanimously ignored.”

The EPA has said it is open to finding alternative ways to dispose of the spoils, and invited communities to partner with that agency and with the Army Corps to line up resources to explore those other methods and do the investigation.

New York State demanded that the Army Corps reevaluate its disposal process in 2005, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make a public statement regarding the new dredging proposal.

“The Long Island Sound should be protected from adverse activities, rather than have this activity go forward,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

Englebright, the head of the state Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said spoils could instead be used to replenish eroded beaches: “We’re going to need to defend our coastlines and we’re going to need a lot of sediment to do that.”

Esposito had similar ideas at a press conference in February. She suggested the spoils could be used for wetlands and beach restoration and for capping landfills.

County officials like Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were disappointed in the EPA’s support of the plan. “We’ve invested so much [money] in improving the health of the Sound,” she said. “To have them make a decision that flies in the face of all that investment … is very discouraging.”

In a previous interview, Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the agency tests the material before dumping it into the Sound. Highly toxic spoils are not dumped.

But Hoffman said spoils jeopardize the water’s health.

“It’s an estuary of significance, it’s an estuary that’s endangered,” Hahn said.

Adrienne Esposito speaks against a plan to dump dredge spoils in the Sound as county Legislators Sarah Anker, Kara Hahn and Al Krupski look on. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s been about six months and North Shore leaders are still fighting against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to continue dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood alongside fellow county Legislators Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on Tuesday at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to voice their opposition to the plan and ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales to reject the proposal. George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, were also among the leaders who voiced their opposition to the plan.

The Army Corps has dumped dredge spoils into waterways leading to the Sound for decades. Its final proposal, known as the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, was completed on Jan. 11 and suggested dumping 30 to 50 million cubic yards of dredge material cleared out from Connecticut waterways over the course of another 30 years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has supported the Army Corps’ proposal. Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the spoils are tested before being dumped to ensure they meet certain safety standards.

But critics say the state can reject the plan under the federal Clean Water Act.

Dredge dumping has caused toxic chemicals to be dispersed throughout the Sound over the years, affecting the ecosystem and many water-dwelling species, including fish and lobsters.

“If this was private industry doing this, I don’t think they’d go very far,” Krupski said. “They’d probably end up in jail.”

Over the past 11 years, the local government has spent $7 million to address environmental issues in the Sound, a fragile body of water, according to Anker. Some of that went toward creating a Long Island Sound study.

According to Esposito, New York State rejected a similar plan that the Army Corps proposed in 2005, and ordered that group and the EPA to slowly reduce the amount of dredge spoils being dumped into the Sound. She called for the plan to go back to the drawing board.

“We’ve committed so much resources, money, time and energy to protecting this water body,” Hahn said. “And then to just dump potential harmful and toxic waste spoils into our waters is a darn shame.”

Anker agreed, saying that the Sound creates upward of $36 billion of economic value on the Island.

Instead of dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound, Esposito suggested using it to restore wetlands, rebuild beaches and cap landfills, among other methods of disposal.

“The Sound is dying and what they’re trying to do now is bury it in dredge spoil,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said at the press conference.

The local leaders also criticized the EPA for supporting the Army Corps.

“On one hand, they are advancing a nitrogen-reduction plan,” Esposito said. “And on the other, they’re turning a blind eye to the disposal of the large quantities of dredge materials which cause significant nitrogen loading into the Sound.”

A public hearing on the dredging plan will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at the Port Jefferson Free Library, at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. That event runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with registration for public speakers starting at 4:30 p.m.

Left to right, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. John Flanagan discuss the plan. Photo from Cuomo’s office

Keeping the state’s drinking water clean and safe is a subject anyone can get behind, and New York lawmakers across both major parties did just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a series of aggressive water quality initiatives last week in the company of elected officials representing the North Shore in an attempt to better protect public health and the environment. His proposals received great praise from both Democrats and Republicans as a common-sense way to keep New York’s water clean.

“Every New Yorker has a fundamental right to clean and safe drinking water,” Cuomo said. “Water is a priceless resource that requires the highest levels of protection, and I am proud to continue this administration’s legacy of standing up for the environment. We are taking aggressive and proactive steps to ensure clean and healthy communities throughout the state — both for current residents and for generations to come.”

Joining Cuomo at a Stony Brook University discussion on the state’s newest water initiatives were Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and more. At that discussion, Cuomo pitched his statewide water quality rapid response team, which he said would work to identify and develop plans to address critical drinking water contamination concerns as well as groundwater and surface water contamination problems.

“It’s imperative that we all work together at the local, state and federal levels to protect the public health,” Bellone said. “The actions that Governor Cuomo has announced today are demonstrating unequivocally that New York is taking proactive measures to not just meet that standard, but to really raise the bar on the protection of water quality.”

Cuomo said the rapid response team would be working to develop a comprehensive action plan to immediately address water quality issues raised by municipalities and concerned citizens, taking on matters ranging from currently regulated contaminants like lead, to emerging contaminants, like perfluorooctanoic acid. It was a plan that his fellow lawmakers said was easy to get behind.

“We are blessed in New York State and on Long Island to have the availability of high-quality drinking water, but we also have a responsibility to protect it,” Flanagan said. “At the end of the day, nothing is more important to New Yorkers and their families than the air they breathe and the water they drink.”

The team will also review and incorporate the best available science and may include new review standards for currently unregulated contaminants, enhanced testing and oversight of drinking water systems, including private wells, and state-of-the-art drinking water treatment options.

“Creating an agenda to safeguard the quality of Long Island’s water source is great news — not only for the health of New Yorkers — but for the environment as well,” Englebright said. “Governor Cuomo’s work to ensure that every New Yorker has access to safe, clean drinking water is a testament to his commitment to statewide public health. The implementation of a water quality rapid response team is a proactive way to protect the environment from harmful water contamination and keep New Yorkers’ drinking water clean and safe.”

The discussion over drinking water came in the weeks following a horrific drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where officials have been scrambling to combat unsafe and potentially life-threatening water contaminations.

The governor also proposed regulations to be imposed on mulch-processing facilities to safeguard natural resources. Cuomo said the Department of Environmental Conservation would propose for public comment draft regulations for mulch facilities to increase oversight and provide enhanced safeguards. The proposed regulations would require facilities to establish water runoff management plans to protect groundwater and place restrictions on pile size and storage to reduce the risk of fires, odor and dust.

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