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Water

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pitches the proposal. Photo from Steve Bellone

Voters in Suffolk County could soon be faced with deciding whether or not they’d like to pay more for their water to improve its quality.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought a big crew of environmentalists and lawmakers with him on Monday to announce his plan to address nitrogen pollution in drinking and surface water across the region by charging an additional $1 per 1,000 gallons of water. If it receives the state’s blessing, the plan could go before Suffolk County residents in a referendum vote in November.

The proposal would establish what Bellone called a water quality protection fee, which would fund the conversion of homes from outdated septic systems to active treatment systems, the county executive said. He estimated the $1 surcharge would generate roughly $75 million in revenue each year to be solely dedicated to reducing nitrogen pollution — and still keep Suffolk County’s water rates nearly 40 percent lower than the national average.

“What we have seen over the decades is a decimation of our surface waters and the latest numbers showing disturbing trends in the groundwater,” Bellone said. “Clearly, the overwhelming source of that nitrogen pollution is from us. We have 360,000 homes on old septic and cesspool systems.”

Bellone said the proposal would supplement similar efforts from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who established a $383 million investment in expanding sewers in Suffolk County. The governor launched the Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University and provided funding for the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan over the past several years to help create recurring revenue for clean water infrastructure.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, endorsed the county proposal as Suffolk County rising to the occasion. He referred to nitrogen as the chief culprit behind the county’s water pollution, coming mostly from wastewater.

“If we don’t take this step, we are putting our collective future at serious risk.”

“Two-thirds of it in Suffolk County is coming from 360,000 homes with 5,000-year-old technology,” he said Monday. “We know what to do about it. We’ve studied it. The public is satisfied that … investment had to be made in studying it. Now it’s time for action.”

Roughly 90 percent of the population in Nassau County operates under an active wastewater treatment system through connections to sewage plants. But in Suffolk County, there are more than 360,000 individual cesspools and septic systems — representing more unsewered homes than in the entire state of New Jersey — that are more likely to release nitrogen into the ground and surface water.

Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association, said the initiative was necessary for the future of the environment.

“It is about building a wastewater treatment system that ensures the environmental integrity of our county, the underlying foundation of our economy and the value of our homes,” he said. “The Long Island Contractors’ Association supports this proposal because if we don’t take this step, we are putting our collective future at serious risk. It is as simple, and crucial, as that.”

The state must authorize the proposal in order for it to be placed on a ballot in November.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) — a known environmental activist — said the measure would do wonders for the state’s water supply.

“We’re really looking at an opportunity to correct some deficiencies that could, if left uncorrected, unhinge our economy, which is based upon people bathing and recreating in our coastal waters, fishing and otherwise enjoying our waters,” he said. “For the first time, we are pulling a program together that integrates both our fresh water and saltwater in one protection initiative, and that is very significant.”

The Town of Brookhaven held a public hearing last Thursday night before adopting a low-nitrogen zone for various properties 500 feet from major water bodies, like Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors, requiring all new development or expansions to install low-nitrogen septic systems rather than standard cesspools. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) endorsed the county plan as well for not only increasing the momentum away from nitrogen pollution, but also for providing voters with the choice.

“I applaud County Executive Bellone for his leadership in advancing this plan to restore water quality across this county and, more importantly, for proposing that the people of Suffolk decide whether the plan should be implemented,” he said. “Though some may disagree with it, no other elected official has offered a plan to reverse nitrogen pollution on this scale.”

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.

'Cutchogue Barn’ by George Gough

Update, Feb. 11, 1:10 p.m.: According to the Huntington Arts Council, the opening reception scheduled for Feb. 5, originally postponed due to snow conditions, has been moved to Friday, Feb. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Main Street Gallery.

The Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery will present its latest exhibit titled “Earth, Air and Water: A Celebration of Tri-State Wildlife and Nature” from Feb. 5 to 27. An opening reception will be held on Feb. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

‘Osprey in the Rain’ by Tom Reichert
‘Osprey in the Rain’ by Tom Reichert

Participating artists in the juried photography show include Talia Amorosano, Irene Andreadis, Debra Baer, Amy Bisagni, Holly Black, Winifred Boyd, Laura Rittenhouse Burke, Terry Canavan, Dorothy M. Chanin, Tom Colligan, Joseph Cutolo, Leonard Digiovanna, Jessie Edelstein, Monica Friedrich, Jay Gammill, Shannon Gannon, Susan Geffken Burton, Phyllis Goodfriend, George Gough, Jovanna Hopkins, Patrick Keeffe, John Killelea, Susan Kozodoy Silkowitz, Julia Lang-Shapiro, Mark Lefkin, Matthew Levine, Elizabeth Milward, Vera Mingovits, Trish Minogue Collins, Howard Pohl, Tom Reichert, Burt Reminick, Spencer Ross, Max Schauder, Harry Schuessler, Ruth Siegel, Don Thiergard, E. Beth Thomas, Susan Tiffen, Mac Titmus, Pamela Waldroup and Joan Weiss.

The exhibit was judged by Andrew Darlow,  a New Jersey-based photographer and digital imaging consultant whose photography has been exhibited internationally and has been featured in numerous magazines and websites. He has lectured and conducted seminars and workshops around the world. Of the 154 pieces of work submitted, Darlow chose 42 photographs to appear in the show.

‘Crab Meadow Sunset’ by Irene Andreadis
‘Crab Meadow Sunset’ by Irene Andreadis

“Photography is like magic. In a fraction of a second, a moment can be captured that will never be repeated exactly the same way again. This is especially true when our images include wildlife and nature,” said Darlow. “The entries for this show truly showcased the natural beauty and splendor of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In addition to many spectacular images of animals, flowers and breathtaking water scenes, I selected some photographs that include people and man-made structures. This balance between the human and natural worlds fascinates me, and I really look forward to viewing the exhibition on the gallery walls,” he added.

Best in show went to “Crab Meadow Sunset” by Irene Andreadis, and honorable mentions  were “Osprey in the Rain” by Tom Reichert and “Cutchogue Barn” by George Gough. Congratulations!

The Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery is located at 213 Main Street in Huntington. It is open Monday to Friday  from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-271-8423 or visit www.huntingtonarts.org.

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The entrance to Blydenburgh County Park is in Smithtown. File photo

A man trying to rescue his dog from a freezing lake on Saturday morning needed a rescue himself, after falling into chest-deep water, according to police.

The 56-year-old Brooklyn resident was going after Dena the dog, who had gotten loose during a walk and ran onto a frozen lake at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown, the Suffolk County Police Department said. While going after the canine, he fell into the lake himself.

Park rangers as well as officers from the SCPD’s 4th Precinct, Emergency Service Section, Aviation Section and Marine Bureau responded to the park, on Veterans Memorial Highway. Police said Michael Coscia from the Emergency Service Section put on a water rescue suit and crawled onto the ice, while tethered to a rope officers Michael Simpson and Robert Stahl were holding.

After the man was in the water for about 25 minutes, Stahl, Simpson and Sgt. Michael Homan pulled both him and Coscia from the water, police said. The dog walked off the ice.

Police said the Brooklyn man was treated for hypothermia at Stony Brook University Hospital.

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Suffolk County Police Department detectives are investigating an incident in which a man’s body was found near a sandbar along the Kings Park Bluff. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk County Police pulled a man’s body from the waters at Kings Park Bluff on Saturday.

The county police department responded to an incident during which a car plunged into the Kings Park Bluff waters around 10:40 p.m. on Friday night, authorities said. Marine Bureau divers investigated the scene soon after.

But the following morning, around 7:35 a.m., police received a 911 call reporting a body on a sandbar in the river.

Marine Bureau divers once again responded and recovered the body of an adult male. Police described the man’s location as “a distance away” from where the vehicle went into the water.

It was unclear if police knew the man’s identity, and it was not immediately known that it was his vehicle in the water.

The vehicle was removed from the water on Monday and the incident was classified as noncriminal, police said.

The county’s Homicide Squad detectives were still investigating the incident.

The Town of Brookhaven and Highway Department are examining the sources of Setauket Harbor’s poor water quality through an extensive study by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said it’s time to wake up when it comes to Long Island’s water.

Up until 10 years ago, Brookhaven residents could gather clams and oysters from bodies of water like the Setauket Harbor. But that’s not the case now, according to the Supervisor, who remarked on the closing of Mount Sinai Harbor for shell fishing.

“If that isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is,” Romaine said.

In light of Brookhaven’s declining water quality, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, the supervisor announced that the Town of Brookhaven would take on a study that will help officials pinpoint the sources of water contamination, starting with the Setauket Harbor. Romaine said the harbor was small enough for the town to examine and clean once they receive the results next year.

Romaine said the town planned on looking at the pipes leading to the harbor, road runoff, and all drains that run to the harbor. In response to this, the town hired Cornell Cooperative Extension to conduct this study and to use DNA testing to help identify the sources of water pollution.

While high levels of nitrogen were identified in the water, Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said nitrogen could come from various sources, including leaching from underground septic systems, wild and domesticated animal feces and fertilizers, among other sources.

Last year, Losquadro said his department finished reconstructing the sea wall along Shore Road in Setauket by removing the concrete slabs that were used in the past to construct the wall. He added that the concrete released chemicals into the water, which further affected the water quality.

Town officials said they intended to continue the study across multiple seasons, especially in the winter months, when people use fewer fertilizers and when less wild and domestic animals are out and about.

Setauket Harbor and Mount Sinai Harbor, which includes Cedar Beach, are two of several impacted waterways on the Island. According to Romaine, Moriches Bay and the Great South Bay are also impacted.

“I’m greatly concerned because each year the waterways surrounding Brookhaven Town and Long Island have been declining,” Romaine said. “Many of our harbors and parts of out tributaries are considered impaired.”

Neither the town nor the highway department will know how much cleaning Setauket Harbor’s waters will cost until after Cornell Cooperative Extension conducts its study, Romaine said. The hope is that they will identify the sources of contamination before the town’s 2017 budget is approved.

The town isn’t only working with Losquadro, but also with members of the Setauket Harbor Task force led by George Hoffman, Moriches Bay Project and Friends of Bellport Bay.

Romaine also added that those who settled on the Island would not be impressed with Long Island’s declining water quality.

“The town was founded in 1655 [and] it was Setauket Harbor that the settlers … came to start the first European settlement in Brookhaven Town,” Romaine said. “I’m sure if they were here today, they would weep at the fact that the waters are so impaired — you can’t eat any of the shellfish from the water.”

Local shellfish, like oysters and clams, are harvested on the North Shore. File photo

Citing recent bacteriological surveys, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced emergency regulations to change the designation of underwater shellfish lands in Suffolk county. Shellfish harvesting will be closed or limited to particular months in approximately 1,844 acres of bays and harbors in Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold, East Hampton and Oyster Bay, to comply with state and national standards to protect public health.

Through the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, states are required to conduct routine water quality sampling in shellfish harvesting areas. Failure by a state to comply with these national water quality-monitoring protocols could lead to a prohibition of the sale of shellfish products in interstate commerce.

The DEC’s analyses of water quality in these areas showed increased levels of fecal coliform bacteria. The increased bacteria indicates that shellfish harvested from these areas have the potential to cause human illness if consumed.

Bacteria can enter the waters from a variety of human, animal, cesspool and storm water sources. The DEC is working with local governments in Suffolk County on major projects to improve water quality in the region, an effort that will reduce discharges of bacteria and nitrogen. The DEC will work with partners to track down the bacteria sources and oversee mandated local efforts to address illicit discharges of sewage into storm sewer systems, while also continuing to evaluate sources of bacteria in an effort to resolve the issue.

The DEC’s emergency regulations will change the designation of the affected shellfish areas to “uncertified,” or closed, for the harvest of clams, mussels, oysters and scallops, either year-round or seasonally.

In Mount Sinai Harbor in Brookhaven Town, approximately 200 acres will be reclassified as closed for the harvest of shellfish during the period May 1 to Oct. 31.

In Stony Brook Harbor, approximately 300 acres shall be reclassified as closed from May 15 through Oct. 31, to closed instead from May 1 through Dec. 31, for the harvest of shellfish.

In Cold Spring Harbor, approximately 99 acres shall be designated as closed during from May 1 through Oct. 15, for the harvest of shellfish.

For more information about shellfish safety and New York’s role in the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, visit the DEC’s website. The emergency regulations adopting the changes are effective immediately. Additional information may also be obtained by contacting the DEC’s Shellfisheries office at (631) 444-0492.

Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Old Mill Creek is almost back to its old self.

Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up, enticing a duck to swim in it Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up, enticing a duck to swim in it Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Restoration work on the troubled waterway in downtown Port Jefferson is nearing completion, and its look has drastically changed. Previously choked with vegetation, the sloped banks of Old Mill Creek have been cleared out and replaced with native freshwater plants, and Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. has added rock supports.

“These are the exact type of plants that belong along a freshwater stream like this,” village Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what it looks like next spring.”

The project, which began earlier this year, is geared toward improving water quality in the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor. Work included removing built-up sediment that was impeding water flow; installing water filters; and repairing a blocked pipe that channels the creek underneath Barnum Avenue but in recent years had caused flooding during high tides and storms.

Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez
Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez

Water quality is important at Old Mill Creek because it affects the health of the harbor. But over the years the creek has been battered by invasive plants, flooding and pollution. The former Lawrence Aviation Industries, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, was the site of illegal dumping for many years and the hazardous chemicals traveled down-gradient through the soil and groundwater, with some of it seeping into Old Mill Creek.

The village’s restoration project includes filtration, and D’Abramo said one of the final steps to completing the work is installing a catch basin along Barnum Avenue to collect stormwater runoff before it rushes into the waterway.

Old Mill Creek starts on the west side of the village, near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and streams under Barnum. When it emerges on the other side, it goes past Village Hall and turns north, running under West Broadway and into the harbor.

D’Abramo expects the restoration to be completed before the end of this year. In addition to installing the catch basin, the contractor is also replacing a brick walkway along the side of the creek.

A 28-foot female humpback whale was spotted floating in Lloyd Harbor on Saturday morning. Photo by A.J. Carter

A dead female 28-foot humpback whale was found floating in Lloyd Harbor over the weekend.It is the seventh large-sized whale to have washed up in New York this year — five of which were humpback whales, according to Rachel Bosworth, a spokesperson for the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation foundation. And it could have been one of several spotted swimming in Hempstead Harbor recently, she said. The foundation is a nonprofit that operates the New York State Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

The whale died of blunt force trauma, a necropsy performed by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation revealed on Sunday.

“A cause of death has not been determined as of now but they’re going to continue an investigation to see if this is also one of the whales spotted swimming in Hempstead Harbor,” Bosworth said.

The animal was spotted 150 yards offshore Woodland Drive in Lloyd Harbor on Saturday morning. Town spokesman A.J. Carter said a resident called at about 10:30 to 11 a.m. reporting a “whale in distress.” The town harbormaster’s office responded and worked with the foundation, along with the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Eatons Neck.

Town officials towed the large animal over to the U.S. Coast Guard Station, where the necropsy was conducted. It’s general rule of thumb that a whale weighs a foot per ton, so the animal weighed about 28 tons, according to Bosworth.

“The biologists, interns, and volunteers from the Riverhead foundation completed an external and internal exam to document the whale, and also determine a possible cause of death,” Bosworth said in a statement describing the incident. “There is evidence of blunt force trauma on the right side of the whale’s body.”

By “blunt force trauma,” that could mean a large vessel that struck the whale, Bosworth said. But because of where the whale washed up, officials aren’t exactly sure that’s what caused the whale’s death — because the area it was spotted floating in doesn’t really have those kinds of vessels, she said.

Lately the foundation’s gotten calls, photos and videos from members of the public who’ve been spotting whales further west on Long Island — in the eastern Nassau/western Suffolk region, she said. The foundation had been monitoring reports of three humpback whales swimming in Hempstead Harbor and Bosworth said officials are looking into whether this female whale was one of them.

“We’ve been seeing a lot more activity and we think one of the main reasons is there’s a larger food source out here right now,” she said.

It’s not rare for whales to be in New York waters. It might just be that more people are out on the water and seeing them.

Last year’s whale figures pale in comparison to this year. Last year, two large whales were “stranded” in New York — meaning they washed up either dead or alive. There was a third in New Jersey that the foundation assisted with, but it doesn’t count towards New York numbers.

The foundation advises that it’s important for the public to remain at a minimum of 50 yards away from all marine animals, for the safety of the public and the animals. All sightings should be reported to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation by calling the group’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 369-9829. Photos and videos are also very helpful for the foundation to identify and document animals, and can be emailed to sightings@riverheadfoundation.org.

Brookhaven officials flood county public works offices with hopes of addressing water quality on North Shore

The creek flowing from Stony Brook Mill Pond, above, and into the Stony Brook Harbor is collecting sediment, making it difficult to use the body of water. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Just as the Town of Brookhaven officials are fighting to improve the Long Island Sound’s water quality, officials have also recently taken steps to combat the buildup of sediment deposits in Stony Brook Harbor.

According to a press release, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) wrote a letter to the Suffolk County Commissioner of Public Works Gil Anderson on Sept. 14 urging the county to include a navigational channel to the “Stony Brook Boat Works” property. The channel will end south of Brookhaven’s “kayak/canoe launch.”

Officials noted that the creek, which flows from Stony Brook Mill Pond into the Stony Brook Harbor, has accumulated sediment deposits over the years, which is restricting tidal flow in that area. The growth of Phragmites, a common grass found in wetlands, has largely contributed to the sediment deposits. Romaine said the water is shallow in that area and it is difficult for the anchored boats at the Stony Brook Yacht Club to navigate the body of water during low tide.

“[The town] raised this issue because we think it should be examined,” Romaine said. “We think that the boaters particularly in the yacht club should have the ability to use the recreational waterways. We also think it would help [tidal flushing] for that creek.”

Romaine also said even if the project is approved, dredging the body of water depends on the amount of money available to execute the project. Once approved, the town will have to handle how and where the sediment is disposed. Romaine said hydraulic dredges, which dredge spoils and pump them half a mile away, and dewatering sites among others are ways the town can dispose of the dredge spoils.

In a press release, Romaine asked for the Stony Brook Task Force and Legislature Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) to support his position on the issue. Although Romaine submitted the letter to the county, it’s unclear when or if the Dredge Committee will accept the modified project, as the committee doesn’t meet regularly and is working on other dredging projects.

“It will take some time before the county addresses this. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Romaine said in a phone interview. “This may not be their first priority but [the town] put the request in and we’re hopeful that it will get some attention.”

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