Environment & Nature

Photo by Tom Caruso

REFLECTIONS OF AUTUMN

Tom Caruso snapped this peaceful scene at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in his hometown of Smithtown on Nov. 13. He writes, ‘I found that the storms of the past week had blown most of the leaves off the trees, but I found this colorful scene on Willow Pond and couldn’t resist it.

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Photo ©Erica Cirino

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Plastic shapes human identity and speeds up the rate at which we move across the world and through our days, connecting people and allowing us to express who we are to each other. And yet plastic also helps us destroy. Plastic has saved our lives while taking others’ away. Plastic is a miracle. Plastic is a scourge.”

Author Erica Cirino

Erica Cirino’s Thicker Than Water (Island Press) is a frank and pointed examination of one of the most toxic elements of our “throwaway” culture. “Almost every single person alive today uses plastic on a daily basis, most of which is designed for minutes or seconds of use before it no longer serves a designated purpose.” Cirino, a gifted author whose writings have been featured in Scientific American and The Atlantic, has penned a smart, passionate exploration of one of the most troubling and challenging issues. Subtitled “The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis,” the book examines a problem of overwhelming global impact.

The book’s first part focuses on Cirino’s 3,000-mile journey on the S/Y Christianshavn to the Pacific Ocean’s Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Located in the turbulent North Pacific Gyre, this is “the most notoriously plastic polluted stretch of ocean in the world.” And while “the patch” has been described as a “static, floating pile of plastic” (i.e., a “plastic island”), the reality is much graver. “These waters are more akin to a soup to which humanity has added an unknown number of plastic items and pieces. The plastic is commonly suspended right below the surface, pushed just of out sight, constantly and unpredictably stirred by the rolling sea.” Her thesis is clear: While plastic defines our culture, it should not be allowed to determine our future. 

The book features vivid descriptions. Whether depicting a meal or the rescue of a sea turtle from “ghost fishing,” nothing escapes her insight, expressed in often lyrical prose:

“Out at sea, time is not measured in hours or minutes, but by the intensity of the burning sun, the oscillating fade-sparkle-fade of thousands of stars and specks of glowing algae, the size and shape of the moon, the furor or calm of the sea […] The sea can show us what it is in life we need, and what we can live without.”

But the writing never masks the underlying and driving force of the dire situation.

Throughout, Cirino investigates the shift from the historical use of plants and animals to fossil fuels. She traces the involved reliance on the latter and the products created from it. She shares a comprehensive understanding. “Plastic is so permanent because of its structure on the molecular level.” She clarifies both microplastic and the even smaller particles—nanoplastic—and their invasion of the food chain.

The facts are harrowing. “About 40 percent of the plastic used today is actually not even really used by people—instead, as packaging, it covers or holds the foods and goods we purchase and is simply torn off and thrown away so we can access what’s inside.” The flimsy, disposable plastic is tossed, sometimes after a few moments’ use. “In 2015, experts estimated the amount of plastic in the oceans would outweigh fish by the year 2050 […] By 2020, humans had created enough petrochemical-based plastic to outweigh the mass of all marine and land animals combined, by a factor of two.”

And while the material presented is alarming, Cirino is never alarmist, never resorting to sensationalism. Instead, facing such devastating research, she maintains a fair and fairly objective view.

‘Thicker Thank Water’

When on shipboard or in the laboratory, she presents the science to inform and engage the reader. There is a wealth of data from the manufacture of plastics to the associated chemical pollution, from oceans to fresh waters. For example, she depicts the research done on human-ingested plastic with a mannequin that emulates human breathing. Postdoc Alvise Vianello, from Denmark’s Aalborg University, states: “From what we can tell, it’s possible people are breathing in around eleven pieces of microplastic per hour when indoors.”

The third part of the book tackles the frequently ignored environmental racism. Industrial plants are commonly erected in minority communities. Cirino focuses on Welcome, Louisiana, and its environs. The area of Louisiana is home to about one hundred and fifty industrial plants, dubbed Cancer Alley. There is a great deal of corruption surrounding these factories and complexes, with the companies permanently damaging the communities with chemical pollution. Furthermore, often the factories are built on top of presumed burial grounds of enslaved African Americans. This section highlights both environmental and sociological devastation. 

Cirino connects the dots from plastic production to climate change. She has a sense of the irony that the pandemic briefly lowered our carbon footprint. Additionally, as renewable energies rise, fossil fuel corporations—notably big oil and gas—counter the lack of demand by turning ancient carbon stocks into plastic. 

The final section of the book, “Cleaning It Up,” centers on solutions. Technical invention (trash wheels, booms, grates, etc.) and grassroots work (simply picking up garbage) are important. But, ultimately, the solution is a combination of public awareness through education, science, and systemic change of using less, or ideally, no plastic. “You wouldn’t just mop up water off your floor if your bathtub were overflowing,” says Malene Møhl of Plastic Change. “You’d turn off the tap.”

Taxes, bans, and other legislation, combined with the search for biodegradable resources (even using bacteria, fungi, and algae), face pushback from large industries, the complexity of plastic recycling, and our own desire for convenience.

It would be impossible to read this powerful book and not look at the world differently, both in the larger picture and day-to-day life. Contents of Thicker Than Water can be overwhelming—even paralyzing. But, in the end, Erica Cirino’s ideas stimulate thought, raise awareness, and, most importantly, are a call to action.

Thicker Than Water is available at IslandPress.org, Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.ericacirino.com.

John Turner, center, with participants of this year's Nighthawk Watch. Photo by Thomas Drysdale

By John L. Turner

At dusk on Oct. 6 volunteers with the Four Harbors Audubon Society (4HAS), a local chapter of the National Audubon Society, concluded their fifth year of conducting the Nighthawk Watch and as like the previous four years, this year’s tally brought new wrinkles to the unfolding story of nighthawk migration. 

1,819 Common Nighthawks were seen this year at the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch, located at the southern end of Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket. The season started off slow but picked up in the latter third, similar to what happened in 2019; the 2021 total is less than the previous four year totals of: 2,046 in 2017, 2,018 in 2,018, 2,757 in 2019, and 2,245 in 2020.

You might reasonably ask: Why establish the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch to count Common Nighthawks, a species related to the more familiar Whip-poor-will?

Well, first of all its fun and entertaining and great camaraderie developed among the regular participants. Nighthawks are quite distinctive in flight and can be downright mesmerizing to watch when they’re in active feeding mode, erratically darting to and fro in pursuit of aerial insects with their white wing blazes flashing.

A nighthawk spotted during the 4HAS’s
annual watch this year. Photo by John Heidecker

Second, the watch provides an educational opportunity by allowing members of 4HAS to engage with people walking by, informing them about the status of nighthawks, the threats they and other birds face, and wildlife and environmental issues generally. In this way nighthawks can provide the opportunity for a broader discussion about conservation, the condition and fate of the planet and all its member species. 

Third, it’s our hope that as the years pass, we’ll assemble a useful set of data, an additional source of information, that can help researchers develop a more complete picture about nighthawk population trends.

We know that the current picture is a troubled one for nighthawks and other birds, like swallows, swifts, and flycatchers that feed on aerial insects (these insect-eating birds are referred to as aerial insectivores). 

The continent-wide Annual Breeding Bird survey documented a two-percent decline in nighthawks from 1966 through 2010, resulting in a 60% decline in overall number nighthawk numbers; this means for every ten nighthawks there were in 1965, there are four today. The main culprit? A reduction in the amount of aerial insects such as gnats, midges, beetles and bugs, moths, and mosquitoes. 

This reduction has been noticed by a lot of people at least as evidenced by anecdotal stories. Mine includes two: Growing up in Smithtown in the 1960’s I remember, when driving any significant distance on Long Island, my father needed to clean the windshield with wiper fluid every once in a while to remove the countless smudges caused by hundreds of insects colliding with the windshield. Today, I can drive all day around Long Island without the need to do the same.

The second is the significant reduction in the number of moths and other night-flying insects attracted to the lights of local ball fields. I vividly remember watching, in the 1960’s and ’70’s many nighthawks zooming around the lights at Maple Avenue Park during night softball games, feeding on moths. Not so today, with significantly fewer moths and other insects attracted to the ball-field lights. For example, in three visits over the past decade in the month of September to night games at the stadium where the Long Island Ducks play,  I’ve seen a total of one nighthawk.

Another cause is loss of breeding habitat, involving two types — natural areas being converted to agriculture, shopping centers, and housing and loss of suitable rooftops. This latter “breeding habitat” illustrates the habit of nighthawks nesting in urban areas using gravel rooftops which mimic the natural and open substrates they often nest on in natural settings. Unfortunately, gravel roofs are being replaced by sealed rubber roofs which do not provide nighthawks with suitable nesting substrate.

A nighthawk spotted during the 4HAS’s
annual watch this year. Photo by John Heidecker

Being dependent on aerial insects, nighthawks leave the northern hemisphere, as temperatures cool and insects decline and ultimately disappear, to overwinter in South America, especially in and around the Amazon River basin and the adjacent Cerrado savanna/grassland region to the southeast. Generally, fall-migrating nighthawks in North America head southeast, leaving the continent either by crossing the Gulf of Mexico or heading south through Florida and passing over the Caribbean to South America. 

For reasons that are not clear, nighthawks from the western United States and Canada head southeast too, rather than what appears to be the shorter route of heading directly south, staying over land through Mexico and Central America. The nighthawks that fly over us at the Watch are birds heading more directly south coming from New England and eastern Canada and generally continuing south to join other nighthawks in Florida before continuing on. Some though, appear to shortcut the southbound journey by venturing out over the Atlantic Ocean.

The 2021 daily totals of nighthawks generally followed numbers from past years with more nighthawks passing by during the first half of the count period. The top daily tally was 169 birds, occurring on Sept. 12 and we had six nights with one hundred or more birds. We had only one evening with no nighthawks — the day when the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through Long Island.

We saw many other interesting things besides flitting nighthawks while spending 41 days standing on the Stone Bridge ­— ­ beautiful sunsets and sometimes dramatic and foreboding skies; many clouds, some shaped like animals; one rainbow; the planets of Venus, Jupiter (and the four Galilean moons), and Saturn all seen through a 60x birding scope; several Bald Eagles including a low-flying white-headed adult; many Ospreys and other birds-of-prey; flights of Great Blue Herons and American and Snowy Egrets; a steady stream of Double-crested Cormorants almost always heading from the northeast to the southwest; a daily rush of blackbird flocks that plunged into the protective reeds of Conscience Bay; a daily dose of a pair of kingfishers; occasional songbirds flitting about in nearby trees; and on most nights when dusk settled over the ponds, a few Red and Brown Bats ceaselessly swooping in erratic loops, lines and circles over the surface of the pond.

So, if you already possess your 2022 calendar, circle Aug. 27, the date we’ll return to the Stone Bridge to once again watch the daily aerial ballets of Common Nighthawks. As always, they’ll be urged by instinct to move south, passing over Long Island, through the southeastern United States to cross the equator, where they’ll spend many months feeding in the balmy skies of South America, enjoying their “perpetual summer” existence.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

By Melissa Arnold

As global temperatures continue to climb, we are unfortunately subject to more natural disasters, lack of resources, and personal discomfort. It’s a harsh reality, but it can be hard for some people to grasp.

The Smithtown Township Arts Council (STAC) is tackling the issue of climate change with a dynamic and colorful exhibit called “On the Edge” at the Mills Pond Gallery in Saint James.

Beginning Nov. 6 and running through Dec. 19, “On the Edge” will feature more than 50 works from environmental artists Pam Brown and Kathy Levine. The exhibit is part of a deeper exploration of environmental concerns through the lens of art. 

“For a while now I’ve been wanting to dedicate a year to the issue of climate change and what can be done about it. We read about it and are touched by it every day, but I thought we could explore this issue through art and the beauty of our natural world,” said Allison Cruz, executive director of STAC.

Cruz met Stony Brook-based artist Pam Brown years ago through the local art community, and since then, Brown has served as a juror for several STAC exhibits. Prior to the pandemic, Brown suggested she could put together an environmental-themed exhibit with Levine, her longtime friend and colleague from New York City. 

“Pam’s environmental work makes me think, and it touches my heart. I love the choices she makes,” Cruz said. “I was so excited to see this idea take shape and to meet Kathy. When I saw [Kathy’s] passion for connecting people to the environment and the way she salvages material to create beautiful art, I was hooked.” 

Brown, who focuses on sculpture, said that she spent much of her childhood exploring the woods around her home.

“The environment has always been a topic of interest for me, and art is a barometer for what is happening in the world,” she said. “It’s hard not to be connected to the environment, and it’s a tragedy to see the loss of beauty.”

Brown works with salvaged material that she says has its own story to tell. Everything is made of sheet metal or sheet copper, then hand cut with scissors or shears, stitched, soldered and welded together.

One of her works included in the exhibit is “A Place Called Home,” which depicts a bird inside of a hanging basket on a branch. 

“The bird is calling out, looking for a new place to call home. In the same way, populations around the world are being forced to relocate because of climate changes and disasters in their places of origin,” Brown explained.

Levine is originally from Queens, but had the unique opportunity to grow up in Spain and England, where she was constantly immersed in natural beauty.

At the same time, she was impacted by the energy crisis of the 1970s. Her electricity was cut in the evenings, leaving her to do homework by candlelight.

“I saw the way humans were able to work in harmony with the natural world and have the potential to make it even better,” she recalled, “But I also began to learn just how fragile our connection to the natural world can be, and that our impact can be positive or negative.”

Levine is a mixed media artist, including painting, photography and recycled materials in her work, to name a few. She also makes recycled paper casts of natural objects including leaves and bark, and uses a water-based method of photo transfer. 

One of Levine’s pieces, “Rift,” is a cast paper cross-section of a tree that’s split in half. One half depicts the urban sights of New York, while the other side shows a woodsy and natural scene.

“This kind of work fascinates me. It’s the one thing I feel like I could never get tired of,” Levine said. “It’s inexpensive and tactile, flexible and light, as opposed to other methods of sculpture.” 

While the exhibit will showcase the beauty of our world, Cruz, Brown and Levine all hope that it will inspire viewers to become more active in preventing climate change.

“It can be overwhelming to consider just how large the issue of climate change is, but it’s small changes in your own family that make a big difference, like recycling, composting and using reusable materials as much as possible,” Brown said. 

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The Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, Saint James will present “On the Edge” from Nov. 6 through Dec. 19. The public is invited to an opening reception on Nov. 6 from 2 to 5 p.m. Meet the artists and enjoy an Art Talk presented by the Artists and Environmental Art Activists at 3 pm. Masks are required for unvaccinated individuals and optional for those who are vaccinated. 

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. Please use the rear parking lot off of Mills Pond Road. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.

See more images at www.tbrnewsmedia.com

'Alluring', watercolor by Lorraine Rimmelin

The Art League of Long Island has emerged from the COVID pandemic with new in-person and virtual art classes, and its second live gallery exhibit of 2021: the long-awaited annual Instructor’s Exhibition. Art League Instructor artwork is on exhibit in the Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery October 30 through November 20. An open house and public artists’ reception take place Saturday, October 30 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The open house and reception are free and open to the general public.

The Art League of Long Island boasts an impressive roster of art instructors who not only teach but also “do “.  Many of the Art League’s instructors are award-winning artists themselves whether on the local, national, or international stage.  The open house offers visitors a first-hand look at the inner-workings in the Art League’s specialized art studios through live demonstrations by the instructors.  Demonstrations include painting, drawing, pottery, jewelry making, and more.  Meet the instructors and learn about their classes and approach to teaching. Registration for late fall classes is open now, with winter/spring sessions to be posted online throughout late fall.

Art Demo Schedule:
– Patrick Aievoli: Game Design & Development for Teens – 11am-2pm
– Liz Fusco: Acrylic Painting for Young Artists (9-12yrs) ; Watercolor for Beginners (Adults and ages 16 & up); Oil Painting for Beginners (Adults and ages 16 & up) – 11am-2pm
– Stephanie Navon Jacobson: Printmaking Sampler – 12pm-2pm
– Marla Mencher: Jewelry Making (meet the instructor and students in after-class session) – 1pm-2pm
– Katie Rocks: Ceramics Studio Wheel Demonstration – 12pm-2pm
Please be advised: Masks are required when in the building at all times. 20 people will be allowed into the building at any one time.

The Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery is open free of charge Tuesdays & Thursdays 10am-5pm, and Fridays & Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Art League is located at 107 East Deer Park Road in Dix Hills. For more information call (631) 462-5400 or visit www.artleagueli.org.

As autumn arrives on the North Shore, so does a perennial favorite, the Setauket Artists exhibition. Now in its 41st year, the beloved show returns to the Setauket Neighborhood House on Oct. 24 with a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. Over 40 local artists will be participating this year along with guest artist and nationally known oil painter David Peikon.

Peikon is showcasing his stunning painting of an east end farm which displays the naturalism of his landscapes. “Capturing nature in all its infinite beauty is a never-ending challenge. I endeavor to create paintings that pull the viewer into the space as if they were alongside me,” he said.

This year’s Honored Artist, Patricia Yantz, will exhibit five of her latest paintings. “The artists chose Patricia because of the superior quality of her acrylic and pastels paintings and years of dedication to the organization. She works tirelessly on various committees and has become our newly elected recording secretary,” said Irene Ruddock, President of the Setauket Artists. 

The cover artist is John Mansueto, a Parsons School of Design graduate in Fine Arts, who exhibits in New York City, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. “I love to explore Long Island and when I saw the sunflowers in the crates at Riverhead’s Briermere Farm, I knew I had to paint it,” he said.  

The works of pastel artist Jane McGraw Teubner will be on view as well.

“The Setauket Artists are honored to include Jane McGraw Teubner, PSA, MA, Master’s Circle who has been accepted into the permanent collection of the Salmagundi Art Club, won the silver medal from Allied Artist of America, was accepted into the Pastel Journals best one hundred and will soon be award the title Eminent Pastelist from the International Pastel Society,” said Ms. Ruddock. 

The only photographer in the show is the incomparable Marlene Weinstein who is exhibiting her hand-painted and mixed media pieces to the delight of her ardent followers. This year, the group is happy to welcome back Laurence Johnston, another fine artist who explains that he is “influenced by the light that living near the water brings and elevates the ordinary to the sublime.” Look for his beautifully painted oil Setauket Spring hanging over the fireplace in the entry hall. 

For lovers of contemporary art, Shelia Breck will awe you with her Matisse-like painting of Katey and Paul Edelson’s soft and sensual colors will bring you into the peaceful world he endeavors to capture. Celeste Mauro will wow you with her creative impressionistic acrylic and collage paintings. 

For nostalgia and history, you will enjoy Carol Link Scinta’s Rainy Day at the Setauket Neighborhood House and The Setauket Diner as well as William Graf’s luminous local watercolors of a Stony Brook sunset and Frank Melville Memorial Park. 

Flo Kemp usually creates soft-ground etchings, but this time she offers a very large, softly hued oil painting aptly titled Purple Mountain Melody. Frederic  Mendelsohn, who enjoys painting the bucolic waterways of Long Island, presents his oil piece titled Stony Brook Harbor and you are sure to be enchanted by Renee Caine’s  oil painting Enchanted Evening. 

Ruddock is excited for the opening. “As coordinator of the exhibit, I try to attract outstanding artists and I am thrilled with the quality of the paintings in this show. All of your favorite Setauket Artists will be there — Al Candia, Muriel Musarra, Rob Roehrig, Eleanor Meier, and so many more who will be showcasing their latest local paintings and looking forward to seeing you,” she said.

The reception is in-person, but a tent (with electric warmer) will be provided for viewers to wait until the number of people in the house matches the New York State guidelines. Refreshments will be served and raffles for paintings by Anthony Davis, Anne Katz, and Celeste Mauro offer a variety of styles and mediums: oil, watercolor and acrylic/collage paintings will draw you into the excitement of this annual autumn community event.

The artists deeply appreciate Fred Bryant of Bryant Funeral Home, who has been their generous sponsor for 16 years. Explains Ms. Ruddock, “Every single year, the art group uses the donation Fred gives us in a productive way that enhances our show, and, over time, has made it what it is. The artist are grateful indeed!” 

Participating artists include:

Ross Barbera, Shain Bard, Ron Becker, Rina Betro, Kyle Blumenthal, Sheila Breck, Joyce Bressler, Renee Caine, Al Candia, Gail L. Chase, Anthony Davis, Julie Doczi, Paul J. Edelson, Marge Governale, William Graf, Laurence Johnston, Flo Kemp, Karen Kemp, Joanne Liff, John Mansueto, Celeste Mauro, Judith Mausner, Lorraine McCormick, Jane McGraw Teubner, Terry McManus, Eleanor Meier, Fred Mendelsohn, Muriel Musarra, David Peikon, Paula Pelletier, Cathy Rezin, Joan Rockwell, Robert Roehrig, Irene Ruddock, Oscar Santiago, Carole Link Scinta, Barbara Jeanne Siegel, Angela Stratton, Susan Trawick, Marie Lourdes Velez, Marlene Weinstein and Patricia Yantz.

The Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket presents the 41st annual Setauket Artists Exhibition from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14 daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Open Halloween, closed Nov. 6 and 7). Face masks are required. For more information, visit www.setauketartists.com or email [email protected] 

 

Water quality impairments across Long Island during the summer of 2021. Photo from Stony Brook University

Water, water everywhere and far too many drops were not clean.

Christopher J. Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation Stony Brook University; Peter Scully, Deputy Suffolk County Executive; Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Kevin McDonald, The Nature Conservancy at a recent press conference regarding water quality. Photo from Stony Brook University

That’s the conclusion of a recent summer water quality survey of Long Island conducted by Stony Brook University Professor Christopher Gobler, who is the endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Every estuary and bay across Long Island had either toxic algal blooms and oxygen-starved dead zones this summer.

This trend threatened marine life including fish and shellfish.

Excess nitrogen from household sewage that seeps into groundwater and into bays, harbors and estuaries or, in some cases, is discharged directly into surface waters, causes toxic algal blooms.

Double the average annual rainfall, caused by storms like Hurricanes Henri and Ida, exacerbated the dumping of nitrogen from onsite wastewater into local waterways as well, Gobler explained.

Calling this the “new normal,” Gobler said the duration of the rust tide that continues across eastern Long Island is the longest since he started monitoring water quality in 2014. Additionally, the number of dead zones is near a maximum.

For the past six years before 2021, the incidence of blue-green algal blooms was higher than any of the other 64 counties in New York State, which is likely to continue in 2021.

Blue green algae produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals and has caused dog illnesses and deaths across the United States.

“We’re the most downstate county and warmer temperatures are a driver,” Gobler explained in an email. “Excess groundwater discharge in Suffolk means more lakes and ponds here than in Nassau.”

Heavy rains, which are expected to become the new normal amid climate change that brings wetter and slower-moving storms, flush nitrogen contaminated groundwater out into the bays.

Brown and rust tides have had a severely negative impact on habitats in the area, including seagrass, and major fisheries such as scallops and clams and the coastal wetlands that protect waterfront communities from storms.

Homeowners can reduce nitrogen runoff by fertilizing their lawns less, Gobler suggested.

Onsite systems in Suffolk County are legal, but are also “quite polluting,” Gobler explained in an email.

Gobler said Suffolk County has been more aggressive than any other county in the nation in requiring advanced septic systems.

Additionally, Gobler suggests that the best way to combat these problems is to upgrade onsite septic systems.

Nassau and Suffolk completed subwatershed studies last year that identified wastewater as the largest source of nitrogen to surface waters. Excess nitrogen stimulates toxic algal blooms which can remove oxygen from bottom waters as they decay.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends that marine waters should not have less than three milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter to sustain fish life. Through the summer, however, more than 20 sites across the Island fell below that threshold, which, in several cases, caused fish kills.

“The research findings are conclusive,” Carl LoBue, senior scientist for The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “The longer we wait to fix our water quality problems, the longer it will take and the more expensive it will be.”

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, at podium, was joined by town, county and state officials and community advocates to make a plea to Gov. Kathy Hochul to help the town secure a path to sewer infrastructure. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The steps of Smithtown’s Town Hall were packed the morning of Oct. 12 as elected town, county and state officials, as well as community leaders from the hamlets of Smithtown and Kings Park, were on hand to talk about sewers and make a plea to the state’s new governor.

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim signs a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul to help the town secure a path to sewer infrastructure. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The group signed a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) asking her to help to secure a path to a sewer infrastructure in the town. Those speaking at the press conference spoke about the lack of a sewer system in the town having a negative impact on economic growth and the health of waterways, especially Smithtown Bay.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said the group has worked “tirelessly for years to make this project come to fruition.”

“For nearly 50 years, the goal of providing sewers for the Smithtown business district had seemed out of reach, resulting in vacant storefronts in the downtown area and continued discharges of untreated wastewater into our environment,” the supervisor said. “Now, at long last, a clear solution has been identified. A victory is in sight for both of these business districts. This is truly a historic day for the Town of Smithtown and the future of our town.”

A $20 million grant was announced in 2017 by the state that would have helped bring sewers to the town’s business districts. According to Wehrheim, a lack of a site for a system stalled the project. Recently, the Smithtown Sewer Working Group, which includes local business and community leaders, has worked for 18 months to identify a site for a recharge facility and named a parcel owned by the state Office of Mental Health at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center as a possible location. The hopes are to connect Main Street, Smithtown and the Kings Park business district to a system.

The plan would include removing an abandoned building. The facility would use only 2 acres of 17 of the land.

Smithtown United President Timothy Small called the working group an “example of your government and community working together for solutions.”

He added that under current conditions the sewer recharging facility would lead to an 87% reduction of the amount of nitrogen dumped into groundwater which eventually makes its way to the Nissequogue River. He said after a complete “downtown buildout consistent with the draft Smithtown Master Plan” the nitrogen reduction would be 71%.

Michael Kaufman, a member of the civic group Smithtown United and the town’s working group, said hooking up central business districts to a sewer system is the “gold standard for solutions” to avoid environmental issues such as nitrogen from septic waste being released to nearby bodies of water. He added that a recent water quality report showed that Smithtown Bay is one of the most oxygen-deprived areas east of New York City. This deprivation means that it’s difficult for fish to survive.

“That’s why no one can really go fishing in Smithtown Bay anymore,” he said.

Kaufman said the damage is identical to issues the area had in the 1990s.

“We know what the source is, and we also know how it gets out into the water,” he said. “Basically, [it goes] west right into the Nissequogue River and then just flows down the river and then it goes into the Smithtown Bay where it unfortunately stays for a couple of days.”

Among those representing chamber and civic groups was Kings Park Chamber of Commerce President Tony Tanzi who called the proposed facility “an absolutely wonderful thing.” He said he felt it helped the community as a whole for many reasons, listing qualities such as a viable downtown, lessening pollution of rivers and protecting open space. He added from the chamber of commerce’s perspective it could restore economic viability to the downtown.

“We’ve got the ability to preserve 15 acres of open space in perpetuity,” Tanzi said. “You’ve got the ability to protect our drinking water. You’ve got the ability to protect the Nissequogue River and the Long Island Sound and preserve our drinking water for future generations, which is really what we’re all here trying to do.”