Environment & Nature

Hoyt Farm's interpretive specialist Sheryl Brook explains the process of maple sugaring to Hauppauge Girl Scouts Troop 428 during last year's event. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve in Commack is gearing up for another season of maple sugaring for families, scout troops and nature enthusiasts to take advantage of. This unique educational program, available to the general public, teaches the ancient process of making maple syrup/sugar, which was passed down by the Native Americans to the Colonists. 

Classes will run on Sundays, Feb. 19, Feb. 26 and March 5, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person (cash only.) The class is open to both residents and non-residents. It is recommended that guests arrive by 1 p.m. to register for the class as this is a very popular event. 

Hoyt Farm Park Manager Jeff Gumin teaches a group about tree tapping at a previous event.
File photo by Greg Catalano/TBR News Media

“This is one of the best educational programs the Town of Smithtown offers and it’s one that every Long Islander should partake in. The techniques used to make maple syrup are a part of our history that should be treasured for all time. Jeff Gumin, Sheryl Brook and the team at Hoyt go above and beyond in teaching this demonstration. It’s an unforgettable experience, which I highly recommend for the whole family,” said Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

The maple sugaring program is a demonstration, encompassing the history of Native American early life, how maple sugaring was originally discovered, all the way up to the modern day process. An interactive portion of the program enlists the help of younger students to teach the anatomy of the tree, the importance of chlorophyll, and the role of photosynthesis in making maple syrup. 

The Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve maple sugaring program is unique in that Black Walnut trees are also tapped for sugaring, in addition to making maple syrup from Maple trees. Maple sugaring season is approximately three weeks out of the year. In order to produce the sweetest sap, weather conditions must be below freezing at night and over 40 degrees during the day. 

The maple sugaring program began in the late 1970’s, and started with one class. It is now a full blown family-oriented interactive experience, available to the general public, (not restricted to Smithtown residents) appropriate for all age groups. School classes, girl scouts, boy scout troops, kids and adults of all ages are welcome and encouraged to take advantage of this unforgettable experience. 

Hoyt Farm is located at 200 New Highway in Commack. For more information, call 631-543-7804.

From left, Darren Martin and Benjamin Hsiao during a visit to Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island. Photo from Darren Martin

By Daniel Dunaief

One person’s garbage is another’s treasure.

Benjamin Hsiao

Benjamin Hsiao has plans to convert garbage — from dog poop to food waste and even cardboard boxes — into the kind of low cost materials and fertilizers that can help combat climate change. His primary target is agricultural residues because of their volume and collectability.  

A Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Stony Brook University, Hsiao and collaborator Darren Martin at the University of Queensland in Australia recently were awarded one of 16 multidisciplinary grants totaling $11.4 million from the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator program.

Hsiao, who is the primary investigator, will receive $570,000 over the next nine months in Phase I of the research effort while Martin will collect $180,000 from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.

The researchers plan to take a zero waste approach to create a circular system that will generate efficiencies, reduce pollution and combat climate change.

The research is focused on creating immediate solutions for current problems, Hsiao said.

The NSF received “many quality submissions” and chose the winners after a rigorous review process, the NSF said.

The proposal from Hsiao and Martin stood out as it is “based on strong science” and make a clear connection to climate change,” NSF officials said.

Hsiao and Martin were delighted with the award and the opportunity not only to make contributions through their own research, but also to work with some of the other recipients.

“I am so pleased on many counts,” Martin explained in an email from Australia. First, Martin and Hsiao, who met at a conference in 2014, followed through on long standing plans to work together. Second, this program, which the NSF started in 2019, is about “early engagement with the market to get feedback on new technologies and platforms.”

Martin suggested it was akin to a “business model boot camp” that includes support and opportunities to pressure test ideas early. “This approach could really accelerate and compress the number of years traditionally taken to see helpful new technologies out in society sooner.”

If they are successful and effective, the scientists can apply for competitive Phase II funding within the year, which includes $5 million for two years and which four or five of the Phase I recipients, who are from a host of A-list research institutions, will receive.

Solids and liquids

Hsiao has been working with solid plant-based waste to create filters that can purify water at a low cost since 2009.

“Nanoscale cellulose materials can be used for water purification,” said Hsiao.

The needles of plants, from shrubs to bushes to feedstock, all have the same cellulosic nanostructure. Hsiao’s technology can convert these different feedstock into similar carboxy-cellulose nanofibers that can be used as purifying agents with negative charge. These filters can remove oppositely charged impurities.

Additionally, Hsiao plans to use solid plant based biomass to create a biogel. Rich in nutrients, the biogel is like the naturally occurring residue that is at the bottom of streams, which is a nutrient-rich mix of dead trees and grass.

The biogel, which is also funded by the NSF, has three applications. First, it can replace soil to grow food or for seed germination, which could be useful to grow food in space. It can also reduce the impact of drought.

Second, it can make a farm more resistant to drought because the material in biogel retains water for a longer period of time and amid drier conditions.

Third, the biogel can induce vegetation or plant growth in drier or sandier areas. Such growth, which could occur along the shoreline of Long Island, could help reduce erosion, Hsiao said. The biogel can also reduce desertification.

Martin explained that Stony Brook University and the University of Queensland have two different biogel platforms that they may hybridize.

Hsiao’s team is “very strong in the chemistry and physical chemistry side,” Martin wrote. “Being based in a Chemical Engineering School, we have been pretty good over the years at finding the most efficient, cost-effective ways to manufacture bio-based materials and composites at scale.”

Fertilizer

Building and expanding on this work, Hsiao is focusing on the liquid waste from biomass as well.

“With the new thinking, we have a circular design,” he said.

Using a nitric acid treatment that is similar to composting and that removes human pathogens, liquid biomass can become an effective fertilizer, which sanitizes animal and human waste.

Nitric acid also releases the existing nutrients in feedstock, which provides more nitrogen and phosphorous to help plants grow.

The ideal treatment would involve providing a controlled amount of fertilizer each day, Hsiao explained.

Farmers, however, can’t put that kind of time and resources into spraying their fields. Instead, they spray a fertilizer that becomes run off when it rains. Artificial intelligence and robots can deploy fertilizer in a more cost effective manner.

The nitrogen from the run off winds up in streams and other water bodies, where it can cause a process called eutrophication, leading to the kind of algal blooms that rob oxygen of water, making it more difficult for desirable marine life to survive and close beaches to swimming.

By using an efficient process for producing fertilizer that includes taking the inedible parts of plants, and making them a part of the circular process, run off could decrease by “half or even more,” Hsiao said.

Martin added that he and Hsiao have, in the back of their minds, a plan to create scalable fertilizer for single family farms in developed and developing nations.

“Our modeling may indeed show that ‘distributed manufacturing’ of the biogels from agricultural residues using a ‘mobile factory placed on the farm’ may be the smartest way to get there,” Martin explained. “This is exactly the sort of question the Convergence Accelerator is designed to test.”

Martin said that he hopes this technology lead to an array of jobs that support farming under a variety of circumstances.

Sorghum, which is one of his favorite crops, is ultra resilient and is of increasing global importance. Its ability to withstand environmental stress and thrive on low input marginal farmland make it the ‘golden crop of the future,’ Martin added.

This crop makes it an “attractive option to transform infertile land into profitable agrivoltaic farms supplying raw materials for emerging non-foo markets such as these biogels,” Martin wrote.

From left, Three Village Community Trust member Norma Watson looks on as Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn unveil a new sign at Patriots Rock on Nov. 3. Photo by Rita J. Egan/TBR News Media

By John L. Turner

John Turner

Perhaps you remember the parable of the six blind men, standing alongside a road when an elephant passes by. They desire to know what an elephant feels like so they reach out, each man touching a different part of the animal — one strokes a tusk believing it’s a spear, another a stout leg proclaiming he’s touching a tree trunk, yet another the side of the elephant stating he’s touching a wall, while a fourth grabs the tail, thinking he’s grabbed a rope. The fifth touches an ear believing he’s made contact with a fan while the sixth man feels the trunk and announces he’s grabbed a snake. Based on their unique individual impressions, they argue vigorously about what the elephant looks like, each understandably, but firmly, convinced their own impression is correct and the others are wrong. 

Coming across this parable recently got me thinking about how it’s possible to have such differing, even disparate, impressions about the same subject. And it made me think of an individual: so let’s replace the elephant at the center of the discussion with New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, because just like the elephant being so many simultaneous things, Steve is too. 

If you’re familiar with his long standing involvement for preserving historic structures in the Three Villages, like the Roe Tavern or the Rubber Factory houses, or his interest and expertise regarding local history, you would say he’s a history buff, passionate about preserving historic structures. 

Get him over to the bluffs at McAllister County Park at the mouth of Port Jefferson Harbor and listen to him explain what he’s seeing in the wind-blasted rocks on the beach or the features of the bluff face itself and you’d know him to be a geologist, deeply informed about, and interested in, Long Island’s unique geology. 

Or if you were a student at Stony Brook University, perhaps your connection to Steve was as a professor through one of the courses he teaches, learning about contemporary environmental issues or the history of environmental politics learning about the influential role played by John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold. 

Furthermore, if you’re a saltwater fisherman or general enthusiast of the marine waters surrounding Long Island, then your connection to Steve might be through the legislation he carried to stop the harvest of menhaden (also known as bunker) in New York water’s, thereby fueling a resurgence in the food chain as evidenced by the sharp increase seen in the numbers of humpback whales, tuna, sharks, and birds-of-prey. Breaching whales are now part of our ocean landscape. 

Or perhaps it might be through an earlier connection you have with Steve — when he was Director of the Museum of Long Island’s Natural Sciences. Situated on the Stony Brook University campus, the museum introduced the wonders of the natural world to countless students and visitors. Steve the educator was at work.   

But perhaps it is through his efforts to preserve land that most people know of Steve Englebright’s work. Following in the footsteps of one of the Three Village’s favorite sons — Robert Cushman Murphy — Steve amplified Murphy’s call for the preservation of the Long Island Pine Barrens, the extensive pine forests stretched over tens of thousands of acres of pine forest in Suffolk County; pine trees that knit together a rare ecosystem and which sits over much of the County’s drinking water supply. 

In honor of R.C. Murphy, Steve sponsored a resolution, while a Suffolk County Legislator, to rename Peconic River County Park to Robert Cushman Murphy County Park. As a county legislator he played a key role in shaping the County’s $70 million Open Space Bond Act that resulted in the preservation of about two dozen environmentally significant properties throughout the County. 

If that’s not enough, he also was critical to the success of the  Drinking Water Protection Program, funded by a tiny percentage of the county sales tax, still in force today. This program has made a huge difference in protecting Suffolk County’s open spaces and drinking water supplies. And closer to home Steve was an open space champion in successfully advocating for the preservation of Patriot’s Hollow and Rock.

So just like the elephant is a “tree,” a “fan,” a “wall,” a “spear,” a “snake,” and a “rope,” Steve Englebright is a professor,  geologist,  historian, hydrologist, an educator, a legislator for both Suffolk County and New York State, and a conservationist. But here’s where the parable and reality diverge; while with the parable different experiences led to radically different points of view, different experiences with Steve all point to the same thing … what a remarkable difference maker he has been in safeguarding what is special about the Three Village community and the Long Island environment. 

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Steve for what he’s accomplished on our behalf. Thank you Steve!! 

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.

An outlet gasket
A Column Promoting a More Earth-friendly Lifestyle

By John L. Turner

If your house is like most, the walls are insulated to keep the heat in. But I bet you’d be surprised to learn there are as many as a dozen or more places in your exterior walls where there is little to no insulation — the electric wall outlets! If you put your hand near one on a winter day you may feel the cold air seeping in (or hot air in the summer).

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to eliminate this drafty situation and to make  your house a little more energy efficient (and saving you a little bit of money  over time) — insulate the outlet by installing a foam rubber gasket under the plate cover. Installation is a snap — just remove the cover with a screwdriver,  place the gasket on the outlet, reinstall the cover and you’re done. It takes about 30 seconds!

The insulating gaskets are available online and at home improvement stores. They cost about 10 cents each.

You can help protect the planet one outlet at a time!

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.

The Setauket Mill Pond is being considered for an upcoming alewife study. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Lisa Scott

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) mission is to “conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution…” 

Within the newly created Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park, the DEC Division of Marine Resources has a state-of-the-art headquarters and laboratory to pursue these goals and ensure the conservation of our local marine life and habitats. All are welcome to visit their public lobby equipped with aquariums of local species and learn more ways to get involved and help monitor and protect marine life locally.

Shellfish have been a resource for Indigenous inhabitants of Long Island for thousands of years for a myriad of uses. In spite of massive human development over the past 400 years, shellfish are still an important resource today. Monitoring threats to shellfish and working to restore their populations and habitat is an important part of DEC’s work.

DEC Marine Resources Shellfish Microbiology Laboratory operates the only FDA-evaluated laboratory in the State for processing water samples to certify approved shellfish harvest areas. The laboratory features advanced equipment for processing and analyzing plankton, shellfish, and water samples, ensuring that shellfish harvested legally from approved areas in New York’s marine waters are safe for consumers and supports the State’s commercially important shellfish industry.

Year-round, the DEC conducts water quality sampling of over one million acres of shellfish harvesting areas across Long Island and the lab analyzes approximately 13,000 water samples annually to monitor water quality trends. As a result of continuous testing, the DEC classifies shellfish harvest areas as open year-round, seasonally open, or closed year-round. Use the DEC’s Public Shellfish Mapper to learn about harvest area boundaries, seasonally open dates, and water quality sampling locations: https://on.ny.gov/shellfishmapper

Under the Long Island Shellfish Restoration Program (LISRP), the DEC in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University, and the Town of Huntington completed the stocking of 13.6 million juvenile (seed) clams and (spat-on-shell) oysters and 650,000 adult clams in Huntington Harbor in October 2020 to improve water quality and enhance shellfish populations. The LISRP completed four additional stocking efforts at sanctuary sites in Bellport Bay, Hempstead Bay, Shinnecock Bay, and South Oyster Bay.

Monitoring of sanctuary sites is conducted by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University to obtain biological and environmental information on shellfish growth, survival and spawning success, and to assess the effect on water quality, phytoplankton uptake and filtration and nitrogen cycling and removal. The results of the project will guide and support the success of future restoration efforts on Long Island.

Most Long Island tributaries once supported spring runs of returning alewife, a species of river herring native to Long Island. Like salmon, they split their life cycle between salt and freshwater. Alewife runs have been decimated by dams, habitat loss and declining water quality but remnant populations still exist in a few rivers and the public’s help is needed to learn more about their overall status across Long Island. 

Through the Long Island Volunteer Alewife Survey, volunteers help record observations of spawning alewife and documenting existing runs is an important step for restoration efforts. Monitoring efforts start mid-March and training workshops will be announced soon for Spring 2023. Suggested sites include: Frank Melville Memorial Park/Setauket Mill Pond in Setauket, Crab Meadow East Pond (Makamah Nature Preserve) in Fort Salonga, Stony Brook Grist Mill/Stony Brook Dam in Stony Brook, and Carlls River in Argyle Park, Babylon. Visit Seatuck’s website for workshop information and how to get involved: https://seatuck.org/volunteer-river-herring-survey/

The newly released Long Island Sound Marsh Migration Viewer is an online tool used to easily examine changes in marsh habitat along New York’s shores of the Long Island Sound watershed under various sea level rise scenarios over different time periods: http://warrenpinnacle.com/LIMaps.

New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), Long Island Sound Study (LISS), and DEC will be hosting virtual public workshops for community stakeholders to learn more about the Viewer in early 2023. These workshops will demonstrate how to use the Viewer and will highlight an additional 47 marsh complexes that are added to the Viewer.

Whether you want to get outside to observe alewife in local rivers, sit at your desk to see changes to  local marsh habitats with rising sea levels, or learn about shellfish monitoring, you have these and many other resources and opportunities available from our local DEC Marine Resources Headquarters. Check out more ways to get involved from DEC’s website: https://www.dec.ny.gov/ or contact them at 631 444-0450 or [email protected] We all should be responsible, educated stewards of our beautiful island home. 

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

'Thirteen Moons: Nature Adapts and Transforms' by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

By Tara Mae

Nature’s beauty is at once defiantly delicate and stubbornly resilient. Elements Adrift, on view at Gallery North from Jan. 12 to Feb. 19, considers the alchemy and artistry of the natural world as expressed through Long Island artist Anne Seelbach’s oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings as well as mixed media pieces.

Seelbach’s first solo show at Gallery North, it consists of approximately 35 works from three different series that organically ripple outward, encompassing the serenity of the sea and the perniciously predatory impact of pollution. Elements Adrift explores the inspiration found in the environment and the toxicity inherent in careless encounters with it.  

‘Thirteen Moons: Nature Adapts and Transforms’ by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

“Seelbach’s figural abstraction reflects her fascination and love of nature and interest in pointing to those elements that are polluting and deprecating it. In the past, she has tried to bring attention to that through her work,” said Gallery North’s Executive Director Ned Puchner.

Put together, each individual series transforms from island unto itself to an archipelago of artistic expression, chronicling Seelbach’s relationship with the world around her and transitioning the audience from one sequence into another. 

“Some pieces are really fascinating in that they show [Seelbach] moving on…you see her moving from one series into another, and I think that is really where the excitement in her work lies. She goes from series to series and in each series, she will sort of dwell on a topic and then move on, finding new avenues to build off of,” Puchner said. 

The first collection, “Troubled Waters,” follows the ebbing of natural resources as pollution flows into and interferes with sensitive ecosystems. Drawn to the seascapes of Peconic Bay off Long Beach in Sag Harbor and the Napeague Harbor at Lazy Point Beach in Amagansett, Seelbach’s work evolves to encapsulate the devolution of marine life as the disruption and detritus of humankind menaces it. 

“Instead of painting traditional landscapes, I always ask the question, ‘What is happening?’ in nature, rather than painting a beautiful view,” Seelbach said. “The landscape and seascape are created by forces of nature, the change of seasons, with the rotation of the earth. This is what I try to get at.”

Dance into the Unknown, 2014, oil on canvas, 30″ x 30″ by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

The vague abstraction of her fish renderings in this series came from fact, as the pollutants were actually getting into aquatic animal reproductive systems and causing deformities.

“When I started the series the fish were more realistic. I had to find a way to represent the effects of the chemicals. So, I stylized the fish form and duplicated it to create stencils of schools of fish,” she explained. 

Seelbach’s fish and other animal stencils are frequently made from repurposed and up-cycled washed up or left behind bits of metal, plastic, and netting from which she rescues the shoreline. 

While nature may have been shifting and changing around her, with rightful residents being harmed by invasive interlopers, Seelbach’s relationship with it remains steadfast and symbiotic, as reflected in her “Moon Paintings” series. 

These works, conjured from summer trips to Monhegan Island, Maine, illuminate the serenity she found walking along the sea cliffs, gazing at the lunar lit waters below. 

“I am still interested in the edge, where land, water, and sky meet…The moon shining on the sea and in tidal pools inspired these paintings,” Seelbach said. “As the sun nurtures the growth of everything by day, I suggest that the moon nurtures creative thought, ideas and possibility at night. I get most of my ideas at night when my mind is drifting, without a particular thought.”

Primarily painted on paper rather than on canvas, the “Moon Paintings” are imbued with deep blues and other hues that convey the depth of the setting’s nighttime repose. Yet, in these works, the moon is both a light and power source, rejuvenating sea, sky, and artist.

In fact “Earth: The Elements,” the third series to be highlighted in the exhibit, was a concept that came to Seelbach as she sat on the cliffside rocks and boulders. 

Earth: mercury (Vermillion), 2020, acrylic and reflective paint on linen, 30″x36″, relates to the planet Mercury by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

“They made me ask ‘What is the Earth?’ And immediately I thought of the elements. Thinking about each individual element, what it was and a bit of its history, I realized that many were acknowledged thousands of years ago, by the scientists of that time, the alchemists and philosophers,” Seelbach said.

Breaking down these otherwise immovable objects into their most basic essence, Seelbach sought to honor the individuals of the past who had understood better than to take them at face value. So, within some of these paintings, she includes the alchemical symbol of the historical elements and the periodic table designation.

Each element Seelbach selects is thoroughly, albeit abstractly, examined and expressed. Similar to the other two series, “Elements” inner complexity and vitality is amplified by Seelbach’s color palette and painting style. Rich, earthy tones and texture add dimension and definition to the paintings. 

“I was really drawn to the raw energy of them, dark and muddy in certain places,” Puchner said. “In all of her art, there is a kind of an endless search for beauty in nature. Even in the study of the earth’s elements, at root is her trying to explore the minerals and elements that exist within the nature that she brings into her artwork.”

Seelbach’s art is an outlet for her observations, an investigation of the inquiries raised by striving to be attuned to the world around her. At its core, her art seeks to explore and observe rather than obfuscate. 

“I paint what is. I see landscape as formed by the forces of nature, the seasons, the rotation of the planet. The question I ask sitting on the beach or a rock is ‘What is happening?’ What are the forces of nature that underly what I am looking at?” she said. 

Patrons are invited to make their own discoveries about nature through Elements Adrift. An opening reception will be held tonight, Jan. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. As a complement to the exhibition, Gallery North will present a lecture on the marine ecology of New York’s waterways by Patricia Woodruff from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University on Jan. 20 at 6 pm. Gallery North will also host an ArTalk with Anne Seelbach on Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. 

Located at 90 North Country Road, Setauket, Gallery North is open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www. gallerynorth.org.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently secured $3.75 million for a proposed upland wall at Port Jefferson Country Club. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees kicked off the new year Tuesday, Jan. 3, with business and general meetings covering public expenditures, code changes and public safety.

East Beach bluff

Mayor Margot Garant announced that the village received $3.75 million for a proposed upper wall at Port Jefferson Country Club. The funds were made available through the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant program, facilitated by the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The clubhouse facility at PJCC lies atop the East Beach bluff, which has rapidly eroded in recent years. Now the clubhouse is dangerously close to the bluff’s edge. [See story, “On the edge: Port Jeff Village weighs the fate of country club,” The Port Times Record, April 7.]

In an email from Schumer’s office, the senator outlined his reasons for supporting this coastal engineering project.

“This money will fund efforts to stabilize the crumbling East Beach bluff, where village recreation facilities are currently threatened due to the chronic erosion,” he said. “I worked to secure funding as soon as Mayor Garant reached out to me, and I am glad that with her partnership, we have obtained this funding — not only to preserve village assets but to ensure public safety and protect residents’ pocketbooks.” 

Garant said the federal funds would support the construction of an upland wall between the clubhouse and the bluff, potentially shielding the building from further coastal erosion at East Beach. 

“That money will help us save that building and restore the facilities as they preexisted up there,” she said. “We definitely have to recognize Senator Schumer’s action,” adding, “We have put that project out to bid. We have our letter of non-jurisdiction from the [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation], so we are ready to go on that project.”

Gap property

The former Gap property, located on Arden Place in Lower Port, was recently acquired by new ownership. Garant reported that plans for that property are still preliminary with the zoning and planning departments but hinted at the potential for mixed-used use of the space.

The new owner “is looking at a wet space on the first floor — sort of a food court concept that we had all kind of discussed,” she said. “And then possibly a second and third level, and perhaps a boutique hotel, which we welcome.” Devoting the space to apartments may also be on the table, Garant added.

Parking revenue

At the request of the director of economic development, parking administrator and communications committee head Kevin Wood, the board voted to evenly split the managed parking revenue generated during the 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival between the village and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council.

“This will bring us back into the black and help the arts council survive,” Garant said.

Country club manager

The board additionally approved the hire of Thomas Natola as general manager of the Port Jefferson Country Club at an annual salary of $139,000. Stan Loucks, trustee liaison to the country club, said Natola comes highly recommended by previous employers.

“Nobody had anything negative to say about Tom,” Loucks said. “Everything was positive.”

Public hearings

The board also held two public hearings during the general meeting. The first hearing dealt with a proposed change establishing Station Street, a one-way street between the Port Jefferson Crossing apartments and the train station. The amendment includes multiple provisions, preventing left turns onto the corridor as well as parking, stopping and standing.

Following a public hearing, the board approved the amendment unanimously. To read how Station Street received its name, see story, “Democracy and tech intersect to name Station Street in uptown Port Jeff,” The Port Times Record, Dec. 22.

The second hearing gave residents a chance to weigh in on a proposed $800,000 grant application through the Restore New York Communities Initiative, offering financial assistance to Conifer Realty. The funds would help Conifer demolish blighted buildings, clearing the way for its proposed Conifer II redevelopment at the Main and Perry streets intersection. Following the public hearing, the board approved the application unanimously.

Public safety

Fred Leute, chief of code enforcement, discussed the busy work of his department last month. Leute said code enforcement officers responded promptly on two occasions to resolve emergencies. For these efforts, the village board acknowledged multiple code officers, who were awarded proclamations and given a standing ovation from those in attendance.

To view this public commendation and to watch the trustee reports, see video below.

The Brown Mouse Lemur (Microcebus rufus) is recognized as a vulnerable species on Madagascar. Photo by Chien C. Lee

A new study by a team of international scientists including Liliana M. Dávalos, PhD, of Stony Brook University’s Department of Ecology and Evolution, reveals that it would take three million years to recover the number of species that went extinct from human activity on Madagascar. Published in Nature Communications, the study also projects that if currently threatened species go extinct on Madagascar, recovering them would take more than 20 million years – much longer than what has previously been found on any other island archipelago in the world.

From unique baobab species to lemurs, the island of Madagascar is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. Approximately 90 percent of its species of plants and animals are found nowhere else. After humans settled on the island about 2,500 years ago, Madagascar experienced many extinctions, including giant lemurs, elephant birds and dwarf hippos.

Yet unlike most islands, Madagascar’s fauna is still relatively intact. Over two hundred species of mammals still survive on the island, including unique species such as the fossa and the ring-tailed lemur. Alarmingly, over half of these species are threatened with extinction, primarily from habitat transformation for agriculture. How much has human activity perturbed Madagascar away from its past state, and what is at stake if environmental change continues?

The team of biologists and paleontologists from Europe, Madagascar and the United States set out to answer this question by building an unprecedented new dataset describing the evolutionary relationships of all species of mammals that were present on Madagascar at the time that humans colonized the island.

As a co-author of “The macroevolutionary impact of recent and imminent mammal extinctions on Madagascar,” Daválos helped design the study, interpret a previously published lemur phylogeny, and analyzed prospects for new species discovery in Madagascar.

The dataset includes species that have already gone extinct and are only known from fossils, as well as all living species of Malagasy mammals. The researchers identified 249 species in total, 30 of which already are extinct. Over 120 of the 219 species of mammals that remain on the island today are currently classified as threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List, due to habitat destruction, climate change and hunting.

Using a computer simulation model based on island biogeography theory, the team, led by Nathan Michielsen and Luis Valente from the University of Groningen (Netherlands) and Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Netherlands) found that it would take approximately three million years to regain the number of mammal species that were lost from Madagascar in the time since humans arrived.

The research team also determined through the computer simulation that if currently threatened species go extinct, it would take much longer: about 23 million years of evolution would be needed to recover the same number of species. Just in the last decade, this figure has increased by several million years, as human impact on the island continues to grow.

The amount of  time it would take to recover this mammalian diversity surprised the international team of scientists.

“These staggering results highlight the importance of effective conservation efforts in Madagascar. Here at Stony Brook, we can have an extraordinary impact on preventing extinction because of the longstanding biological field research at Centre ValBio and the associated Ranomafana National Park, with ongoing research on conservation while enhancing local livelihoods,” said Dávalos.

“It was already known that Madagascar was a hotspot of biodiversity, but this new research puts into context just how valuable this diversity is,” says leading researcher Luis Valente, Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen. “The time it would take to recover this diversity is much longer than what previous studies have found on other islands, such as New Zealand or in the Caribbean.”

The study findings ultimately suggest that an extinction wave with deep evolutionary impact is imminent on Madagascar, unless immediate conservation actions are taken. The good news – the computer simulation model shows that with adequate conservation action, we may still preserve over 20 million years of unique evolutionary history on the island.

 

At podium, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announces $450,000 in federal funds to rid the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site of its remaining buildings. Photo by Raymond Janis

Public officials of all levels of government, business and civic leaders, and community members gathered Monday, Jan. 9, before a derelict building at the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.

Once a dumping ground for toxic waste, policymakers are now plotting a course of action for this 126-acre property. After taking decades to rid the site of harmful contaminants, officials and community groups are working toward an ambitious proposal to convert the site into a multipurpose community hub, accommodating a solar farm, a railyard and open space for local residents.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the press conference to announce the injection of $450,000 in federal funds secured through the recent omnibus budget. This money will be used to help demolish the remaining buildings at the property. 

“We’re here today to showcase one of the final puzzle pieces needed to demo 14 dangerous buildings here,” Schumer said. “I am here today to say that the train that is on this journey is ready to leave the station.” 

The Senate majority leader added that these funds would advance three community goals. “One, a railroad-use project to help the LIRR with logistics; industrial redevelopment of a 5-megawatt solar farm,” and lastly, add 50 construction jobs to the local economy.

At podium, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Photo by Raymond Janis

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) described the considerable intergovernmental coordination and logistical obstacles to get to this stage.

“This project, as reflected by all of the people that have come together and all the levels of government, is critically important to the community,” he said.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) discussed the long and arduous road to revitalizing the site and the decades that have passed as this community blight lay barren. 

“These buildings have been condemned for over 25 years,” he said. “This has been a Superfund site for almost 25 years. Finally, we will see these buildings come down.”

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also attended the press event. During his time in Albany, he championed the site’s conversion for environmental and community purposes.

“We have a plan that will enhance our community and create new jobs,” he said. “This property stood out as a place in peril of a potentially bad decision,” adding, “Instead, we have a very thoughtful plan.”

Englebright, a geologist by trade, also touched upon the environmental impacts that redevelopment will offer through these plans. He said local harbors, groundwater and surface waters would benefit as this dark episode in local history concludes.

At podium, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). Photo by Raymond Janis

“The harbor, which is the beginning of our town, has been poisoned by the solvents that were poured into the ground here,” the former assemblyman said. “That is a thing of the past because of the federal involvement with the Superfund cleanup.”

He added, “All the levels of government are working together here, which is a beautiful thing. It’s a model for what government should be able to do all the time.”

Jen Dzvonar, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, also offered her perspective. She said public improvements such as these indirectly support and promote local businesses.

“Any improvement in Port Jefferson Station is major,” she said. “By getting the blight away from the area, we will increase businesses. A solar farm is coming. They’re creating 50 construction jobs. It just heightens Port Jefferson Station and the desire to come here.”

Representing the Village of Port Jefferson were Mayor Margot Garant and Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. Both stressed the importance of this undertaking, conveying their support for neighboring Port Jefferson Station in its community aspirations.

Garant viewed the plans as an opportunity to improve the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road. “We’re really in support of this because of the MTA portion of it,” she said. “To clean up this site, to put it back to public use, to not have the county paying taxes on it, is good for everybody.”

For Snaden, the project will bolster the village’s neighbors, representing a vital regional investment. “I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s a cleanup of the site. It’s knocking down these falling buildings, adding to the betterment of the entire community and the region at large.”

Schumer said the next step would be to ensure that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expedites these funds, ensuring the prompt demolition of the buildings and swift redevelopment of the site.



Holly Fils-Aime, above. Photo courtesy Fils-Aime
By Chris Mellides

As a child growing up in New Hampshire, Holly Fils-Aime and her sister would often venture into the wilderness surrounding their rural childhood home to play. The sisters spent much of their time admiring nature and would often canoe, swim and take walks in the neighboring woods. 

Fils-Aime became enamored with the undisturbed woodlands that she would often explore, crediting her mother for deepening her knowledge and understanding of the wildlife that surrounded her family home. 

“We learned a lot about nature,” Fils-Aime said. “My mother was an avid bird enthusiast and she had actually taken a course in that in college. We learned to identify bird songs and identify birds by sight. I just had a pretty good background in nature and identifying different species.”

Beyond birds, Fils-Aime’s mother taught her children how to identify wildflowers and various tree species as well. One of the major actions her family took was helping to preserve a portion of the woodlands she happily spent her time adventuring in when she was still a young child.

“My family did donate 25 acres of woodland to the town where I grew up, which is going to New Hampshire as a conservation easement,” she said. “That’s in perpetuity that that land will not be developed.”

Fils-Aime’s deep appreciation for nature endured and has stuck with her well into adulthood. The mother of two admits that when she moved to Port Jefferson in 2000 to settle down with her husband and children, she was somewhat removed from the environmental field and instead focused her attention on teaching English at the New York Institute of Technology. 

However, following her retirement in June 2021, her passion for environmentalism and nature preservation was reignited. So she connected with like-minded friends to discuss the environmental issues impacting Port Jefferson, Long Island and beyond.

Fils-Aime said her plan was to forge a group of individuals who understood the importance of environmentalism and how nature should ultimately be protected. The group goes by the name EcoLeague and consists of about 10 members with three of them living out of state. 

Before expanding their various initiatives both on Long Island and outside New York, the group came together to focus on the move away from plastics. 

“I had been having these conversations with my friends and it seemed we were always talking about plastic, and was there any better way to recycle it,” she said. “My friends didn’t necessarily know each other, but I thought they would all be compatible.”

On Sept. 18, Fils-Aime and other members of the EcoLeague joined a small group of protesters to call out Mather Hospital’s move to clear the surrounding woods and walking trails to make way for additional hospital parking. 

‘Holly really understands the value that birds and wildlife bring to us as humans.’

— Ana Hozyainova

The protesters were joined by Ana Hozyainova, formerly working in international human rights, who ran for a seat on the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees earlier this year.

Though she was not elected to the village board, Hozyainova used her platform in the fall to draw attention to what she, EcoLeague and the remaining protesters felt was an unjust action carried out by Mather and the village. 

The demonstrators protested these actions because the woods are “crucial in protecting Port Jefferson from further flooding, from even steeper increases in temperatures, but also ensuring that our backyards are filled with birds and insects that protect against harmful pests,” Hozyainova said in an interview.

A lawsuit against the parking lot expansion was filed in August, but this measure proved to be unsuccessful. The woodland was cleared, and the additional hospital parking was paved. 

“I had done the right thing by signing on to the lawsuit,” Fils-Aime said. “We filed the lawsuit in August. We didn’t get what we wanted.” She added, “This was, in our minds, an act of complete disregard for the concerns of Port Jefferson citizens. … This was a part of our habitat. People enjoyed going in there with their kids and so on.”

Hozyainova expressed her concern that the new parking lot at Mather and the predilection to clear out trees to expand backyards and to pave new driveways are all leading to what could be a disturbing situation. 

“The more impermeable surfaces that we create, the more we reduce the capacity of the water to go down into the ground and be absorbed into the ground,” said Hozyainova, who also expressed concern that flooding is only going to get worse with deforestation and a rise in sea levels due to climate change. 

Asked about working with Fils-Aime and the vision that the EcoLeague founder has for Port Jefferson, Hozyainova said, “Holly really understands the value that birds and wildlife bring to us as humans, because it’s a well-documented fact that we need access to nature to be well. Nature is a part of what we try to protect.” 

As for what’s next for EcoLeague and its founder, Fils-Aime is optimistic. A current endeavor is appealing to small businesses and company leaders to make a move away from plastic to aluminum, which is infinitely recyclable. 

Fils-Aime is determined to continue working with EcoLeague and spreading her environmentalist message, with the goal to change some minds and hearts in the village and greater community. 

“We don’t want to make enemies, but if we see something that is not right, that is hurting the environment, that is hurting Port Jefferson, we are going to be doing something right,” Fils-Aime said. “Whatever we need to do, we’re going to be doing something.”

For her passionate environmentalism, TBR News Media is pleased to name Fils-Aime a 2022 Person of the Year.