Suffolk County Government

Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. Wikimedia Commons photo

By Peter Sloniewsky

On Thursday, June 11, Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) was joined by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) to promote a new I/A water filtration system, soon to be installed at Cedar Beach.

Innovative and Alternative On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems use advanced treatment methods to remove nitrogen and other pollutants from wastewater before it is released into the environment.

As of July 2021, Suffolk County requires installment of I/A systems for most new residential construction projects. However, much of Long Island, especially Suffolk, uses septic systems instead of sewers due to the area’s historic low population density. While septic systems are cost-effective and efficient, increases in population have led to nitrogen pollution in both surface-level and underground bodies of water. This nitrogen pollution causes harmful algal blooms, which can destroy ecosystems by consuming excess oxygen in water and cause a variety of conditions in exposed humans.

The more-than 1.5 million people of Suffolk County rely on more than 380,000 cesspools and wastewater systems, including over 209,000 systems located in areas that already have environmental risks. Bonner, who represents the town’s District 2, told TBR News Media that “we have a water problem, with a direct correspondence to cesspools.”

Additionally, the sewer systems already in place on Long Island have a tendency to contribute to road runoff, with a similar effect of nitrogen pollution. When there is more water than sewer pipe systems can handle, partially treated wastewater can flow directly into nearby bodies of water, which can include waste, pesticides, oil and litter. Bonner clarified that “the topography [of the North Shore] lends itself to road runoff … I/A systems and sewers will certainly help that.”

In Suffolk County, there are two types of I/A systems which have been approved by the Department of Health Services — FujiClean and HydroAction. Both technologies have been proven to reduce total nitrogen levels far below the county standard, and to reduce those levels more than 80% from conventional septic systems (which do not typically meet the standard).

The Cedar Beach filtration system will be paid for by a $100,000 grant funded by the Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program. This program was revised and extended in late June, and was sponsored by Romaine.

Revisions to the program include the establishment of a referendum for this November’s general election ballot, which, if approved, would establish an additional sales tax of one-eighth of 1 percent to fund a new Water Quality Restoration Fund. Romaine claimed he “cannot emphasize enough the importance of this referendum” to address water contaminants, and the language of the referendum itself claims that its passage will ensure “county funding to 2060 for clean water projects, improvements in drinking water, bays and harbors” — such as the I/A system to be installed at Cedar Beach.

Bonner told TBR News Media that this new fund would be “split between I/A systems and sewers,” and Romaine described the fund as vital to fund sewer construction especially in less developed areas of the county.

Pictured at the Youth Award Ceremony in Hauppauge are from left Legislator and Minority Leader Jason Richberg, who sponsored this legislation, Legislator Rob Trotta and Jacob Wolmetz

In 2020, the Legislature established the Annual Youth Award to recognize an exceptional young person in each Legislative District. Legislator Trotta named Jacob Wolmetz, a sophomore at Hauppauge High School, as his district Youth Award recipient. Shannon Griffin, the social worker at the school, nominated him.

Jacob is President of the Social Awareness/Students Against Destructive Decisions Club and Vice President of Model United Nations. He is also involved with the Student Council, Ignition (a freshman mentoring program), Natural Helpers, and on the Principal Honor Roll. He is the student representative for Cohen’s Strong Mental health, a program that works with Northwell Health to promote mental health in schools. In that capacity, Jacob has advocated for funding in Albany and Washington, DC.

Active in the French Honor Society, Jacob received both the bronze and silver medals from Le Grands Concours, a national French contest, in which he placed sixth in the country on the 2024 exam.

Legislator Trotta said, “Jacob is a bright young man who has accomplished a great deal for his age. All of his school extracurricular activities and his efforts to solicit funding to promote mental health in schools impresses me. He clearly has developed leadership skills, and other qualities of humanity so desirable in young people. I wish him much success with his future endeavors.”

 

Pictured at the Eagle Scout Court of Honor from left: New York State Senator Mario Mattera, Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, Eagle Scouts Ryan Bennett, Steven Cirarolo, Brendan Kieran and Joshua Prew and New York State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta recognized four new Eagle Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 7 at their Eagle Scout Court of Honor at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James last month. Held on June 9, fellow scouts, troop leaders, family, friends and several dignitaries attended the ceremony to congratulate and support the new Eagle Scouts.

All of the young men acquired the necessary merit badges and demonstrated their leadership skills, as well as completing their Community Service Project to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in scouting.

Ryan Bennet, of St. James and a senior at Chaminade High School, designed and built a pergola over a baptismal font at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Ronkonkoma.

For his project, Steven Ciraolo, of St. James and a junior at Smithtown High School East, made educational signs explaining the life cycle of trees and installed them along a nature trail at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.

Brendan Kieran, of Smithtown and a sophomore at Chaminade High School, created a new basketball court at Sts. Philip and James School/Parish. He installed two new basketball hoops and outlined the full court.

Also doing a project at Sts. Philip and James, Joshua H. Prew, of Lake Grove and a sophomore at St. John The Baptist High School, cleared the overgrown shrubbery and installed two benches adjacent to the basketball court so the children have a nice outdoor seating area.

“Coming to the Eagle Scout Court of Honor is the best part of my job. The fact that each of you achieved the rank of Eagle Scout while still a teenager is an enormous accomplishment and this recognition will be with you for the rest of your lives and you will always be held to a higher standard because of this achievement,” said Legislator Rob Trotta.

Pixabay photo.

By Christopher Schultz

For nearly five years, the Stop-Arm camera program has been implemented on most school buses on Long Island. The legislation was signed by then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in August 2019.

The program uses security cameras at the front or back of each bus to report any car that illegally passes in front of a school bus when it is dropping off or picking up children. This legislation attempts to prevent drivers from getting around the buses and make the roads safer for children, especially elementary and middle school-aged children.

Last month, the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency issued a report of all known grievances between Sept. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2022, on the program administered by TPVA and Bus Patrol America.

Violators are required to pay fines starting at $250 per offense, which increases in increments of $25 per added violation. 

During the collection period of the audit, revenues from fines associated with the bus stop violations totaled $34,739,404 for TPVA and $2,232,323 for the East End towns/villages. Reimbursements (expenditures) to Bus Patrol for their contractual share amounted to $15,632,732 for TPVA and $904,090 for the East End towns/villages.

Yet, the TPVA cited nearly 52,000 instances, or more than 25% of total fines, where a suspected person did not pay their expected fine. It also cited other statistics in charts and graphs to show the law’s punitive effects on Long Island residents. 

Some Long Island residents believe this law is problematic.

The debate remains about whether the new Stop-Arm program is necessary or just an easy revenue tactic. One thing is certain: Drivers of vehicles must be extra wary when school buses are stopping.

Pixabay photo.

By Peter Sloniewsky

Suffolk County Legislature voted 15-2 Tuesday, June 25, to approve I.R. 1461 which will extend and revise the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program. County Executive Ed Romaine (R) is expected to sign the measure into law July 8 for the mandatory referendum to be added to the November ballot. 

This program, if passed via referendum, will establish the new Water Quality Restoration Fund supported by an additional sales and use tax of 1/8%. It is estimated the increase in sales tax collections will fund about $4 billion over 50 years to implement the county’s Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan.

In June and July 2023, a 10-7 vote along party lines doomed the measure from reaching that November’s ballot.

The 1.5 million people of Suffolk County currently rely on more than 380,000 cesspools and wastewater systems, including over 209,000 systems located in environmentally sensitive areas. This decentralized infrastructure has been a significant cause of nitrogen pollution across the county. In both surface-level and underground bodies of water, this nitrogen pollution causes harmful algae blooms, which can release toxins into fish, destroy ecosystems by consuming excessive oxygen in the water and cause a variety of conditions in exposed humans.

Passage of the referendum has economic as well as health benefits. Creating and maintaining new wastewater infrastructure will create a number of well-paying jobs for the county government. Additionally, the risks posed to businesses reliant on Suffolk County water cannot be understated, as well as the threats to beaches across Long Island.

The Water Quality Restoration Fund can be used for water quality improvement, such as enhancing and maintaining existing sewerage facilities, consolidating sewer districts and replacing and installing wastewater treatment systems in areas where sewers cannot be installed. 

The language of the referendum itself is straightforward: “A yes vote ensures county funding to 2060 for clean water projects, improvements in drinking water, bays and harbors, and a no vote continues water quality degradation.”

Romaine claimed that passage of the referendum will be vital to fund sewer constructions, especially in less developed areas of the county, and the broad swaths of land with only cesspools installed. Romaine said that he “cannot emphasize enough the importance of this referendum” to address water contaminants.

Romaine was also the primary sponsor of the bill, which was co-sponsored by Legislators James Mazzarella (R-Mastic) and Ann Welker (D-Southampton).

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), who voted for the bill, claimed in a statement that while the bill gives the county the authority to establish longer-term funding for wastewater improvement projects, it also allows the county to apply for “much-needed” matching grant funding from the New York State and federal governments. 

The final decision will rest in the hands of Suffolk County voters on Nov. 5.

Pixabay photo

In an era where environmental degradation and the proliferation of microplastics are rampant, it is crucial for communities to take proactive steps toward sustainability. Introduced by county Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), bill I.R. 1371 is a commendable effort aimed at reducing the environmental impact of single-use plastics in Suffolk County. 

This bill, if passed by the Legislature and signed by County Executive Ed Romaine (R), would prohibit restaurants and third-party delivery services from providing single-use utensils and condiment packages unless explicitly requested by customers.

The significance of this bill extends beyond mere policy changes; it embodies a collective commitment to a healthier environment and community — advocacy for the bill is rooted in the undeniable truth that excessive plastic waste poses a severe threat to our natural surroundings. 

Plastics often end up on our beaches, clogging our street drains and breaking down into microparticles. These particles can be inhaled or ingested, eventually finding their way into the food chain and even human reproductive organs.

This bill is not about banning plastic but rather encouraging mindfulness. The environmental mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” emphasizes that reduction is the highest priority. By limiting the distribution of unnecessary plastic, we address the problem at its source, preventing waste before it starts. This approach not only protects our environment but also enhances the quality of life.

The bill emphasizes that the reduction of plastic is beneficial for everyone, including businesses. Beyond cost savings, reducing plastic waste also safeguards our tourism industry, which is vital to Suffolk County’s economy. Tourists are drawn to our pristine beaches and vibrant natural beauty; plastic pollution undermines these attractions and threatens our economic well-being.

Living in a healthy environment is not just a privilege; it is a necessity. We must hold businesses accountable for their environmental impact and encourage the use of environmentally friendly alternatives. By doing so, we protect our natural resources, support our local economy and ensure a healthier future for all residents of Suffolk County. 

The future of our takeout restaurants, beaches and public health could be positively influenced by this legislation. While you won’t be forced to forgo single-use utensils, considering environmentally friendly alternatives can make a significant difference.

This is essential, commonsense legislation that the county Legislature must find a way of passing.

Legislator Steve Englebright. Photo courtesy Office of Leg. Englebright

By Ava Himmelsbach

Introduced by county Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) at the Suffolk County Legislature’s April 9 meeting, bill I.R. 1371 may change how Suffolk County treats the environment.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by County Executive Ed Romaine (R), this bill would ban restaurants and third-party delivery services from providing single-use utensils and condiment packages unless requested by a customer. The goals and potential impacts of this bill were discussed during the Legislature’s May 7 general meeting and voted upon during last week’s committee meeting but failed to pass.

Englebright emphasized that this bill is meant to help the environment, which could concurrently help the community. “We’re trying to basically keep the extra plastic — that nobody even really uses in many cases — from just being callously or carelessly disposed of. It often ends up on our beaches, clogging our street drains and breaking down into microparticles that are able to be inhaled in some cases, or that are taken up in the food chain by organisms that concentrate the plastic going up the food chain.” 

“So, this is not a ban on plastic,” Englebright clarified. “It’s simply an effort to cause people to be more thoughtful.”

This seemingly simple and nonrestrictive proposal has caused disagreement that seems to be rooted in political variance. Nonetheless, Englebright believes that the issue of microplastics and environmental concerns should not be viewed from an argumentative perspective. 

“There’s really no reason, in my opinion, not to implement this — because it doesn’t hurt anybody and it only has the potential to be helpful. You know, there are three Rs in the environment.” Englebright explained why limiting plastic distribution should be prioritized. “I’m talking about reduce, reuse, recycle. And those three Rs for the environment are really very important to keep in mind. They are listed in priority order. Recycling is the least appropriate way to deal with contaminants, pollutants and excessive litter, or in this case plastic debris. The most important is to not create the problem in the first place. That’s ‘reduce.’ And so, reduction is the highest priority. That’s what this bill does.”

Less plastic being thrown away could mean a better quality of life for Long Island residents. “The reduction of the line of plastic into the environment is really something that shouldn’t be controversial, because it saves money for food establishments that sell takeout food and it certainly prevents people from encountering problems with plastics,” Englebright said. He highlighted an often-overlooked impact of plastic waste: “Plastics have the potential to collapse or compromise parts of our largest industry, which is tourism.”

Despite some disagreement, this bill has been met with plenty of positivity and understanding by Suffolk County residents. “We’ve had very strong support, there were a number of speakers who spoke in support,” Englebright said. These supporters included local civic leaders and numerous speakers from waterfront communities and nonprofits.

Due to a tied vote, I.R. 1371 failed to move out of committee last week. However, Englebright stated that he intends to reintroduce it in the near future. “We’re going to redouble our efforts. There is every intention on my part to reintroduce the bill, and we may add some adjustments, making it more difficult to see a repeat of that action. So, some of the comments that were made on it by the presiding officer [Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst)] before he made his vote, we’re going to study those and see if there’s a way to apply some of those to the bill.”

Romaine would like to see the language of the bill, and he believes that with a thorough understanding of its contents, he would potentially be supportive of its passing. “I have some concerns about this bill,” he said. “But should the bill arrive at my desk, I would definitely consider signing it.”

From left, Legislator Bontempi with Suffolk County Healthcare Hero honoree Kacey Farber.

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R – 18th L.D.)honored Kacey Farber as the Suffolk County Healthcare Hero for the 18th Legislative District during the Suffolk County Legislature’s General Meeting on June 2. Kacey Farber, LMSW, is a highly dedicated and accomplished social worker with over 22 years of diverse experience.

As the Program Manager for the Reichert Family Caregiver Center at Huntington Hospital, Kacey has developed and coordinated a comprehensive caregiver support program for those feeling overwhelmed and lonely after finding themselves the primary caretaker of a sick parent, spouse, or child. Through her leadership and guidance, Kacey has created a “resource hub” for caretakers; including support groups, webinars, wellness-events for family caregivers, and a plethora of information on various topics related to caregiving. Additionally, Kacey oversees social work graduate interns and trains volunteer caregiver coaches. 

Throughout her career, Kacey has consistently demonstrated exceptional clinical skills and an unwavering dedication to supporting families. Honored with multiple awards for her valuable contributions, Kacey continues to make a significant and positive impact on the lives of those she serves.

“Recognizing Kacey Farber as a Suffolk County Healthcare Hero is a testament to her incredible dedication and commitment to improving the lives of others in our community, and we are truly grateful for her service,” said Legislator Bontempi.

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Senator Murray and Assemblyman Smith introduced “Nick’s Law” in 2023 (S6051/A6520) which will increase penalties for those convicted of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death. Photo courtesy Office of Dean Murray

By Samantha Rutt

A hit-and-run incident in Patchogue March 2023, which claimed the life of 25-year-old Nicholas Puzio, has spurred local leaders into action. Puzio, a resident of Farmingville, was tragically struck by two separate vehicles while crossing Route 112. Both drivers fled the scene, leaving him to die. 

Hit-and-run collisions are those in which at least one person involved in a crash flees the scene before offering any, or sufficient, information or aid to the other involved person or fails to properly report the crash. Hit-and-run violations – which are criminal offenses – can create additional burdens for law enforcement and for families looking for remediation as well as medical and insurance support.

Although Long Island roads are among the deadliest, few drivers involved in crashes that kill pedestrians or cyclists face criminal charges. That is, unless they are caught after fleeing the scene, or it can be proven they were drunk, under the influence of drugs or speeding.

Walk Safe Long Island, a collaborative of health and transportation safety educators from Nassau and Suffolk counties, says over the past three years in Nassau and Suffolk counties, 515 people have been hit and injured while walking, jogging or biking.

Pedestrian safety continues to be a serious concern. The Institute for Traffic Safety Management & Research states that from 2016 to 2020, pedestrians accounted for almost one quarter of the fatalities on New York’s roadways.

According to information from the National Center for Health Statistics, Long Island averages 18.2 roadway deaths per month. However, in the summer months this number trends upward as it nearly doubled, reaching 31 in August of last year.

In response, state Sen. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) introduced “Nick’s Law” in 2023. The proposed legislation aims to increase penalties for those convicted of leaving the scene of an incident involving a death. The move comes in the wake of a lenient six-month sentence handed down to one of the drivers involved in Puzio’s death, highlighting the inadequacies of current laws.

“Two drivers made reckless choices and left my son dying in the street. Who does that? Does anyone have regard for human life? The laws in New York State are far too lenient,” Puzio’s mother, Terry Puzio, voiced her anguish and frustration in a statement.

Under current laws, individuals caught fleeing the scene of a fatal incident face a Class D felony and a fine of up to $5,000. “Nick’s Law” would elevate the crime to a Class B felony with a fine of $30,000. This increase in penalties is aimed at deterring drivers from fleeing the scene to avoid harsher consequences for other offenses such as driving under the influence.

The need for this legislation is represented by the alarming statistics. According to multiple sources, in 2023, Suffolk County alone witnessed 16 fatal hit-and-run incidents. This year, multiple similar incidents have already occurred, including the recent death of 22-year-old volunteer firefighter Christopher Hlavaty in East Patchogue.

Hlavaty’s mother, Janine Hlavaty, shared her desire for the bill’s passage in a statement, saying, “My hope for the passage of ‘Nick’s Law’ is that people will think twice before leaving the scene of these horrific, life-altering accidents.”

The push for “Nick’s Law” has garnered support from local lawmakers and officials who have emphasized the importance of holding hit-and-run drivers accountable. 

“When people can face lighter sentences if they are involved in an accident while drunk or on drugs by leaving an injured person in the road, there is a clear benefit to them to run and hide. That is unacceptable and it must be changed as soon as possible,” state Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said in a statement.

The community’s outcry and the introduction of “Nick’s Law” showcases a collective demand for justice and safety on the roads. For now, the community awaits legislative action, hoping that “Nick’s Law” will bring about the change to deter future hit-and-run tragedies and provide justice for those who have lost their lives on the roads of Long Island.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta was the guest speaker at the Smithtown Senior Center’s Garden Club in May. After speaking about his vegetable garden and blackberry and raspberry plants, he was invited to come back this month.

Legislator Trotta invited Bonnie and Andrew Steinmuller, owners of ARS Landscape & Design and Podcat Farms located at 527 West Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown to join him. Bonnie was able to attend, but Andrew had a previous commitment. The young couple are raising their family in Smithtown while fulfilling their dream of having a farm, nursery, and local landscape/design business.

Bonnie gave a brief overview of her background and how she and her husband started their business. Then, gardening tips where shared by all. Such as, if you grow strawberries as they do at the Senior Center, they paint little rocks red with black dots to deter the birds from pecking at the real strawberries. Did you know that a mixture of water, coffee grounds, eggshells and a banana peel – simmered and strained – makes a healthy solution for watering plants and vegetables? Some people recommended shaving Irish Spring soap to keep the bugs and deer away from plants and others recommended tying some human hair on a plant to discourage the deer. Bonnie noted from her experience that if deer are hungry, they will eat anything, but they do tend to dislike plants with a strong odor. According to Patty Bornhoft, Senior Citizen Assistant at the Senior Center, if your fence is solid, the deer won’t jump over it as they cannot see what is beyond it and don’t want to take the chance of being injured.

Both Legislator Trotta and Bonnie shared some of their vegetable plants with the seniors and, in addition, Bonnie gave them a summer plant for all to enjoy at the Smithtown Senior Center.