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.

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.”