By Aidan Johnson
Mather Hospital has recently come under fire after removing trees, including walking trails, to expand its northern parking lot among other improvements.
On Sunday, Sept. 18, a small group of protesters gathered near the hospital parking lot, most of whom were from the local environmental group, EcoLeague, founded by Holly Fils-Aime with friends about a year and a half ago.
Despite receiving objections from EcoLeague, the Audubon Society and multiple citizens, Mather Hospital went through with plans to clear its forest area. “They kind of just plowed ahead because I think they were pretty sure that the [village] planning board would approve it,” Fils-Aime said. [See The Port Times Record’s June 16 story, “Port Jeff planning board approves environmental review of Mather expansions.”]
Feeling that they had no other option, Fils-Aime, along with Ana Hozyainova, a recent candidate for village trustee, decided to sue the hospital and the Village of Port Jefferson. While Fils-Aime and Hozyainova hoped for a class-action lawsuit, they struggled to find others to join their cause, citing fear of consequences among residents.
EcoLeague is also concerned that the cutting down of the woods will harm local species of animals and that Mather Hospital’s construction of a parking lot will act as a “heat sink,” raising local temperatures.
Additionally, critics suggest adding impermeable surfaces may exacerbate the ongoing flooding issue in Port Jefferson.
“As we take away permeable land from all of the hills around the village, the water runoff just runs down into the village harbor,” said Paul Ryan, another member of the protest. “With the combination of heavy rainstorms, along with less permeable land and sea [level] rise, we’re going to end up with more flooding in the village.”
In response to this criticism, Mather Hospital and Northwell Health released the following statement to TBR News Media:
“Mather Hospital and Northwell Health have thoroughly evaluated potential impacts of the project upon environmental resources in coordination with the Village of Port Jefferson as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. Regarding the removal of the trees, the hospital has committed $25,000 to the Village of Port Jefferson to plant trees within the village.
“With the completion of this project, our campus will foster an environment that represents the excellent care our physicians and team members provide. Especially in a pandemic era, we must ensure our infrastructure stays at the forefront of health care innovation and modernization. This expansion allows us to continue to serve our community at the top-tier level it deserves.”
The Village of Port Jefferson could not be reached for comment for this story.
— Photos by Aidan Johnson