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Ed Romaine

Supervisor Ed Romaine, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro and Suffolk SPCA Chief Roy Gross pose with a 32-inch female American alligator turned in on Amnesty Day. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Long Islanders turned in three American alligators and eight turtles at a recent animal amnesty event in Brookhaven Town, and all of the reptiles are shipping up to a Massachusetts sanctuary.

Brookhaven’s Holtsville Ecology Center hosted the event on Oct. 10 to allow residents to turn in any protected, endangered or threatened animals that require special New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits without fear of penalties or questioning. It was the second annual event of its kind for the town, which operated with the help of those two agencies and the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

People with dangerous or illegal animals were able to turn them over to professionals, no questions asked.

Suffolk SPCA Chief Roy Gross called the recent amnesty event a success, saying the three alligators turned in “had the potential of ending up endangering the public.”

According to Brookhaven Town, the average length a fully grown female American alligator is a little more than 8 feet, and a fully grown male can be longer than 11 feet. Of the three alligators turned in, two were males, measuring 27 and 29 inches, and one was a 32-inch female.

“People should think twice before acquiring illegal reptiles or mammals,” Gross said in a statement from the town. “They do not make good pets and you are risking fines and possible jail time.”

At last year’s animal amnesty event, people turned in 25 animals, including a western diamondback rattlesnake, a green anaconda, four boa constrictors, an American alligator and two marmosets.

“These animals were turned in before the people harboring them as pets released them into the wild, creating a potentially dangerous situation in our local communities,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said in a statement about the alligators and turtles turned over this year. “These animals will now receive proper care without posing a threat.”

Owners of potentially dangerous animals have dumped them in public places in the past, creating a public safety issue. In late August, a 25-pound alligator snapping turtle was discovered in a stream of the Nissequogue River opposite the Smithtown Bull on Route 25. The reptile is not indigenous to Long Island — it is a freshwater animal with enough power to bite off a human toe or finger, and is usually found in places from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle.

“People need to understand that many exotic animals can be very dangerous if not handled properly or allowed to grow to their adult size,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “They are even more threatening if released into the wild, where they could harm people or other animals.”

Funding would increase for snow removal, environment

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

By Giselle Barkley & Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town won’t ask for more money from residents next year, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine’s 2016 budget proposal.

Romaine (R) revealed his nearly $281 million budget plan at a meeting on Oct. 1, touting its benefits of complying with the state-imposed limit on property tax increases and putting more funding toward snow removal as the winter season approaches.

Crafting the budget was a challenge given the tight limit on how much the property tax levy could increase, according to Romaine — the state’s limit was 0.73 percent this year. Despite that, “I support the tax cap because I understand what the tax burden is on the taxpayers of this town,” Romaine said during a meeting with the press last week. “I’m trying to do my best to limit that tax burden while providing needed services and that’s crucial, and our five-year plan reflects that.”

According to the budget proposal, the town’s property tax levy will not see a net increase in 2016, holding taxes steady for many residents. Romaine was able to maintain the levy because of the amount of money the town will save from satisfying debts. Some of the money that would have gone toward those debt payments was used instead to fund increases in other budget lines. When money from the town’s debt reserve fund is excluded, the budget proposal actually reduces overall spending more than $800,000.

“That’s come from careful management of capital projects and the elimination of pipeline debt,” Finance Commissioner Tamara Wright said during the meeting.

Just as there were cuts in the budget, there were also additions. Romaine proposed bringing the highway department’s snow removal budget up to $5.2 million — a budget line the supervisor and the town board have been adding to since the massive February 2013 storm, frequently dubbed Nemo, that buried Long Island under three feet of dense snow. That removal budget has doubled in the last few years.

“I hope that someday we will have a less snowy winter,” Romaine said.

Town officials hope any leftover snow removal money will be deposited into a reserve account, to be used in an emergency winter weather situation.

The supervisor’s proposal also increases spending on environmental protection and funding for public safety staff, code enforcement and internal auditors, among others.

Romaine’s proposed capital budget totals $62.2 million, a reduction of about 2.4 percent from the current year. The capital funds will go toward local projects like long-awaited athletic fields in Selden and road and drainage improvements.

Brookhaven officials flood county public works offices with hopes of addressing water quality on North Shore

The creek flowing from Stony Brook Mill Pond, above, and into the Stony Brook Harbor is collecting sediment, making it difficult to use the body of water. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Just as the Town of Brookhaven officials are fighting to improve the Long Island Sound’s water quality, officials have also recently taken steps to combat the buildup of sediment deposits in Stony Brook Harbor.

According to a press release, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) wrote a letter to the Suffolk County Commissioner of Public Works Gil Anderson on Sept. 14 urging the county to include a navigational channel to the “Stony Brook Boat Works” property. The channel will end south of Brookhaven’s “kayak/canoe launch.”

Officials noted that the creek, which flows from Stony Brook Mill Pond into the Stony Brook Harbor, has accumulated sediment deposits over the years, which is restricting tidal flow in that area. The growth of Phragmites, a common grass found in wetlands, has largely contributed to the sediment deposits. Romaine said the water is shallow in that area and it is difficult for the anchored boats at the Stony Brook Yacht Club to navigate the body of water during low tide.

“[The town] raised this issue because we think it should be examined,” Romaine said. “We think that the boaters particularly in the yacht club should have the ability to use the recreational waterways. We also think it would help [tidal flushing] for that creek.”

Romaine also said even if the project is approved, dredging the body of water depends on the amount of money available to execute the project. Once approved, the town will have to handle how and where the sediment is disposed. Romaine said hydraulic dredges, which dredge spoils and pump them half a mile away, and dewatering sites among others are ways the town can dispose of the dredge spoils.

In a press release, Romaine asked for the Stony Brook Task Force and Legislature Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) to support his position on the issue. Although Romaine submitted the letter to the county, it’s unclear when or if the Dredge Committee will accept the modified project, as the committee doesn’t meet regularly and is working on other dredging projects.

“It will take some time before the county addresses this. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Romaine said in a phone interview. “This may not be their first priority but [the town] put the request in and we’re hopeful that it will get some attention.”

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old. Photo by Erika Karp

The Brookhaven Town Board has officially backed Supervisor Ed Romaine’s push for a horseshoe crab harvesting ban at town parks and properties.

At a meeting on July 16, councilmembers unanimously supported a resolution that requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation close North and South Shore parks and underwater lands to horseshoe crab harvesting and recommends strategies to reduce the harvesting. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also spoke at the meeting and threw in his support for the effort, as it would help protect the crab population — which, according to some reports, has decreased.

“I support this resolution and encourage its passage and compliment the very fact that it has been initiated,” said Englebright, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, and a local fisherman, left, speak at a Brookhaven Town Board meeting. Photo by Erika Karp
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, and a local fisherman, left, speak at a Brookhaven Town Board meeting. Photo by Erika Karp

In May, Romaine announced he would seek a horseshoe crab harvesting ban for areas within 500 feet of town-owned waterfront properties. Fishermen often use horseshoe crabs for bait, but the crabs are also used for medicinal purposes, as their blue blood, which is worth an estimated $15,000 a quart, is used in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries to detect bacterial contamination in drugs and supplies.

Advocates for the ban have said the crabs, whose species is 450 million years old, play a vital role in the ecosystem, as birds like the red knot eat the crabs’ eggs.

Local parks covered within the town’s request include Port Jefferson Harbor; the western boundary of the Mount Sinai inlet; underwater lands and town-owned shoreline of Setauket Harbor; and Shoreham Beach.

The DEC already has bans in place at Mount Sinai Harbor and West Meadow Beach.

In addition, the town asked the DEC to consider mandating fishers to use bait bags and/or artificial bait; banning the harvesting of horseshoe crab females; and establishing full harvest bans several days before and after full moons in May and June — the crabs’ nesting season.

Those latter recommendations were not included in the original resolution, but were added after weeks of discussion on the issue.

Local baymen have said their livelihoods would be jeopardized by any further restrictions, and the seamen remained opposed to the resolution last Thursday. Many also disagreed with officials that the crab population was decreasing.

“If you were with us you would know the quantities are there,” Florence Sharkey, president of the Brookhaven Baymen’s Association, said at the meeting.

Sharkey added that alternative baits have been tried, but don’t work.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine holds a horseshoe crab as he calls on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine holds a horseshoe crab as he calls on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp

Despite the testimony, the Town Board moved forward with resolution, which had been tabled for nearly two months. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) called the decision a difficult one.

During public comment, Englebright invited the fishers to speak before his committee, as the state is wrestling with the issue as well.

The assemblyman introduced legislation in March that would impose a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs and their eggs until 2021. While the bill wasn’t voted on in the last legislative session, a different bill, which outlines similar recommendations to the DEC regarding crab conservation and management, was approved.

Englebright said the law would be revisited in two years. He said he hoped the DEC would get better data on the crabs in the future as well.

While the state continues to grapple with the issue, Englebright noted the town’s requested ban is different, as it pertains to parkland.

“This is a park and public expectation is different than [at] the general shoreline,” he said. “A park is usually a place that animals have the opportunity to have refuge.”

Town officials are limiting development at the former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town will restrict development at a polluted site in Port Jefferson Station using a special zoning district.

The town board approved the new zoning for the former property of aircraft-parts manufacturer Lawrence Aviation Industries on Thursday night, several months after approving a land use plan for the site off Sheep Pasture Road that called for the special district.

Adjacent to a stretch of the Greenway Trail and some residences in the northern part of the hamlet, the site requires closer inspection because of its history — Lawrence Aviation dumped harmful chemicals at the site over years, contaminating soil and groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have been working for several years to undo the damage through the federal Superfund program, which cleans up such contaminations of hazardous materials, but it could still take two more decades to completely clean local groundwater.

Brookhaven’s land use plan recommended the special zoning district to limit potential commercial uses at the contaminated site in the future — for instance, some uses that would be permissible in light industry zoning elsewhere in town will not be permitted at Lawrence Aviation, like agriculture, churches, day cares, recreation halls or schools. It does not support retail uses, but does not rule out office uses like laboratories and other research space.

The new district includes two zones — at the property and at nearby residential sites — and seeks to “protect those who occupy the site,” according to Beth Reilly, a deputy town attorney.

In addition to restricting some uses and prohibiting residential development in the former industrial area, it provides incentives such as speedier environmental reviews and eased requirements for lot setbacks and sizes to promote alternative energy production there, particularly solar energy.

To further protect residents, no new homes constructed in the neighborhood area of the special district could have basements, due to the contamination to local soil and groundwater.

Reilly was quick to point out that this didn’t mean the town was moving backward —all existing basements could stay.

The basement ban goes hand in hand with legislation the town passed last year that requires all new homes built near contaminated properties like Lawrence Aviation to be tested for soil vapors before they can receive certificates of occupancy.

The Lawrence Aviation zoning district passed, following a public hearing, with an abstention from Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who reiterated his opinion that the site should remain undeveloped. He also renewed his call for Suffolk County to add the property to its land bank or use it for open space so it could “heal itself.”

When Romaine first made that suggestion in the fall, he pointed to the $12 million lien the county had on the site, resulting from all the property taxes owed on the site. The EPA has another $25 million lien on the property due to the cost of the cleanup.

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Dan Panico (R-Mastic) have supported the idea.

“I really think the county should consider this for an acquisition into their land bank,” Panico said Thursday.

The Suffolk County Land Bank Corporation, established in 2013, aims to rehabilitate contaminated properties, known as brownfields, to get them back on the county’s property tax roll. The county pays property taxes on abandoned parcels, which causes the tax liens on the properties — and thus their sale prices — to increase, but the land bank lets the county sell the properties for less than the taxes owed, making it easier to get them cleaned up and redeveloped.

Builds upon revitalization efforts and Connect LI

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, along with regional leaders, announced a new regional plan on Tuesday. Photo from the county executive’s office

As the percentage of youth on Long Island declines, regional leaders are determined to entice young people to move in and stay, but their plan comes with a price.

On Tuesday, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and several regional leaders, including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), announced they are seeking $350 million to fund the Long Island Innovation Zone, I-Zone, plan. I-Zone aims to connect Long Island’s transit-oriented downtown areas, like New Village in Patchogue, the Meadows at Yaphank and the planned Ronkonkoma Hub, to institutions like Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The I-Zone plan emphasizes the use of a bus rapid transit, or BRT, system  that runs north to south and would connect Stony Brook University and Patchogue. There will also be a paralleling hiking and biking trail, and the system will serve as a connection between the Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma and Montauk Long Island Rail Road lines.

The goal is to make Long Island more appealing to the younger demographic and avoid local economic downturns.

According to the Long Island Index, from 2000 to 2009, the percentage of people aged 25-34 decreased by 15 percent. The majority of these individuals are moving to major cities or places where transportation is readily accessible.

“We must challenge ourselves because if we don’t, we have an Island at risk,” Romaine said. Government officials acknowledged that without younger people living on Long Island the population will be unable to sustain the local economy. Fewer millennials means there are less people who will purchase property and contribute to the success of businesses in the area.

The proposal comes after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) call for regional planning.

The plan also builds upon the Ronkonkoma Hub plan, with the installation of sewers and a new parking area. The I-Zone proposal claims to improve Long Island’s water quality, as funding will help connect sewers through Islip downtown areas to the Southwest Sewer District.

Additionally, the plan calls for the construction of a new airport terminal on the north side of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip and for the relocation of the Yaphank train station in closer proximity to Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“We have all that stuff [access to recreational activities, education center and downtown areas] here but we don’t have a connection. We don’t have any linked together,” said Justin Meyers, Suffolk’s assistant deputy county executive for communications.

Bellone and Romaine, as well as Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley, Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Long Island Regional Planning Council Chairman John Cameron, Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, Vice President of Development and Community Relations at CSHL Charles Prizzi, Chief Planning Officer of the Long Island Rail Road Elisa Picca, Director of BNL Doon Gibbs, and founder of Suburban Millennial Institute Jeff Guillot, were involved with the I-Zone proposal.

If funding for the project is received, construction could begin in approximately two years, Meyers said, adding that constructing the BRT and the hiking and biking trial would take as few as five years.

Bellone said that without younger people moving in, the trend could lead to the Island’s economic stagnation.

“We are aging faster than any other region in our country,” he said. “The inevitable result of that will be an ever-growing population that naturally is pulling more social services infrastructure.”

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, Councilmen Dan Panico and Neil Foley and town waste management officials Tim Timms, Frank Tassone and Frank Balsamo celebrate removing more than 1,500 illegal signs from town property. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town announced on Monday that workers had removed more than 1,500 illegally posted signs from rights-of-way and utility poles in the year since the town adopted stricter laws on posting signs.

The town board banned all signs on public property last April in a unanimous move, after Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) introduced the tighter restriction.

Romaine had announced the idea during his 2014 State of the Town address, saying the ban would help clean up the town and bring local laws into step with federal regulations.

The outright ban on signs on town property replaced a rule previously on the books in Chapter 57A of the town code that faced a court challenge from a Mount Sinai business owner, who alleged it favored commercial speech over noncommercial speech. Brookhaven Town adopted its new regulations while that case was working its way through the courts, although the New York State Appellate Court ruled in favor of the town in December. The new code eliminated a requirement to notify violators before an illegal sign is removed.

Romaine and a few other town board members visited the Brookhaven landfill recently to mark the one-year anniversary of the new sign code and celebrate the town’s waste management department removing more than 1,500 illegal signs since the law’s enactment.

Violators of the town sign code face a $250 fine.