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Kara Hahn

Algae built up on a lake where birds and other marina life inhabit. File photo

By Rebecca Anzel

Long Island’s economic prosperity and quality of life are at risk from an unlikely source, but both the Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven governments are taking steps to combat the issue.

Bodies of water in the county face nitrogen pollution, which leads to harmful algae blooms and a decrease in shellfish population, among other environmental defects. Critically, nitrogen seeps into the Island’s groundwater, which is the region’s only source of drinking water.

Fishing, tourism and boating are billion-dollar industries in Suffolk County — approximately 60 percent of the Island’s economy is reliant on clean water. County property values are also tied to water clarity, according to a Stony Brook University report.

Nitrogen enters ground and surface water from various sources of runoff, such as landscaping, agriculture and pet waste. But the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution is failing septic systems, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) designated as “public water enemy No. 1.”

Elected officials and environmental advocates gathered at the home of Jim and Donna Minei, recipients of a Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems through the Suffolk County Septic Demonstration Pilot Program. Photo from Steve Bellone's office
Elected officials and environmental advocates gathered at the home of Jim and Donna Minei, recipients of a Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems through the Suffolk County Septic Demonstration Pilot Program. Photo from Steve Bellone’s office

Which is why Bellone signed into law last month a resolution that amended Suffolk County’s sanitary code to help protect the county’s aquifer and surface water by improving wastewater treatment technologies to combat nitrogen pollution as part of the county’s Reclaim Our Water initiative.

“It doesn’t help our tourism industry, our quality of life or our ecosystems,” county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said of issues with the Island’s water. “Tackling the nitrogen problem, while not a sexy issue, is a very important one.” Hahn is chairwoman of the county’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee.

Town and county officials are tackling the problem by utilizing what Hahn called a “multipronged approach.” Brookhaven is working to track any issues with outfalls, where drains and sewers empty into local waters, and Suffolk County is employing alternative septic systems.

Municipalities like Brookhaven are required by New York State to inspect each point where waste systems empty into a body of water and create a map of their location. It is part of a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit because, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, storm sewers collect pollutants like bacteria, motor oil, fertilizer, heavy metals and litter, and deposit them directly into bodies of water.

In addition to conducting the inspections of outfalls necessary to comply with the MS4 permit, the Town of Brookhaven conducts a DNA analysis of any outfall that has indications of impacting water quality. Since 2007, Brookhaven has spent more than $880,000 on this state requirement, Veronica King, the town’s stormwater manager, said.

“You want to put your resources where it makes the most sense,” she said. “Instead of dumping millions of dollars into structural retrofits that don’t address the true problem, the DNA analysis helps us to prioritize and make educated and cost-effective decisions.”

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Brookhaven contracts with Cornell Cooperative Extension because it maintains a DNA “library” of Long Island wildlife, which it uses to identify the source of any pathogens in collected stormwater. For instance, if the DNA tests conclude they came from pets, Brookhaven might conduct an educational campaign to remind residents to clean up after their furry friends. If the pathogens come from a human source, there might be an issue with a septic system.

“This type of analysis could prove of great importance because any patterns identified as a result of this study can help determine what next steps can be taken to improve water quality where necessary,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said.

Brookhaven has applied for a state grant to help pay for these DNA tests and outfall inspections for the first time this year, because, King said, this is the first time New York State has offered a grant to cover the work.

The DNA tests are important, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said, because they help to identify ways to decrease the amount of nitrogen seeping into groundwater.

“The amount of nitrogen in the Magothy aquifer layer has increased over 200 percent in 13 years,” he said of one of the sub-layers that is most commonly tapped into in Suffolk, although not the deepest in the aquifer. “Cleaning up our waterways is not going to be done overnight — this is going to take a long time — but the waterways did not become polluted overnight.”

Suffolk County launched its Septic Demonstration Program to install cesspool alternative systems in 2014, called Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (known as I/A OWTS), on the property of participants. Manufacturers of the technology donated the systems and installed them at no cost to the homeowner.

The county’s goal in testing these alternative systems is to lower the levels of nitrogen seeping into groundwater. According to a June 2016 Stony Brook University report, “the approximately 360,000 septic tank/leaching systems and cesspools that serve 74 percent of homes across Suffolk County have caused the concentrations of nitrogen in groundwater to rise by 50 percent since 1985.”

More than 10,000 of the nitrogen-reducing systems are installed in New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — all areas with similar environmental concerns to Suffolk County — according to the county executive’s office. County employees met with officials from these states to help shape its program.

“Tackling the nitrogen problem, while not a sexy issue, is a very important one.”

—Kara Hahn

The I/A OWTS installations worked out so well during a demonstration program that on July 26, the county passed a resolution to allow the Department of Health Services to regulate their use.

Typical cesspools are estimated to cost between $5,000 and $7,000 to install. The low nitrogen systems cost between $12,000 and $20,000, Hahn said. She added that as more areas facing similar environmental concerns require lower nitrogen standards and, as the technology improves, the cost of cesspool alternatives will go down.

Until then, Hahn said county officials have been discussing the possibility of subsidizing the cost of installing the I/A OWTS. It might begin requiring new homes to install low-nitrogen systems instead of traditional cesspools. Or, upon an old system’s failure, it might require an I/A OWTS be installed.

“We hope to eventually be able to help in some way,” she said.

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she hopes local businesses begin producing the alternative systems that the county determines best work for the area since it would “keep the economic dollar here” and provide jobs.

In January, Brookhaven will be the first town, Romaine said, that will begin mandating new constructions within 500 feet of any waterway to install an alternative wastewater treatment system.

“I think alternative systems work,” he said. “In many ways, even though we’re a local government, we are on the cutting edge of clean water technologies.”

Both the initiatives by Brookhaven and Suffolk County “go hand and glove,” George Hoffman, of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said. Many of Suffolk’s harbors and bays are struggling due to stormwater and nitrogen pollution, including Great South Bay, Lake Ronkonkoma, Northport Harbor, Forge River, Port Jefferson Harbor, Mount Sinai Harbor and Peconic River/Peconic Bay.

“Living on an island on top of our water supply and with thousands of homes along the shores of our harbors and bays, it never made sense to allow cesspools to proliferate,” he said.

The success of the initiatives, though, depends on residents.

“The public needs to be always recognizing that whatever we do on land here on Long Island and in Suffolk County affects not only the drinking water beneath us but the quality of our bays and waterways, streams and rivers all around us,” Hahn said. “It’s critically important that folks have that understanding. Everything we do on land affects our water here on the Island.”

Stony Brook’s Center for Planetary Exploration opens

Renee Schofield explains the testbed for the PIXL she built. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Although some might not think of Suffolk County as an obvious hotbed of planetary exploration, it doesn’t take long to discover just how impactful the research and work conducted on Long Island has been on the growth of space science.

Going back to the Apollo program in the early 1960s, the Grumman corporation was vital in landing astronauts on the moon by designing, assembling and testing the lunar module at its facility in Bethpage.

Even closer to home, the founder of Stony Brook University’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Dr. Oliver Schaeffer, became the first person to date celestial objects. He confirmed that the moon rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts were more than four billion years old.

Donald Hendrix leads a research team to help future astronauts prevent long-term illnesses. Photo by Kevin Redding
Donald Hendrix leads a research team to help future astronauts prevent long-term illnesses. Photo by Kevin Redding

Now half a century later, Stony Brook University has once again cemented Long Island’s place in innovative planetary research.

In 2014, Timothy Glotch, a professor in the department of geosciences, received a $5.5 million grant from NASA through their Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute program to support his research. The department eventually obtained a 6,500-square-foot, world-class facility consisting of three different labs.

On Aug. 26, the public was invited to the official opening of Stony Brook’s Center for Planetary Exploration, where faculty members and students in the department gave a tour of their labs and showcased the inspiring work that has taken place so far.

At the core of CPEX is the Stony Brook-led multi-institutional Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration Institute, one of the nine nodes of the NASA program.

“We’re trying to pave the way for future human exploration of the solar system,” Glotch said. “Right now we are doing basic science; we are doing exploration activities that are going to get humans to Mars, back to the moon, and to the moons of Mars. That work is going on right here. We’re kind of leading the way in space exploration and we’re very proud of that. ”

He stressed the importance of the overall goal: to train the next generation of solar system explorers and scientists. The students are going to be running missions in the next decade or two, he said.

“Just as Schaeffer put together a young and talented group of researchers, we now have an extraordinarily talented group of young researchers working in planetary science,” current Chair of the Department Dan Davis said.

“We’re trying to pave the way for future human exploration of the solar system.”

—Timothy Glotch

As for the three different labs, professor Joel Hurowitz runs the geochemistry lab, which includes a student-built test bed for the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, which will fly on the Mars 2020 rover.

The PIXL is an X-ray microscope that looks at rock samples and builds maps of the elemental distribution in those samples to make it easier to analyze.

“From there, we can start to dig in and try to understand whether the environment that those rocks were deposited in were habitable,” Hurowitz said. “PIXL can detect things that are chemical biosignatures. It can detect biosignature in a rock on the surface of Mars. So we’re trying to place some constraints on whether or not there was ever life on Mars.”

The lab is also conducting a series of experiments to determine the damaging effects of lunar dust inhalation by future astronauts.

“What I do is I try to find minerals here on Earth that are similar to what’s found on the moon,” Donald Hendrix, a graduate student leading the research, said. “I grind them up into powders and determine what chemicals are made when they are exposed to fluid, because whenever you breathe in a mineral powder, they can produce chemicals inside your lungs that can potentially cause a lot of damage and turn into lung cancer.

Since humans are going to go back to the moon in the next 20 or 30 years, for really long periods of time, I want to know what hazards astronauts might face while they’re up there.”

Through the research he’s conducting with his team, he’s trying to figure out where astronauts could go that won’t be quite as dangerous.

Professors Joel Hurowitz, Deanne Rogers and Timothy Glotch guide their students in planetary research. Photo by Kevin Redding
Professors Joel Hurowitz, Deanne Rogers and Timothy Glotch guide their students in planetary research. Photo by Kevin Redding

Deanne Rogers runs the remote sensing facility, where faculty, students and postdoctoral researchers analyze various images and infrared data that come from Mars and the moon. From there, they incorporate observation skills and geological training to learn about the planet or moon’s environmental and climatic history.

Glotch’s spectroscopy lab is where students acquire infrared spectra of minerals and rocks for comparison to data collected by Mars and Moon orbiters. Within this lab is the Planetary and Asteroid Regolith Spectroscopy Environmental Chamber, used to re-create the conditions on the lunar surface for accurate measurements.

“I can make the moon on Earth, basically, and that’s pretty exciting,” graduate student Katherine Shirley said. “This machine is special because we can make different environments in this. Eventually we’re going to get some attachments so we can simulate the Martian surface or asteroid surface.”

The lab includes a small piece from Mars, which visitors were encouraged to hold.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who was once a student and employee at SBU, spoke about how much the department means to him.

“I’m practically retired, but my heart is still here,” he said. “I served in this department and am proud to have been among such extraordinary researchers and wonderful human beings for 43 years. It’s a privilege now to help send resources in the direction of these extraordinary individuals who are literally writing the next chapter of our understanding of the universe and solar system. I look forward to continuing to work with you as you go forward. They say I’m technically retired, but don’t believe it. I’m just one phone call away.”

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) presented the faculty with a proclamation from the county legislature to celebrate what this research means for the community, the university and the overall future of science.

On Aug. 23, and despite Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) being unable to attend, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) introduced Beatles cover band Strawberry Fields as the second-to-last free concert as part of a four-part series this summer at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Rocky Point. Hundreds flocked to see the band perform early and later songs in the Beatles’ career and danced the night away as band members rocked the stage. Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, a Billy Joel tribute band with roots in Miller Place, will perform the last concert of the series on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

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Additions address safety for students who walk to school

Workers excavate the east side of Mud Road to prepare for sidewalk installation. Photo by Donna Newman

This fall, the streets near the Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School will be safer for students who walk to school. The Brookhaven Town Highway Department is nearly finished installing sidewalks on Mud Road, a frequently used route for students who walk to school.

“I am grateful to have finally brought this project to fruition, as residents have been requesting additional sidewalks in the area for the last decade,” Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said. “In 2014, a year after I took office, school district administrators requested a traffic study, while noting 118 students walked to and from Gelinas Jr. High School. Clearly, this pedestrian safety project was warranted.”

The entire project, which will include the paving of Mud Road, will cost $300,000 according to Losquadro, add ding the undertaking will ” help to ensure the safety of students and pedestrians.” The cost includes the sidewalks, retaining walls, a drainage system, a crosswalk and electrical signal work.

A decorative pole with flashing LED lights, activated by pushing a button, will enable pedestrians to halt traffic to cross the street.

Sidewalks were added in front of the school building and to the south. On the west side of Mud Road, sidewalks extend from the school to Brandywine Drive.

Previously, sidewalks had been installed in the fall of 2008 — heading north from the school and west along Christian Avenue to the spot where it meets Friends Road — to accommodate a blind child living in the neighborhood who walked that route to school.

The groundwork for the current project predated the formation of a grass-roots advocacy group called Sidewalks for Safety, founded by Annemarie Waugh in July 2015.

“It’s really wonderful that the town is putting in the sidewalk outside Gelinas!” Waugh wrote in an email. “I hope the sidewalk will go all the way around the treacherous corner on Mud Road, so children walking to and from Gelinas will be safe. I really hope the town will put in many more sidewalks, especially around all the schools and on the busy main roads, so we can have a healthy walkable community.”

Sidewalks for Safety was established by Waugh to raise awareness for pedestrian concerns throughout the Three Village area and to lobby local politicians to affect change. The organization mounted a petition on Change.org to gather signatures from supporters for submission to Brookhaven Town. That website garnered nearly 700 signatures, and the group has obtained more than 500 others on paper.

“Annemarie has been very active in trying to get folks on board with helping improve walkability,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “I think she is certainly working hard on raising awareness. I talked to her about what I did on Nicolls [Road]. I think most people don’t understand that they drive on roadways that have different levels of government responsible for them.”

Waugh and her group have ramped up their awareness-raising efforts.

“More recently we have been engaged in educating local politicians, school officials and Three Village residents with a newsletter,” she said. “We attended Earth Day at Stony Brook University … and joined with Scout Troop 1911 to collect signatures at the shopping center on 25A.”

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Peter Gustafson, the longest-serving member of the Stony Brook Fire Department (64 years), enjoys the rededication of Stony Brook Village with Fire Commissioner and guest speaker Walter Hazlitt, who attended the original dedication on July 3, 1941. Photo by Donna Newman

On July 10, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Stony Brook Village Center with a day of festivities, music, antique cars, and special remembrances.

A gathering on the village green brought together the trustees of the WMHO, community members, and representatives of government from the state, the county, and the town.

Curious passersby also stopped to listen as each of the speakers gave his or her own perspective on the little New England village that Ward Melville first dedicated in the summer of 1941.

The longest serving member of the Stony Brook Fire Department, Peter Gustafson, sits in the department’s antique truck dating from 1939. Photo by Donna Newman
The longest serving member of the Stony Brook Fire Department, Peter Gustafson, sits in the department’s antique truck dating from 1939. Photo by Donna Newman

The first to address the assemblage was Walter Hazlitt, a longtime resident of Stony Brook who was present at the first dedication ceremony. He was a teenager then and remembers all the hoopla and watching the parade.

The WMHO has film from that dedication. It is on view as part of a special summer exhibit, “It takes a team to build a village,” at the Educational & Cultural Center.

“The project that was started by Ward Melville was the [impetus] that made Stony Brook what it is today,” said Hazlitt. “The story [of this new center] was in several New York newspapers,” he added, remembering the tourists who began to come here. He opined that Melville started something grand, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller continued Stony Brook’s growth by establishing — with Melville’s help — a state university that is “unparalleled.”

At right, (back row) Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn, trustee Jim Murdocco, trustee Mary Van Tuyl, WMHO Chairman Richard Rugen, trustee Charles Napoli, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright, NYS Senator John Flanagan and trustee Charles Pieroth; (front row) WMHO President Gloria Rocchio, trustee Kathleen Mich, and trustee Laura Huang Ernst. Photo by Donna Newman
At right, (back row) Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn, trustee Jim Murdocco, trustee Mary Van Tuyl, WMHO Chairman Richard Rugen, trustee Charles Napoli, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright, NYS Senator John Flanagan and trustee Charles Pieroth; (front row) WMHO President Gloria Rocchio, trustee Kathleen Mich, and trustee Laura Huang Ernst. Photo by Donna Newman

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) spoke of her idyllic childhood in Stony Brook.

“Small things have changed; so much has stayed the same,” she said. “It is the same extraordinarily beautiful view. You turn around and you look out over Hercules, you look around at the green space we have in our community — where we come together at special moments — this is the most magical, special place.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also gave his take on the village.

“Historically — and I love the fact that we have these antique vehicles here — this is the first mall in America,” he said. “That’s quite remarkable. Ward Melville and his designer Richard Haviland Smythe envisioned a coming of age of the automobile, and they designed accordingly. This is the first shopping mall designed for the automobile specifically, and for that reason, if for no other, this is a part of our national heritage.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) represented Brookhaven Town. Cartright spoke of reading that the Melville family came across the site by accident.

“Being a woman of God,” she said, “I don’t believe in accidents … I truly believe they were divinely guided here.”

Romaine spoke of Ward Melville’s boldness, calling him “a visionary.”

“He convinced store owners that this wasn’t going to drive them out of business, that this was the way to go,” he said. “And the results endure to this day, 75 years after [the village] was dedicated. Its lesson is what good planning — what having a decent vision for the future of a community — is all about.”

A new chemical rating system will inform people using dry cleaners in Suffolk. File photo

Customers will soon have more information about how their clothes are being cleaned.

The Suffolk County Legislature recently approved a new law that will require dry cleaners to share information with customers about the types of chemical solvents they are using and the environmental effects of those solvents.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) had proposed the law, which passed on June 2. Under the new requirements, the county health department will categorize dry cleaning solvents, ranking “each chemical grouping based on both human and environmental impacts,” according to a press release from Hahn’s office.

From there, during the existing annual inspections for dry cleaners, county officials will provide the businesses with color-coded signs that “indicate the cleaning methods and solvents used by each individual shop.”

The dry cleaners would have to post the signs in their windows and behind their counters.

On the government side, the health department will also have a website — the address of which will be on the color-coded signs — with environmental and health information about different dry cleaning solvents and processes.

“This bill empowers consumers and allows them to make more informed decisions, which in the end is good for all of us,” Hahn said in a statement. “While it is common for consumers to read food ingredient lists and nutrition labels and to search out reviews for other products, most are hard-pressed to find the time to research details related to a myriad of dry cleaning solvents, figure out the exact solvent used by their cleaner and then investigate its potential impact on his or her self, family and environment.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) still has to sign the approved bill into law.

Hahn’s bill was related to a previous one she put before the Legislature, which was also approved in mid-April, to stop garment-cleaning businesses from using the term “organic” to describe their services, because there are no set criteria for its usage in consumer goods and services and could be misleading. The legislator has given the example of dry cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment but might be referred to as organic because they contain naturally occurring elements such as carbon.

“Organic in this context is a technical term, and does not mean chemical-free,” Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out Consulting, an advocacy organization committed to empowering the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins, said in a statement at the time the bill passed the Legislature. “This legislation in Suffolk County helps address possible confusion.”

That law prohibited dry cleaners from using the term to advertise their services, with fines between $500 and $1,000 for violating the rule.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta goes over legislation to suspend the camera program. Photo by Phil Corso

The Legislature may not be behind them, but Suffolk County residents are still calling the red light camera program a money grab and a safety hazard.

People cried out in support of county Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) bill to suspend the county’s program during a Public Safety Committee meeting on May 26, but the Suffolk legislative committee stopped it from coming to fruition. The vote was 5 to 3 against a motion to move the bill to the full county Legislature for voting after nearly 20 residents spoke up against the use of the cameras.

Stephen Ruth Jr., pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on June 3 to 17 counts of criminal mischief after allegedly tampering with 16 red light cameras at intersections along Route 25 in Coram. He also spoke at the Legislature meeting late last month.

“Red light cameras are a detriment to Suffolk County,” he said. “The risks and damages to the well-being of Suffolk County residents far outweigh the benefits. We all know now that red lights cameras are a systematic form of extortion and nothing more. … Traffic signals were manipulated for revenue and it was only made possible by Suffolk County’s reckless willingness to do anything for money.”

Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD
Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD

Residents cited statistics to try to back up their issues with the program, using a 42 percent increase in rear-end collisions in 2014 as evidence of the program’s shortcomings, and said nearly half of the locations where cameras were installed showed an increase in personal injury.

“You’re not here working for the middle class people, you’re actually hurting them,” Hector Gavilla said. “The program is not working at all. We were promised that these red light cameras would stop these incidents.”

But overall, crashes have decreased by 3.1 percent, while T-bone crashes have decreased by 21.6 percent. The data also reflects an overall decrease in crashes involved injury by 4.2 percent, based upon data from the New York State Department of Transportation’s most current data available as of December 2014.

Rachel Lugo, who has worked in highway safety for over 20 years, was the only person to speak in support of the cameras. She said that although crashes have increased, she believes it’s not because of the cameras, but as a result of more new drivers on the road, and “increasingly dangerous” issues like texting and being distracted while driving, drinking while driving and being under the influence of drugs.

“You can’t say that these crashes are increasing because of red light cameras,” she said. “What about stop signs? Let’s take them away also. Why won’t we just take away traffic lights? Red light cameras are not the problem. Teaching the motorists to change their behavior behind the wheel is where we need to start. If everyone stopped at the red lights we wouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on with fines and who is making money.”

There are statistics to back her up.

Paul Margiotta, executive director of Suffolk County’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said that between 2012 and 2013, the county saw a 34,000 increase is licensed drivers, where prior to 2012 the average was trending down. He said citations for texting and driving and distracted driving doubled since 2011, which tends to cause rear-end crashes.

Legislature William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) joined Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) in voting to pass the bill.

Spencer asked to put the program under a microscope.

“We have to do something,” he said. “It’s hard for me to discount the public outcry. There’s a lot of smoke here. I want to make sure I’m doing my oversight job to make sure I have looked at this with a very detailed eyed.”

A county report says Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack saw crashes increase since a red light camera was installed in 2014. Photo by Phil Corso
A county report says Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack saw crashes increase since a red light camera was installed in 2014. Photo by Phil Corso

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) agreed, although she stated that there was always an expectation that there would be an increase in rear-end crashes.

“Many things we deal with here are not black and white,” she said. “The policy decision was to institute an enforcement mechanism that will decrease the right-angle crashes which cause the more serious injuries and death, with the chance of and the expectation that there will be some uptick in rear-end crashes.”

She said she would like to see a report done on the intersections where there were a large number of rear-end crashes, to see if a majority of them were a result of the cameras, or other things like texting and driving.

According to William Hillman, Suffolk’s chief engineer, that investigation is ongoing. The county is in the process of reviewing crash data at the 42 intersections it controls. The state controls the other 58 intersections with cameras.

“These intersections where there’s been that high uptick, all-due haste is needed in reviewing what is going on so that we have a real answer,” Hahn said. “There’s a huge increase in crashes just in general because of distracted driving. This is happening more and more and red light cameras are not going to stop that. What red light cameras were designed to do was for the folks who were choosing to put their foot on the gas when the light turns yellow, to rethink that. They will actually stop at a red light, and that will save lives when people know that there could be consequences for running a red light. And that probably already has, because we’ve seen a decrease in T-bone crashes, which are more serious and life-threatening, and that is the purpose of the program.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

One North Shore lawmaker is cleaning up the language of Suffolk County’s dry cleaners.

Dry cleaning businesses will no longer be allowed to advertise their services as organic when describing the solvents or methods used in production, thanks to recently approved legislation from Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). And if they get caught, business owners could face fines of $500 on the first offense to $1,000 on the second, the legislator said.

“A consumer chooses an ‘organic’ cleaning method with the belief that this option is better for his or her health and our environment,” Hahn said in a statement. “Without a universally accepted definition of what constitutes organic services, consumers go through the wringer when making their decisions based upon subjective standards that, in some cases, can be completely contrary to their intentions.”

Under Majority Leader Hahn’s bill, no professional garment cleaning establishment operating in the county will be allowed to describe its services as “organic” in advertising or signage. In a statement, Hahn said the term organic is found in many industries, including dry cleaning, and has come under increased public scrutiny as regulators have not established clear criteria governing the word’s usage in consumer goods and services.

“It is very important that customers understand terms used in dry cleaning advertisements,” said Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out Consulting, an advocacy organization committed to empowering the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins, also in a recent statement. “Organic in this context is a technical term, and does not mean chemical-free. This legislation in Suffolk County helps address possible confusion.”

In her legislation, Hahn said one of the most harmful chemicals used in the dry cleaning industry, perchloroethylene — also known as perc — contains carbon molecules. Carbon is a naturally occurring element and perc is sometimes advertised as being organic, despite its detriment to the environment.

“In some instances there is a significant disconnect between the term organic that has become part of the vernacular and the scientific definition used by industry,” Hahn said. “I want to ensure that Suffolk consumers are making decisions based on intention rather than semantics.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has already approved several alternatives to perc for use in non-vented, closed-loop dry cleaning machines that are equipped with a refrigerated condenser, conform to local fire codes and meet the additional specifications required by the alternative solvent manufacturer.

Suffolk’s bill would be nullified should a standard be adopted by state or federal regulatory agencies.

The only thing preventing the bill from becoming official is the absence of a signature from County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Once signed, cleaners would have approximately 60 days to come into compliance.

Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

County lawmakers are taking a proactive approach toward keeping Suffolk kids safe.

The Legislature unanimously voted last week to establish a 13-member Child Fatality Review Team panel tasked with reviewing all childhood fatalities across Suffolk County deemed to be unanticipated, suspicious or the direct result of physical trauma.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill, said the team’s findings would not be used to assign criminal or civil liability in death cases involving children, nor would they be used for prosecutorial purposes. The main objective, she said, was to make it so similar incidents do not repeat themselves at Suffolk County children’s expense.

In a statement, Hahn, who serves as majority leader in the Suffolk County Legislature, said the panel would work to identify the underlying causes of a child’s death and find what resources, if any, could have prevented that outcome.

“As a culture, we strongly hold that children aren’t supposed to die,” Hahn said. “When that understanding is challenged by a child’s death, natural or otherwise, there is a reflexive and necessary motivation to uncover the reasons why and ways to prevent similar circumstances from leading to additional losses.”

The 13-member panel would be made up of medical, child welfare, social service and law enforcement professionals who would be looking at the facts and circumstances relating to the deaths of children under the age of 18. The deaths would also need to be deemed either unexplainable or the result of violence, including that which is self-inflicted.

“Suffolk County takes the public health and safety of all our residents, especially our most vulnerable, very seriously,” the county’s Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said. “By assembling this review team and collaboratively studying the recent losses of life in Suffolk County, we may be able to prevent similar tragedies in the future and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature is the only thing standing in the way of this bill becoming a law. In a statement, the county executive said he was in favor of the review team and planned on signing it into action promptly.

“The public safety of all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable, is of paramount concern to us,” Bellone said.  “By creating this review committee, we are creating an opportunity to analyze and review circumstances surrounding violent child deaths in an effort to prevent similar tragedies and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Hahn said the team would hold its first meeting within 90 days and quarterly thereafter.

The panel’s data would not include any identifiable information and its records would be kept confidential, Hahn said. Any reports generated by the team would also be submitted to the state’s office of children and family services when they are finished.

The North Shore is no stranger so incidents that could qualify for the kind of review Hahn’s panel would be seeking.

In October 2014, 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella of Shoreham-Wading River High School suffered a fatal head injury after colliding with another player during a football game. In July 2014, a Kings Park man was convicted of beating his 43-day-old son to death. In December 2015, an 11-year-old from Kings Park died just days after a van struck her as she crossed a road in her hometown.

The state’s office of children and family services said Suffolk County recorded an average of 12.6 child fatalities annually between 2010 and 2014. The office also found that in the year 2015, average percentage of case workers with more than 15 investigations on their caseload on the last day of each month between July and December was 33 percent.

Adrienne Esposito speaks against a plan to dump dredge spoils in the Sound as county Legislators Sarah Anker, Kara Hahn and Al Krupski look on. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s been about six months and North Shore leaders are still fighting against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to continue dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood alongside fellow county Legislators Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on Tuesday at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to voice their opposition to the plan and ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales to reject the proposal. George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, were also among the leaders who voiced their opposition to the plan.

The Army Corps has dumped dredge spoils into waterways leading to the Sound for decades. Its final proposal, known as the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, was completed on Jan. 11 and suggested dumping 30 to 50 million cubic yards of dredge material cleared out from Connecticut waterways over the course of another 30 years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has supported the Army Corps’ proposal. Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the spoils are tested before being dumped to ensure they meet certain safety standards.

But critics say the state can reject the plan under the federal Clean Water Act.

Dredge dumping has caused toxic chemicals to be dispersed throughout the Sound over the years, affecting the ecosystem and many water-dwelling species, including fish and lobsters.

“If this was private industry doing this, I don’t think they’d go very far,” Krupski said. “They’d probably end up in jail.”

Over the past 11 years, the local government has spent $7 million to address environmental issues in the Sound, a fragile body of water, according to Anker. Some of that went toward creating a Long Island Sound study.

According to Esposito, New York State rejected a similar plan that the Army Corps proposed in 2005, and ordered that group and the EPA to slowly reduce the amount of dredge spoils being dumped into the Sound. She called for the plan to go back to the drawing board.

“We’ve committed so much resources, money, time and energy to protecting this water body,” Hahn said. “And then to just dump potential harmful and toxic waste spoils into our waters is a darn shame.”

Anker agreed, saying that the Sound creates upward of $36 billion of economic value on the Island.

Instead of dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound, Esposito suggested using it to restore wetlands, rebuild beaches and cap landfills, among other methods of disposal.

“The Sound is dying and what they’re trying to do now is bury it in dredge spoil,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said at the press conference.

The local leaders also criticized the EPA for supporting the Army Corps.

“On one hand, they are advancing a nitrogen-reduction plan,” Esposito said. “And on the other, they’re turning a blind eye to the disposal of the large quantities of dredge materials which cause significant nitrogen loading into the Sound.”

A public hearing on the dredging plan will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at the Port Jefferson Free Library, at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. That event runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with registration for public speakers starting at 4:30 p.m.