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Peter Scully

By Rita J. Egan

The cold weather on Saturday, March 9, couldn’t keep St. James residents from the hamlet’s 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Former Suffolk County Deputy Executive Peter Scully, nicknamed the water czar for his work in improving the county’s water quality, headed up the parade as grand marshal. Scully, who lives in neighboring Stony Brook, grew up in St. James. Former County Executive Steve Bellone was on hand to cheer on Scully, holding a sign that read, “Suffolk is lucky to have Scully.”

Hundreds of attendees lined up along Lake Avenue to cheer on the elected officials, volunteer firefighters, Scouts and representatives from local organizations and businesses who marched along the street from Woodlawn Avenue to the Long Island Rail Road train station.

Speakers at the October 31, press conference, from left to right, Adriene Esposito, Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Chris Gobler, Professor at Stony Brook University, and Peter Scully, Deputy Executive of Suffolk County.

New 2023 Map Shows Record Number of Harmful Algal Blooms and Dead Zones Across Long Island

Scientists at Stony Brook University have completed their assessment of water quality in Long Island’s surface waters for 2023 and the news was not good –the announcement was made today at a press conference on the shores of Great South Bay. During the months of April through September, every major bay and estuary across Long Island was afflicted by harmful algal blooms (HABs), oxygen-starved, dead zones, and fish and turtles kills.  Excessive delivery of nitrogen from onsite wastewater has been cited as the root cause of these disturbing events.

“Some aspects of 2023 were the ‘new normal’ for Long Island, but there were disturbing, unexpected outcomes as well” said Dr. Christopher Gobler, Professor of Stony Brook University.  “This was the worse year for harmful algal blooms on Long Island, ever.”

Gobler explained that there was a record-setting five shellfish bed closures in five locations covering thousands of acres across Long Island due to the occurrence of blooms of the saxitoxin-synthesizing alga, Alexandrium. Saxitoxin causes the human health syndrome, paralytic shellfish poisoning.  These five closures in April and May were following by an additional closure that began in May and extended into the summer that was caused by a bloom of Dinophysis in Moriches Bay that reached record densities.Dinophysis contains okadaic acid, a gastrointestinal toxin and the 2023 bloom was record-setting.

“While a Dinophysis bloom in the Flanders Bay region in 2011 had been globally deemed the most intense Dinophysis HAB ever recorded at two million cells per liter, the event in Moriches Bay exceeded 100 million cells per liter, and sustained densities in the millions for over a month.”, commented Gobler.

On the heels of these spring events came something new for Long Island, namely a HAB called Pseudo-nitzschia that contains a neurotoxin known as domoic acid that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning.  The bloom covered south shore regions from Islip through Quogue across much of Great South Bay, all of Moriches Bay, and western Shinnecock Bay.  Beyond detecting tens of millions of cells per liter, this bloom was also producing the toxin domoic acid, representing a new public health threat.

“This algal toxin has never been seen in Long Island waters and has had significant mortality effects on marine mammal on the west coast.  Its high density in regions that had been previously flushed by the New Inlet that closed in 2023 suggests that, in addition, to excessive nitrogen loads, poor flushing contributed to this event.”, said Gobler.

And the HABs did not stop there.  In mid-July, a rust tide began on the east end of Long Island, starting in Shinnecock Bay and ultimately spreading through all of the Peconic Estuary.  Rust tide is caused by the alga, Cochlodinum, that is ichthyotoxic, meaning it can kill fish and has been responsible for fish and shellfish kills on Long Island.  The 2023 rust tide was the earliest start ever for a Rust Tide, and this was also the longest lasting rust tide as the event extended into early October.  In 2012, the Gobler lab published an article in an international, peer-reviewed journal identifying the ability of excessive nitrogen to intensify these HABs, and in a 2019 publication, they identified the increase in summer water temperatures since the 20th century as a factor allowing these blooms to occur all summer in NY waters.

The HABs also extended inland in 2023 as there were more than were two-dozen lakes and pind that experienced outbreaks of blue-green algal blooms, a serious concern for both human and animal health.  The south fork of Long Island was called out for hosting the ‘Dirty Baker’s Dozen’ as 13 water bodies in this region experienced these toxic blooms in 2023.   For the past seven years, Suffolk County has had more lakes with blue-green algal blooms than any other of the 64 counties in New York State, a distinction that is likely to be repeated in 2023.  Blue-green algae make toxins that can be harmful to humans and animals and have been linked to dog illnesses and dog deaths across the US and on Long Island.

The 2023 water quality impairment map also documented more than 30 distinct low oxygen ‘dead zones’ across the north shore, south shore, and east end of Long Island.  All life in the ocean outside of some bacteria require oxygen to persist, a fact motivating the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to strive for all water bodies at all times to have no less than 3 milligrams of dissolved oxygen.  All 30 dead zones failed to meet this standard.  While fish kills were not widespread in 2023, a lack of oxygen did contributed fish kills in locations on the south shore.

Over the years, the occurrence of harmful algal blooms and dead zones has contributed to the collapse of critical marine habitats such as seagrass, major fisheries on Long Island such as bay scallops and hard clams, and coastal wetlands that help protect waterfront communities from the damaging impacts of storms.  Groups such as The Nature Conservancy have been working for more than a decade to revive and restore these habitats and shellfish but have been challenged by events such as those witnessed during the summer of 2023.

Excessive nitrogen coming from household sewage that seeps into groundwater and ultimately, into bays, harbors, and estuaries or, in some cases, is directly discharged into surface waters, is a root cause of the maladies of 2023. Excessive nitrogen stimulates algal blooms that can, in turn, remove oxygen from bottom waters as they decay.  Suffolk County and Nassau County recently completed ‘subwatershed studies’ that identified wastewater as the largest source of nitrogen to surface waters and set goals for reducing nitrogen loading from septic systems as a defense against these impairments.

Despite the gloomy news, there were some signs of hope in the data.

“In Long Island Sound, the western dead zone in 2023 was significantly smaller than it was 20 year ago thanks to sewage treatment plants removing 60% more nitrogen and reducing the flow of nitrogen into the western Sound”, said Gobler. “This proves that reductions in nitrogen loading does improve water quality.”

Counterbalancing this high note was the growth of a second dead zone in central Long Island Sound emanating from Smithtown Bay suggesting this region now needs significant reduction in nitrogen loading.

The report on the summer of 2023 was compiled by the Gobler Laboratory of Stony Brook University that has been monitoring and sampling Long Island’s waters on a weekly basis every summer since 2014.  Data was also generated by the Long Island Sound Study which is funded by US Environmental Protection Agency.  The data was reported weekly on News 12 and Newsday as part of their weekly Water Quality Index.

The study was supported by the Chicago Community Trust and an anonymous donor.

File photo by Raymond Janis
By Samantha Rutt

As the local election season intensifies, Suffolk County’s wastewater infrastructure has now become the defining policy issue, with residents and environmentalists demanding immediate action to address what they consider an environmental crisis.

Water quality of Long Island’s coveted waterways is currently suffering as the county’s wastewater infrastructure deteriorates rapidly. Much of the system was built decades ago and has not been adequately upgraded to meet the demands of the growing population, critics say.

“Clean water is crucial to the health of our families, the lifeblood of our economy and central to our way of life,” said businessman Dave Calone, Democratic candidate for Suffolk County executive running against Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “Unfortunately, our water quality is at an all-time low, and we need to act now to protect it.”

Local officials, residents and environmentalists have voiced concerns over the issue. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “Suffolk County Legislators have an ethical and moral obligation to protect our drinking and coastal water resources.”

County Water Quality Restoration Act

The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act, a plan to restore the county’s water quality, includes two bills that would create a fund to restore clean water by connecting homes and businesses to sewers and finance clean water septic system replacements.

“The need for an overall plan for wastewater infrastructure has been well-recognized for more than 60 years,” said Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration.

Earlier this year, Scully had spearheaded a proposed 1/8 penny sales tax initiative to finance wastewater infrastructure. This proposal was rejected by the county Legislature in July, setting the stage for a contentious election season over this issue [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 27, TBR News Media].

“Tragically, the Legislature doesn’t consider this a priority and has refused to let the public vote on this plan,” Esposito said. “Letting the public vote on a clean water referendum is good policy and good for democracy. It is deeply disturbing that the legislators support neither of those objectives.”

Impact on elections

The Republican vote to recess has met with fierce opposition from county Democrats, who are using the wastewater controversy to highlight differences in platforms.

“Republicans did not vote to put the referendum on the ballot,” said Keith Davies, Suffolk County Democratic Committee campaign manager. “It is clear that Republicans chose not to trust voters to make their own decisions. In our opinion, it was the wrong decision.”

Responding to these charges, county Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), who is defending her 18th Legislative District seat against pediatrician Eve Meltzer-Krief (D-Centerport), indicated that her caucus is avoiding a rush to judgment.

“Rushing to pass legislation that is flawed and that will raise our taxes is simply irresponsible and not what our residents deserve,” Bontempi said. “Holding off with a referendum for a couple of months will certainly not lead to the end of Long Island, like some fearmongers like to claim.”

Many of the county’s wastewater treatment plants, pipelines and pumping stations are well past their intended lifespans, representing a growing risk for sewage leaks, overflows and contamination of local waterways and bays.

Meltzer-Krief warned that this could have devastating consequences for the region and its fragile ecosystems, including its renowned coastal areas and marine life.

“The quality of our waterways and bays here in Suffolk County is currently the poorest it has ever been,” she said. “The main cause is nitrogen runoff from outdated cesspools and septic systems which flows into our waters and triggers potentially toxic algal blooms which deprive marine life of the oxygen they need to survive.”

Research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that nitrogen from sewage is suffocating Long Island’s bays and harbors, contaminating drinking water and causing fish kills and algal blooms.

“Thankfully, scientists know how to reverse this troubling and urgent environmental concern and clean our waters,” Meltzer-Krief said.

But, she added, “It is the responsibility of our county legislators to follow the science and protect our children from the toxins in the water by securing funding for the recommended clean water infrastructure.”

While local officials and environmental organizations have been sounding the alarm for years over aging infrastructure, progress has been slow and funding for these projects has often fallen short of what is required.

Restoring clean, healthy water requires drastically reducing nitrogen pollution from its primary source — Suffolk County’s approximately 360,000 nitrogen-polluting cesspools and septic systems.

“Once the legislation has been amended to properly address our wastewater infrastructure, the voters will be able to decide,” Bontempi said. “The Republican majority at the Suffolk County Legislature wants clean water, too.”

Suffolk County elections will take place Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Public officials celebrate the announcement of $5 million to create ‘shovel-ready’ sewer plans for Port Jefferson Station Friday, Aug 11. From left, local business leader Charlie Lefkowitz, former Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photos by Raymond Janis

On the road to community revitalization, Port Jefferson Station/Terryville just passed a major procedural hurdle.

Public officials gathered along the eastern trailhead of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail on Friday, Aug. 11, announcing $5 million to create sewer plans for the Route 112 corridor. These funds, which come from the American Rescue Plan Act, will help lay the groundwork for an eventual expenditure to finance the entire sewer project.

“What we’re talking about is the objective of achieving economic revitalization, job creation, business growth and water quality protection all at the same time,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). 

Bellone said there are several potential funding sources from the federal and state governments, but those levels require “shovel-ready plans.” This $5 million, Bellone continued, would maximize the potential for a full-scale sewer investment.

“You never know when all of a sudden at the federal level or the state level funding becomes available,” he said. “It can happen like that, and you need to be ready,” adding, “This funding will help get this sewer project shovel ready.”

Introducing sewers into the Port Jefferson Station commercial hub would bring the proposed $100 million redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza, above, into focus.

Local revitalization

The sewer investment comes on the heels of a decades-long local effort to bring about a traditional downtown in PJS/T.

‘Port Jefferson Station is on the rise.’

— Jonathan Kornreich

Major development plans are currently on the drawing board, most notably the proposed $100 million redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza, located just south of the Greenway. Former Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) [See story on Hahn’s recent resignation] said the $5 million would bring community members closer to realizing their local aspirations.

“The synergy here between doing something that will drive economic prosperity as well as a cleaner environment is a win-win, and sewering will become the foundation on which the Port Jefferson Station hub will be built,” Hahn said. “This is a tremendous step forward.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who represents Port Jefferson Station/Terryville on the Town Board, cited ongoing revitalization efforts as a means to promote and enhance the quality of life for the hamlet’s residents.

“Speaking directly to the members of our community, I think you should be encouraged by the fact that from the federal government all the way down to the town level, our eyes are on you,” he said. “There are hundreds of millions of dollars of investment — both public and private money — planned, already made, on the table and in the books for this immediate surrounding area.”

The councilmember added, “Port Jefferson Station is on the rise.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, at podium, said modernizing wastewater infrastructure is necessary for achieving the hamlet’s redevelopment aspirations.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who is running for Suffolk County executive against business leader Dave Callone, a Democrat, tied the sewer investment to plans for commercial redevelopment and water quality protection.

“We are looking to redevelop Port Jeff Station,” Romaine said. “Sewers are necessary for development.” The town supervisor added, “I look with great anticipation for this and any other sources of funding that we can put in place to make sure that we can preserve our surface and groundwater. It’s key.”

Density/traffic

The introduction of sewers into Port Jefferson Station raises several questions about potentially added building density enabled through increased sewer capacity.

New leadership within the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association has recently prioritized density, creating a land use committee to oversee new developments throughout the hamlet. 

Reached by phone, civic president Ira Costell called the sewer project “the fundamental building block to protect water quality,” though calling the initiative “a positive step that has to be done carefully.”

“While the sense of our organization is that we welcome redevelopment and positive growth, we are mindful of ensuring this occurs in a well-planned and strategic way that benefits the community and ameliorates impacts,” Costell said 

“There are still some concerns about the overall density and intensity of use in the Port Jeff Station area, and we’re just hopeful that the planning process will enable the community to have proper input,” he added.

Paul Sagliocca, a member of the civic, advocated for some money to be set aside to evaluate potential traffic impacts from new developments along 112.

“This downtown revitalization is great, but it needs to stay on the main roads,” he said. “They need to do a comprehensive traffic study.”

Kornreich noted that the commercial real estate landscape has shifted dramatically following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Downtowns … are seeing high rates of vacancy, commercial spaces that are underutilized, subprime kinds of tenants because landlords are desperate to get any kind of cash flow in there,” the Brookhaven councilmember said. “We have to take some action to rezone and repurpose some of this underutilized real estate.”

He pointed to mixed use as a possible solution, noting the simultaneous need to resolve housing shortages and repurpose commercial real estate. 

Mixed-use development “creates walkable areas that can be sewered, that are more environmentally friendly and are more economically viable,” he added.

Bellone expressed confidence in the local planning process. “There has been a lot of community-based work that has been done at the town level, the community level and in partnership with the county,” the county executive said. “That process, I know, will continue.”

Sewer debate

The announcement follows an ongoing public debate about the regional viability of sewers in Suffolk County. Just last month, the Republican-led Suffolk County Legislature rejected the administration’s proposal to put a 1/8 penny sales tax on the upcoming November ballot to finance new wastewater infrastructure. [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 28, TBR News Media website.]

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, who had spearheaded the sales tax initiative, attended Friday’s press event and maintained that the need for sewers remains. He commended the county Legislature for approving a long-term sewer infrastructure plan in 2020.

“This sewer project in Port Jefferson Station’s commercial hub is part of that plan,” he said.

New York State Sen. Mario Materra (R-St. James), whose 2nd District previously encompassed Port Jeff Station before last year’s redistricting process, attended the press event. 

The state senator said this $5 million would signal to higher levels of government the area’s willingness to modernize its wastewater infrastructure and support the environment.

“We have a $4.2 billion bond act” approved by New York state voters last November, Mattera noted. “Jobs like this will show [officials] up in Albany to bring us the money back and that we really are serious about sewering and we care about our clean water.”

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met Tuesday, Feb. 28, for an evening packed with local business.

Lawrence Aviation

Sarah Lansdale, the Suffolk County economic development and planning commissioner, updated the body on the proposed conceptual layout of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.

“We have come up with a plan of three basic uses of the property,” she said. “One is a light-industry use … for a proposed solar development. The property south of the Greenway is proposed to be for open space … and then a railyard, or railroad usage, on the northeastern section of the property.”

Lansdale also reported that the U.S. Department of Justice recently approved language within a global settlement agreement between 11 claimants, adding, “Now we’re getting them to sign on to the agreement. Of the 11, we have three remaining that have yet to sign on.”

The county is working to finalize a bid package to demolish the remaining buildings on-site during the warmer months.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) thanked Lansdale for continuing her efforts on behalf of county residents. 

“Very few people want to deal with difficult, complex projects like this,” Hahn said. “This was very difficult, we are so close, and I’m just grateful.”

Civic member Ira Costell objected to a Feb. 23 op-ed in The Port Times Record, “Village elections and Port Jeff’s rapidly changing challenges,” in which former Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller suggested expanding the limits of the village to derive tax revenue from the Superfund site.

“I think that’s something we need to discuss and take a position on shortly,” Costell said, adding that such a proposal “impacts our community and a potential tax base to the Comsewogue School District.” 

Civic president Ed Garboski and vice president Sal Pitti objected to the annexation proposal. Corresponding secretary Charlie McAteer said a discussion on the matter would be appropriate during next month’s meeting.

County sewers

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully delivered a presentation outlining the county’s clean water initiative, remarking that a comprehensive sewer plan has eluded county officials for decades.

“Most of Suffolk County is without sewer infrastructure,” he said. “Sewers throughout Suffolk County have not happened for a variety of reasons,” namely the enormous costs associated with their construction.

Cesspools remain the only waste treatment technology available to many county residents, which Scully indicated can impair the sole-source aquifer upon which residents depend for their drinking water. Leakage associated with septic tanks, Scully said, can contribute to brown tides, rust tides, algal blooms and fish kills throughout the county’s waterways.

To address the problem, the administration is pitching the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan, which includes a one-eighth of a penny per dollar sales tax, to create a local match program for federal and state subsidization of sewer infrastructure.

“Right now, there are tremendous funding sources available on the federal and state levels,” he said, noting the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021 and the recently passed New York State $4.2 billion environmental bond act. 

“Those are the two sources of funding that we’re all anxious to make sure our communities get a fair share of, and to do that we need a local match,” the deputy county executive said. “The [clean water plan] funding source that we’re talking about provides that local match.”

Reports

Andrea Malchiodi, assistant director of Comsewogue Public Library, announced that the library’s budget vote and trustee election would take place Tuesday, April 4.

Comsewogue High School students Kylie and Max updated the body on the news from the Comsewogue School District. Kylie reported that the high school’s business academy and work-based learning program were both approved career and technical education pathways by the New York State Education Department. 

Max noted Comsewogue’s recent athletic achievements, with the Warriors girls and boys basketball teams advancing to the postseason. The wrestling team vied for the county final, while the varsity cheerleading team competed at the national tournament in Florida.

Suffolk County COPE officer Casey Berry said the vehicle theft crime surge throughout the local area remains unresolved. “Lock your cars in your driveway and when you’re going to Starbucks,” she told the body. “Don’t leave the fob in the car.”

Berry also reported that officers within the department are being more active. “I think COVID affected law enforcement as well as the rest of the community in many ways,” she said, adding, “Our leadership is saying, ‘We really need to protect our community.’”

This boost in police activity, Berry added, is reflected by rising numbers of summons written by police officers, along with the department’s ongoing body camera initiative.   

Civic elections

Garboski reported the results of the nominating committee created last month after he and Pitti declared they would be leaving the hamlet before the year’s end, thereby vacating their posts.

Christine Allen and Costell were each nominated for the position of civic president, and Carolyn Sagliocca was the sole candidate nominated as vice president. The three candidates publicly accepted their nominations. 

Additional nominations will be accepted from the floor during the next meeting March 28, on which date a vote will take place. The newly electeds will formally enter their posts in April.

During the meeting, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented proclamations to Garboski and Pitti for their long service to the Comsewogue community.

“You cannot put a price on the time, effort, energy, knowledge and dedication they have brought to this task,” Romaine said. “They have worked around the clock to improve the quality of not their lives, but the quality of life of everyone in this community.”

The Suffolk County Landbank Corporation has been reaching out to community members for their feedback regarding the Lawrence Aviation property in Port Jefferson Station. Suggestions have included allowing the Long Island Rail Road to have a railyard on the property, installing solar panels on the industrial core of the property and using some parcels for open space. Concept image from Suffolk County Landbank Corporation

The Suffolk County Landbank Corporation has been reaching out to local organizations to discuss ideas for the future of a 126-acre Superfund property in Port Jefferson Station.

The SCLBC has been reaching out to community members to see what they would like to see be done with the property. Recently, the nonprofit’s president, Sarah Lansdale, has been meeting with members of local chambers and civic associations about the property. The SCLBC has also reached out to elected officials such as county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and briefed the two school districts affected by the site due to unpaid property taxes: Comsewogue and Three Village.

According to Peter Scully, deputy Suffolk County executive and SCLBC board member, the landbank had been authorized by the state Legislature to facilitate cleanup of blighted sites, and then return the properties to the county tax rolls. The SCLBC is involved in discussions with both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Federal Department of Justice to talk about the future of the Lawrence Aviation property “and trying to make sure the community has some input into the future use,” Scully said.

One suggestion that has been considered is using a portion of the site as a Long Island Rail Road yard to facilitate electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch, he said. Scully added finding a suitable location along the branch for the railyard has been somewhat of a challenge with most of the communities fully developed.

Lansdale said that the land bank has received information from the Long Island Rail Road about what the environmental impact would be if the Port Jefferson Branch — from Huntington to Port Jefferson — were to be electrified.

“We would avoid approximately 7,800 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year,” Lansdale said.

Other suggestions for the site from the community that have been discussed with the EPA and DOJ have been preserving part of it as open space and the possibility of allowing the section that has been developed in the past being available for redevelopment for light industrial purposes. There have also been suggestions to use the property for solar panels on the industrial core of the property.

According to Scully and Lansdale, the federal government has invested more than $50 million into the property.

“Generally what the federal government will do will be to try and recover as much of the funding that it has expended as it possibly can, and typically when the government does that, it looks at what assets are available that it could use,” Scully said, “And in this instance, the only real asset is the real property. And so, in the absence of any sort of other arrangement or agreement, the federal government would likely just auction the property off.”

Scully said the outreach has been well received by community members.

“I think there’s a general appreciation on the part of these stakeholders that under a more conventional scenario, if the federal government was simply to auction off this property to the highest bidder on the town hall steps, the ability to shape future uses to meet community needs would be lost,” he said.

In a May 19 letter on behalf of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Mark Lesko — the former Town of Brookhaven supervisor — addressed to U. S. Magistrate Judge Anne Shields, Lesko stated that the U.S. and county “have made significant progress toward resolution of their outstanding issues, though not all matters are resolved.” An additional status report will be submitted to the district court on or before June 18.

The property, which was deemed a Superfund in 2000, has been surrounded by controversy since the early 1980s when the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for the former defense contractor to be compliant with several pollution control laws. An April 2019 article in The Port Times Record reported that in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a 2019 memorandum, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances which led to discharge of waste directly into the ground. The drums were among more than 1,600. Gerald Cohen, former CEO of Lawrence Aviation, was ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground on the property.

The EPA’s cleanup on the site has included the treatment of contaminated groundwater using two groundwater treatment systems to decrease the size of the groundwater plume. One system is on the property while the other is in the village of Port Jefferson, according to Scully.

Regarding property taxes, Lansdale said 2020 taxes associated with Lawrence Aviation are in excess of $860,000.  She added that “some parcels have been delinquent since 1993.”

“Every year that [taxes] haven’t been paid, Suffolk County taxpayers have been forced to bear the expense of making the other taxing jurisdictions whole,” Scully said, adding that means for school districts, fire districts and libraries.

“The tax burden associated with this property has been extreme,” he said.

While the county would typically take ownership of a property for nonpayment of taxes, when it comes to an environmental impairment such as Lawrence Aviation, the current situation absolves county taxpayers from the liabilities associated with environmental impairment, which would have a higher financial impact.

A blood sample with respiratory coronavirus positive. Stock photo

Suffolk County has recorded its first two deaths from the coronavirus Covid-19, while the number of positive tests continues to climb and was at 74 as of early Monday.

Peter Scully, left, was confirmed to have contracted coronavirus. The county executives office has limited contact with others. File photo

A man in his 80s, who had been in isolation at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Smithtown, passed away, according to county officials. Another man, who was in his 90s and was in isolation at Huntington Hospital, also succumbed to the virus that has caused a pandemic throughout the world.

“It’s with great sadness” that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) reported that the virus has taken the lives of the two people. “We offer our condolences and sympathies to the family who have lost loved ones and we will do everything we can to contain the spread of the virus,” he said on a conference call with reporters Monday, March 16.

One of the confirmed positive cases includes a member of Bellone’s senior staff, Peter Scully, a Deputy Suffolk County executive. While Scully is “doing well,” he remains at home in isolation, where he continues to work as part of the team responding to the virus that has given him a sore throat and chills, according to Bellone.

Several members of Bellone’s team are under mandatory quarantine because they have had direct contact with Scully, which includes spending more than 10 minutes within six feet of him. That list includes Gregson Pigott, who is the commissioner of the county’s Department of Health Services.

Although he was not in direct contact with Scully, Bellone has been directing the response to the virus from his home office.

“The guidance we put out is important for everyone to follow, including top levels of the government,” Bellone said. “Leadership by example is important and it is important for people to know you can follow this guidance but continue to do the things you need to do.”

Bellone expressed some concerns about children gathering to spend time together, particularly with the approach of the warmer spring weather.

“We want to send a message out to parents and the community that it is important that while kids are home, it’s not a time for mass gathering,” Bellone said. “Parents need to be following social distancing guidelines for kids.”

Indeed, school children in Nassau and Suffolk County have been out of school starting Monday for at least two weeks.

Northwell Health, meanwhile, announced that it is postponing elective surgeries. The new guidelines don’t apply to emergency surgeries. Elective surgeries, endoscopies and other invasive procedures in the outpatient setting will continue when doctors determine that they are clinically necessary. If the medical staff decides these surgeries are not essential, they will be postponed or cancel them to minimize exposure to Covid-19 for patients and staff. Northwell is also asking its practitioners to reschedule non-essential visits unless medical necessary within the next four weeks. Planned imaging procedures including Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRIs, Computed Tomography (CTs) and ultrasound will not be canceled. Patients confirmed for imaging will be contacted prior to their visits to identify those people who might be at higher risk from the virus.

Comptroller John Kennedy is preparing for the possibility of closing the Hauppauge and Riverhead offices. The Comptroller indicated that he may need to close these offices or restrict the work from home. Even if that occurs, however, the Comptroller has worked with financial institutions to ensure that the government continues to function and funds remain available. Kennedy ensured that PayMySuffolkTaxes.com has been working for almost a year, which will allow residents to pay delinquent property taxes online. He also launched a self-service tool, SuffolkSelfService.com to allow vendors to make status payments and notify appropriate personnel.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) urged residents to report any price gouging for products such as hand sanitizers or household cleaning supplies. The phone number to call is 1-800-697-1220.

Suffolk Parks remain open and are operating on normal business hours. Organized events and youth group camping, however, have been suspended. Residents can call 311 to confirm if an event is still taking place.

Sheriff Errol Toulon, Jr. has suspended all visits with inmates at Suffolk County Correctional Facilities starting on March 17th. Attorneys may continue to see their clients. While there are no current cases of the virus at the facilities, Toulon indicated he made this decision to control the spread of the illness. Toulon also suggested that most office bureaus are available by phone or website and urged people who do not need to visit the office to make contact from home.

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) would regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and assist local communities in cleaning up water contamination. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Water quality has been an important issue on Long Island as new containments continue to emerge. A piece of legislation passed Jan. 10 by the House would help mitigate a group of man-made chemical substances. 

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) would regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and assist local communities in cleaning up water contamination. 

“When it comes to our communities’ drinking water, there is no room for error,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, in a statement. “With Long Island identified as the area with the most amount of emerging contaminants in our drinking water compared to the rest of New York State, all levels of government must act with urgency to help protect local families’ drinking supplies. “

The bill would also direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate the chemicals as a hazardous substance to prevent further environmental contamination and require cleanup of contaminated sites, set air emission limits for the hazardous substances, prohibit unsafe incineration of PFAS, limit the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into commerce, identify health risks by requiring comprehensive health testing and monitoring for PFAS in drinking water, require a drinking water standard for at least PFOA and PFOS that protects public health and provide funding through the PFAS Infrastructure Grant Program to assist local communities with impacted water systems.

Peter Scully, deputy Suffolk County executive and water czar, said the legislation is vital. 

“The new law is important in that it recognizes the urgency of the need for EPA to act quickly to address the potential health risks associated with these emerging contaminants, while at the same time acknowledging the cost impact of more stringent regulation on public water suppliers and, by extension, on people they supply water to,” he said. 

Scully added the law addresses the cause of the problem by requiring manufacturers to submit reports about how much PFAS they produced and by requiring the EPA to add pots, pans and cooking utensils that do not contain PFAS to its Safer Choice Program. 

“The bill could be a huge step forward in the effort to get ahead of his problem if it is fully implemented,” Scully said. 

 

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Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation into law Dec. 9 banning the chemical 1,4-dioxane, which is found in cleaning products, personal care products and cosmetics.  

The Environmental Protection Agency considers 1,4-dioxane a likely carcinogen. Yet the dangerous chemical can be found in numerous household products that families use every day. Recent testing done at an independent lab found 1,4-dixoane in over 80 percent of cleaning and personal care products tested, including shampoos, body washes, baby products and detergents. Once used by consumers and washed down the drain, 1,4-dioxane enters local water systems. Elevated levels of 1,4-dioxane have been found across the state, with EPA data showing that Long Island has the highest levels detected in the country.

The Suffolk County and Suffolk County Water Authority have been conducting tests to monitor the situation, and purchased equipment in some cases to remove the chemical. The county continues to characterize the chemical as a major emerging concern to Long Island’s drinking water.

“By signing this bill into law, Gov. Cuomo has taken the bold step of saying that we are no longer going to simply chase after 1,4-dioxane after it gets into the environment, we are going to take strong steps to prevent it from getting into the environment in the first place,” said Peter Scully, deputy county executive and water quality czar. “Once again, the governor has made New York a national leader in the battle to ensure a cleaner environment for future generations.”

 Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), has been a strong proponent of the ban and has provided a consumer guide listing products to avoid on the CCE website. 

“In the battle of public need over corporate greed, the public just won,” she said. “Washing our laundry, bathing children and washing dishes should not result in cancer causing chemicals in our drinking water.”

This legislation, she added, is precedent setting and sends a clear message to industries that the public’s need for clean water trumps corporate interests.  

“This was a hard fought battle, with Dow Chemical, American Chemistry Council, Lysol, Proctor and Gamble and others all working against the bill,” she said. “Public support for this legislation was abundant and widespread, with 40,000 signatures on petitions sent to the governor, 10,000 letters from across the state and thousands of phone calls made in the last two weeks asking the governor to sign the bill.” 

Removing 1,4-dixoane from consumer products that are washed down the drain will be essential to meet this new drinking water standard.

“In the absence of federal leadership, and to protect our communities, New York State is currently poised to adopt the nation’s most protective maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane,” said State Department of Health spokesperson Erin Silk. “New York State agencies are also undertaking what is arguably the nation’s most comprehensive investigation of potential sources of contamination by these chemicals. The public comment period for the regulatory process has closed and the department has concluded its review of nearly 5,000 comments for discussion at the next Drinking Water Quality Council meeting.”

New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Center) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) sponsored the bills (S4389B/A6295A) in the Legislature. Senator Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) are co-sponsors. 

Peter Scully, Suffolk County deputy county executive and water czar, responds to questions from  TBR News Media’s editorial staff:

1. You’ve been called Suffolk County’s water czar. Why does Suffolk County need a water czar?

The need for the county to have a high-level point person to advance the water quality agenda of County Executive Steve Bellone [D] is a result of two factors: The high priority that the county executive has placed on water quality issues, and the tremendous progress his administration has made over the past seven years in building a solid foundation to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution that has resulted primarily from the lack of sewers in Suffolk County and reliance on cesspools and septic systems that discharge untreated wastewater into the environment. The county executive succeeded in landing $390 million in post-Hurricane Sandy resiliency funding to eliminate 5,000 cesspools along river corridors on the South Shore by connecting parcels to sewers, and the county’s success in creating a grant program to make it affordable for homeowners to replace cesspools and septic systems with new nitrogen-reducing septic systems in areas where sewers are not a cost-effective solution, prompted the state to award Suffolk County $10 million to expand the county’s own Septic Improvement Program. These are the largest investments in water quality Suffolk has seen in 50 years, and the county executive saw the need to appoint a high-level quarterback to oversee the implementation of these programs.

 

2. Which groundwater contaminants are the highest priorities for Suffolk County? 

In 2014, the county executive declared nitrogen to be water quality public enemy No. 1. The nitrogen in groundwater is ultimately discharged into our bays, and about 70 percent of this nitrogen comes from on-site wastewater disposal (septic) systems. Excess nutrients have created crisis conditions, causing harmful algal blooms, contributing to fish kills and depleting dissolved oxygen necessary for health aquatic life. They have also made it impossible to restore our once nationally significant hard clam and bay scallop fisheries, have devastated submerged aquatic vegetation and weakened coastal resiliency through reduction of wetlands. Nitrogen also adversely impacts quality of drinking water, especially in areas with private wells, although public water supply wells consistently meet drinking water standards for nitrogen.

Other major contaminants of concern include volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs. For example, there is perchloroethlyene, historically from dry cleaners; and petroleum constituents — most recently MTBE, a gasoline additive — from fuel storage and transfer facilities.

Then there are pesticides. Active ingredients such as chlordane, aldicarb and dacthal have been banned, but some legacy contamination concerns exist, especially for private wells. Some currently registered pesticides are appearing in water supplies at low levels, including simazine/atrazine, imidacloprid and metalaxyl.

Emerging contaminants include PFAS, historically used in firefighting foams, water repellents, nonstick cookware; and 1,4-dioxane, an industrial solvent stabilizer also present at low levels in some consumer products. 

 

3. Are the chemicals coming from residential or industrial sites?

Contamination can emanate from a variety of sites, including commercial, industrial and residential properties. Many of the best-known cleanup sites are dealing with legacy impacts from past industrial activity. Examples include Grumman in Bethpage, Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson Station, Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton and the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton. There have been hundreds of Superfund sites on Long Island. Fortunately, most are legacy sites and new Superfund sites are relatively rare.

More recently, the use of firefighting foam has resulted in Superfund designations at the Suffolk County Firematics site in Yaphank, Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton, and East Hampton Airport. The foam was used properly at the time of discharge, but it was not known that PFAS would leach and contaminate groundwater.

The county’s 2015 Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan found that some chemicals, such as VOCs, continue to increase in frequency of detection and concentration. While some of this is attributable to legacy industrial plumes, experts believe that residential and small commercial sites are partially responsible for contamination. This is partly because any substances that are dumped into a toilet or drain will reach the environment, and because solvents move readily through our sandy aquifer. Septic waste is, of course a major of contamination. Residential properties can be also responsible for other pollution, such as nitrogen from fertilizers and pesticides.

4. Which industries currently generate the most groundwater pollution in Suffolk County? 

The county’s Department of Health Services Division of Environmental Quality staff advise that, historically, the major contributors to groundwater pollution in the county were dry cleaners, and fuel storage and transfer facilities. However, current dry cleaning practices have minimized any possible groundwater discharges, and modern fuel facilities are engineered to more stringent code requirements that have substantially eliminated catastrophic releases. Low-level discharges are still a concern, and are the subject of the county’s VOC action plan to increase inspections and optimize regulatory compliance.

There are thousands of commercial and industrial facilities, most of which have the potential to pollute — for example, with solvent cleaners. Best management practices and industrial compliance inspections are key to minimizing and eliminating further contamination.

 

5. The word “ban” is often a dirty word in politics, but do you see benefits to banning certain products, and/or practices, for the sake of protecting the county’s drinking water supply? (The bans on DDT, lead in gasoline and HFCS, for example, were very effective at addressing environmental and human health concerns.) 

Policymakers have not hesitated to ban the use of certain substances — DDT, lead in gasoline, chlordane, MTBE — in the face of evidence that the risks associated with the continued introduction of a chemical into the environment outweigh the benefits from a public health or environmental standpoint. Based on health concerns, I expect that there will be active discussion in the years ahead about the merits of restricting the use of products that introduce emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane and PFCs into the environment.

 

6. If people had more heightened awareness, could we slow or even eliminate specific contaminants? As consumers, can people do more to protect groundwater? 

There is no question that heightened awareness about ways in which everyday human activities impact the environment leads people to change their behaviors in ways that can reduce the release of contaminants into the environment. A good example is the county’s Septic Improvement Program, which provides grants and low interest loans for homeowners who choose to voluntarily replace their cesspools or septic systems with new nitrogen-reducing technology. More than 1,000 homeowners have applied for grants under the program, which set a record in October with more 100 applications received.

If a home is not connected to sewers, a homeowner can replace their cesspool or septic system with an innovative/alternative on-site wastewater treatment system. Suffolk County, New York State and several East End towns are offering grants which can make it possible for homeowners to make this positive change with no significant out-of-pocket expense. Consumers can choose to not flush bleaches or toxic/hazardous materials down the drain or into their toilets. Consumers can also take care to deliver any potentially toxic or hazardous household chemicals to approved Stop Throwing Out Pollutants program sites. Homeowners can choose not to use fertilizers or pesticides, or to opt for an organic, slow-release fertilizer at lowest label setting rates.

 

7. Can you offer examples of products to avoid or practices to adopt that would better protect the drinking water supply? 

Consumers can choose to not flush bleaches or household hazardous materials down the drain or into their toilets. Consumers can also take care to deliver any potentially toxic or hazardous household chemicals to approved STOP program sites. Homeowners can choose not to use fertilizers or pesticides, or to opt for an organic, slow release fertilizer at lowest label setting rates.

 

8. Aside from banning products or chemicals, and raising awareness, how do you address the issue?

Promoting the use of less impactful alternatives to products which have been shown to have a significant and/or unanticipated impact on public health or the environment, on a voluntary basis, is a less contentious approach than banning a substance or placing restrictions on its use through a legislative or rulemaking process. Such an approach should only be taken with the understanding that its success, value and significance will depend in large part on public awareness and education.

 

9. What about product labeling, similar to the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General warnings about cigarettes, or carcinogens in California, etc.? Can the county require products sold to include a groundwater contamination warning?

The question of whether the county Legislature has authority to implement labeling requirements could be better addressed by an attorney.

 

10. People, including some elected officials and people running for public office, sometimes say that sewage treatment plants remove all contaminants from wastewater. Can you set the record straight? What chemicals, including radioactive chemicals, are and are not removed from wastewater via sewage treatment?

Tertiary wastewater treatment plants are designed primarily to remove nitrogen, in addition to biodegradable organic matter. However, wastewater treatment is also effective at removing many volatile organic compounds. Some substances, such as 1,4-dioxane, are resistant to treatment and require advanced processes for removal. Evidence shows that the use of horizontal leaching structures instead of conventional drainage rings may facilitate removal of many pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known as PPCPs. Advanced treatment technologies, such as membrane bioreactors, are also being tested for efficacy of removal of PPCPs.

Staff advise that the mere presence of chemicals in wastewater in trace amounts does not necessarily indicate the existence of a public health risk. All wastewater treatment must treat chemicals to stringent federal and state standards. In some cases, such as for emerging contaminants, specific standards do not exist. In those cases, the unspecified organic contaminant requirement of 50 parts per billion is commonly applied.

 

11. Can you provide an example of a place where residential and industrial groundwater contamination concerns were reversed or adequately addressed?

There are numerous examples, mostly under the jurisdiction of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, in which groundwater concerns have been addressed through treatment to remove contaminants. Because health and safety are always the most important issues, the first priority is typically to make sure that people who live near an impacted site have a safe supply of drinking water. In areas served by public water suppliers — Suffolk County Water Authority or a local water district — this is not usually an issue, since public water suppliers are highly regulated and are required to test water supply wells regularly. In areas where people are not connected to a public water system, and rely instead on private wells, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will work with the water supplier to identify properties that are not connected to a public water system and then contact homeowners to urge them to have their water tested at no charge to make sure that it is safe for consumption. 

Over the past several years, Suffolk County, New York State and the Suffolk County Water Authority have worked together to connect hundreds of homes that had relied on private wells to the public water system, to make sure people have access to safe drinking water.

 

12. Are you hopeful about addressing the issues? 

I am hopeful and optimistic about the success of efforts to reverse the ongoing degradation of water quality that has resulted from reliance on cesspools and septic systems. For the first time in Long Island’s history, environmentalists, business leaders, scientists, organized labor and the building trades all agree that the long-term threat that has resulted from the lack of sewers to both the environment and economy is so great that a long-term plan to address the need for active wastewater treatment is not an option, but a necessity. Experience shows that public awareness can be a significant factor in driving public policy.