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State Assemblyman Steve Englebright

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'Low Tide' (Stony Brook Harbor) by Gerard Romano

By Steve Englebright

Steve Englebright

During this peak of summer, Stony Brook Harbor and its interconnected waterways are at their delightful aquatic best. Sadly, in future summer seasons the harbor’s pristine marine waters may also be at their most vulnerable due to a threat not from nature, but from intensive commercial development.

As part of a light-industrial subdivision proposal filed with the Town of Smithtown in August 2017, the Gyrodyne company wants to build a regional sewage treatment plant on its property. Some suggest grafting the entire St. James’ business district onto Gyrodyne’s proposed new sewage treatment plant  While this may spur a building boom that could remake bucolic St. James into yet another commercial strip, there is no doubt that sewage effluent from the combined overdevelopment projects now being considered for St. James will devastate nearby Stony Brook Harbor.

A former commercial nursery turned helicopter manufacturing plant turned real estate investment trust, the property’s antiquated zoning contrasts with the historic state highway called Route 25A and the beautiful communities adjoining it, reflecting 300 years of history. Built to service the needs of the development’s planned occupants, including medical practices and assisted-living facilities, the plant would discharge upward of 180,000 gallons of lightly-treated medical and commercial effluent daily into the permeable glacial soils that drain directly into the harbor. The contaminants would travel about 8,000 feet to reach Stony Brook Harbor’s shoreline.

This groundwater-transported effluent will contain unhealthy amounts of nitrogen in liquid that is treated sewage waste. Once this reaches the harbor it will change its ecology and recreational appeal forever.

Professor Lawrence Swanson, of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, who has studied Stony Brook Harbor’s ecology for decades recently stated that the Gyrodyne sewer project is “one of the biggest menaces right now to preserving clean water in Suffolk County. Stony Brook Harbor is probably the cleanest and least disturbed harbor we have left on Long Island.”

In addition to processing human waste, the proposed plant will act as a pass-through for a significant volume of contaminants flushed out of the medical offices and assisted living facilities Gyrodyne is proposing. Unfortunately, this sewer plant is not designed to remove anything other than nitrate nitrogen. Most of the other chemicals will reach and contaminate the harbor.

The list of possible contaminants is long and worrisome. A short list includes radioactive imaging compounds; substances used in routine nuclear-medicine functions; pharmaceutically-laden human waste; and such legacy toxins as methyl bromide, lead arsenate and trichloroethylene (TCE). Some of these chemicals were commonly used by agricultural businesses such as the Flowerfield Bulb Farm in the last century. TCE, a known carcinogen, has long been used by the aerospace industry as a solvent. Because helicopter blades were assembled and tested for the military on an industrial scale at Gyrodyne, TCE almost certainly was used and allowed to escape into the ground. Unfortunately the Gyrodyne site has not been adequately sampled to definitively determine whether or not this is so. I am concerned the engineering firm which Gyrodyne hired to do a mandatory environmental report, only glosses over this threat.

Unsurprisingly, when those engineers dug wells in Flowerfield and sampled soil patches they found no evidence of contaminants. Yet local environmental advocates like Cindy Smith and her team conducted archival research and found potential evidence of legacy toxins such as methyl bromide and lead arsenate. The evidence is indisputable, in the form of price quotes printed on Dow Chemical letterhead in 1941. Lacking evidence of environmental cleanup, we can only assume these toxins may remain in the soil today and may be mobilized by the proposed construction.

Although the Gyrodyne report is hundreds of pages in length, it only superficially analyzes the environmental risk to the harbor and the historic corridor. Underestimated is the anticipated impact that vastly expanded traffic will have on ground and surface water quality.

What is needed is a truly objective report. Within this context I have called upon the town to commission a new independent study. Such a step is necessary to preserve the water chemistry of the harbor and the quality of life and character of the nearby villages and communities. As Swanson observes, “Stony Brook Harbor is a jewel and ought to be preserved, not destroyed.”

Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) chairs the New York State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. He represents the 4th Assembly District.

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Photo from VFW Post 3054

Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars East Setauket Post 3054 are beginning to see the results of working together with the community and elected officials.

The women’s bathroom before renovations at Post 3054. Photo from David Tracy

A year after post members began fundraising to help renovate their headquarters, which is at least 90 years old, they have been able to check a few items off their to-do list. Post Commander Jay Veronko credits not only the post’s fundraisers at Country Corner, Madiran and Prohibition Kitchen, but also contributions from community groups and the help of Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

“We got some money rolling in now, and we’re putting that money back into the building,” Veronko said.

With funds raised, the post members have been able to replace the hood over the range in the kitchen and make the women’s bathroom an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom. They also installed a new fire system.

The post commander said several donations gave the post a head start, including $15,000 from Facebook group Three Village Dads raised at their August golf outing, a $30,000 grant from the Rommel Wilson Memorial Fund and a $10,000 state grant with the help of Englebright. Local businesses also donated supplies.

David Tracy, of Three Village Dads, said the partnership with the post began when the members wanted to raise money for a good cause. He said a few members now belong to the post. Members of the Facebook group, which recently became a nonprofit, assisted in the demolition and renovation, while 3VD members Mike Kinney did the plumbing, Chris and John Prussen of South Setauket-based JP Electric worked on the electricity and Tommy Raftery, along with his crew from Stony Brook-based Elite Home Improvement Services, undertook the majority of the rebuild.

Before the bathroom renovation, the space had two stalls and a different layout which made it hard to maneuver a wheelchair. It now has been made roomier and has a grab bar by the toilet, a wider door and an ADA-compliant sink. Veronko said Old Country Ceramic Tile in Port Jefferson Station donated all the tiles.

Hahn said it’s important to have an ADA-compliant bathroom as veterans age so they can still visit the post.

“That’s an important step that they took to make it accessible,” she said. 

Hahn coordinated a visit with local trade union representatives to the post more than a year ago. She said many local skilled laborers want to volunteer and use their skills to help veterans, which helps defray costs. The tour led the Sheet Metal Workers International Local 28 to build a custom range hood in the kitchen.

In the future, Veronko said, the post members hope to renovate the windows, floors and bar.

Renovations to the women’s bathroom in Post 3054 have made it ADA-compliant for all to use. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Englebright said the renovations to the building are important, and he was glad to help with the state grant as the members are generous with their time. He said the post is fundamental to the community, especially when it comes to continuing the tradition of the Memorial Day parade in East Setauket.

“One of the great events is the Memorial Day parade and at the end of each parade many of the marchers work their way back to this site,” he said. “It is a celebration of the day that takes place there with many of our veterans hosting anyone in the community who may want to have a hot dog and a soda.”

Veronko said the hope is that one day the post, which in addition to the Memorial Day parade hosts the Veterans Day memorial service and the fall chicken barbecue fundraiser, will be able to organize more community events like farmers markets. He added the 3VD hold their monthly meetings at the post, and the building is available for community and other veterans groups to meet.

Veronko said the renovations are needed for more than updating a historic structure. 

“The building needed updating absolutely, but we’re doing it for the next generation because we’re going to have a lot of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans at some point,” he said. “I think there’s probably more of them than Vietnam vets that are eligible for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.”

The post will be holding another fundraiser March 14 at Country Corner in East Setauket from 4 to 8 p.m. For more information visit www.post3054.com.

Donations can also be sent to 8 Jones Street, Setauket, NY 11733.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller speak at a Dec. 9 press conference calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the electrification of public transportation, including the Long Island Rail Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Representatives from the national environmental advocacy group Sierra Club along with local representatives are calling for the electrification of Long Island’s transportation, especially its trains.

“This is a challenge, but we need to accept it.” —Charles Bevington

On Dec. 9, the Sierra Club was joined by local representatives at a press conference at the Long Island Rail Road’s Stony Brook train station. The event was part of the Get Set, Go Green! relay, where people from across the state, including Buffalo, Rochester, Lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Plattsburgh, are traveling to Albany on multiple modes of low-carbon transportation. The goal is to deliver a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) by Dec. 12.

The Dec. 9 event included a send-off for relayer Edgar Cid, 25, of Lindenhurst, who was set to take the 1:19 p.m. train from Stony Brook to Penn Station to deliver petitions to the next relayer in New York City. Cid said he was happy to participate as he realizes the importance of moving toward more electric-based transportation on the Island, including trains.

Charles Bevington, chair of Sierra Club Long Island Group, said so far more than 7,500 signatures have been collected and the hope is to get to 10,000.

“This is a challenge, but we need to accept it,” Bevington said. “We need to move forward on it.”

Mothers Out Front volunteer leader, Billii Roberti, talks about the benefits of electrifying school buses. Photo by Rita J. Egan

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller and Mothers Out Front volunteer leader Billii Roberti, of Huntington, joined Bevington and other environmental activists to support the relay.

The petition urges Cuomo to adopt a statewide target to reduce emissions 55 percent from transportation by 2035 in his 2020 State of the State address. According to Englebright, the largest amount of state greenhouse gas emissions, 36 percent, comes from transportation. He said the governor recently signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which sets a statewide goal to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He added that for the state to reach the climate goals detailed in the act, a reduction of emissions must begin now.

The assemblyman said the frequency of hurricanes, invasion of species harmful to our ecosystems and warming waters that have destroyed lobsters point to being “in the midst already of a climate crisis.”

The act sets a goal for 70 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy within 11 years and 100 percent of the state’s electricity supply must be emissions free by 2040. Englebright said he is concerned that the LIRR is in the process of replacing its old diesel fleet with new diesel engines.

“That’s not only inconsistent with the new law, it is incoherent,” he said. “We have talked for years about electrifying the north line of the rail road, making it more efficient, making it possible to pull more cars off the roads and to use mass transit. This is an investment that we need to make into electrification, not into [20th]-century diesel locomotives.”

Three train branches transverse Brookhaven — Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma (including Greenport) and Montauk. Romaine said each of the branches depends on diesel at some point, and he and the Town Board have advocated converting to electrification since he entered office.

“The MTA is not spending the money that it should be spending on electrifying these lines,” he said. “Imagine less diesel flowing into our atmosphere because our lines are electrified.”

“It’s long overdue. We’ve relied on diesel since forever it seems like, except for the first [steam] locomotive, but it’s a hundred year old technology.” — Ed Romaine

Miller said he knows many from Calverton to Greenlawn commute by car to the Ronkonkoma line.

“This is completely environmentally inappropriate and unsustainable,” he said.

In addition to the electrification of trains, Roberti called for school districts and bus companies to transition to all-electric fleets by 2030 and asked the governor and state legislators to assist them with funding.

The activist cited health concerns from diesel fuel emissions including increased cancer-causing soot and incidences of pneumonia and asthma attacks.

For years, officials have pleaded for the electrification of the LIRR branches that require diesel. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said in an email that he hears complaints about poor and insufficient service and realizes the environmental benefits of electrification.

“Electrification, including of the Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson lines, would greatly improve service and provide riders desperately needed relief,” Gaughran said. “It is also tremendously beneficial for our environment. I am not optimistic the MTA is taking the urgency of electrification seriously and I urge them to seriously consider electrification.”

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officials recognize the environmental as well as other benefits of electrification of the LIRR.

“The proposed improvements to the LIRR, including purchases of new trains, electrification of the Port Jefferson tracks and the addition of a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville will all serve to increase the frequency of trains and the efficient use of clean energy for transportation,” said Bruce Stillman, CSHL president and CEO. “Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has a close relationship with Stony Brook University and improving rail transportation between our two institutions will help to advance science and education.”

Romaine said the rough estimate for electrification of the railroad was about $18 million a mile. There will be a need for a new rail yard, which the town already has plans in place, and electrification stations along the branches to ensure the rails are electrified along with other signal and communications upgrades.

“It’s an expensive project,” he said. “It’s long overdue. We’ve relied on diesel since forever it seems like, except for the first [steam] locomotive, but it’s a hundred year old technology.”

Jane Fasullo, former chair of the local Sierra Club, said the offset of the costs will be improved health, and in the long term as the cost of the infrastructure of wind and solar goes down, the cost of electrifying vehicles will go down.

“It’s one of those things where you put money into it today to save a lot of money later on,” Fasullo said.

In an email statement, LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad shares the Sierra Club’s concern.

“We recognize our service is one of the most significant ways that Long Islanders can lower their carbon footprint, and we strive to continuously improve our service delivery,” Donovan said. “Public transportation, even when powered by diesel, is greener per passenger mile than private, single-occupancy electric vehicles.”

A copy of the petition can be found at sc.org/55×35.

 

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054 hosted its annual Veterans Day ceremony at Setauket Veterans Memorial Park Nov. 11.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) joined veterans and residents to honor those who have served in the armed forces.

The ceremony kicked off at 11:11 a.m. and featured speeches from post Cmdr. Jay Veronko, Englebright and Hahn. The speeches were followed by a laying of wreaths at the memorial monument on the grounds.

Veronko spoke about how the day was originally called Armistice Day, and only honored those who fought in World War I. It was in 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, that Nov. 11 was renamed Veterans Day to recognize all who served.

“Those men and women were ordinary people until they heard the call of duty and answered it and left their families, their homes and their lives, not for recognition or fame or honor that we bestow on them today, but they left to fight to protect the freedoms of our country and maintain our way of life,” Veronko said.

At the end of the ceremony, post member Michael Russell, one of the trustees of the Rommel Wilson Memorial Fund, announced that the fund donated $30,000 to the post for the ongoing renovations of its building. The donation was given in honor of the Rev. Canon Paul Wancura, a former rector of Caroline Church of Brookhaven who died of injuries sustained during a Shelter Island home invasion in 2018.