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Steve Englebright

Jeff and Laura Long tie a ribbon on a tree marked for removal in Stony Brook. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Residents of the M-section of Strathmore houses in Stony Brook would like to know where things stand as far as their sycamore trees, are concerned. Will they be able to keep the trees, and get their roads paved?

They said they have been told Brookhaven Highway Supervisor Dan Losquadro’s (R) office will only say that the project is “on hold” until the re-evaluation is completed. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has received no potential schedule date for a meeting she plans to hold after the review has taken place, to allow the highway department to explain their re-evaluation with the chance for residents to respond.

“The need for road maintenance and repair must also be weighed against the quality and character of neighborhoods that would be impacted by the loss of trees…”

–Steve Englebright

A spokesperson for Losquadro’s office said Wednesday that the re-evaluation is ongoing and the office has received quite a few phone calls, some from residents who want the trees on their property taken down. She said they will be in touch with Cartright’s office and will work together moving forward once a plan is in place.

The reassessment of the tree removal was announced in a letter to affected M-section residents sent from the supervisor’s office, dated Aug. 26, and reiterated by Deputy Supervisor Steve Tricarico at the Brookhaven Town Board meeting Sept. 1. Since then, there have been no updates as to the progress of the review.

M-section resident Patricia Woods described a telephone conversation she had with Losquadro in which she said, “He was very nice. He said he ‘just wants to do the job the right way. [He doesn’t want to be] repairing the streets if they’re not done correctly the first time.’ I said to him, ‘if your idea is to do it the right way, you have to look at the whole picture, because [cutting down all the trees], that’s not the right way to do it.’”

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., homeowners gathered on Mariner Street, where Woods initiated another action to help call attention to their plight. At the suggestion of a friend, Deena Brando, who doesn’t reside in the M-section, but has empathy for the cause, Woods began tying green ribbons on the trees marked for removal on her street.

3-year-old Liam Fink and his brother, 6-year-old Tyler Fink, take spools of ribbon to adorn trees. Photo by Donna Newman
3-year-old Liam Fink and his brother, 6-year-old Tyler Fink, take spools of ribbon to adorn trees. Photo by Donna Newman

Spools of green ribbon were distributed to neighbors who gathered on the dead-end street Sunday morning. Petitions were available for homeowners to sign, indicating their opposition to the proposed tree removal. And after signing, M-section residents fanned out to the affected streets to encircle all the marked trees with green ribbons.

The organizers of this grass roots campaign have reached out over the last month to every official and organization they could think of to find help. They set up a Facebook page titled “Save the Stony Brook Street Trees” to facilitate communication to keep residents and others who are interested apprised of developments.

Many residents contacted Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s office (D-Setauket), because of his well-known stance on environmental issues.

In a letter to Losquadro dated Sept. 22, Englebright wrote, “Safe and well-maintained roads are vitally important to our communities and your department should be commended for striving to get the most out of the tax dollars spent on our roads. However, the need for road maintenance and repair must also be weighed against the quality and character of neighborhoods that would be impacted by the loss of trees, including the ecological benefits, aesthetics, property values, and health aspects that these mature street trees provide.”

Despite the fact that Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) informed the residents who attended the Sept. 1 board meeting that the highway superintendent is an autonomous, elected official who does not report to the supervisor, M-section homeowners plan to attend the Sept. 30 board meeting to continue to press for resolution of this issue.

Jeannean Mercuri, vice president of the Nassau-Suffolk Horsemen’s Association, mounts Cricket the horse on the new trail hub in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens. Photo from DEC

By Desirée Keegan

A day when Montauk and New York City are connected across Long Island by trails might not be too far off.

On Sept. 22, the Department of Environmental Conservation celebrated the completion of a piece of the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest Multi-Use Trail Hub Project. The project is an effort to connect trail systems across Rocky Point, Ridge, Yaphank and Shirley. The entire trail system when completed will pass through the DEC’s Pine Barrens, Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven parkland, and end in the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge.

The new trail hub can be found on the north side of Middle Country Road in Ridge, between Wading River Road and Woodlot Road.

“The completion of this trail hub is an instrumental step in the effort to connect Long Island’s trail systems,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “The multiple features of this hub will allow local residents and visitors, young and old, and of any ability, to take advantage of Long Island’s stunning natural diversity.”

The new hub, located on the south end of the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, is expected to be one of the central public access spots for the new trail system. It features a car and horse trailer parking lot, a newly built half-mile Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible hiking trail, an accessible horse mounting platform, and a half-mile connector to an existing horse and hiking trail.

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation's Regional Director, speaking during the grand opening of the new trail hub in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens. Photo from DEC
Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s Regional Director, speaking during the grand opening of the new trail hub in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens. Photo from DEC

“I am fortunate to represent one of the most beautiful regions of New York State,” Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said. “As the sponsor of the legislation that created the Pine Barrens Preserve, I am pleased that we are creating an opportunity for more individuals to access the trails. The ADA accessibility will enable those with mobility issues to enjoy more of Long Island’s natural beauty firsthand.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also commended the DEC for its work with the ADA.

“It’s very important that all residents get the opportunity to share in the natural beauty that surrounds us and we must do whatever we can to preserve it for generations to come,” he said.

The project began in October 2014, with funding from NY Works, and was completed in June for a total cost of $460,000. The trail hub is located on the property of the former Lustgarden Nursery in Ridge. In April, the DEC worked with Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment in an Arbor Day reforestation effort. The student volunteers planted 250 seedlings of native New York tree species.

“The new trail hub is about connecting people with nature and making it easier to get out and explore Long Island’s treasure of trails and the beautiful wildlands they traverse,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

The DEC acquired the 274-acre site in 1996 from Baier Lustgarten. It was the site of Baier Lustgarten Farms and Nursery, which used the acreage to plant nursery stock, including native and non-native trees, shrubs and ornamentals. Several neglected structures were razed from the property, including a house, a barn, greenhouses and cottages for farm hands.

“The new multi-use trail hub is a wonderful community centerpiece that gives residents greater access to enjoy the beautiful Rocky Point Pine Barrens,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “The new hub connects several communities and allows for hiking, horseback riding and bike riding. The DEC has done a wonderful job in creating this very important greenway park that will truly make a difference as we experience our spectacular outdoor environment.”

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.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, helped to establish the United States Climate Alliance in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Lawmakers signed a bill protecting the Long Island Sound last year. File photo from Cuomo’s office

By Donna Newman

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is threatening to sue.

State lawmakers have joined forces across the aisle to issue a demand to both the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the dumping of dredged sludge in the Long Island Sound at two existing sites.

At Sunken Meadow State Park Aug. 4, New York office-holders from multiple levels of government presented a united front. Gov. Cuomo (D) warned U.S. President Barack Obama (D) and the EPA that a plan to create a third disposal site poses a “major” threat to the ecologically vital habitat and blocks progress to end open-water dumping in Long Island’s waters. He and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) wrote letters to Obama, EPA Administrator Regina McCarthy and EPA Regional Administrator H. Curtis Spalding about their opposition.

The dredging of Connecticut harbors and rivers, meant to deepen waterways to allow ships clear passage, produces sludge that is being open dumped in the Long Island Sound, according to Englebright’s office.

Local environmentalists are also concerned with the practice being used long-term.

“We are grateful for the strong support of Governor Cuomo and our local state legislators in opposing this ill-conceived plan and putting the federal government on notice that the Long Island Sound is off limits for the dumping of dredge spoils,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, a North Shore group that works for clean water in Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors, said in a statement.

Should the federal agency continue its plan to allow dumping of dredge spoils in eastern Long Island Sound, New York State will pursue legal action against the EPA, Cuomo said.

In 2005, the EPA struck an accord with the governors of New York and Connecticut to reduce or limit the disposal of dredged material in the Sound by examining alternative placement practices. Two sites— Western Long Island Sound and Central Long Island Sound — were designated on Long Island to be used for that purpose.

On April 27, the EPA proposed the designation of a dredged material disposal site in the Eastern region of Long Island Sound, a third dumping location that would continue open-water dumping of dredge waste in the Eastern Long Island Sound for as long as 30 years. The two sites open now are set to close Dec. 23.

Englebright doesn’t see the latest proposal as a step in the right direction — according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, approximately 22.6 million cubic yards of dredging will be done over the next 30 years.

“The draft appears to be the same open water dredge-dumping plan we have seen before,” he said. “Federal, state and local governments have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to clean up the Long Island Sound and significant progress has been made … continued dredge dumping will make the task of cleaning up the sound so much more difficult.”

The EPA has maintained that dredging is a necessary part of keeping the sound passable for ships.

“Dredging is needed to ensure safe navigation in the sound,” EPA spokesman John Martin said in an email. “The EPA has not made a final decision, but we believe the proposal strikes an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe and efficient navigation and our desired outcome to restore and protect Long Island Sound.”

He referred to the Sound as a nationally significant estuary that has seen the return of dolphins and humpback whales during the past year, thanks to cleanup efforts.

New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) agreed that the state has made significant investments to repair decades of damage.

“Real progress is being made, which makes the EPA’s recent proposal to expand the number of dredged material sites in the sound even more difficult to comprehend,” he said. “I fully support using whatever resources the state has at its disposal to fight the EPA’s plan and protect the long-term health of the sound so that it will continue to be an environmental and economic asset for future generations of Long Islanders.”

In his letter to the agency and the White House, Cuomo stressed his intentions to take action to protect Long Island’s waters if the EPA fails to comply with lawmakers’ requests.

“If the EPA ignores New York’s objections and finalizes its rule to permanently designate an open water disposal site in eastern Long Island Sound,” Cuomo said, “ I will take all necessary steps to challenge the rule and stop it from being implemented.”

Victoria Espinoza, Desirée Keegan and Alex Petroski contributed reporting.

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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.”

Above, from left, Leah Schmalz, Chris Cryder; Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Sue Orifici of the Port Jefferson Village Center and photographer Robert Lorenz enjoy the art reception last Thursday night. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

The Port Jefferson Village Center hosted an artist reception for its latest exhibit, The Natural Beauty of Plum Island, last Thursday evening. The show, which runs through Aug. 30, features photographs by Robert Lorenz and paintings by John H. Sargent, who were granted access to the island over the course of two years.

The paintings and photographs on the second floor of the center quickly draw you in with scenes of beautiful rocky beaches and flower meadows, sunsets with unobstructed views — visions of an island pristine and untouched. One quickly realizes that Plum Island is a local treasure. It is also in peril.

The island has been put up for auction to the highest bidder by the federal government. Operated by the Department of Homeland Security, it is the site of the former U.S. military installation Fort Terry (c. 1897) and the historic Plum Island Lighthouse (c. 1869), which went dark in 1978. It is most known, however, for housing the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1954. The center is relocating to Manhattan, Kansas, and the sale of the island (estimated at $60 million) will help defray the cost of the new facility.

Above, Chris Cryder gives a virtual tour of Plum Island. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Above, Chris Cryder gives a virtual tour of Plum Island. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Activists from all over the country have joined forces to try to protect the natural and cultural resources of Plum Island from development by coming up with conservation options and have been holding public forums to keep the community in the loop. So it was only natural to hold one of those forums Thursday, in conjunction with the art exhibit.

The evening started off with a visual presentation titled Preserving Plum Island for Future Generations by Save the Sound’s Special Projects Coordinator Chris Cryder. Save the Sound is a bi-state program with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and has been locked in a legal battle with the government to save the island since 2009. Cryder is also the outreach coordinator for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition.

Located off the tip of the North Fork of Long Island in the town boundaries of Southold, where the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay meet, Plum Island is part of an archipelago of peninsulas and islands that includes Great Gull Island, Little Gull Island, Fisher’s Island and Rhode Island. The land was “formed 22,000 years ago when the last glacier was here … and deposited its boulders and glacier materials,” explained Cryder, noting that the area contains a very rich marine life.

The 843-acre coastal island, which is about three miles long, has not had much human disturbance since World War II, according to Cryder. “At one time, this island was completely denuded, but 80 percent of the island — over 600 acres — has been allowed to return to its natural state and … has become home to some of our most imperiled species,” he said. “It’s a really special place. You feel like you’re in a whole other world.”

According to Cryder, there are over 16 rare plants on the island, six of which are endangered, including Spring Ladies’ Tresses. The island, which features nine miles of beach, forests, marshes, dunes, flower meadows and over 100 acres of interior wetlands, is also home to over 220 bird species, including the endangered piping plover and the rare roseate tern. Large colonies of grey seals and harbor seals, the northern right whale and leatherback sea turtles congregate in the area. “We feel it is a one-of-a-kind island, probably the most important coastal habitat on the whole eastern seaboard right now,” added Cryder.

From left, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and naturalist John Turner discuss the fate of Plum Island with the audience. Photo by Heidi Sutton
From left, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and naturalist John Turner discuss the fate of Plum Island with the audience. Photo by Heidi Sutton

A panel discussion, which included naturalist John Turner, spokesperson for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) followed the presentation. Moderated by Leah Schmalz, program manager for Save the Sound, both panelists spoke on the importance of saving this jewel from development and discussed the current status of legislation pending in Congress.

“I’ve been fascinated with Plum Island, mostly from a distance, for years,” said Englebright, who visited the island for the first time this spring, with Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and the Supervisor of Southhold. “I was very impressed; I felt like I was in a movie,” he said, describing seeing basking seals and the many bird species. “From my perspective, I would love to see Plum Island become a part of Orient State Park. It would be a spectacularly popular site for naturalists and families and groups of all kinds to visit.”

“We ultimately have no doubt that we will prevail in stopping the sale of Plum Island,” said Turner, “because the island sells itself … in terms of historical significance, the cultural significance, ecological and environmental significance. There are very few places like Plum Island anywhere and it’s in the public domain and it should stay in the public domain.”

“…most people go by on the [Cross Sound] Ferry and see the island and have no idea what’s happening and every time we talk to a group like this we find people saying ‘how is it that the federal government is really thinking about selling this?’” said Schmalz. “One of the ways to get involved is to sign a petition [by visiting www.savethesound.org]. It’s a very easy way to put your name on record saying you want this island to be preserved.”

Dr. Shetal Shah gives Assemblyman Steve Englebright a shot at the press conference announcing that the Neonatal Infant Pertussis Act was signed into law in 2012. Photo from Maria Hoffman

A young state law is already breathing new life into the number of newborns burdened with whooping cough.

It has been three years since state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) saw his Neonatal Infant Pertussis Act signed into law, and last week, members of the Pediatric Academic Societies said it’s already paying off, by reducing infections 50 percent. Both Englebright and Dr. Shetal Shah, who worked alongside the lawmaker in 2012 as a member of the neonatal intensive care unit at Stony Brook University, heralded the legislation as an effective measure to keep newborns healthy across New York State.

Englebright wrote the NPPA with Shah’s help, requiring Tdap, a vaccine against whooping cough, be offered to parents and caregivers in contact with a newborn during birth hospitalization as a way to promote “cocoon” immunity for the infant, according to Shah. Five months later the legislation was signed into law by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), codifying Shah’s common sense idea into law.

“That year, the New York Department of Health had already reported a three-fold increase in whooping cough since the previous year,” Englebright said. “It is gratifying to learn that this law is working and that children are being protected from whooping cough.”

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, starts with “cold-like” symptoms such as fever, sneezing or a runny nose.  It may then morph into a mild cough, which becomes more severe in the first or second week.

The NPPA fight started in 2012 when Shah reached out to Englebright’s office with an idea that he said could prevent whooping cough in newborns. In a statement, Shah said newborns are typically the most at risk of serious illness or death if infected. But with help from Englebright’s legislation, vaccinations have been effective in combatting the infection for newborns.

Using the New York Communicable Disease Electronic Surveillance System, Heather L. Brumberg from Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and her colleagues obtained data from 2010 to 2015 on pertussis cases and hospitalizations for 57 New York counties outside of the city. In addition, they used state population rates in 2011 and 2013 to determine the incidence per 100,000.

During the study period, 6,086 cases of pertussis were detected, 68.8 percent of which occurred before the law passed and 31.2 percent of which occurred after. Overall, the pertussis incidence rate decreased from 37.3 per 100,000 children before the law to 16.9 per 100,000 after.

For children aged younger than 1 year old, pertussis incidence decreased from 304 per 100,000 children to 165 per 100,000 and pertussis hospitalization decreased from 104 per 100,000 children to 63 per 100,000 children. The NPPA was associated with these reductions, especially for those at high-risk, the researchers wrote.

“The data shows that passage of the Neonatal Infant Pertussis Act [NPPA] was associated with a reduced incidence of disease in children in each age group studied,” said Shah, who now works at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network. “This is associative, as we were unable to track actual parental and caregiver Tdap immunization rates.”

Whooping cough vaccine is a five-shot series that is recommended for children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and again at 4 to 6 years of age.

The pertussis vaccine is short-lived and can wear off within a decade, so some people who were immunized as children are no longer protected in adolescence or adulthood unless they get another booster shot.

“This should provide some degree of scientific impetus to other states and counties to consider this measure as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce whooping cough,” Shah said.

Left to right, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. John Flanagan discuss the plan. Photo from Cuomo’s office

Keeping the state’s drinking water clean and safe is a subject anyone can get behind, and New York lawmakers across both major parties did just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a series of aggressive water quality initiatives last week in the company of elected officials representing the North Shore in an attempt to better protect public health and the environment. His proposals received great praise from both Democrats and Republicans as a common-sense way to keep New York’s water clean.

“Every New Yorker has a fundamental right to clean and safe drinking water,” Cuomo said. “Water is a priceless resource that requires the highest levels of protection, and I am proud to continue this administration’s legacy of standing up for the environment. We are taking aggressive and proactive steps to ensure clean and healthy communities throughout the state — both for current residents and for generations to come.”

Joining Cuomo at a Stony Brook University discussion on the state’s newest water initiatives were Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and more. At that discussion, Cuomo pitched his statewide water quality rapid response team, which he said would work to identify and develop plans to address critical drinking water contamination concerns as well as groundwater and surface water contamination problems.

“It’s imperative that we all work together at the local, state and federal levels to protect the public health,” Bellone said. “The actions that Governor Cuomo has announced today are demonstrating unequivocally that New York is taking proactive measures to not just meet that standard, but to really raise the bar on the protection of water quality.”

Cuomo said the rapid response team would be working to develop a comprehensive action plan to immediately address water quality issues raised by municipalities and concerned citizens, taking on matters ranging from currently regulated contaminants like lead, to emerging contaminants, like perfluorooctanoic acid. It was a plan that his fellow lawmakers said was easy to get behind.

“We are blessed in New York State and on Long Island to have the availability of high-quality drinking water, but we also have a responsibility to protect it,” Flanagan said. “At the end of the day, nothing is more important to New Yorkers and their families than the air they breathe and the water they drink.”

The team will also review and incorporate the best available science and may include new review standards for currently unregulated contaminants, enhanced testing and oversight of drinking water systems, including private wells, and state-of-the-art drinking water treatment options.

“Creating an agenda to safeguard the quality of Long Island’s water source is great news — not only for the health of New Yorkers — but for the environment as well,” Englebright said. “Governor Cuomo’s work to ensure that every New Yorker has access to safe, clean drinking water is a testament to his commitment to statewide public health. The implementation of a water quality rapid response team is a proactive way to protect the environment from harmful water contamination and keep New Yorkers’ drinking water clean and safe.”

The discussion over drinking water came in the weeks following a horrific drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where officials have been scrambling to combat unsafe and potentially life-threatening water contaminations.

The governor also proposed regulations to be imposed on mulch-processing facilities to safeguard natural resources. Cuomo said the Department of Environmental Conservation would propose for public comment draft regulations for mulch facilities to increase oversight and provide enhanced safeguards. The proposed regulations would require facilities to establish water runoff management plans to protect groundwater and place restrictions on pile size and storage to reduce the risk of fires, odor and dust.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright speaks about history at the Three Village Community Trust’s 11th annual celebration. Photo by Maria Hoffman

There used to be more to North Country Road than meets the eye.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) discussed the history and importance of Long Island’s Main streets like North Country Road during the Three Village Community Trust’s 11th annual celebration Nov. 18. Around 80 residents attended the event, which helps raise awareness of various conservation or preservation topics.

Cynthia Barnes, president of the group, said the event also helps residents understand the community better. This year, highway and street preservation was the topic of the evening.

According to guest speaker Englebright, in the early 1600s the king of England ordered the construction of North Country Road otherwise known as Route 25A or Main Street. Christian Avenue was once part of Main Street before North Country Road was developed further. Englebright said North Country Road is the oldest road in the community and it is one of many structures that help define the area.

Speaking about the streets in the neighborhood, Englebright said, “They are also fragile and can be lost and in doing so we can lose part of who we are.”

While change is inevitable as time progresses, the goal is to remember and preserve the history of the locale. Englebright added that many roads residents use are some of the oldest roads in the area. He didn’t specify which roads in particular but said that those living in the community don’t always realize the small changes made to the area over time.

With development pressures and gentrification it’s easy for a community to lose its history. With the trust’s annual celebration, Englebright hoped to bring awareness to the history of local roadways, and help continue preservation efforts.

“We have a tradition in this community of preserving our heritage and trying to maintain that quality of our overall community through preservation and adaptive rescue of repurposed historic buildings,” Englebright said. “[Preservation efforts have] happened here more than almost anywhere else I could think of.”

For his past 32 years as an elected official, Englebright fought and continues to fight to preserve historic neighborhoodsincluding the roadways. In light of his preservation efforts over the years the trust not only invited Englebright to make a presentation at the event, but also honored him for his service and his support of the trust and its work.

The assemblyman has helped preserve many historic sites including the Davis Town Meeting House in Coram. The exterior of the house was renovated but the interior was left in shambles. Unused buildings are typically targeted. In order to preserve the 1750s-built house, Englebright supported a grant to help the Davis Town Meeting House Society cater to the building’s interior. The grant is one of many the assemblyman has advocated during his time in public office.

“We’re very lucky to have an assemblyman or an elected official with not just a vision for this community, but he’s actually able to implement [these visions] in various ways and inspire other people to help him,” Barnes said in a phone interview.

From left, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie pose for a photo with historical documents. Photo by Giselle Barkley

He is not only the first African-American Speaker of the New York State Assembly, but also the first speaker to visit various districts on Long Island, as far as one long-standing North Shore lawmaker can remember.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) visited Setauket on Oct. 20, and met with residents and North Shore government officials, including Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

“This happens about once every … well, it never has happened,” Englebright joked. “It’s pretty amazing.”

While touring the area was on Heastie’s agenda, his visit was also about getting better acquainted with the needs and concerns of residents in areas like Setauket, he said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stands in front of Patriots Rock. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stands in front of Patriots Rock. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“When members get up and speak in conference, when they talk about what’s important to them or where they want us to concentrate or try to do things in the budget … [visiting the districts gives] me a better idea of what they’re speaking about,” Heastie said in an interview.

Heastie was elected Speaker of the NYS Assembly on Feb. 3. Since his election, Heastie has tackled a variety of issues including education, homelessness, financial stability for families and minimum wage, among other areas of concern.

The speaker also has ties to the greater North Shore community, as he graduated from Stony Brook University in 1990 with a degree in science. State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) was recently named the Senate majority leader, making the North Shore’s presence strong in the state Legislature.

Although Heastie had limited time to mingle, Englebright guided Heastie around various areas in Setauket, touring the community’s coveted Greenway  Trail, and introducing him to the history of the region and the role it played in the birth of the United States, starting with Patriot’s Rock in Setauket, where the famous Battle of Setauket was fought.

Officials from Stony Brook University library were on hand to deliver the speaker a copy of a famous letter George Washington signed at West Point during the Revolutionary War.

“I used to teach political science and American history,” Heastie said. “So I’m kind of a history buff. It’s just something that was a little different than other parts of the tour, so this was nice — particularly with it being so close to the college that I graduated from.”

After learning about Long Island’s link to the Culper Spy Ring, dating back to the Revolutionary War era, the speaker stopped at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, followed by a visit to Gallery North in Setauket.

Throughout the visit, Englebright and other North Shore leaders used their time with the speaker to reiterate some of the region’s most pressing issues, including preservation and environmental sustainability. Englebright also reaffirmed Heastie’s desire to tour the districts as a means of helping those he represents and serves as speaker.

“He’s very interested in visiting the various districts and learning of what his members are working on,” Englebright said. “I’m one of his senior members, and I’m very grateful he wants to come out and see what are the things I’m really focused on in the district.”