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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D)

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk staff and volunteers are joined by government leaders and National Grid officials in front of the new Suffolk County Farm Visitor Center and interactive walkway. Photo from Suffolk County Farm

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk (CCE Suffolk) held the unveiling of a new, interactive walkway at its 272-acre Suffolk County Farmand Educational Center in Yaphank as well as the announcement of a new visitor center. The walkway was funded by National Grid.

Designed with multiple, life-size elements designed for visitor engagement, the walkway features a series of stations that highlight CCE Suffolk’s wide range of program areas. Among the disciplines showcased are agriculture, marine science, gardening and horticulture, camping, life skills education, and family wellness.

The Suffolk County Farm is a working farm that offers hands-on, research-based learning within a year-round, educational environment. It hosts 100,000 visitors each year, 20,000 of whom are schoolchildren.

The farm is also home to unique educational programs for children ranging from pre-K to 12th grade, summer day camps, a nature-based preschool, and special events, among many other offerings. Its 1871 Haybarn is listed on the National Historic Registry.

According to a 2019 report by the state comptroller’s office, Suffolk County ranked fourth among the state’s 62 counties in agricultural sales. The county’s 560 farms generated $225.6 million in sales.

State Senator Dean Murray, State Assemblyman Joe DeStefano, and County Legislators James Mazzarella, Sarah Anker, Nick Caracappa, Sam Gonzalez, and Jason Richberg were among the elected officials participating in today’s event.

“Thanks to National Grid, the Suffolk County Farm now features a dynamic, new walkway providing an immersive experience that captures the essence of CCE’s multifaceted programs,” said Vanessa Lockel, Executive Director of CCE Suffolk. “The visitor center and walkway will together help the farm carry on its tradition of community learning that dates back more than a century.”

“We’re proud to partner with CCE Suffolk to create an interactive walkway that’s designed to educate and inspire visitors to the Suffolk County Farm,” said Kathy Wisnewski, Director of Customer and Community Engagement at National Grid. “Community learning is deeply aligned with National Grid’s values, and we’re delighted to contribute to an initiative that broadens public understanding of such critical subjects as sustainability, history, and science.”

“The new walkway is far more than an entry point into this remarkable farm,” said Sonia Spar, President of the CCE Suffolk Board of Directors. “It’s truly an educational journey in itself. Visitors will enjoy a holistic experience that enables them to appreciate the extraordinary breadth of CCE Suffolk’s offerings in a personal way.”

“While I regret not being able to attend today’s ceremony in person, I support the innovative initiatives undertaken by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk at the Suffolk County Farm,” commented Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “The interactive walkway emphasizes that the farm is not just a place to visit; it’s a learning hub that exemplifies the rich agricultural heritage and forward-thinking sustainability efforts of our county.”

“Visited by tens of thousands of people each year, the Suffolk County Farm is one of Suffolk’s true gems,” said County Legislator James Mazzarella. “National Grid deserves praise for underwriting a beautiful new walkway that stands as a testament to CCE Suffolk‘s ambitious program of community outreach and education.”

“The Suffolk County Farm is emblematic of the leadership role that this county plays in New York State’s agricultural sector,” said Rob Carpenter, Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. “Its far-reaching educational agenda deepens Long Islanders’ understanding of the world of agriculture. We applaud CCE Suffolk and National Grid for the tremendous work they’ve done here.”

By Raymond Janis 

At the Suffolk County 9/11 Memorial outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Monday morning, Sept. 11, county officials, first responders, faith leaders and veterans held a memorial ceremony to honor the lives lost during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The service included music, prayer and ceremonial name reading, paying tribute to Suffolk County residents who had perished on that fateful day.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Comptroller John Kennedy (R), county Clerk Vincent Puleo (R) and county Legislators Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), among others, participated in the name reading dedication.

Striking at the heart

“We stand before a monument with names etched in glass to honor, to remember the individuals who were killed on September 11, 2001,” said Bellone, who reflected upon the initial aftermath of 9/11 and the nation’s solidarity.

The nation and world, however, have undergone considerable transformation in 22 years since the attacks, Bellone added.

He suggested the terrorists sought to strike at “the heart of this nation and what we represent, the values that we believe in — freedom and democracy.”

Despite initial disruptions and the carnage inflicted, Bellone maintained that Americans worked to coalesce and persevere.

“We responded, we recovered, we rebuilt and came back stronger than ever,” the county executive said.

More than two decades later, Bellone expressed apprehensions over existing currents, highlighting the “division” and “arguments in our own country about elections.” 

A day of healing

Bellone called upon citizens to return to the values that had once united them. He maintained that internal dissension rather than external threat represents a greater risk to the nation’s future.

“If this nation, if this republic, if this democracy is ever to fall, it will not be because of external forces,” he claimed. “It will be internal division and strife.”

He added that 9/11 can serve as an annual reminder of America’s capacity to heal, overcome differences and rediscover common values.

“It is incredibly important that we have these names etched on the wall,” he said. “Because the absence of them — their lives and what they meant to their families and communities — is felt every single day.”

He concluded by saying, “How do we honor them? I believe each and every one of us [can] use 9/11 as a day to remind ourselves, to commit ourselves to coming together — to heal as a nation and as a community.”

The ceremony ended with a collective singing of “God Bless America.”

Unsplash photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) and the Suffolk County Fire Academy will jointly host a Firefighters and EMS Recruitment Event on Saturday, July 16 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Avenue in Yaphank.

The five-hour event will feature various vehicle demonstrations and on-site resources for potential future firefighters and emergency medical service members to become familiar with, including a live exercise that will simulate a train-vehicle incident and response. The Long Island Railroad, Brookhaven Fire Department and South County Ambulance will be participating in the demonstration.

Recruitment specialists from Suffolk County will be available to discuss the many benefits available to potential first responders. Representatives from the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing based in Westhampton Beach will also be in attendance for recruitment purposes.  

“In Suffolk County, we are committed to ensuring that our volunteer fire and EMS agencies have the necessary resources to operate and protect our residents. A key component of this includes recruitment. That is why our Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services continues to engage with our departments and communities to provide these important events,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Last year’s inaugural event was a success as more than 125 residents signed up to become a first responder in their local community, and we look forward to achieving the same success this summer.”

“Recruitment and retention events continue to be essential for fire and EMS agencies as we need to continue to engage with our residents and educate those who are interested in becoming a first responder of all the tremendous benefits our local departments and volunteer organizations can provide,” said Suffolk County FRES Commissioner Patrick Beckley. “This summer’s open house will both be interactive and educational, and we encourage residents of all ages to attend.”

The event will also encompass a food drive component as Island Harvest will be on-site to accept non-perishable goods, including canned vegetables, sauces and soups, pasta, beans, rice, personal care and toiletry items and feminine hygiene products. Fire departments and attendees are all encouraged to participate and donate.

This summer’s open house event follows FRES’ first recruitment event in October 2021 where more than 125 prospective firefighters and EMS personnel signed up to become volunteer members with their local departments and agencies. The open house is part of Suffolk County’s comprehensive approach to first responder recruitment, including the Vets to Vollies Program that launched in April 2022.

Candidates who are interested in becoming a first responder, but are not able to attend the recruitment event can go to suffolksbravest.com/volunteernow.  All junior firefighters and educational groups are also invited to attend.

The Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) is committed to serving both the 1.5 million residents of Suffolk County and the more than 11,000 emergency responders who are dedicated to saving lives and protecting property.

Cartoon by Kyle Horne: kylehorneart.com

A government is only as democratic as the freedom and fairness of its electoral process. 

Right now, the legislative and executive branches of the Suffolk County government are at odds over what constitutes a free and fair election. At a press conference last week, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) defended a 2017 law that created a public campaign finance fund. He said this program, which is set to take effect during the 2023 county election cycle, will restore “the people’s faith and trust in government.”

At the same time, the Republican majority intends to repeal the law, arguing the program undermines trust in government as public funds will inevitably be used to finance campaigns that some voters do not endorse. Instead, it favors using that money to strengthen public safety initiatives around the county.

While the political branches battle it out, it is worth noting that this program is not supported by tax revenue. Rather, it is supported by revenues generated by Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel, which was acquired last year by Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting. The question that no one has asked is how OTB factors into this equation.

For eons, societies have struggled to root out vice and promote virtue among their people. It seems a fact of human nature that we are created with various flaws and foibles. Gambling, boozing and prostitution are nasty habits that will be among us regardless of the system of government that we put in place. 

Using gambling revenues to finance grassroots campaigns seems to be a noble end. This is not much different from a real estate developer contributing monetarily to a community to compensate for the potential losses incurred during the buildout. Attaching a just cause to an activity like gambling appears to be a worthwhile undertaking. Bellone himself said, “I can’t think of a better way that we can utilize those dollars.” 

However, if we are going to stake our democracy and the integrity of our elections on this public campaign finance program, we must demand much greater transparency from the institution that will be supporting it, Suffolk OTB. As recently as March, a local activist referred to OTB as “a known patronage mill.” 

There are still far too many questions yet to be answered by OTB. What percentage of its revenue will be used to finance elections? What is the leadership hierarchy? How many people are employed? What is the process for securing employment there? How does the power source of our democracy still not have an “about” page on its website?

It is a giant leap of faith on the part of voters to expect a gaming parlor to act in the best interests of the people. Attempting to power democracy through gambling is a high-risk maneuver that requires much stricter oversight on the part of the administration. The only way this can be possible is through frequent hearings, press conferences and financial disclosures from OTB. 

The fact that there is friction between the political branches in Suffolk is a good thing. As the county executive and Legislature quarrel over the future of public campaign finance, there are important questions that the public needs answered. For any of this to work, we the people need to be constantly briefed about OTB’s various dealings. This is a basic principle of democracy.

Nursing homes have become a hotbed of discussion over the large percentage of their residents who have died from COVID-19 while in New York facilities. Stock photo

With hospitalizations declining, Suffolk County is nearing six out of seven metrics to reopen its economy.

The county, which has had 230 contact tracers, is hiring additional people this week and plans to reach the 450 contact tracers required soon.

In the meantime, the only unmet metric remains a 14-day decline in hospital deaths.

The number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 fell by eight through May 16 to 505. At the same time, the number of people who are in the Intensive Care Unit declined by seven to 169. Of those people in the ICU, 129 are on ventilators.

Hospital occupancy remains near 70 percent overall and at 64 percent in the ICU.

Even though the county has experienced a dramatic and healthy decline in the strain on the health care system, officials continue to try to stock up on PPE and other equipment that might be necessary if a second wave of the virus returned in the fall or winter. That would include ventilators.

An additional 47 people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

Meanwhile, the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 increased by 107, which is below the average for the last week, bringing the total who have tested positive for the virus to 38,224. That excludes the 9,925 people who have tested positive for antibodies.

This comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today that Western New York around Buffalo will be able to start the reopening process Tuesday, May 19.

Separately, as the county prepares for Memorial Day Weekend, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced that Smith Point and Cupsogue beaches would only be open to residents.

“My priority is to make sure Suffolk County residents will be able to enjoy access to their beaches during this crisis period,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “We are looking forward to opening and welcoming people to our beaches with COVID-19 safety rules in place.”

Bellone said the county has distributed 54,000 additional pieces of personal protective equipment to nursing homes and adult care facilities throughout the county over the last day.

The county executive also urged residents to fill out the 2020 census to ensure that the county receives back from the federal government at least as much as it sends to Washington.

The benefits that come from a correct census count not only include accurate representation in the federal government but also provide unemployment insurance, homeland security funding and health care spending, which would help offset the county’s current expenditures during the pandemic.

Bellone urged people to “talk to friends and neighbors. It’s important for homeowners and business taxpayers, if they haven’t done it yet, to visit my2020census.gov. It takes a few minutes. We want to make sure we get everybody counted in Suffolk County.”

Suffolk County has had difficulties coming up with PPE devices during the ongoing pandemic. Stock photo

Suffolk County continues its steady daily decline in hospitalizations from COVID-19, with 26 fewer hospital beds occupied with patients who have the virus, dropping the total through Friday to 513.

At the same time, the number of people in the Intensive Care Unit rose by 10 to 186 through May 15, the most recent day for which the county has data.

Hospital bed capacity remains close to 70 percent, a target metric for reopening the economy.

In the last 24 hours, 42 people have left the hospital, continuing their recovery at home.

The number of people who have died continues to climb. In the last day, 15 people died from complications related to the pandemic, bringing the total to 1,748. Suffolk County accounts for 7.7 percent of the total deaths in New York State from the virus, which is the same figure the county represents in the total population of the state.

Over the last 24 hours, the county has distributed 74,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, bringing the total to 5 million since the pandemic began.

With the Memorial Day Weekend approaching next week, the county is preparing to open Smith Point and Cupsogue. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the beaches would have a beefed up staff, which will help people as they are entering the beach to understand protools and the new ways the beach is operating.

When residents are on the beach and socially distanced, they won’t have to wear masks, but when they go to public facilities, like the rest room, they will need to wear face coverings.

The county will have attendants cleaning the bathrooms on a continual basis. The staff will wear appropriate face coverings. Anyone working at the beaches will have their temperature taken each day.

When the beaches reach capacity, the parking lots will close until some residents create openings for additional guests.

From left: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and former Congressman Steve Israel. Photo from Bellone’s office

For the first time, Suffolk County has fallen below the three-day rolling average for new hospitalizations mandated for economic reopening yesterday, starting a clock that, if the pattern holds, could allow the county reach another metric by May 25.

The three-day average for new hospitalizations for Suffolk County, which is based on the total population, is 30.

“It’s a good thing to say we have met that decline in new hospitalizations for a three-day rolling average,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily call with reporters.

At the same time, the number of people in the Intensive Care Unit dropped by two, to 214, which is “another piece of good news,” Bellone said.

Still, the overall numbers aren’t all positive.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by 10 for the 24-hour period ending yesterday, bringing the total hospitalizations to 585.

Additionally, the number of new positive tests over the last day rose by 243, bringing the total, excluding antibody testing, to 37,305.

Hospital capacity remains close to the 70 percent level mandated for economic reopening. The number of available beds is 894 out of a total of 2,965 beds. The number of ICU beds, meanwhile, was 199 out of a total of 602, which exceeds the 30 percent availability necessary.

Four upstate regions have been cleared to begin the reopening process starting May 15, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York Pause order is set to end. At the same time, all of Long Island, including both Nassau and Suffolk counties, will be considered one for understanding when it will reopen.

At the same time, the county is aiming to have additional bed capacity, as hospitals hope to start offering elective surgeries again for residents who have put off procedures for weeks or even months.

The number of people who died in the last day was 26, bringing the total to 1,680.

“We are with you as you grieve this terrible loss,” Bellone said.

Amid hotspot testing, 1,595 people have tested positive for COVID-19 out of 4,386 results, bringing the infection rate to 36.4 percent of the total tests.

Bellone’s office distributed another 220,000 pieces of personal protective equipment yesterday, mostly to nursing home and adult care facilities.

Separately, Bellone invited veterans to a town hall scheduled for this evening at 5:30 p.m. Those interested in attending virtually can access the town hall at facebook.com/SteveBellone.

Finally, on Friday, the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard will salute health care workers with a flyover that starts in Riverhead at 12:15 pm, travels over several hospitals, and ends at 1 p.m. at Jones Beach.