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Suffolk County

Wastewater is handled at a sewage treatment plant on the North Shore. File photo by Susan Risoli

There’s something in the water — our own excrement.

Last week was national SepticSmart Week, an annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiative created to teach people how to care for their septic systems. People should know how to maintain these waste systems to prevent their contents from seeping into the ground and into our drinking water aquifer, but it’s a shame that we are still at this point.

Suffolk County politicians frequently talk about their lofty goals to build sewer systems throughout our neighborhoods. In addition to better protecting surface and groundwater, sewers enable commercial and residential development, which is what we need to keep Long Island a viable community for future generations. But we rarely see progress toward the widespread sewer goal.

Part of the problem is the tremendous cost of “sewering up” all of our homes and businesses. However, it’s better to start paying now than when we are in the throes of another recession and desperately need sewers in order to attract business and keep the economy chugging along; or when we wake up one morning to find our water supply irreparably saturated with human waste particles.

Although there are admirable government initiatives to reduce nitrogen pollution, sewers are the ultimate solution. Maybe our electeds are hesitant to be the hated ones handing taxpayers a large bill for the projects, but someone’s got to do it.

Until our elected officials start taking real action, there are things we can do to help spare our drinking water, such as investing our own money in our septic systems, upgrading them to more environmentally friendly ones and safely cleaning them out more frequently to prevent overflowing.

According to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office, there are 360,000 county lots with septic systems and cesspools that add nitrogen pollution to our communities. If even 10 percent of those lot owners upgraded their septic systems, it could make a world of difference.

Officials gather to see the cesspool at Alan Marvin’s house in Nesconset on Thursday, Sept. 24. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone (D) gathered with public officials and members of the community on Thursday to celebrate the third annual national SepticSmart Week.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SepticSmart Week, which runs from Sept. 21 to 25, is a nationally-recognized week meant to inform and encourage homeowners on how to properly maintain their septic systems.

Suffolk County officials also hope this week will educate homeowners on how their septic systems impact local water quality.

“It’s a time to focus on the issues that are and haven driven water quality, and the issues that allow us to reverse the decline we’ve seen in our water quality,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County currently has 360,000 unsewered lots with cesspools and septic systems that contribute to nitrogen pollution in the county’s surface and groundwater, according to a statement from Bellone’s office. More innovative wastewater septic systems and updated programs will help reverse the decades of decline in the county’s water, the county executive said.

“This is a testament to the importance of this problem,” Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D- Setauket) said. “Nitrogen is seeping into our groundwater and reeking havoc.”

Bellone’s “Reclaim Our Water” initiative is one that partners with the liquid waste industry to overhaul the county’s liquid waste licensing program. Changes proposed to the licensing process would require training and continuing education for the many specialized services within the liquid waste field.

“These proposed training and requirements will create accountability and increase consumer confidence, as property owners can be assured that the company they hire has been trained to best service the specific septic system they have and protect Suffolk County’s ground water,” according to a statement from Bellone’s office.

Bellone said a partnership Suffolk County has developed with the Long Island Liquid Waste Association is helping improve relationships between the private sector and their customers in water waste management.

“It’s making sure the private sector is set with the tools they need to help homeowners with these new advanced waste water septic systems,” Bellone said.

Other members of Suffolk County government were excited by the new water quality initiatives.

“We’re involved in a historic initiative in Suffolk County to address a serious threat to our environment and our economy,” Peter Scully, deputy county executive for water quality said. “We’re always happy and anxious to work with the private sector on solutions.”

This event was held at Nesconset resident Alan Marvin’s home. Officials inspected Marvin’s cesspool and observed how it had changed over time.

Marvin said he was lucky to be have been chosen because he learned afterwards that his septic system is set to overflow by December, and he would have had to call for emergency services. He said he was not aware of that.

“It’s an important issue,” he said. “I don’t think most homeowners realize when they go to the bathroom what it affects. This is a good way for Suffolk County residents to learn.”

Move is part of Stern’s Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative

Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo

Suffolk County lawmakers have taken another step toward putting roofs over homeless veterans’ heads.

On Sept. 9, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved the transfer of eight tax-defaulted properties to nonprofit agencies that will in turn convert them into affordable rental housing for veterans who are homeless or seriously at risk of becoming homeless.

The move is a significant component of Legislator Steve Stern’s (D) Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative, a multi-pronged legislative package aimed at battling the war against veteran homelessness in Suffolk. Officials have said there are about 750 Long Island veterans who are either homeless or who are expected to be homeless by the end of 2015.

Stern, who is the chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said the law is a worthy initiative and way to truly give back to those who have served.

“I’ve always said that we all need to do our part in serving those that have served us,” Stern said in a phone interview Friday. “But it can’t just be marching a parade. It can’t just be waving a flag.”

The nonprofits involved would foot the construction bill through possibly more than $10 million in state and federal grant funding available for such projects, Stern said. Funding for the construction will be provided in part from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

A total of 14 units of housing would be created among the eight properties that have been transferred, Stern said.

Two parcels in Central Islip will be transferred to the Concern for Independent Living for the construction of three single-family homes. Bay Shore-based United Veterans Beacon House has proposed to rehabilitate an existing home on a Copiague parcel, and build a single-family unit on a Yaphank parcel.

In addition, the Association for Mental Health and Wellness is proposing to build a new four-bedroom house for three senior disabled veterans and a live-in house manager on two parcels in Mastic; rehabilitate a house in Riverhead for one veteran family; and build a new set of four, single room occupancies for veterans on a parcel in Medford.

“As an agency committed to ensuring empowering people to overcome the impact of health and mental health disabilities, it is our intent to devote these houses to assist male and female veterans who have been affected by service-connected and post-service transition mental health challenges,” said Michael Stoltz, Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness said in a previous statement. “I thank Suffolk County for partnering with our organization to further assist us in supporting our veterans.”

Stern’s hoping the first unit to be completed — the Copiague parcel — will be built within a year. “The timing is going to be very varied depending on the particular locations,” he said.

Housing our Homeless Heroes doesn’t stop at just housing. At the same meeting, the Legislature approved Helping Our Veterans lane (HOV lane) legislation, sponsored by Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) and Stern. The legislation’s goal is to expedite veteran services within the county’s Department of Social Services.

Stern said many times, veterans walk into the county’s DSS for services they may typically need from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and they are “turned away.” He said it becomes challenge to get them to come back to a government assistance office. The HOV lane legislation would make it so that veterans who are seeking services at DSS would get paired with a veteran services officer. Their requests would be fast-tracked when the walk into the department — regardless of whether they’re at the right office.

“That’s very important here because veterans, too many of them, face too many challenges and time becomes very important,”
Stern said.

Stern said he’s proud of the enactment of Housing our Homeless Heroes.

“I have every reason to believe that it’s going to serve as model for the rest of the country,” he said.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone makes his way down the marathon route in a previous running event held in the county. Photo from Bellone’s office

By Steve Bellone

Suffolk County is home to more than 90,000 veterans, the largest population of veterans in any county in New York State. They have selflessly served their country, in war and in times of peace, making sacrifices to ensure our safety and protect our way of life.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone makes his way down the marathon route in a previous running event held in the county. Photo from Bellone’s office
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone makes his way down the marathon route in a previous running event held in the county. Photo from Bellone’s office

We all have a duty to make sure that veterans are not overlooked when they return to civilian life. Too often, veterans return home from service in need of our assistance and recognition for a job well done.

I am proud that the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and our many local veterans organizations work tirelessly to meet the needs of veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of quality housing and job assistance. No veteran should have to fight another battle to receive needed services and adjust to civilian life.

The fact is, there is so much more we need to do to support our veterans. That is why I helped organize the first ever Suffolk County Marathon and Half Marathon to Support Our Veterans.

This event will kick off from Heckscher State Park, this Sunday, Sept. 13 and travel through many of our amazing downtowns. Every dollar that we net from this marathon will help fund services which will benefit our Suffolk County veterans community.

As a veteran myself, I will be participating in the event as one of the thousands running it. But, there are so many ways to be involved.

You can join in this effort to support veterans by running, volunteering or cheering on others who are participating in this great cause. In addition to the race, The Taste of Long Island festival will show off locally produced wine, food and drinks, with entertainment provided by bands made up of veterans. Among the thousands of runners are many veterans and active-duty members of the services.

I encourage you to go to www.suffolkmarathon.com to learn more about how you can be part of history and honoring our great veterans community. I look forward to seeing you out there.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive.

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Narcan, a drug that stops opioid overdoses. File photo by Jessica Suarez

Suffolk County is hosting a Narcan training class to teach residents how to administer the life-saving drug that stops opioid overdoses.

According to the county health department, the training class meets New York State requirements and will teach attendees how to recognize and overdose on opioids such as heroin and Vicodin. They will also learn how to administer Narcan through an overdose victim’s nose and what additional steps to take until emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene.

Participants who complete the training will receive a certificate and an emergency resuscitation kit that contains Narcan, also known as naloxone.

The class will be held on Monday, Sept. 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Office of Health Education in the North County Complex, 725 Veterans Highway, Bldg. C928, Hauppauge.

For more information on the class, contact Wanda Ortiz at 631-853-4017 or wanda.ortiz@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Stephen Ruth mugshot from the SCPD

Police arrested a Centereach man on Tuesday afternoon who they say used a pole to turn red light cameras away from the road and potential violators.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the suspect used an expandable pole to tamper with the cameras, pushing the lenses toward the sky. Officers from the SCPD’s 6th Precinct Crime Section received anonymous tips regarding a video post on social media that allegedly shows 42-year-old Stephen Ruth tampering with several of the cameras in Ronkonkoma, including one on Ocean Avenue at the Long Island Expressway’s south service road on both Aug. 21 and Aug. 24. Shortly before being arrested on Tuesday afternoon, he also allegedly tampered with two other cameras on that same service road, at the intersection with Hawkins Avenue.

After an investigation, officers arrested Ruth at his home on Stewart Circle.

He was charged with four counts of third-degree criminal tampering and four counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration.

Attorney information for Ruth was not immediately available on Wednesday.

The red light cameras, which are maintained by Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Incorporated, take photographs at busy intersections throughout Suffolk County, recording license plates of vehicles whose drivers run through a red light or do not come to a complete stop before making a right turn on a red signal. The company reviews the photos snapped — and gets final approval from the county — and for each confirmed violation, the registered owner of the vehicle receives a $50 traffic citation.

Suffolk’s red light camera program began in summer 2010, and signs alert approaching drivers at every intersection where there is a camera.

Unlike other moving violations, red light camera violations do not add points to a driver’s license, as the cameras only record rear license plates and cannot confirm the driver of a violating vehicle.

To date, 80 mosquitoes and seven birds test positive for virus in Suffolk

Stock photo

Nine more mosquitos and two birds have tested positive for West Nile virus in various neighborhoods across Suffolk County, Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken announced on Monday.

The mosquito samples, collected from Aug. 11 to 14, hailed from Huntington, Selden, West Babylon, Bay Shore, Holbrook, Farmingville and Watch Hill on Fire Island. A crow collected on Aug. 14 from Stony Brook and a blue jay, collected on Aug. 18 from Smithtown, also tested positive for the virus.

To date, this year Suffolk’s total West Nile count comes to 80 mosquitos and seven birds. No humans or horses have tested positive for the virus in Suffolk this year.

First detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk in 1999, and again each year thereafter, the virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

While Dr. Tomarken said there’s no cause for alarm, the county is urging residents to reduce exposure to he virus, which “can be debilitating to humans.”

“The breed of mosquito known as Culex pipiens-restuans lay their eggs in fresh water-filled containers, so dumping rainwater that collects in containers around your house is important,” he said.

Residents should try to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitos breed, in order to reduce the mosquito population around homes. That includes: disposing of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers; removing discarded tires; cleaning clogged gutters; turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when they’re not being used; changing the water in bird baths; and draining water from pool covers.

Most people infected with West Nile will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop sever symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Individuals — especially those 50 years of age or older or those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk — are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Residents are advised to avoid mosquito bites by minimizing outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wearing shoes and socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitos are more active; using mosquito repellant when outdoors and following label directions carefully; making sure all windows and doors have screens and that all screens are in good condition.

To report dead birds, call the West Nile virus hotline in Suffolk County at 631-787-2200 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.

For medical questions related to West Nile virus, call 631-854-0333.

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board is considering partnering with Suffolk County to buy the development rights of a Greenlawn Christmas tree farm.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a plan to buy a conservation easement and the development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm on Wyckoff Street in Greenlawn. The Tilden family has operated the farm for generations, and the property has been recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous farm use.

The town would use money from its Environmental Open Space and Park Fund and would split the cost with Suffolk County, according to a Town Board resolution.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said the legislator supports the move: “Few and far between are there opportunities in this district to have open space preservation, so he is in support of this.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he brought it forward because it was a “win-win” in that it offers the possibility to preserve the land, but also allows the Christmas tree operation to continue. Cuthbertson said he’s frequented the farm on occasions.

“It costs us less to outright purchase and allows something that’s a very compatible use to continue,” he said.

Asked how much the development rights would cost, Cuthbertson said the town is at the “beginning stages” of that process.

At this week’s public hearing, members of the Tilden family urged the board to move forward with the acquisition of the development rights, which would preserve the property as farmland forever. Six years ago, the town and county made an offer to buy the rights, and an appraisal of the property was done, but the farm’s owner at the time turned the offer down, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

The opportunity came up again when the current heirs became interested in selling the land.

“We’re trying to keep our Christmas tree operation going,” Bruce Tilden said. “We’re thankful the town is supporting this endeavor and we’re looking forward to keep it going.”

Neighbor Jane Irving also urged the board to move forward with the purchase, noting that the Tilden family “has always been good neighbors.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that the Town of Huntington has a working tree farm within the town borders?”

Spencer’s spokesperson said the development rights purchase would be reviewed by the county’s farmland committee on Sept. 15.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

The Suffolk County Police Department arrested a Staten Island man early Friday morning after officers allegedly found him stealing 800 pounds of cooking oil from two local restaurants.

Police said the officers, Daniel Denig and John McAleavey of the 2nd Precinct, were patrolling in Huntington at 6 a.m. when they spotted a man stealing cooking oil from a holding container behind the New York Avenue businesses, New York Pizza and New China Restaurant.

The two restaurants, in a strip of stores off of New York Avenue just west of Lowndes Avenue, put their used cooking oil into that holding container, police said, and the container is owned by Newark-based biofuel recycling company Darling International.

Officers arrested the suspect, 36-year-old Joskey Henry, and charged him with petit larceny. The suspect is a resident of a neighborhood in northeastern Staten Island, near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Attorney information for the defendant was not immediately available.

A police department spokesperson said in a phone interview Friday that Henry’s vehicle was “impounded for evidence,” but the exact details of the vehicle’s connection to the crime were not immediately clear.

Police are still investigating the case.

County: 26 samples collected last month bring total up to 46 this year

Stock photo

Twenty-six mosquito samples and one bird have tested positive for the West Nile virus in various parts of Suffolk County, Dr. James L. Tomarken, the county’s health commissioner, announced on Friday.

The bird, an American crow, was collected on July 31 from Port Jefferson. All the mosquito samples that came back positive were collected on July 29, according to the county. Five of them were from West Babylon, four were from Farmingville and three were from Lindenhurst; as well as two samples each from Northport, East Northport, Huntington Station, Nesconset and Port Jefferson; and one sample each from Greenlawn, Selden, North Babylon and West Islip.

To date this year, 46 mosquito samples and four birds have tested positive for West Nile virus.

The virus was first detected in birds and mosquitoes in Suffolk County in 1999. It is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. No humans or horses have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk this year.

While Dr. Tomarken said there’s no cause for alarm, he urged residents to take steps to reduce exposure to the virus.

Residents should eliminate stagnant water, where mosquitos breed. Popular breeding grounds include tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, discarded tires, wading pools, wheelbarrows and birdbaths. In addition, residents can make sure their roof gutters are draining properly, clean debris from the edges of ponds and drain water from pool covers.

Minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn to avoid mosquito bites, make sure windows and doors have screens and wear clothing that covers you when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitos are more active.

To report dead birds, which may indicate the presence of the virus, residents should call the county’s West Nile virus hotline at 631-787-2200 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the vector control division at 631-852-4270.

For medical questions, call 631-854-0333.