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Water Quality

Incumbent Tom Muratore is being challenged for his county legislator seat in the 4th District by Holbrook resident David Bligh. Photo of Muratore from his campaign site; photo of Bligh from candidate

In Suffolk County’s 4th District, Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) is seeking his sixth term and is being challenged by Democrat David Bligh, an environmental engineer from Holbrook. We reached out to both candidates via email to allow them the opportunity to fill us in on what is on their minds as they campaign.

Incumbent Tom Muratore

We asked Muratore what he was most proud of during his tenure as a county legislator. One was working with multiple government agencies as well as community groups to purchase land for a 24-acre park. The future Selden Park Complex will include multipurpose fields, a walking trail and more.

“This allows for more field space and places for our children to play baseball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, soccer and softball right here in our district,” he said. “The state-of-the-art facility is also a great place to host children with specials needs learning new sports through challenges and inclusive sports offerings.”

The county legislator also counted securing funds for a feasibility study for sewers in his district among his accomplishments.

“The availability of sanitary sewers has the potential to increase business investment, improve water quality and provide greater environmental protection in the Selden/Centereach communities,” Muratore said.

The legislator also has secured $6.6 million for road improvements on County Road 16, Horseblock Road. He said in addition to the road being repaved, handicapped-accessible sidewalks were installed and there were improvements to several crosswalks.

Among the issues facing the county, Muratore cites Suffolk’s financial crisis as one of the biggest issues.

“We must budget responsibly, hold the line on taxes and eliminate the outrageous fees, such as the red-light camera fee,” he said. “We must also reduce our capital borrowing. In the next term, I support a 5-10 percent reduction in capital borrowing.”

Other issues he said are protecting the environment and open spaces; supporting law enforcement and first responders for tackling the opioid crisis; and growing the economy by investing in our energy and transportation infrastructure and revitalizing downtowns.

Challenger David Bligh

Bligh said he feels the biggest issues facing Suffolk County currently are affordability, government accountability and responsiveness. The county’s deteriorating water quality he views as a crisis.

Bligh, who grew up in Ronkonkoma, said he hopes his three children will be able to afford to live on the Island when they grow up.

“We have to make Long Island affordable, especially here in Suffolk County, so that our young people and elderly can afford to stay here, and this county doesn’t simply become a place for the wealthy to dwell in their summer homes,” he said.

Bligh said he considers the deteriorating water quality in the county a crisis as it recently had the highest rate of emerging contaminants in New York State, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group May 2019 report entitled “What’s in My Water?: Emerging Contaminants in New York’s Drinking Water Systems.” He said “every elected official’s number one priority must be the safety of the constituents they serve.”

“If people cannot drink water without fearing toxins such as 1,4-dioxane, PFAS [polyfluoroalkyl substances], and other carcinogens, then we have failed as a government,” he said.

When it comes to government accountability and responsiveness, he said his team knocked on more than 14,000 doors while campaigning, and they repeatedly heard about “constituents calling their local officials about concerns in the community and being largely ignored.” He said too many times elected officials will say that an issue cannot be dealt with on their level of government or it’s outside of their jurisdiction.

He said if a legislator cannot handle an issue, they should call those who can and connect the constituent with them.

“We work for the people, not the other way around,” Bligh said.

If elected, Bligh said he would introduce a comprehensive package of ethics and good government reforms, and implement legislation that allows for the development of affordable housing units.

Also, he said as an environmental engineer for the past 15 years, his job entails remediating contaminated sites, and he looks forward to passing further legislation to protect the water quality and to safeguard Long Island from the effects of climate change.

Incumbent Kevin LaValle faces challenger Talat Hamdani for the District 3 seat in the Town of Brookhaven. Photo of LaValle by Kyle Barr; photo of Hamdani from her campaign website

On Oct. 28 Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) sat down with the TBR editorial board to talk about his run for a fourth term in District 3. His opponent Talat Hamdani did not attend the debate and did not respond to voicemails and emails asking for an interview, but we summarized points posted on her campaign website at the end of this article.

Incumbent Kevin LaValle

LaValle said he has spent the last few years in office ensuring that his district, which is the smallest geographically in the county, receives its fair share of funds. He said he is out in the community regularly meeting with constituents and addressing quality of life issues such as zombie homes and illegal apartments.

“Six years ago, people were like, ‘What about us in the community?’” he said. “Now people are asking, ‘What are you going to do next?’”

The councilman said when he first took office, he drove down Middle Country Road and found more than 30 buildings had graffiti on them and over 45 had illegal signs. His staff sent notices to clean up the graffiti and get rid of the signs to owners and tenants, and most complied. With thousands of cars traveling daily along Middle Country Road, he said, the clean sites encourage others to open businesses.

LaValle prides himself on his work with the business community, citing bringing brands such as Rite Aid, Five Guys and Guitar Center to Independence Plaza in Selden, and Panera Bread to nearby College Plaza. The councilman said he will sit with owners and developers to hear their needs about zoning and has them work with the town’s Building Division and Law Department to ensure the businesses know what is required of them with codes. He said representatives from larger corporations such as Target travel to Brookhaven to discuss their needs with him.

He said it’s important to build relationships and foster trust.

“A lot of people don’t trust government,” he said. “[They say,] ‘This guy is all right. He’s going to work with us. If he gives us his word that he’s going to do something, he’ll do it.’”

He said building those business relationships has led to many of them participating in events that he organizes such as the annual National Night Out, where residents can interact with police officers and other first responders at the Centereach Pool Complex.

When it comes to water quality issues, while he said his district does not include much shoreline — just a small piece of Lake Ronkonkoma — he supports the initiatives of Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) whom he called “the most fervent advocate of the environment” that he knows. One of the programs LaValle supported was the requirement that new construction within 500 feet of water be required to install a new nitrogen-reducing septic system.

He also supports legislation spearheaded by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) for a study to create a sewer district along Middle Country Road. He said it may take eight to 10 years for the district to be included in the sewer program, but he believes it will attract more businesses to the area.

He added a sewer district, in turn, attracts developers who want to buy a few lots together instead of one, which means one entrance for several stores, instead of one for each business, creating a better flow of traffic. 

“It’s so crucial that sewer district, on so many different levels, that we get that,” he said.

LaValle also recognizes the opioid problem in the town. He said Brookhaven has two social workers who will talk to teenagers and families for free about drug addiction problems. When the social workers came to him and said it would be beneficial to raise the age they can treat people from 18 to 24, he sponsored a bill to make it happen.

He said many young people who may have overcome addiction can relapse, especially on returning to Long Island from college while having to deal with multiple stresses.

“I can tell you that’s a great key to be able to give that education, to be able to have that outreach,” he said.

LaValle also said he believes that the state needs to push insurance carriers to provide coverage for those battling addiction and has approached both state senators, Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

He said the Island currently doesn’t have enough beds for treatment in hospitals and clinics, and patients may be not covered unless they have fought addiction multiple times.

“I think it’s a fight that should be fought,” he said.

He also has worked with Muratore to purchase property behind Hawkins Path Elementary School. An agreement between the county and town allowed the county to buy the property if the town would develop. LaValle said the park, called Selden Park Complex, will have two multipurpose fields with a walking trail, playground and ice-skating rink. Flanagan recently secured $1 million to fund phase 3 of the park, which includes the construction of two baseball fields and a playground.

“It’s great because growing up here, we had the worst fields,” LaValle said.

Challenger Talat Hamdani

Hamdani grew up in Pakistan and immigrated to New York in 1979. She is a retired English teacher, who in 2018 was appointed by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to the Suffolk County Muslim-American Advisory Board. She is also a regular commentator on CNN, MSNBC, “Democracy Now!”and other media outlets.

The challenger’s family was a victim of Islamophobia when false media accusations linked her son to the 9/11 attacks, according to the challenger’s website. Mohammad Salman Hamdani, her son, worked at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Manhattan and went down to the World Trade Center to help victims. He, too, died in the aftermath of the attacks.

According to her website, she aims to end corruption “by stopping the endless waste, fraud and abuse in the Town of Brookhaven.” She said she will call out “pay-to-play politics and end the hold of special interests in town government and one-party rule.”

Currently, Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is the only Democrat on the Brookhaven Town Board.

Hamdani would also like to enhance residential recycling by implementing weekly pickup of plastic, paper, cardboard and aluminum/metals, as well as expand the types of plastics that get collected. She said this would make it easier for residents and not burdensome for taxpayers.

The challenger plans to work to enhance oversight for clean water to increase environmental safety and incentivize small businesses with economic development zones. Her website says she would look to provide rebates for startups and family businesses. She also wants to curb overdevelopment with plans to put a check on big developers and advance a sustainable affordable housing agenda.

“Today, I am passionately involved in social justice,” Hamdani posted on her website. “I want to serve my local community in addressing their issues and trying to resolve them. Like Salman, we need to transcend the barriers of race, faith and ethnicity and stand united for our democracy and our freedoms guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, with liberty and justice for all.”

Centerport residents held a rally Feb. 9 seeking protection of the area's environment and speaking out on proposed developments. Photo from Facebook

Town of Huntington officials have decided to calm the fears of Centerport residents over potential water contamination that could harm and scare off local wildlife, particularly their beloved American bald eagles.

Dom Spada, deputy director of the town’s Maritime Services, said a 300-foot-long soft boom was installed Feb. 13 along the waterfront near the former Thatched Cottage site on Route 25A, which is currently under construction to become Water’s Edge.

“We did this at the request of the people from Centerport,” he said. “We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.”

We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.” 

— Dom Spada

The barrier is an oil-absorbent sock made of cellular fiber, approximately 8-inches in diameter, and is usually used for containing and absorbing oil-based spills, according to Spada. It will float along the top of the water and soak in lubricants and fuels without absorbing any water. It cost the town approximately $2,000 plus labor for five men needed to install it.

Over the last three weeks, Centerport residents have filed a series of complaints with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the town expressing concerns that construction debris and stormwater runoff after heavy rains could be contaminating the harbor.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) sat down Feb. 8 with Centerport residents including Tom Knight, co-president of Centerport Harbor Civic Association, and Rob Schwartz, founder of Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, to discuss and address these concerns and other proposed developments including a 7-Eleven.

“I am really happy, happily surprised,” Schwartz said. “I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.”

On Feb. 1, Huntington’s building division received a new complaint forwarded from Suffolk County’s Department of Health Services alleging that asbestos runoff was entering the pond, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. The town told residents in the Feb. 8 meeting the county had tested the water then informed Steve Kiewra, the town’s building permits coordinator, in a phone conversation there was no evidence of asbestos runoff.

I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.

— Rob Schwartz

Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for Suffolk’s DHS, said Division of Environmental Quality employees did visit the site Feb. 1 to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks.

While county employees have been frequent contact with town staff in recent weeks, according to Kelly-McGovern, the results are still out as to whether or not Mill Pond has been contaminated from any source.

“Yes, our staff has been in touch with the town staff, but did not claim any testing results,” she said.

New York State DEC visited the site Feb. 5 and found the Water’s Edge in full compliance with state regulations.

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said his company, in full cooperation with state DEC guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond. 

Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about funds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local environmental groups are anticipating expanding Long Island Sound education and cleanup initiatives, thanks to both state and federal funds.

As part of the 14th annual National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund initiative, federal and New York State officials announced Dec. 3 that 36 new grants totaling $2.57 million will go to environmental groups in Connecticut and New York, and $586,000 of those funds will benefit New York organizations.

“The funding is seed money investment for launching additional resources, pulling people together and bringing people together in conversation,” said Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) attended the event in the Port Jefferson Village Center and spoke about the grants. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lynn Dwyer, the program director of the fund, said the projects were selected by an unbiased, unaffiliated group of environmental experts. The money is reaching these groups as experts say the marine life in the sound has come under threat. In September the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, an advocacy collective supported by the Rauch Foundation, released its yearly report that showed dangerous amounts of poisonous algae blooms in coastal regions from Port Jefferson Harbor to Huntington Harbor. In addition, more and more areas are expressing hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen in water necessary to support marine life. Experts in the partnership said both of these are due to excess amounts of nitrogen in the water, mostly due to aging septic tanks and cesspools all across Long Island.

Several of the projects center on beach cleanup and environmental stewardship. The North Fork-based nonprofit Group for the East End will be receiving $67,542 to remove invasive plants and develop habitat restoration plans for the Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead.

Environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment received $45,000 in grants to conduct a public education campaign to reduce plastic pollution on local beaches in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. Adrienne Esposito, the director of CCE, said the project will gather 500 pledges to reduce throw-away plastic use and engage close to 200 volunteers in coastal cleanups on beaches across the North Shore. The group will be adding an additional $45,000 in matching funds from its own funds for the project.

“We will be distributing reusable metal straws, so people can use those in place of plastic straws,” Esposito said.

In addition to the public education campaign, which will start in January 2019, she said the advocacy group is commissioning a local artist to build a giant metal wire-mesh turtle to be placed in Sunken Meadow State Park. The turtle will be filled with all the plastic debris the volunteers pick-up during their beach cleanup to be viewable by the public. Esposito said she expects the beach cleanup and mesh turtle to be done during summer 2019.

“These birds depend on our Long Island beaches to safely nest, rest, forage and raise their young without the threat of disturbance.” — Sharon Bruce 

The New York chapter of the National Audubon Society is receiving $41,009 from the fund for its continuing Be a Good Egg environmental education program encouraging people to share the waterside with shorebirds. The society will be focusing its efforts on a number of beaches, including at Hallock State Park Preserve, Stony Brook Harbor and along Nissequogue River. Sharon Bruce, the communications manager for Audubon New York, said some of the birds they wish to protect include the piping plover, least tern and American oystercatcher, all of which nest directly on the sand.

“These birds depend on our Long Island beaches to safely nest, rest, forage and raise their young without the threat of disturbance,” Bruce said.

Other projects look to beautify and increase biodiversity in coastal areas. The Long Island Explorium, located in Port Jefferson Village, is receiving $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.

“There’s a visual component to it and an educational component,” said Angeline Judex, Long Island Explorium executive director. “It will show to the 800,000 visitors to [Port Jefferson Village] how rain gardens improve the water quality of the harbor.”

Brookhaven’s current pump-out boats are showing signs of wear and will be replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

If you’ve ever seen a boat with a built-in toilet, the next question is inevitable: Where does that waste inevitably go?

Either the waste goes straight into the Long Island Sound or surrounding harbors or boaters call the Town of Brookhaven’s pump-out boats, a service provided by the town for free, to suck out the waste, according to Karl Guyer, a senior bay constable for Brookhaven.

At Brookhaven town’s Sept. 13 meeting the board voted unanimously to purchase two new pump-out boats — one for Mount Sinai Harbor and one for Port Jefferson Harbor. The total cost for both boats is $92,500 with $60,000 of that amount coming from state aid in grant funding from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. The town is supplying $32,500 in matching funds from serial bonds, according to town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

The town operates four pump-out boats, including two on the South Shore and two on the North Shore, which are located in Port Jeff and Mount Sinai harbors. All these boats were purchased in 2006, and Guyer said it was time all of them were replaced. The two on the South Shore were replaced this year, and the North Shore boats will be replaced early in 2019, according to Guyer.

“They’ve been in service for quite a number of years and they’re at the end of their life span,” Guyer said.

The pump-out boat in Port Jeff Harbor is showing signs of long use. The paint on the boat’s deck has been worn down by years of work, and there are cracks showing in some of the plastic hatches around the boat. William Demorest, the bay constable for Port Jeff Harbor, said the new boats will be made from aluminum, which should give them a longer life span.

The pump-out boat service is widely used by the boaters in both harbors, and on a busy day town employees operating the boats can service hundreds of boats in a single day. People can call for a pump out by radioing the constable’s office on channel 73.

There is a manual boat waste pump in a barge inside Port Jeff Harbor, though the constable said 75 percent of the over 700 boats that come to port on summer weekends use the pump-out boat service. After the pump-out boats are docked for the winter, all North Shore boaters are required to manually pump out their own waste.

Bonner said these boats do a major service in cleaning out the tanks of many boaters, because dumping the waste into the coastal waters only adds to the islands growing water pollution problem.

“Not only would there be waste in the water but the nitrogen load would be crazy,” Bonner said. “It would take several tides to flush that out.”

All the water from Conscience Bay through Port Jefferson Harbor as well as the entire Long Island Sound is within mandated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency No-Discharge Zones, meaning it is illegal to dump any boat waste into the surrounding waters.

While Demorest said he hasn’t seen people dumping their waste into the water himself, he has heard reports of it being done. He said he believed the vast majority use the free pump-out service.

“If we don’t see it, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Many areas of the North Shore are experiencing waves of hypoxia, an increase of nitrogen in the water that deprives sea life, both plants and animals, of oxygen. During a press conference Sept. 25, co-director of the Center for Clean Water Technology Christopher Gobler and other researchers from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership concluded there were cases of harmful algae blooms in harbors from Mount Sinai all the way to Huntington, another symptom of excess nitrogen in the water. Most of that nitrogen has come from cesspools and septic tanks from people’s homes slowly leaking into the surrounding waters.

The boats usually operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday mostly by high school and college-aged summer employees, according to Guyer. The pump-out boat service ends on Columbus Day, Oct. 8.

Port Jefferson Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Harbor is currently undergoing an alarming phenomenon that an expert called “uncharted territory” locally.

The harbor is currently experiencing a rust tide, or an algal bloom, caused by a single-celled phytoplankton. Rust tides don’t pose any harm to humans but can be lethal to marine life.

Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said rust tides are spurred by hot air, water temperatures and excessive nutrients in the water, especially nitrogen. The Gobler Laboratory at SBU, named for the chairman, is monitoring the situation, performing research into its specific causes, and is looking for solutions to reduce nitrogen loading and thus the intensity of events like these, according to Gobler. He said he has been studying the phenomenon on the East End of Long Island for about 12 years, but this is only the second time it has occurred in Port Jefferson Harbor.

“We never had these blooms even on the East End before 2004,” Gobler said. “Now, they occur pretty much every year since 2004 or so.”

Blooming rust tides typically start in late August and last into mid-September.  However, as water and global temperatures continue to rise, Gobler said there are a lot of unknowns. He said this is one of the hottest summers he has ever witnessed regarding the temperature of the Long Island Sound, adding that temperatures in the local body of water have increased at a rate significantly faster than global averages.

“The big issue is temperature, so these blooms tend to track very well with warmer temperatures,” Gobler said.

George Hoffman, a co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, a nonprofit group which monitors and advocates for the health of the harbor, said his organization saw some early evidence of a rust tide in Little Bay while conducting biweekly water testing Aug. 24. Little Bay is located within Setauket Harbor, and within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor complex. Hoffman said the task force’s readings suggested salinity levels and water temperature were within the parameters needed for the growth of a rust tide.

Rust tide is caused by cochlodinium polykrikoides, according to a fact sheet compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The single-cell phytoplankton may harm fish and shellfish because it produces a hydrogen peroxide-like compound that can damage their gill tissue. Fish can avoid these dangerous blooms by simply swimming away. Fish and shellfish harvested in areas experiencing rust tides are still safe for human consumption.

Gobler said the installation of septic systems capable of removing more nitrogen in homes, especially that fall within watershed areas, would go a long way toward reducing hazardous algal blooms. Suffolk County has taken steps in recent months to increase grant money available to homeowners interested in installing septic systems with up-to-date technology capable of reducing the amount of nitrogen discharged into local waters. In addition, members of the New York State-funded Center for Clean Water Technology at SBU unveiled their nitrogen-reducing biofilter April 26 at a Suffolk County-owned home in Shirley.

Lawyer Edward Flood is challenging incumbent Kara Hahn for the county legislator seat in the 5th district. Photos by Desiree Keegan.

By Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fourth term Nov. 7. Challenging her is Republican Edward Flood of South Setauket. A lawyer with offices in Smithtown and Port Jefferson, he is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

Hahn and Flood sat down at the Times Beacon Record News Media office in October to discuss their stances on various issues, with the county’s growing debt and poor credit rating serving as a backdrop.

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said she has worked on a water quality program that helps homeowners obtain grants up to $11,000 to replace their outdated septic systems or cesspools with advanced wastewater technologies, which are designed to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution. Hahn said older septic systems create nitrogen issues in local waterways since they don’t remove the chemical and can leave between 55 and 80 parts of nitrogen per million — drinking water is acceptable at 10 parts per million.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises.”

— Edward Flood

“It degrades our resilience — coastal resiliency — by degrading our marshlands, the nitrogen in the water actually hurts the grasses that grow and protect us and as an island that’s important,” Hahn said.

She said the county secured grants for $6 million over three years for which homeowners can apply.

“I’m fully supportive of that project; it’s just that we have to find ways to pay for it ourselves,” Flood said.

He pointed out the county borrowed $30 million against the sewer stabilization fund and will have to start paying the money back. He said the county needs to work with other levels of government, especially federal, to come up with more money for projects in the future.

Both candidates discussed providing more affordable housing options. Hahn said she is in favor of increasing the percentage of inexpensive options available, which is now 15 to 20 percent, and working with developers to ensure that buildings include more one-bedroom and studio apartments.

Flood said he supports programs where first-time homeowners receive assistance with down payments. He also suggested mandate relief to bring property taxes down by having every organization that receives tax benefits go through their budgets and find state mandates that may not be regionally appropriate.

Flood said to stimulate the county’s economy new businesses need to be attracted to the area. He is supportive of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip building a strip in Suffolk County. He said it is estimated it could bring in $40 million in tax revenues due to concessions, ticket sales and businesses that open around tracks such as high-end motor vehicle parts stores and hotels.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn said she believes a convention center near MacArthur airport, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood or Kings Park would be a boon to the economy because it would bring in off-season visitors.

Flood said the high cost of living and poor economic outlook is his top concern as he has watched friends leave the island for better opportunities. He said the county needs to stem the tide on taxes.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises,” Flood said.

The legislator-hopeful pointed to Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy’s (R) auditing receipts, which led him to discover overpayments to one emergency homeless shelter.

“We have a lot of money that we waste, and not just the way we grant and the way we give out grants, and we’re finding [this] out as we audit,” he said.

Hahn said she feels the county legislators have been responsible budget managers.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments,” Hahn said. “We have done fiscally responsible things to get a handle on it, and when you have a budget of $3 billion and have a structural imbalance over three years of a $150 million, give or take, it’s reasonable,” Hahn said.

The area east of Comsewogue High School and south of Route 112 will be protected under new legislation. Image from Google Maps

A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.

The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.

The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.

“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”

The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.

“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”

Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.

“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”

Task force inspires local governments to join forces

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, sign a memorandum of understanding to protect Setauket Harbor Sept. 23. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Cooperation between members of government, especially from differing political parties, is a scarce natural resource these days, but don’t tell that to leaders from Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and New York State. Setauket Harbor and the surrounding area is set to be the beneficiary of that cooperation, as leaders from each of the three municipalities formed an agreement Sept. 23 aiming to protect the historic and natural resources of the harbor.

“The Parties are committed to conserving, improving, protecting and interpreting Setauket Harbor’s historic and natural resources and environment through preservation of historic sties, wildlife areas and viewsheds to enable appropriate uses of harbor resources,” the agreement read in part. It also stated that preventing, abating and controlling water, land and air pollution will be a part of enhancing the health and safety of the people who live within or visit the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

The agreement is a Memorandum of Understanding, meaning it is not law, but rather a set of guiding principles or a moral commitment to follow in the years ahead.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cosigners of the document, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation and Setauket Harbor Task Force left the agreement open-ended in the hopes that other branches of government and organizations will follow suit. The Setauket Harbor Task Force, a three-year-old community organization dedicated to improving water quality and the marine habitat in the harbor, spearheaded the agreement after finding local levels of government share a common interest in protecting and improving the harbor, though they were working concurrently rather than coordinately in some ways.

The memorandum was signed on a town dock off Shore Road in Setauket as part of the third Setauket Harbor Day, an annual event established by the task force in 2015.

The first mission laid out by the document is to develop a natural and cultural resource inventory of the harbor, which will be a springboard toward creating a management plan designed to achieve the preservation goals of Setauket Harbor and the roughly three-square miles surrounding it, known as the watershed, by acquiring lands within it, preserving historic sites, sharing ideas, engaging in open, ongoing discussions and contributing funds.

“You need to have a starting point and a vision for how all these pieces come together, and I think that’s what’s so great about this designation,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force.

Englebright credited the task force with getting everyone involved and focused on the problems associated with Setauket Harbor, which among others include nitrogen pollution and the presence of coliform bacteria, mostly due to storm water runoff into waterways. The harbor falls within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, which lets out into the Long Island Sound.

In Sept. 2016, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he had secured a $1 million grant from the state to be used on enhancing the quality of the harbor’s waters, and the town dock on Shore Road. Englebright thanked Flanagan for his leadership in bringing issues regarding the harbor to light, but a recent annual study completed by Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences still shows the body of water is an area of concern.

“Some of the parcels we’re trying to protect are very vulnerable,” Englebright said. He added although the agreement is only an understanding and not law, he hopes that will change in the future. “What I’m hoping we can do within the context of a completed plan is that we can revisit that question at the state legislative level and write something that may have broad applicability. I think this whole plan has the potential to be a model.”

Romaine said he was excited for the possible benefits to the environment the agreement could bring, but also for the potential economic benefit of a healthier harbor.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Harbor has been closed to shell fishing for more than 10 years,” he said. “We’d like to see it open up. We’d like to see some of the contaminants eliminated from this harbor so that it can restore itself. It’s very important to the town. I want to thank Steve because he’s done tremendous work, and we’ve worked together as colleagues for more than 35 years.”

Hahn suggested homes in the watershed could be prime candidates for Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program, an initiative that offers funds to homeowners within the county to replace outdated cesspools and septic system, which are major contributors to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The federal government is not currently on board as part of the agreement, though DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek Gallagher said she expects that to change once a plan is in motion. The significance of the collaboration across party lines and municipality lines in lockstep with a community group like the task force was not lost on Cartright.

“This should be a prime example of how government on all levels should work together with the community,” she said.

Kevin McAllister, the founder of the nonprofit Defend H20, said while the agreement is a positive step, it will be largely symbolic if it is not followed up with action, and more importantly, funding.

“Providing greater funding for a host of projects, land acquisition, more protective zoning, denying shoreline hardening permits — these type actions, individually and collectively will define the resolve as put forth in the MOU,” he said in an email.

Englebright implored members of the public and community groups to not only get on board, but to take the additional step of holding elected officials to the terms of the agreement, including those who come after the incumbent lawmakers.

Participants to create water report card for harbors and bays of the Long Island Sound

Tracy Brown shows the most recent report card for the water quality of the open Long Island Sound. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

There’s a team collaboration happening across Long Island to ensure the Long Island Sound’s water is as healthy as possible.

Save the Sound, a nonprofit organization based out of Connecticut, is working with local groups and volunteers to create a water quality report card for the Sound’s bays and harbors, in an effort to increase available data for residents to have access to information on the health of the Sound.

Monitoring of the open Sound, the areas of the water body beyond bays and harbors, in the last decade has revealed the increasing presence of nitrogen pollution — which leads to algae blooms, red tides, loss of tidal marshes and fish die-offs — and the incremental improvements brought about by wastewater treatment plant upgrades. But researchers have acknowledged that results found in the open Sound may not reflect conditions in the bays and harbors, where a large part of the public comes in contact with the Sound.

A volunteer conducts a water test. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

In May, Save the Sound started conducting the Unified Water Study in 24 sites across the Sound, and participants will be testing the water twice a month through October, looking at dissolved oxygen levels, temperature, dissolved salt levels, water quality and more.

Organizers gathered at Huntington Harbor in Halestie to conduct a test Tuesday, June 13, and explained why the report card is so important for the future of bays and harbors across Long Island.

“The Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative funded a report card for the sound, with the first one coming out in 2015, and through the report card process we realized that most of the data we had collected to talk about water quality and the health of the sound was for the open Sound,” Tracy Brown, director of Save the Sound said at the harbor. “And when we published the report card and showed the scores of water quality but we didn’t go into all the bays and harbors the public said, ‘well how about my harbor, how about my cove?’ The bays, harbors and coves are their own unique ecosystems. So we realized we had a data gap.”

Brown said certain groups have been doing their own studies in smaller areas but nothing uniform to have a comparative level. The report card focuses on the ecological health, not bacteria levels and risk of contamination for humans entering the water, but rather the creatures living in the water 24/7.

“The pollutant of concern is nitrogen,” Brown said. “This study was designed to get into all 116 little bays, harbors and coves that encircle the sound, and our goal is to get into each of them taking the exact same measurements for an assessment to say which of the bays and harbors are not handling the nutrient input well, which ones are really suffering from nutrient pollution and then we can direct conservation resources.”

Brown said one of the leading causes of increased nitrogen is contamination from the septic systems, as urine has high levels of nitrogen. She said efforts like Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) initiatives to improve groundwater and limit nitrogen pollution are a step in the right direction.

“Nitrogen pollution has been identified as the single greatest threat to water quality, but for the first time in decades, we have a historic opportunity to turn the tide in our effort to reclaim our waters,” Bellone said in a statement when announcing countywide nitrogen-reducing initiatives for homeowners.

Brown reiterated some of the dangers of high levels of nitrogen.

“High levels of nitrogen feed growth, creating algal blooms, and when the algal blooms die they suck the oxygen out of the water in that decay process so you create these low oxygen zones,” she said.

Low oxygen levels mean finfish and shellfish can’t live in the area, and high nitrogen levels also lead to the destruction of coastal wetlands, which not only serve as a habitat for animals but also are a defense for homes from destructive storms. Brown also said high nitrogen levels are being linked to high acidification levels, which prevent shellfish from forming their shells and reduce the population’s ability to reproduce.

About a year ago Peter Janow, a Cold Spring Harbor resident, got in touch with Save the Sound, after hearing about their efforts, and extended an offer to help if they needed any hands for the Huntington and Northport bay areas.

A reading done after volunteers test the water quality in the Huntington Harbor. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“Once they created the Uniform Water Study they got in contact with me and asked if I could help out and I said ‘absolutely brother,’” Janow said of how he first got involved. He eventually ended up joining more volunteers to work on the area together. He said he was motivated to get involved to both make a difference and help become a stronger part of his community.

“Most folks, especially on Long Island we’re surrounded by gorgeous scenes, the harbors, all the water sports,” Janow said. “We [the volunteers] share in the duties, and the role is covering the greater Huntington and Northport complexes including Lloyd Harbor, Huntington Harbor, Centerport Harbor, Northport Harbor and Duck Island Harbor, and each one of those areas has its own qualities. We have a total of 25 specific locations we’re testing water samples from.”

Janow said he and the others divide the areas up into two different days, spending about three hours each day testing water samples.

The combined efforts are for the benefit of all Long Islanders, and residents can help without getting on the water themselves.

“We really hope the public will see the significance,” Brown said. “If you want a better grade, you need to take care of your wastewater, and reduce your lawn fertilizer. The science community has identified nitrogen as enemy number one to the Long Island Sound, and the philanthropic community said, ‘what can we do,’ and then they reached out to regional groups to execute their vision, and then we’ve reached out to local groups for help. That’s what’s so interesting about this study — the collaboration.”

The collaborative effort is far from over. Brown said there is still a need for more volunteers to cover areas east of Huntington, including areas in the towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven, especially near the Nissequogue River and Port Jefferson Harbor.

This effort travels all the way to Connecticut, and one science teacher at a town in Dover took the initiative to volunteer himself and his Advanced Placement students to help contribute.

“One of the things that makes it possible for groups to organize to participate in this study even if they’re not already a group is that we provide the equipment, we provide the training, we provide the standard operating procedures and Save the Sound is available to help them get off the ground and make sure they succeed,” Brown said. “If we’re going to reach all 116 systems around the Sound that we want to reach, we’re going to need more groups. We’re going to need new groups that don’t exist yet to organize around the study and ask if anyone is in their bay or harbor yet.”

Anyone interested in getting involved with Save the Sound should reach out to Peter Linderoth, the Save the Sound water quality manager at [email protected]