03/20/13 10:00am
TIM KELLY PHOTO | Research work could continue on Plum Island's westernmost section under new zoning proposed by Southold's Planning Department.

TIM KELLY PHOTO | An aerial view of Plum Island.

Southold Town’s long-awaited plan to zone Plum Island could be ready for public comment in April. The town’s code committee had its last look at the proposed zoning March 14.

The island has never been under any zoning category because it has been in federal hands and is therefore not subject to local planning regulations. The proposed zoning would go into effect only if the federal government sells the 840-acre island, home to a national laboratory studying animal diseases.

The town’s action was prompted by the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to replace the Plum Island lab with a new $1 billion animal disease research facility in Manhattan, Kan.

Homeland Security took title to the 46-acre Kansas site in January and, in February, DHS and the State of Kansas awarded an $80 million contract to build a utility plant there. But Congress has yet to authorize any additional funding.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama will include the Kansas construction in his 2014 federal budget, which was due in early February but will not be released until early April.

The pending town plan would divide Plum Island into three zoning districts. The Plum Island Research District would encompass the existing lab and surrounding 175 acres, while the Plum Island Conservation District would encompass 600 undeveloped acres. The third zone, Marine II, would allow for improved access to the island at its existing ferry facilities. Improvements to ferry services would be granted by special exception permit from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Early drafts of the zoning proposal allowed renewable energy generation on the island — which could have included wind and tidal power. But because environmental groups raised concerns about the effect of other generation sources on birds and marine life, the latest draft allows only soloar energy generation. A solar energy permit would also require a special exception permit from the ZBA.

Members of the code committee said at their March 14 meeting that they hoped to revisit other renewable energy production on the island after the initial zoning is adopted.

The town’s planning department is currently completing a study to back up any zoning changes, said planning director Heather Lanza.

Ms. Lanza said an April public hearing could be set by the Town Board as soon as their March 26 meeting.

byoung@timesreview.com

03/04/13 12:00pm

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | New York Agri-Women member Erica Leubner discusses her trip to Japan with the group’s members at the Hyatt Place in Riverhead in 2012.

New York Agri-Women, the state chapter of a national organization devoted to the interests of women farmers, is again returning to Riverhead Town this spring, after holding its annual meeting last year at the Hyatt Place on East Main Street.

The group will hold a forum titled “Women in the Business of Farming on Long Island” on March 21 from 8:30 a.m.to 3 p.m.at Stonewalls Restaurant on Reeves Avenue.

Attendees at the event will hear the personal experiences of women involved in orchards, organic vegetables, wine grapes, greenhouse products, agritainment and aquaculture on eastern Long Island.

The conference, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch, costs $40 for New York Agri-women members and $40 for non-membres.

For more information, contact Beck Wiseman at becky.wiseman21154@gmail.com or Debbie Schmitt at debs573@yahoo.com.

02/25/13 11:22am
MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | An FAA control tower currently at MacArthur Airport in Islip Town.

MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | An FAA control tower currently at MacArthur Airport in Islip Town.

Federal Aviation Administration officials are coming to Riverhead Town in mid-March to check out 50 acres at the town’s Enterprise Park in Calverton the FAA is considering for a new air traffic control complex, town officials said.

If the EPCAL land is selected for the complex, as many as 800 jobs could come to Riverhead, said Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is coordinating the town’s effort to woo the FAA and announced the news through a press release Monday.

EPCAl in Riverhead, FAA

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | A view of the EPCAL site from the sky.

The facility would replace the FAA’s current air traffic control facilities at Long Island, one at MacArthur Airport in Islip and another  in Westbury, according to federal officials.

EDITORIAL: FAA complex would be a welcome boost

Ms. Giglio said the town submitted its response to a request for information from the FAA by the Jan. 31 deadline, offering up 50 acres adjacent to the Stony Brook Business Incubator on Route 25, free of charge, to the FAA.

“The important thing is to keep the jobs on Long Island, getting them all to stay here,” said Ms. Giglio, who added that 800 skilled workers at EPCAL would bring more people to Riverhead’s restaurants, golf courses and other businesses.

“The secondary industries would be phenomenal, as well as secondary spending with this type of facility as an anchor,” she said.

On offering the land for free, she said, “I think [the free land] would act as a loss leader, so we can create secondary industries and spending.”

At its height, the Grumman Corporation that for decades ran a fighter jet testing and assembly facility at the site employed about 3,000 workers.

Ms. Giglio said she was expecting a call later Monday to confirm when, exactly, FAA officials would be visiting, and whether they will just be viewing the site or spending the day in Riverhead to see what the town has to offer workers.

The new facility would incorporate state-of-the-art satellite air traffic equipment, replacing older, radar-based equipment now used at the Islip and Westbury facilities.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who was initially against trying to lure the FAA to town because he and other supervisors pledged to support Islip’s proposal, said he was glad federal officials would be touring the site.

“I think its wonderful…. It’s always positive when people are coming to look at property at EPCAL. I’m certainly interested in any leads for selling property there.”

He didn’t think the meeting would be open to the public, but added “all the details” have not been worked out yet.

Ms. Giglio said the existing Islip facility, which currently has about 800 employees, is also used as a training area for air traffic controllers who are later sent to airports throughout the county.

“I think they’re looking for an easy commute for their employees at the Islip base,” she said.

Initial specs the town has received from the FAA say any towers to be installed would not have windows, and she believes none of them would be taller than the 75-foot height restriction currently at EPCAL, Ms. Giglio said.

FAA officials said last month they intended to locate the facility on between 34 and 49 acres within 150 miles of New York City, and in New York State.

The federal officials are planning to build a total of 250,000 square feet of buildings, towers and parking for the employees.

SEE PRIOR NEWS-REVIEW COVERAGE

byoung@timesreview.com

See the Feb. 28 News-Review newspaper for more information.

02/19/13 3:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Canada geese in the Peconic River just south of Riverhead’s West Main Street.

Long Island environmental groups are planning a new campaign this spring with the slogan “It’s the water, stupid,” aimed at focusing on nitrogen, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other harmful substances making their way into the island’s ground and surface waters.

That’s according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who was among more than 65 environmental group representatives who pitched ideas to state Senator Ken LaValle earlier this month, during his annual environmental round table at Suffolk County Community College’s culinary arts center in downtown Riverhead.

In addition to the increased frequency of algae blooms in the bays, linked to nitrogen from faulty septic systems, Ms. Esposito said 117 pesticides are found in Long Island’s drinking water.

Atrazine, the No. 1 weed-killer in America and one of the most common chemicals found in groundwater, has been banned in Europe because it is an endocrine disrupter.

But farmers and their advocates in attendance said some pesticides and fungicides are absolutely necessary on Long Island.

Deborah Schmitt, whose family owns Phillip A. Schmitt & Son Farm Inc. in Riverhead, made a tearful plea to environmentalists to back away from supporting a ban on all pesticides.

She said her family’s farm has participated in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s agricultural stewardship program, using compost and less synthetic fertilizer, but needs some chemicals to survive.

“We grow food for many people. This is how we make a living. We are in the business of farming,” she said. “We used to grow spinach, but we no longer have good weed control. We are losing our competitive edge as profitable agricultural businesses. We need pesticides, or plant protectors, whatever you want to call them, to grow food. We are almost at the point where we just might have to quit.”

She added that farmers must obtain licenses to ensure that they’re applying pesticides responsibly, while no such demand is placed on homeowners who use the same materials.

“I’m 55 years old. I have eaten conventional food all my life and I drink Long Island water,” she said. “My doctor says I’m healthy. I would never feed my family something that would make them sick.”

Ms. Esposito said she’s not requesting a ban on all pesticides, just the top three.

Ms. Schmitt responded, “Those are the ones we need most!”

Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said his organization wants to find common ground with environmental groups on pesticide issues.

“We, too, as farmers, are concerned about pesticides,” he said, adding that 95 percent of pesticides in groundwater are “legacy” chemicals that are no longer in use.

“We need alternatives. We’re not going to ban medicine. We’re not going to ban cars and trucks on the highway,” he said. “We can’t ban pesticides. They have a place in our society.”

Also on the issue of groundwater pollution, Peconic baykeeper Kevin McAllister asked why the state DEC has not responded to a request he made last September that it review sewage treatment plants on Long Island that are not in compliance with their DEC permits.

“It’s poor regulatory policy,” he said. “There was not even a legal response to my request.”

Jeremy Samuelson of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk also implored Mr. LaValle to help waterfront communities put in place innovative coastal zone management plans in light of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.

“The reality is, we need state leadership to ID appropriate funding sources,” he said. “It’s obvious to us in Montauk that we need to have these conversations in advance of the storm.”

Mr. LaValle said the federal government is just beginning to help communities do just that, and he urged leaders in all local towns to take advantage of the opportunity to plan for the future.

Mr. Samuelson also thanked Mr. LaValle for helping pass state law to protect sharks.

“Given what we do, it’s a professional courtesy,” quipped Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who was also in attendance.

byoung@timesreview.com

02/15/13 11:26am

It’s likely to be a snowy and windy weekend, but the National Weather Service believes the East End will be spared a major snowfall because a coming nor’easter is expected to track to the east of Long Island in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We do expect to feel some impacts, although it does not appear to be a major impact at this time,” said Tim Morrin of the National Weather Service offices in Upton.

The first wave of the storm will pass from the southwest to the northeast over the North Fork tonight, possibly dropping as much as one inch of wet snow and rain, Mr. Morrin said.

But today’s weather, which is expected to be in the high 40s, will keep road surfaces warm enough to keep any major accumulation from happening tonight.

“It looks as though there may be a brief period of mixed precipitation later this evening, very light, probably no more than an inch,” he said.

The main portion of the storm is expected to develop Saturday afternoon, though “the storm track appears to be far enough off the coast out into the Atlantic not to give the local area major impact,” he said. “At this point we do not expect a major snowstorm. Eastern Long Island could see a few inches.

“It’s too early to pinpoint but it could be upwards of three and maybe four inches.”

Mr. Morrin said at 11 a.m. Friday that the NWS currently has “a fair amount of confidence” that the low pressure system will be far enough offshore that it will not have a major impact on Long Island.

“We’re in a position right now where we’re close enough to the event that we’re gaining confidence of that,” he said.

High winds will be an issue for the East End, though, he said, with winds that could be between 30 and 40 miles per hour Saturday night and all day Sunday.

“We’re looking at a likelihood that it will be breezy from the north-northwest, but we’re not confident enough to issue a statement [about the wind speed],” he said. “It’s going to be watched closely.”

byoung@timesreview.com

02/05/13 10:15am
BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Police Chief James Burke (right) and Parents for Megan's Law director Laura Ahearn (left) before the public safety committee this morning.

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Police Chief James Burke (right) and Parents for Megan’s Law director Laura Ahearn (left) before the public safety committee this morning.

The 38 homeless sex offenders in Suffolk County who are currently living in construction trailers in Riverside and Westhampton would be spread out, one per shelter, at county-run shelters throughout the county and would be monitored more closely by county police.

That’s if the plan, crafted by the Suffolk County Police Department and the Parents for Megan’s Law advocacy group, is approved by the county Legislature today.

Police Chief James Burke and Parents for Megan’s Law director Laura Ahearn pitched the plan to the Legislature’s public safety Committee in Hauppauge last Thursday morning.

Chief Burke assured the committee that the sex offenders would not be housed in shelters that serve families.

“That is true and that is for the record,” said Chief Burke, when asked by committee members for assurance the offenders would not have contact with families.

The “terrible” policy of clustering sex offenders together must end, the chief insisted.

“Let’s face it. If I took 20 bank robbers and put them under the same roof, at the end of the week, what would I come up with?” he said. “Twenty better bank robbers.”

Chief Burke told the committee that the department’s intelligence database will be updated to include information on the activities of the more than 1,000 sex offenders throughout the county, which can be cross-referenced and easily searched by officers in the field.

Officers will check in with the homeless sex offenders each night to ensure that they are staying where they are assigned, he said.

“They’re gonna know that we know where they are,” he said.

Chief Burke said the department expects costs of the new program to be significantly less than the $4 million the county is currently spending to house the sex offenders on the East End, since the department will be utilizing police personnel who are already in the field.

Ms. Ahearn unveiled her group’s new eight-point plan, which includes hiring two teams of retired police officers to verify addresses of [non-homeless] sex offenders and verify the work addresses of Level 3 sex offenders. Offenders at lower levels are not required to report their work addresses to police.

She said 60 percent of Level 3 offenders don’t currently report their work addresses, even though they are required to by law.

Enforceability in the five East End towns, which all have their own police departments, would depend on local police chiefs signing on to the county’s plan, said Chief Burke.

He said the county’s resources and intelligence would be made available to any other police department that signs on to the plan.

“I think right now, this is the better way to go at this time,” said Public Safety Committee chairwoman Kate Browning of the plan. “We need to make sure that we’re doing right by our communities. I definitely think this is going to be a much stronger effort than the CHI shelters.”

byoung@timesreview.com

01/25/13 2:30pm

Firefighter-floating-fire-museum

The retired New York City fireboat “Firefighter” will likely be making its way from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Greenport in the upcoming weeks. The Greenport Village Board approved a contract Jan. 22 allowing the boat to stay in the Mitchell Park Marina through June 15.

The 120-foot ship is now a non-profit floating museum. It is expected to berth at Greenport’s commercial dock near the East End Seaport Museum in time for the summer season.

“Firefighter” was one of the first boats designed by famed naval architect William F. Gibbs. It served the NYFD from 1938 to 2010, said Jeffrey Jonap, the museum’s director of operations, in a recent email.

Mr. Jonap said she was retired due to the need to upgrade to newer, faster and more fuel efficient boats after Sept. 11, 2001.

The ship requires a professional crew to make the 10-hour trip from Brooklyn to Greenport. Volunteers for the museum were initially planning to make the trip Saturday, but have now postponed their trip until “next week or later,” according to their Facebook page.

byoung@timesreview.com

01/17/13 11:52am
Greg Blass steps down as Suffolk County Department of Social Service head

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Greg Blass handling home heating oil subsidies as Department of Social Services commissioner in 2010.

Jamesport resident and one-time congressional hopeful Gregory Blass is retiring from his position as commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, after more than 35 years of public service.

Mr. Blass, also a former presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, family court judge and JAG officer in the U.S. Navy, was appointed as Social Services commissioner by former county executive Steve Levy in 2009.

Current County Executive Steve Bellone said in a release Thursday that Mr. Blass will be difficult to replace.

“Given Commissioner Blass’s unique resume, it will be impossible to fill his shoes with someone of equivalent experience,” said Mr. Bellone. “However, I will work hard to find a worthy successor who shares Greg’s commitment to serving Suffolk’s most vulnerable populations with compassion while at the same time running the department as efficiently as possible.”

Mr. Bellone said Mr. Blass’s job has proved a hefty one, as he joined the department in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“Since 2008, we have seen Food Stamp caseloads more than double from nearly 23,000 to more than 55,000 and emergency housing requests have skyrocketed by 74 percent from an average of 270 per month to 471,” said Mr. Bellone. “Despite these challenges, Commissioner Blass has guided the department forward in a way that best serves Suffolk’s most vulnerable residents.

“In 2012 alone, the department averaged a placement of more than a family per day into permanent housing.”

Mr. Blass ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for New York’s 1st Congressional District seat in 1986, losing to Democratic candidate George Hochbrueckner.

His wife, Barbara Blass, is a former Riverhead Town Board member.

byoung@timesreview.com

Read more about Greg Blass’s career in the Jan. 24 News-Review newspaper.