07/02/10 12:00am

TIM KELLY PHOTO
The Peconic baykeeper is calling for new regulations to require waterfront homeowners to update their cesspool systems, which he cites as a main source of pollution in local waterways, such as Cutchogue Harbor.

Suffolk County’s bays are polluted by nitrogen and one main reason is
the outdated household cesspools all around them, says Kevin
McAllister, head of the non-profit environmental advocacy group Peconic
Baykeeper.

A
little over a year after he released a report advocating the complete
shutdown of winter flounder fishing due to what he called dangerously
depleted stocks, Mr. McAllister recently distributed another “Baywatch”
report to lawmakers that focuses on nitrogen pollution in the bays.

“Cesspools
and runoff are problems that have been largely ignored on the
legislative front,” he said in an interview Monday. Pollution caused by
runoff has been addressed slowly by municipalities because of a mandate
from the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act. But
underground cesspools are the “elephant in the room,” he said.

“It’s
a monumental problem which is very complex and costly to fix,” Mr.
McAllister said. “It’s easier for government to stay status quo and
ignore the problem.”

In older cesspools, septic tanks collect
solids, and the contaminated water flows onto a leaching pit and then
through the soil, which filters the water before it reaches
groundwater.

“During this process, soils act as a natural
filter, straining out much of the bacteria,” Mr. McAllister wrote in
his report. “Unfortunately, nitrogen, unlike bacteria, moves easily
through the soil, leaching into our groundwater and, ultimately, into
our rivers, ponds, and bays where it can trigger rapid water quality
decline.”

Mr. McAllister wants lawmakers to make it a priority
to require homeowners, especially those near the water, to update their
cesspools to systems such as the Ruck septic system. Ruck, a
Massachusets-based company, makes systems that separate washwater from
toilet water. The washwater flows directly into a septic tank and then
on to a leaching pit, but the toilet water flows through a separate
septic tank into a special filter with layers of sand and cloth before
reaching the leaching pit. The process is supposed to help with
de-nitrification of the water before it reaches groundwater, according
to Ruck’s website. This system costs about $7,200 to install for a
three-bedroom home, compared to about $4,600 for a traditional system.

Mr.
McAllister also wants the county to impose stricter rules for onsite
wastewater management. Many septic systems installed in the late ’70s
are not up to current septic codes, he added.

“Antiquated cesspools do little for de-nitrification,” he said.

The
Department of Environmental Conservation has placed Great South Bay and
Shinnecock Bay, both of which have had brown tide blooms linked to
elevated nitrogen levels, on the “impaired waters” list, according to
the report. Though waste from geese and other wildlife contributes to
pollution, Mr. McAllister said, septic issues are the bigger problem.

“This
is a very challenging and complex issue and won’t be fixed overnight,
but I encourage lawmakers to begin the steps to formulate regulations
as it relates to septics,” he said. “It comes down to political will.”

Nearby
states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, are leading the way on
wastewater management on both regulatory and technological fronts,
according to Mr. McAllister’s report. New Jersey, for example, requires
anyone with a cesspool to have at least 3.2 acres of land to adequately
dilute the nitrates. And if a property does not have that kind of
acreage, then the best available technologies in wastewater treatment
should be required, Mr. McAllister said.

Suffolk County
Legislator Ed Romaine, in an interview Tuesday, agreed that wastewater
management on the East End is in desperate need of reform. He said that
the Forge River in Mastic, once fertile and fish-filled and now
considered to be polluted beyond repair, is the poster child for the
need of reform.

“There are lots of houses on small lots, and
they all have cesspools,” Mr. Romaine said of the polluted river. “And
with the duck farm sitting there all those years, everything has a
cumulative effect, and the river starts to die.”

Mr. Romaine
said he is looking at different ways the county can begin cesspool
reform, such as requiring those with cesspools near water to pump put
every three or four years and to provide homeowners grants or tax
credits to upgrade outdated or failing septic systems. He is also
looking at what other jurisdictions are doing to improve wastewater
management.

“I was in Flanders just yesterday, and with all the
beach erosion, I saw a cesspool sticking out on the beach,” he said.
“Every time that guy flushes his toilet, you know exactly where it’s
going — right into the bay. Our waters are not getting any better. I
remember swimming in the Great South Bay as a kid, and that same clear
spot is murky today. We don’t want to wait for that tipping point when
it starts dying. Nitrogen levels clearly help contribute to that.”

eschultz@timesreview.com/

06/30/10 12:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Les Howard at the Rafael Vineyard in Peconic.

Leslie Howard, long-time Long Island winemaker, has been appointed winemaker at Raphael vineyard and winery estate in Peconic.
Mr. Howard, 35, has also has worked for Pindar Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion, W

06/24/10 12:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Longtime Greenport fishing boat captains Dave Brennan (left) and Rob Spitzenberg stand aboard their new boat, the Peconic Star Express, the first and only cruiser to offer a day trip excursion to Block Island directly from the North Fork.

Faced with ever-increasing catch restrictions from the state, professional recreational fisherman on Long Island have had to find other ways to boost business.

Greenport boat captains Rob Spitzenberg and Dave Brennan have decided to shift their focus slightly from fishing to day-trip excursions to Block Island with their new boat, the Peconic Star Express — the first and only opportunity for North Forkers to take a day trip directly from Greenport to Rhode Island’s popular party island.

“With the regulations getting tougher, we’re trying not to do business as usual,” Mr. Spitzenberg said. “We’re trying to do as many non-fishing events as possible.”

While Mr. Brennan, a longtime recreational fisherman, continues to run his fleet of charter and party fishing boats — long known for their striped bass, bluefish, fluke and porgie fishing — Mr. Spitzenberg, 40, will run the Peconic Star Express, an 80-foot, 150-passenger refurbished 1974 aluminum cruiser that will sail from Greenport’s railroad dock next to the Shelter Island ferry.

The boat has been open for business for about three weeks and is available for fishing, the Block Island trips, lighthouse viewing, weddings and rehearsal dinners, moonlight cruises and other special events. Mr. Spitzenberg said he’s already taken several small groups to Block Island and expects that aspect of the business to pick up after high school graduations, when families have more time to enjoy the water and the island.

“This seemed like a great fit along with the fishing boats,” he said. “And everyone loves to go to Block Island. But the options are limited to get there from the North Fork. You really couldn’t take a day trip over there until now.”

Block Island excursions are scheduled on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the summer, and additional days could be scheduled “according to demand,” Mr. Spitzenberg said. The trip costs $89 for adults, $79 for those 62 and older and $49 for children 12 and under. There are no additional fees to bring bicycles or surfboards on board.

The boat departs Greenport at 8 a.m. and leaves Block Island at 5 p.m. Mr. Spitzenberg said that passengers get to spend five to six hours on the island, depending how on weather conditions affect the speed of the boat, which cruises during the trip at about 18 knots.

“Most other boats don’t have the speed or comfort that we do to make it to Block Island and back for the day,” Mr. Spitzenberg said.

The Peconic Star Express also has the latest in navigation, communication and fish-finding equipment. It features a new stereo system and a spacious galley with a snack bar and plenty of electrical outlets to charge phones and laptops.

Mr. Spitzenberg, who has been working with Mr. Brennan since 1981, said that Mr. Brennan approached him last November about the multi-use concept for the boat — and he was sold right away. They acquired the Peconic Star Express from the Captree Fishing Fleet in Babylon in February and spent months overhauling it.

Mr. Spitzenberg added that a versatile approach to recreational boating simply makes sense in a tough economic climate — made even more difficult due to ever-stricter catch limits.

“We’re doing everything we can to think outside the box,” he said.

eschultz@timesreview.com

06/24/10 12:00am

PHOTO COURTESY OF JAKE RAJS
Workers for Calverton-based Miller Environmental Group ready oil containment booms in Florida this week to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The group has hired nearly 1,000 people since beginning work on the spill last month.

Nearly 1,000 people are now employed by the Calverton-based Miller Environmental Group to help clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

About 100 New York-based workers for the company were deployed over a month ago, weeks after the April 20 explosion of an offshore drilling rig killed 11 people and caused thousands of gallons of crude oil to begin gushing into the Gulf. The oil continues to gush and the spill has since affected miles of beaches in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

The company’s CEO, Mark Miller, who spends his weeks working in Pascagoula, Miss., and returns to Calverton for weekends, said that his crews are no longer primarily New York-based workers but local people in the Gulf area who are directly impacted by the spill.

“It’s definitely a dynamic situation,” Mr. Miller said, shortly after arriving in New York on Friday. “We’ve been very good at team-building and running this thing like a big family. We’ve been able to keep up morale, and we’re very proud of what we’re doing.”

Their goal is to contain and collect oil at sea and on the shoreline. Mr. Miller said his crews are working around the clock on the nearly 70 vessels the company has in the Gulf, dealing with oil that has spread for hundreds of miles.

“The majority of the workforce is now recovering oil offshore near wetlands,” he said. “Last month, it was kind of a standby thing, but now we know we’re in it for the long term.”

His company has also created a shoreline cleanup training program at a massive staging area on the property of an old car dealership, where a mock beach is set up for training workers. Instead of using hotels, non-local workers with Miller Environmental are now taking over condo and apartment complexes for housing.

Mr. Miller said that media reports of “everyone going crazy on the marshes of Louisiana” distort the generally calm and cooperative mood he’s experienced during the cleanup effort. Tourists are still going to beaches that haven’t been affected and probably won’t be by the oil spill, he added.

“But, of course, there is a real concern among the locals about how the spill will affect their livelihoods,” he said. “It’s a very scary thing. Which is why we’re working as hard as we are and interacting with the community as much as we can.

“The other day we bought all of the outboard motors from a local boat shop and 500 rakes from the hardware store,” he continued. That economic boost “is a big help to these guys, especially when you’re the only customer they see in a day. The spill has created a difficult position for local businesses to be in, and we’re doing as much as possible to have a positive impact right now.”

eschultz@timesreview.com

06/24/10 12:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
This lifelike plastic coyote, new this year at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead, is a sample of the growing number of ‘low-impact’ animal deterrents available on the North Fork.

Owls, coyotes and snakes — oh my!

Though Bill Van Schaick hasn’t seen traditional Wizard of Oz-style scarecrows popping up in local farm fields and gardens, the manager at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead said he has been selling a lot of plastic owls and other pretend predators to deter geese and deer.

Mr. Van Schaick added that various methods of scaring pesky animals away from gardens and landscaping have been around for quite some time, but newer products, such as lifelike plastic coyotes, have also hit the market this summer.

“It’s a horrible-looking thing, but it’s a low-impact way of letting nature take care of itself,” he said of the $60 fake. “You’re just startling the animals, you’re not hurting them.”

Agway carries two kinds of fake owls: ones with bobble heads that move with the breeze and others that move electronically. The store also stocks inflatable snakes to keep birds away from swimming pools and a menacing “terror eye” — a hanging ball with moving eyes that will strike fear in any bird, according to Mr. Van Schaick. Other deterrent products include electronic sonic devices that mimic the calls of certain birds of prey.

Some locals employ more home-grown methods of keeping away unwanted animals. George Neamonidis, 80, of East Marion said he uses aluminum plates that clang together to scare the deer away from the garden at his Bay Avenue home. He said that deer have been more of a nuisance than geese in recent years.

“When the wind blows, [the plates] make a little noise and the deer stay far away,” he said. “So right now, I don’t think I need a plastic coyote.”

Joyce Grigonis, a landscape designer at Briarcliff Landscape in Peconic, designs “shadow dogs” for her company. The black wooden dogs, which can be seen in Briarcliff’s sod fields, are 36 inches wide and 150 inches long and are mounted on metal poles so they spin around in the breeze. The movement makes them look as if they are running, which keeps geese away from the field. Southold High School and McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead use similar methods on their grounds.

Ms. Grigonis said that some of Briarcliff’s landscape clients have requested dogs for their own lawns, though the company hasn’t yet begun to sell them commercially.

“Waterfront people with big lawns are asking for them,” she said, adding that she read about the simple dog concept last year online at watchdoggoosepatrol.com, a Minnesota-based company that patented its own dog silhouettes in 1996.

“Geese are beautiful creatures, but can become quite a nuisance when they invade our spaces and yuck up our shoes,” reads the website. “Our dogs are a great alternative to hazardous chemical deterrents or inhumane methods of elimination.”

But no matter how scary you think your pest control device is, Mr. Van Schaick recommends moving it around.

“Whatever you do, make sure there’s some movement to it,” he said, “otherwise the birds will get wise.”

eschultz@timesreview.com

06/21/10 12:00am

PHOTO COURTESY OF JAKE RAJS
Workers for Calverton-based Miller Environmental Group ready
oil containment booms in Florida this week to help clean up the
Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The group has hired nearly 1,000
people since beginning work on the spill last month.

Nearly 1,000 people are now employed by the Calverton-based Miller Environmental Group to help clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
About 100 New York-based workers for the company were deployed over a month ago, weeks after the April 20 explosion of an offshore drilling rig killed 11 people and caused thousands of gallons of crude oil to begin gushing into the Gulf. The oil continues to gush and the spill has since affected miles of beaches in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
The company’s CEO, Mark Miller, who spends his weeks working in Pascagoula, Miss., and returns to Calverton for weekends, said that his crews are no longer primarily New York-based workers but local people in the Gulf area who are directly impacted by the spill.
“It’s definitely a dynamic situation,” Mr. Miller said, shortly after arriving in New York on Friday. “We’ve been very good at team-building and running this thing like a big family. We’ve been able to keep up morale, and we’re very proud of what we’re doing.”
Their goal is to contain and collect oil at sea and on the shoreline. Mr. Miller said his crews are working around the clock on the nearly 70 vessels the company has in the Gulf, dealing with oil that has spread for hundreds of miles.
“The majority of the workforce is now recovering oil offshore near wetlands,” he said. “Last month, it was kind of a standby thing, but now we know we’re in it for the long term.”
His company has also created a shoreline cleanup training program at a massive staging area on the property of an old car dealership, where a mock beach is set up for training workers. Instead of using hotels, non-local workers with Miller Environmental are now taking over condo and apartment complexes for housing.
Mr. Miller said that media reports of “everyone going crazy on the marshes of Louisiana” distort the generally calm and cooperative mood he’s experienced during the cleanup effort. Tourists are still going to beaches that haven’t been affected and probably won’t be by the oil spill, he added.
“But, of course, there is a real concern among the locals about how the spill will affect their livelihoods,” he said. “It’s a very scary thing. Which is why we’re working as hard as we are and interacting with the community as much as we can.
“The other day we bought all of the outboard motors from a local boat shop and 500 rakes from the hardware store,” he continued. That economic boost “is a big help to these guys, especially when you’re the only customer they see in a day. The spill has created a difficult position for local businesses to be in, and we’re doing as much as possible to have a positive impact right now.”
eschultz@timesreview.com

06/17/10 12:00am

RANDEE DADDONA PHOTO
Connie McCaffery, owner of Nature Maiden, gets ingredients ready to create synthetic-free soap in her Cutchogue kitchen Saturday.

When it comes to skin care, for people and pets, Connie McCaffery is doing her best to get back to basics. The Cutchogue resident has been making and selling her own line of skin care products, including some items for dogs, and candles at her home since 2007 under the name Nature Maiden.

Except for a few synthetic oils, Ms. McCaffery, 40, uses only natural ingredients — including beeswax, shea and cocoa butters, tallow and essential oils — in her extensive line of soaps, lip balms, deodorants and solid perfumes.

Soap scents, which are created with flavored and essential oils, range from rosemary and sandalwood to unusual scents like freshly turned earth — popular among gardeners, Ms. McCaffery said.

“Being a gardener myself, I love the smell of freshly turned earth,” she said. “When I did various fairs and introduced the earth bar, other people loved the smell, too.”

Sweet-flavored lip balms with goofy names like “Dog Drool” and “Duck Doo” are a hit with the kids.

“Most people buy them to give to their kids, but I have had adults buy them for themselves,” Ms. McCaffery said. “They get a kick out of it.”

Nature Maiden also offers over 30 varieties of soy candles, which burn slower and cooler than traditional wax candles, as well as soaps in the shapes of animals for kids and a line of all-natural dog shampoos and insect repellents.

Prices for individual products range from $3 to $14.99, and a portion of the proceeds from the dog products is donated to the North Fork Animal Welfare League.

After about four years working full-time for Sea Tow in Southold and weekends spent developing the business, Ms. McCaffery decided to make the transition into full-time entrepreneur about a year ago.

Her “earthy” products reflect her own nature, she said.

“I drive a pickup truck,” Ms. McCaffery said Saturday afternoon from her kitchen, a space that doubles as laboratory and production facility for Nature Maiden. “I’m one of the most down-to-earth people you’ll meet. I have a great connection to nature in that regard, and I love old-fashioned things.”

Using only her own products, the mother of two does have nice skin. She says she and her family haven’t used store-bought skin care products, which are often made with synthetic chemicals, in years.

“The simplest ingredients are the most effective,” she said. “The Japanese have healthy skin just by using a little camellia oil.”

In addition to making the products, Ms. McCaffery runs every other aspect of her business by herself — designing and updating www.NatureMaiden.com, blogging and taking photos, and handling the retail end. Her background is in horticulture, and she said the idea for Nature Maiden happened “by accident.”

“I really always loved the original ChapStick in the plain old black tube, so I researched on the Internet how to make it,” she said. “Then I started looking up how to make soaps and bath salts and solid perfumes and just thought — why don’t I start my own business?”

Nature Maiden is part of a growing trend. According to the website of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, an Ohio-based networking group, the number of handcrafted soapmakers has “increased exponentially over the last 10 years, and the support services for them, including vendors of all types, have become an industry unto its own.”

Ashley Beckman, owner of Golden Path Alchemy, a Los Angeles-based online retail company that sells herbal skin care products based on traditional Chinese medicine, agreed that as the world becomes “greener,” people are focusing on all-natural products for their skin.

“It’s very important what you put on your skin — it’s your largest organ and it absorbs over 60 percent of everything you put on it,” she said. “When you apply skin care products, the ingredients bypass the hepatic system, the filtering process of the liver, and go straight to the bloodstream.”

Selena Cozart, member of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild and owner of Salome’s Simply Delightful Creations in Virginia, said she, too, has seen a growing number of people who are “responding to products that provide a enlightened level of care.”

“The feedback from my customers is that the more they know about the benefits of all-natural, the more they want to try a variety of products that could benefit them without the use of pharmaceuticals, detergents or unnecessary preservatives,” Ms. Cozart said.

Though Ms. McCaffery describes sales at Nature Maiden — the bulk of which are done online — as “inconsistent,” she said she’s confident her focus on simplicity in skin care will help her business bloom.

“This really is a labor of love,” she said. “We do need to go back to nature.”

eschultz@timesreview.com