I’ve been giving presentations on my experiences of 50 years as a journalist on Long Island. Recently I spoke before a business-linked group — the Environmental/Green Industries Committee of the Hauppauge Industrial Association-Long Island. I opened by telling them something they didn’t know; the home base for their organization was a key to the hugely successful preservation of the Long Island Pine Barrens.
In 1978, Steve Englebright had gotten a job as curator of geological collections at Stony Brook University where he set up the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences. As a scientist, Mr. Englebright was aware of the purity and thus vital signifi cance of the water beneath the Long Island Pine Barrens.
Their sandy porous soil allows rainwater to migrate cleanly down to the aquifer below, which all Long Islanders depend on for their potable water. Underneath the Pine Barrens, Mr. Englebright understood, is the fi nest of Long Island’s water supply. Also, he comprehended the ecological importance of the Pine Barrens habitat, which includes many rare plants, birds and animals.
Back then hardly anyone else on Long Island understood any of this. The Pine Barrens were considered “scrub” — not “important” like the land along the shoreline or farmland — and were earmarked in various development plans for industrial development.
That’s where the Hauppauge Industrial Park was built, on top of the Pine Barrens. And that’s where Mr. Englebright made what happened there a fi rst exhibit at his new museum. “I had watched it, basically a complete ecosystem, wiped away and transformed into buildings and parking lots,” he recalled the other day.
Then came an epiphany. “I thought it was basically unethical to simply document the passing of the ecosystem,” he said. “So I put together a traveling show and went on the road and before any group that would listen I spoke and gave a slide show about how important the Long Island Pine Barrens are and how they were being destroyed,”
A year before, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society was founded by naturalists John Cryan, Ro b e r t Mc G ra t h and John Turner, all committed to saving the Long Island Pine Barrens.
Mr. Englebright further decided he needed to get into politics to push the campaign forward. He ran for a seat on the Suffolk County Legislature, was elected and served between 1983 and 1992, advancing Pine Barrens preservation as a government offi cial.
He taught me and many others about something then barely known on Long Island. He would take people, one at a time, up a hill in Manorville. From the top of the hill were views of Long Island Sound to the north, the bay system and Atlantic Ocean to the south and to the west and east great stretches of Pine Barrens. Here we were, explained Mr. Englebright, looking at “Long Island’s reservoir.”
He ran for and won a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1992 and was critical to the passage of the New York State Pine Barrens Preservation Act of 1993, which has saved tens of thousands of acres, and has become a national environmental success story.
Mr. Englebright was also instrumental in getting an experienced and extraordinarily articulate public relations man, Richard Amper, to become executive director of the Pine Barrens Society.
Back in 1988, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society had 34 members, Mr. Amper said. The society is now one of the major environmental organizations on Long Island with thousands of members.
Mr. Englebright, as a Suffolk legislator and a state assemblyman, has been in the forefront of getting other environmental initiatives passed. A strong opponent of the Shoreham nuclear power plant, he has also led in safe-energy legislation.
I’d never been to the Hauppauge Industrial Park until my talk. It’s not much to see: basically many buildings and parking lots. But what happened there was crucial in saving the remaining Long Island Pine Barrens.
There’s something I’d like to add to a bulletin board that’s being used to display thoughts on compassion. The board is mounted to a wall in Shoreham-Wading River High School.
Occupying a space can be both a sign of power and a threat to power. This has been the case, it seems, since the beginning of recorded time.
Think of the folks who camped out for months near Wall Street during the worst of the U.S. financial crisis. Think of the demonstrators who took over public spaces in Syria or Ukraine, or people packed behind walls in Berlin or Derry or more recently, Palestine.
The space itself is about who has power or who wants to challenge power.
In my own limited experience, I get to see how this basic struggle for space and power plays out on the local level. I speak of riding the Hampton Jitney.
First off, I need to say that the Jitney is a great resource for those who live on eastern Long Island. Instead of an interminable ride on the less-than-edifying Long Island Rail Road, or a long drive to an expensive parking garage in Manhattan, there’s the Jitney in all its wondrous predictability. I
t usually arrives at its stops on time; it will store your luggage for you; a polite attendant serves you snacks; it has an onboard bathroom; it imposes tight restrictions on cell phone use; its drivers know how to circumvent traffic snarls. Basically, it’s excellent.
Going to Manhattan, I board the North Fork Jitney in Riverhead near the Route 58 CVS, usually on a Sunday morning. I know in advance that my fare will be the same as for those who boarded at Orient Point or Greenport or Southold or Mattituck. Unfair as that is, I have reconciled myself to the fact that such a policy is unlikely to change unless the company were to feel some heat from those with power.
So a change in the existing rate structure seems not likely at all.
Boarding at Riverhead I look down the long center aisle for an empty seat. There are lots of heads but there are usually available seats as well. That is, there would be available seats except for what I call the Hampton Hustle: seats occupied by jackets, purses, laptops, backpacks, or newspapers while the owners of those things stare grimly straight ahead, look out the window, or pretend to be profoundly asleep.
I readily admit that I too prefer two seats if I had the audacity to ignore my fellow creatures. Frankly, my conscience bothers me if someone is looking for a seat while the seat next to me is occupied only by my belongings.
But I think there are those who see themselves as somehow more privileged than others, more godlike, if you will. Should the new passenger insist on sitting there where all that stuff is piled, the owner often takes several minutes to step out into the aisle to store things in the overhead bin, drop some on the floor, and so create a delay before the bus can get underway again.
Meanwhile, looks are exchanged that signify how deep the struggle is over that particular space and how bitter the feelings of yielding it to another.
“This land was made for you and me,” Pete Seeger used to sing. Oh yes, but “When will they ever learn, when will we ever learn.”
Catherine McKeen is a retired college teacher and a working historian. She lives in Baiting Hollow.
TOWNS OUT IN FRONT
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The letters in this newspaper probably illustrate those divisions better than anything else. (more…)
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