03/08/14 5:00pm
03/08/2014 5:00 PM


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.

03/01/14 6:00am
03/01/2014 6:00 AM
A Riverhead School District-owned school bus. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A Riverhead School District-owned school bus. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A lot of questions and concerns bounced around this little brain of mine after hearing that the River-head School District is looking to purchase the TS Hauler property on Edwards Avenue in Calverton for the future location of a bus lot and garage.

Laurie Downs

Laurie Downs


02/23/14 7:01am
02/23/2014 7:01 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay earlier this year. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)

Protecting our surface and ground water is Long Island’s public issue number one. The Long Island Clean Water Partnership has done a great job in increasing public and political awareness. But we must avoid the trap of oversimplifying both the problem and the solutions.

Any campaign has three elements: awareness, education and action. Awareness has been raised. Now the hard work, education, has to begin. Education involves inclusive public discussion, scientific debate and a broad coalition on how best to move forward.

Today, everything’s a 10-second sound bite. However, using sound bites to explain proposed solutions can be harmful to long-term success. For example, in County Executive Steve Bellone’s recent public talks on the water issue, he and others read from the same script we’ve heard over and over again. We deserve more than that. We need more than that.

We need full information to make informed decisions.

Take Mr. Bellone’s main proposal to solve our water problems: prioritize areas with failing septic systems, identify those near existing sewer systems and extend the sewers to those properties. Interesting concept until you look a little deeper.

Now putting priority properties, especially waterfront lots, onto a municipal sewer system will remove nitrogen from septic systems and from leeching into our waters. This is good. But think about this a little more. In Long Island’s history, when you extend sewer systems, high-density residential and commercial development follows. Always has. Always will. So what problems do extended sewer systems and more development add to our current water problems?


First problem is the sewers themselves. Septic systems work by seeping wastewater back into the ground. As the water moves through the soil, it filters out and reduces the concentration of nitrogen and other elements. In areas of high density — too many homes and people on too little land — the ground becomes over-saturated with septic output, thus the filtering of nitrogen and other elements is impaired. Sewers solve that problem, to some degree.

Most of Long Island’s municipal sewage treatment plants, and the smaller community systems which feed into them, take wastewater from the sewers, treat it and pump the resulting effluent into the Sound, bays or the ocean. While this prevents nitrogen from entering the ground, it also means all of that sewered water is removed from the recharge cycle. In other words, instead of returning a large portion of the water we use back to the water table and deeper aquifers, it’s diverted to our surrounding bodies of salt water.

So, increased sewering reduces the amount of water we put back into our groundwater supplies. And near the waterfront, if you remove too much water you lower the water table, salt water comes in to replace it and your well has to be shut down. This is already happening around the island.

In addition, volume from 100,000-plus homes could add a significant amount of total nitrogen being pumped into our already stressed bays. So sewering could add to our water pollution and declining fisheries woes, not solve them.

Many of Long Island’s sewage treatment plants are near capacity. Many need funding for mandated plant updates. Almost all need to extend their discharge pipelines out of our bays and into the more active waters of the Atlantic Ocean. These updates will cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. So the cost of extended sewering is significant.

And while we talk about funding for our sewer and sewage treatment plant needs, it doesn’t even touch upon the planning, development and cost of individual and community high-tech septic systems needed for the vast majority of those homes and businesses which shouldn’t or can never be sewered. We need answers. You can’t ask voters to support solutions unless you’re ready and able to talk about the costs of each option, as well as the ultimate costs of doing nothing.

But this is only part of the problem with extended sewering. As sewering grows, so does development, and open space, which is needed to clean and return rainwater to the water table and deeper aquifers, becomes paved over. Since 20 percent of nitrogen pollution comes in the form of rain and snow, those open spaces are critical to cleansing and protecting our waters. In addition, with open space paved over, a greater percentage of rainwater is routed to the sewers and the sewage treatment plants. That means even less water is making it down to the aquifers — another matter of sewering adversely affecting both water quality and quantity.

Out east, more sewering and more development take us further away from our cherished rural way of life. Those farms and farm stands, open spaces and rural vistas, the quiet rural roads and quiet sandy beaches are the drivers of both the local economy and the reason many people choose to live here. And once that changeover begins, you cannot go back.

Clean water is a complex problem. Sewering should be part of a comprehensive solution but we need more input from scientists, environmental groups and civic associations in discussions with our elected representatives at all levels. Let’s stop the sound bites and oversimplifying things. Let’s start getting more people with scientific backgrounds to work on this complex problem and its complex solutions.

Communicate that, and then we can make informed decisions on Long Island’s future based on dollars, sense and science.

Bill Toedter, a communications consultant, artist and Southold resident, has been president of the North Fork Environmental Council, an advocacy group, since 2010.

02/21/14 10:00am
02/21/2014 10:00 AM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO  |  McGann-Mercy football coach Jeff Doroski faces an uncertain future amid speculation that he will be replaced as the team's varsity coach.

Jeff Doroski became the head football coach at Mercy in 2011. (Garret Meade file photo)

I’ll never forget that day in Babylon in the fall of 1998. I was a senior at Mercy High School, playing in one of the final football games of the season, and we were getting our tails kicked in. At halftime the score was so obscenely lopsided that if forfeiting didn’t carry such universal shame, I’m sure most of my teammates would have elected to pack up, get on the bus and head back to Mercy. (more…)

02/16/14 1:08pm
02/16/2014 1:08 PM
Fire Fighter is currently docked at the railroad dock in Greenport, but not for much longer. (Photo by Katharine Schroeder)

Fire Fighter is currently docked at the railroad dock in Greenport, but not for much longer. (Photo by Katharine Schroeder)

I was saddened but also amused by the report in your Feb. 6 paper about the fate of Fire Fighter, the fireboat with a decades-long history of service to New York City’s fire department. The fireboat was intended to be a platform for educating the public about firefighting history and service, but also a harborfront attraction for the village and its visitors. For sure, the fireboat sending geysers of water into the air from its many pumps was a unique sight to see. (more…)