04/03/14 6:00am
04/03/2014 6:00 AM
EPCAL Sandy cars

The western runway at EPCAL in June 2013. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

To the editor:

I would like to state my agreement with George Bartunek’s Guest Spot last week about positioning the solar farm on the runway at the Enterprise Park at Calverton instead of destroying 30 acres of natural beauty and, at the same time, an important asset in climate control. (more…)

04/01/14 7:00am
04/01/2014 7:00 AM
grossman_karl150Hands down, what is the dumbest thing the Department of Environmental Conservation has ever come up with?

How about the DEC’s plan to slaughter 2,200 beautiful, elegant, graceful birds, the total population of mute swans in New York State?

“It is real stupid,” said Larry Penny, for 28 years East Hampton Town’s director of natural resources and environmental preservation. The DEC claims it needs to kill the swans because they’re an “invasive” species.

“Nonsense,” says Mr. Penny.

They were brought to North America from Europe after the Civil War and “they’re not doing any harm.” Also, there “are natural checks on their population — raccoons and foxes take them. They’re subject to a lot of pressure,” Mr. Penny said.

Hugh Rafles, anthropology professor at The New School in an op-ed prominently featured in The New York Times last month — “Speaking Up for the Mute Swan” — wrote: “There’s a larger issue here.

The real environmental problems faced by New York State are created not by birds but by people. In the nearly 150 years that the mute swan has been among us, it has witnessed a radical decline in the extent of the state’s wildlife habitat, and in the quality of its waters and soil.”

Because “of their limited diet, mute swans are a sentinel species, concen- trating contaminants in their livers and revealing the presence of chemical toxicities in fresh water. Rather than eliminating swans, we should pay attention to their struggle to survive and what it can tell us about the state of our state.”

From the celebration of mute swans in “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky to the ballet of mute swans gliding on Long Island ponds and bays in the summer leading a line of signets, they represent their species at its loveliest.

The DEC grew out of the state Conservation Department, established in 1911, which, in turn, replaced the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission, formed in 1895, both mainly created to regulate hunting. The legislation creating the DEC was signed into law on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, reflecting the upsurge of environmental consciousness in the state and the U.S. in the 1960s.

The outrageous swan kill isn’t the only wrong-headed move by the DEC in recent times. For example, last year it issued a report on pollution from the Long Island Compost facility in Yaphank that stated: “This investigation points to the need to modify the operation practices at these facilities in order to prevent such occurrence.” Yet months later the DEC rubber-stamped a fi ve-year permit renewal for the 50-acre Sand Land operation in Noyac where comparable production of mulch is going on.

Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken and Southampton Town asked the DEC to require monitoring wells be installed to check on any Sand Land pollution as a permit condition. The DEC ignored this, said Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, speaking before the Noyac Civic Council last week. “The DEC has a lot of problems,” Mr. DeLuca said. “It’s incapable of doing a lot of things.”

There have been some terrific people at the DEC. Tony Taormina, long its Long Island-based director of marine resources, was an extraordinary environmental watchdog, a crusader against DDT and a key fi gure in the 1970s involved in enacting state laws protecting wetlands.

But, overall, Mr. Penny said, the DEC has been “a mixed bag.” It’s “been generally pretty good,” but “they have so much on their plate. Their problem is they never have enough staff.” And, he added, the DEC has trouble “finishing things.”

Fortunately, the harebrained scheme to eradicate mute swans will not be moving ahead right away. There has been, rightfully, a public and official uproar. The state agency admits it has received over 1,500 comments from individuals and organizations and 16,000 letters overwhelmingly opposed to the idea and petitions with 30,000 signatures against it.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) is co-sponsoring legislation requiring a moratorium on the plan and asking the DEC to prove the swans cause “actual damage to the environment or other species.” State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has introduced his own bill for a moratorium and “independent study” of the DEC’s justification.

DEC Commissioner Albert Martens now says there will soon be “a revised plan.”

Revised?

He and the DEC should pack it in now and forget about murdering swans.

03/30/14 8:00am
03/30/2014 8:00 AM
EPCAL Sandy cars

The western runway at EPCAL in June 2013. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The Riverhead Town Board recently passed a number of resolutions that “pre-qualify” a several firms to submit proposals for the construction of a solar photovoltaic plant at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The location of such an installation would be the proposed subdivided lots located near the south end of the 7,000-foot runway.

Although the North Fork Environmental Council certainly supports the use of such green technology to meet our energy needs, we have to wonder why this project cannot be considered for construction on the runway itself. The western runway at EPCAL occupies approximately 30-plus acres and would certainly provide more than a substantial base for the infrastructure for the solar panels.

Extrapolations based on power generation from the BP/Met Life Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory indicate that a power plant constructed on the 7,000-foot runway would conservatively supply 7.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This would provide enough renewable power for approximately 800 homes, with maximum solar energy generation occurring during the summer months when the demand for electricity is greatest due to air-conditioning loads. Data provided for the 200-acre solar farm at BNL indicates that a solar farm on the EPCAL runway would offset approximately 5,400 metric tons of carbon annually.

In order to allow the town to subdivide and partially develop land at EPCAL, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring that the town cover the 7,000-foot runway with soil to partially compensate for the clearing and removal of grasslands and trees.

The NFEC questions the wisdom of this proposal.

If my calculations are correct, covering the 30-acre runway with six inches of soil would require depositing approximately 24,000 cubic yards. Assuming an average dump truck capacity of 20 cubic yards means this would require something on the order of 1,200 truckloads. Needless to say, this mandate would be a very expensive endeavor with questionable environmental benefit. One must also ask where all this valuable topsoil would be transported from.

Naturally, the North Fork Environmental Council supports the town’s interest in establishing a solar farm at EPCAL. Such an installation would help meet increasing demand for electricity and help New York reach the goal of producing 30 percent of its energy needs through renewable means by 2015.

But why not use the runway for the solar farm and preserve 30 acres of trees or grassland elsewhere?

bartunek_George Bartunek is a Riverhead resident and vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council.

03/28/14 9:00am
03/28/2014 9:00 AM
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

As if journalists needed another reason to call for more open government, the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 started Sunshine Week, a “national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sunshine Week was actually last week, March 16-22. But this week has provided us with a couple of reminders about how various elected officials could easily improve their efforts to open up to the public.

It’s not exactly breaking news that Riverhead’s all-Republican Town Board meets in caucus from time to time. Precedent supports the legality of such meetings. Supervisor Sean Walter’s allegation that board members are discussing public business during the meetings, however — and the fact that board members are meeting so frequently — is noteworthy, as it appears to fly in the face of state open meetings laws.

RELATED STORY: ‘SUPE TAKES AIM AT CLOSED-DOOR MEETINGS AMONG BOARD MEMBERS

Board members who attend the caucus meetings, as well as the current Riverhead Republican Committee chairman, deny the allegations, describing the meetings as discussions about the political impact of board members’ decisions and not the decisions themselves.

The timing the supervisor picked to bring all of this to light could be considered curious. He’s suffered the loss of a few votes on the public stage recently — likely stemming from discussions during these caucuses — so this could be construed as a political counter-punch. But there’s really no way for the public to know the whole truth unless the all-Republican Town Board stops meeting in caucus. And the only way to accomplish that, it would seem, would be to diversify the party affiliations of Town Board members.

Meanwhile, in the school district, a couple of instances this past week show room for improvement as well.

Superintendent Nancy Carney gave a thorough presentation Tuesday night about a $4 million bond proposal now set to go before voters in May, after which the school board voted to adopt it as a ballot proposition. But the proposal had never been publicly discussed at any previous school board meeting.

Without speaking on the merits of the bond itself, one might think these publicly elected officials — albeit volunteers — would want to inform and seek input from their constituents before setting the stage to borrow $4 million.

And following the presentation, it raises eyebrows to see a unanimous vote on such a costly plan without any discussion whatsoever — between members of the public and the school board or within the school board itself.

RELATED COVERAGE FROM TUESDAY NIGHT’S SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Another note from Tuesday night: The school board approved a plan to spend $456,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund right after closing a public hearing on the matter. While it’s not uncommon for public boards to adopt more mundane measures immediately following a public hearing, voters deserve more time to weigh in on $456,000 in expenses for a fund they voted to create.

So, in all, the school board may spend about $4.5 million with little public discussion or input from the people being asked to come up with the money.

If taxpayers in the town and school district feel they’re being increasingly marginalized when it comes to big decisions — and their leaders are opting to keep them out of the discussion to avoid headaches, slowdowns or the outright blockage of measures — then the public’s only recourse is to demand change through their votes.

03/27/14 6:00am
03/27/2014 6:00 AM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The state Armory building on Route 58.

The state Armory building on Route 58. (Credit: file)

When I ran for Riverhead Town Board last year, I made positive suggestions that I believe might help the board through the embarrassing bickering “Honeymooners” moment it is struggling with now. Currently, the board is mud wrestling over important topics like what to do with the Second Street firehouse, the East Lawn building and the armory on Route 58. The board is in a tizzy over how to provide our town justices a safe environment to try cases and we seem to be back to square one on the animal shelter issue.  (more…)