03/26/14 8:00am
03/26/2014 8:00 AM
Long Island Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela at Tuesday's press conference in Melville. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Long Island Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela speaking at Tuesday’s press conference in Melville. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Local farmers are concerned that potential legislation out of Albany aimed at cleaning up Long Island’s water will saddle them with the financial burden that comes with any new regulations.

So growers and industry advocates are calling on state lawmakers to keep farmers’ livelihoods in mind.

At a press event Tuesday at Schmitt’s Family Farm in Melville, Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said that as lawmakers continue to work on drafting the Long Island Pollution Control bill, they must take care to provide adequate funding for research and stewardship programs that can teach growers “how to do it better,” by way of groundwater protection.

“There are high expectations by the public,” Mr. Gergela said. “They want us to farm responsibly, and these guys are doing just that.”

The bill would establish and implement a water quality protection plan aimed at reducing nitrogen levels in ground and surface waters across Long Island. At present, it’s unclear what specific regulations might be incorporated into the bill, Mr. Gergela said.

But in order for the agriculture industry to progress, he said, growers will first need science to progress.

Karen Rivara, a shellfish aquaculturist who also serves as the farm bureau’s president, said it’s in the agricultural community’s interest to protect groundwater.

“Our livelihoods, and the public’s health, depend on it,” she said, citing a personal economic loss of about $80,000 in shellfish stock last season at her farm, Aeros Cultured Oyster in Southold, because of rust tide that plagued the Peconic Bays.

“We feel strongly about the need for comprehensive planning of water quality protection,” Ms. Rivara said. “The LIFB is seeking funding from the state to continue and expand upon scientifically based methods we’ve been using for quite some time in addressing Long Island’s water quality issues.”

Ms. Rivara asked for the help of both state and county officials, including Suffolk County Execute Steve Bellone, county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) as well as Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D- Lindenhurst) and state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Mr. LaValle originally proposed the pollution control legislation in August.

Mr. Krupski, a farmer himself, was also at the press conference, along with Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead.

Over the years, Mr. Minei said, advancements in growing techniques have included organic options for pest management and the adoption of slow-release fertilizers, among others. The Cornell Cooperative Extension supports the farming communities through research programs.

And while more research will be needed, Mr. Minei said after the event, funding for his organization “has gone down steadily. ”

He said its agricultural research programs, which are funded at the county, state and federal levels, “have been facing 5 percent cuts, at least, across the board every year.”

About 40 percent of the funding for CCE comes from Suffolk County. The group also gets assistance through private donations.

The press event was also timed to coincide with National Agriculture Day, Mr. Gergela and the others pointed out.

“We are reasonable people,” he said. “We will cooperate and do the best job we can for this industry. We don’t need more regs, more mandates to put around the necks of the farmers when it’s very difficult to invest hundreds of thousands a year [into farming] and it’s very difficult to pay the bills at the end of the year.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

03/18/14 6:00am
03/18/2014 6:00 AM

palumboheadshot_canvas

Since the moment I was sworn in as your assemblyman, the one topic that seems to come up in just about every conversation is the implementation of Common Core. I have listened to parents, educators, students and taxpayers about the myriad Common Core issues and problems that plague our children and schools. The Common Core mandate provides for a series of new national education standards administered at the state level through a series of federal mandates and grants. Though well-intentioned, the rollout and implementation of Common Core has been acutely fl awed, raising the ire of most parents and stakeholders in the education system. (more…)

03/05/14 8:00am
03/05/2014 8:00 AM
Talmage Farm Agway worker Rachel Harrison-Smith with a customer last week in Riverhead. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Talmage Agway worker Rachel Harrison-Smith with a customer in Riverhead. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Water quality advocates are up in arms over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to roll back a 1996 law that requires commercial users of pesticides to report information to the state. Instead, the governor is looking to “streamline” pesticide tracking by keeping tabs on sales.

Advocates statewide are saying the existing law should be strengthened, not revoked.

The Pesticide Reporting Law, which was spearheaded by Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), requires pesticide applicators such as landscapers and exterminators, to report to the state Department of Environmental Conservation each year, outlining exactly when, where and the type of pesticides they had used. It also requires large distributors who sell restricted pesticides to private users, such as farmers, to report similar information.

Mr. Cuomo wants to restructure that reporting system — requiring all retailers that sell pesticides, right down to the nearby hardware corner, to report their sales from major distributors — with the aim of getting an even better understanding of pesticide use within the state, according to an executive budget proposal.

The proposal, according to Mr. Cuomo’s office, would have the added benefit of tracking residential use, not just commercial.

But in a letter to state legislators, signed by representatives from 40 different environmental and heath advocacy groups, including Group for the East End, the North Fork Environmental Council, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the advocates called the change “grossly inadequate and represents a significant step back in the right-to-know principle that people expect.”

The 1996 law, championed in part by Long Island breast cancer advocacy groups, was meant to provide transparency in chemical use on Long Island — so researchers could better understand how pesticides might impact human illness, according to the letter signed by advocacy groups.

The information on chemical uses collected under the law was then compiled by the state DEC, and released publicly in an annual report — providing the public, researchers, and health professionals with information on chemicals being used within their communities, according to past reports.

Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens, an environmental advocacy group, said the potential move would take away the public’s ability to see exactly where chemicals are being used, during a time when researchers are still trying to better understand such pesticides’ affects on water quality.

“You would not want to lose those information on those specific sites and uses,” Mr. Amper said.

But the last annual report was completed in 2005, according to the state DEC website, which also noted that there were “concerns regarding the quality of the data received from the regulated community.”

DEC officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Environmentalists say a strengthened law, improving the quality of the information applicators must report, would provide data not just for health studies, but also for agricultural, ecological, water and air quality research — which often goes on to be used in creating public policy at local, state, and national levels.

While large distributors may be used to reporting such information — since they have to do so under the current law — for smaller retailers, it could mean added paperwork and overhead, said Bill Van Schaick, manager of Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead.

“The burden is just being shifted from users in the industry to the retailers who provide them with their products,” he said. “I understand the point behind it, we want pesticides to be used responsibly and we all want to protect the environment — but they are putting all that burden on us.”

Mr. Van Schaick said depending on what retailers will be required to report, it could ultimately mean a reduction in the number of options a store could offer to its customers.

“We may look to cut down the number of items we offer,” he said. “It may be easier to track 300 items, rather than 1,000 items.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

02/11/14 12:00pm
02/11/2014 12:00 PM
Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch at a Common Core forum in November. (Carrie Miller file photo)

NYS education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch at a Common Core forum in November. (Carrie Miller file photo)

The appointed body that crafts public education polices for schools in New York State announced Monday it will be delaying tougher, Common Core-aligned high school graduation requirements by five years.
(more…)

02/08/14 12:00pm
02/08/2014 12:00 PM

Senator John Flanagan addresses superintendents and other educators at Saturday morning’s annual Regional Legislative Breakfast at Longwood Middle School. (Michael White photo)

With concerns pouring in from parents, teachers, and students over the implementation of the Common Core Standards initiative in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday announced the formation of a panel to review the rollout of the standards within the state. (more…)

11/08/13 10:30am
11/08/2013 10:30 AM
Newsday Common Core

Friday’s Newsday cover story tackles state education concerns.

A group of Suffolk County school district superintendents has sent a letter to state education commissioner John King urging him to address their concerns about over-testing, the fast pace of mandating Common Core standards inside the classroom and issues with new teacher and principal evaluation programs, according to Friday’s Newsday cover story.

And, according to Newsday, all county superintendents are expected to send another letter in the coming days.

Mr. King has received harsh criticism since New York adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative and decided to tie state assessments based on the rigorous curriculum to a new, district-by-district teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Mr. King is scheduled to hold a public meeting to discuss the state’s new direction in education on Wednesday at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket.

A second Suffolk County meeting is scheduled for Nov. 26. The state Department of Education and Board of Regents are working with state Senator Ken LaValle to organize that meeting somewhere within his legislative district.

08/05/13 2:30pm
08/05/2013 2:30 PM
Calverton EPCAL sign

MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | One of two signs marking the EPCAL entrance along Route 25.

The state bill that would fast track development applications at the Enterprise Park at Calverton was approved by both house sof the state Legislature in late June, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign it into law.

Still, locally elected state officials say they are not worried, and that the governor is presented with hundreds of bills to sign in a given year.

“Obviously, I would like it signed sooner than later but I don’t think there is a cause to be concerned at this point,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

“It just hasn’t been delivered to the governor yet,” said Drew Biondo, an aide to state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who was a sponsor of the bill.

Both men said they’ve been given no indication the bill has run into any opposition at the executive level.

“From what I’ve heard, the governor takes these bills in batches,” Mr. Walter said.

A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo said the governor considers about 100 bills a week. Once a bill is presented to the governor, he has a week to either sign it into law or veto it, she said.

She said the governor’s office doesn’t generally comment on bills until they are signed or vetoed.

The timing of the signing of the bill is not a concern at this point because the town still needs to adopt an environmental impact statement for the plan, Mr. Walter said, and that’s not expected to be done until next year some time.

“So this proposal wouldn’t really get rolling until next year anyway,” Mr. Walter said.

The bill establishes a generic environmental impact study, or GEIS, at the outset, to cover all possible development proposals for the town-owned land in Calverton that meet a re-use plan agreed upon by the town, county and state, officials have said.

Any fully engineered development proposal for land within the area covered by the study will be guaranteed approval within 90 days of the application being filed.

If an application isn’t approved in that time frame, it would receive a default approval.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/08/13 3:00pm
07/08/2013 3:00 PM
Striped bass on Long Island

MELANIE DROZD PHOTO | A striped bass caught recently in Peconic Bay.

A New York Senate bill to extend the striped bass season by two weeks went belly-up after it failed to make it through an Assembly committee.

The Senate bill, which was approved in May, would have allowed fishermen to harvest striped bass until Dec. 31 of each year, adding another 16 days to the season.

Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) sponsored the bill, and initially proposed to have the season extended to Jan. 15 of each year.

The bill states that extending the season “will help create jobs, boost the Long Island economy, and ensure that quotas can be reached even if affected by natural causes.”

But the bill did not make it out of the state Assembly’s environmental conservation committee, government officials said.

William Young, president of the New York Coalition for Recreational Fishing, a preservation lobby, said the striped bass stock is in decline and that extending the season would threaten the fish.

His group sent letters to assemblymen and senators, urging them to let the bill die.

“The signs are that [the bass population] is not going in the right direction,” he said. “That’s up and down the coast, not just one area.”

A status update of the striped bass stock hasn’t been completed since 2011, said Mike Waine, a coordinator with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which helps to set fishing quotas for commercial operations to protect fish populations.

The commission will complete its latest assessment later this year and release the results in the fall, Mr. Waine said.

Mr. Young said it would be unwise to change fishing regulations without knowing the latest information on the striped bass stock.

“Right now is not the time to do it, there’s a question mark,” he said. “Right now is the time to wait and see what’s coming down the road.”

But Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the bill would have helped fishermen meet their quotas, even if stormy weather or other conditions prevented them from getting out to fish.

“[Unfilled quotas are] money that’s gone, basically out to sea,” she said.

The regulations were put in place to protect the bass when their population plummeted in the 1980s. Now the stock has been rebuilt, Ms. Brady said.

“It’d be nice if the regulations would come into the 21st century like the fishermen have,” she said.

psquire@timesreview.com