06/20/14 12:00pm
06/20/2014 12:00 PM
An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein Courtesy Photo)

An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein Courtesy Photo)

New data outlining the extent of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in New York State was released Thursday by a state Senate group that also came up with an action plan for combating the spread of such diseases.

Known as the Senate Majority Coalition Task Force on Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases, the task force was organized in October amid rising concerns regarding the spread of such diseases statewide.

(more…)

06/19/14 5:25pm
06/19/2014 5:25 PM
Friends set up a memorial on Route 58 for hit-and-run victim Kristina Tfelt a few days after her death. (Credit: Paul Squire, file)

Friends and family members had set up a memorial on Route 58 in Riverhead for hit-and-run victim Kristina Tfelt a few days after her death last July. (Credit: Paul Squire, file)

A bill that would increase penalties for those who flee the scenes of serious or fatal accidents passed through the New York State Assembly with bipartisan support Thursday with hours to spare, according to North Fork Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who co-sponsored the bill. (more…)

05/23/14 3:05pm
05/23/2014 3:05 PM
Waterfront homes in Jamesport along the bay. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch, file.)

Waterfront homes in Jamesport along the bay. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch, file.)

New construction and any big renovation projects on Long Island would need modern waste treatment systems installed to better filter nitrogen from reaching ground and surface waters.

Registered pesticides that appear in groundwater in “multiple clusters” would be “prohibit[ed] for use.”

And, starting in 2017, no one would be allowed to repair cesspools in certain “priority areas,” of Nassau or Suffolk Counties. Those people would instead have to install denitrification systems.

These are just a few of the restrictions outlined in a new water quality control measure touted by state Assemblymen Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), during a conference put on by Long Island Clean Water Partnership advocacy groups in Islandia Thursday. (more…)

04/25/14 8:00am
04/25/2014 8:00 AM
A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Stakeholders on both sides of a life-or-death debate met in Albany last Thursday to discuss the future of the mute swan, an invasive species on the cusp of widespread population growth in New York.

There are approximately 2,200 mute swans in the state, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which are expected to reproduce at a rate of 13 to 20 percent annually.  (more…)

04/25/14 6:00am

tax

Legislation signed in December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that made school tax exemptions for available to certain veterans took effect with little advance notice, making it difficult for school boards tasked with deciding whether their districts would participate in the program to make well-researched and educated decisions.  (more…)

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