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

06/20/13 2:59pm
06/20/2013 2:59 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of Calverton Enterprise Park, looking south.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of Calverton Enterprise Park, looking south.

UPDATE:

The New York State Senate approved a bill today designed to fast-track development proposals at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The bill was approved in the Assembly in the morning and in the Senate this afternoon.

“We’re firing on all eight cylinders now,” Supervisor Sean Walter said of the approvals. “The marketability of that property has increased 10,000-fold with this vote today. There should be nobody ever comparing this to the vacancies in Hauppauge or Melville, because nobody else in New York State has what we have now.”

The bill, which still needs to be signed by the governor, establishes a generic environmental impact study, or GEIS, at the outset, to cover all possible development proposals that meets a re-use plan agreed upon by the town, county and state.

Any fully engineered development proposal for 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 will receive a default approval, Mr. Walter said.

“This is the single biggest piece of economic development legislation for Long Island, probably ever,” he said.

The state also passed a law that gives tax exemptions to businesses associated with hi-tech research projects at SUNY campuses, Mr. Walter said.

The 50-acre Stony Brook Business Incubator at EPCAL would fall under that bill, he said.

The town still needs to complete the GEIS , the new zoning and land use plans, and the subdivision at EPCAL before the fast-track proposal can take effect, the supervisor said.

That process, which has already begun, is expected to take about a year to compete.

Today was the last day of the current session for both houses of the state Legislature, which next meets in January.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Riverhead Town’s plan to fast track development at the Enterprise Park at Calverton is going right down to the wire, with the state Assembly slated to vote on the measure today, Thursday, the last day of the current legislative session in Albany.

The state bill would establish the EPCAL Reuse and Revitalization Area, 2,124 acres for which Riverhead Town would develop an overall generic environmental impact study (GEIS) outlining what can and can’t be built there.

“This is probably one of the most monumental pieces of legislation that will hit the East End and, in my opinion, all of New York state,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday. “What this does is, it gives the town a mechanism to have approval of projects at EPCAL in 90 days, and it is going to put EPCAL on the map in a way that nobody else in New York State is on the map.

“It’s been a long time coming,” the supervisor added.

Under the proposal, if a development application is submitted within this area, and its impacts have already been studied by the GEIS, that project would require no further environmental studies and would receive approval within 90 days of submission, provided the application was deemed complete by the town.

Normally, each individual development application would potentially need to conduct a separate environmental study.

Similar legislation passed in the state Senate last year but never made it out of committee in the Assembly. As written at that time, the bill would have created a commission comprising the five Town Board members and one representative each from the state and county. The current version of the bill gives full authority to the Town Board, eliminating the need for a new commission.

As of Wednesday, the revised bill had been moved out of the Senate’s local government committee and was listed on the Senate’s agenda of bills to be voted on Wednesday afternoon, according to Drew Biondo, an aide to state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

But it was uncertain if the bill would be voted on by the full Senate on Wednesday or Thursday. (See riverheadnewsreview.com for updates.)

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, said he expected it to be voted on Thursday by the full Assembly.

Officials say they expect the bill to be approved in both houses.

The Town Board on Tuesday also declared itself as the lead agency in the review of its EPCAL reuse plans, which include amending the town master plan and zoning and creating a new 50-lot industrial subdivision at EPCAL.

This vote came after the state Department of Environmental Conservation raised no objection to the town’s taking the lead in the review of those plans.

“This is an amazing thing we’re about to undertake,” Mr. Walter said Tuesday, as the Town Board prepared to vote on the lead agency status.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Wednesday she thinks this is the most important legislation the town has adopted in more than 10 years.

The board also voted to schedule a public scoping hearing on the draft GEIS for July 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

A scoping hearing allows people to suggest issues they feel should be studied in the GEIS.

On Friday, the Town Board also approved a home rule message, which indicates the board’s local support for the state proposal and was needed before the state Legislature could vote on the measure.

Board members gave Mr. Walter credit for his work on the bill, as he had made numerous trips to Albany to lobby for its passage over the past two years.

The board got the idea after taking a bus trip, complete with media members, to Devens, Mass., in January 2011. That community had worked with officials within the Commonwealth to redevelop a former military base.

The EPCAL property had been owned by the U.S. Navy and was used by the Grumman Corporation to built and test fighter jets until 1996. The land was given to the town in 1998 for economic development purposes to replace the jobs lost when Grumman shut down.

tgannon@timesreview.com

06/14/13 1:48pm
06/14/2013 1:48 PM
Calverton EPCAL sign

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

Riverhead Town’s plans for developing the Enterprise Park at Calverton took a few steps forward this week, and are expected take a few more steps forward next week.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of the former Grumman property now called the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of the former Grumman property now called the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL

The Town Board on Friday unanimously approved a “home rule message” resolution in support of a revised version of a bill in Albany that would allow development projects to be “fast-tracked” at EPCAL.

And Supervisor Sean Walter said officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation are not objecting to the town’s request to be the “lead agency” in the review of a proposed 50-lot subdivision the former Grumman plant property.

Town officials and the DEC have frequently disagreed over development approaches at EPCAL in the past, and who should hold lead agency status, which carries the most weight among all government agencies involved in permitting and approvals.

A “scoping hearing,” at which speakers can suggest issues to be examined in the environmental impact study of the subdivision, is tentatively planned for July 16.

“This is probably one of the most monumental  pieces of legislation that will hit the East End and, in my opinion, all of New York State,” Mr. Walter said in voting for the home rule resolution Friday in Town Hall. “What this does is it gives the town a mechanism to have approval of projects at EPCAL in 90 days, and it is going to put EPCAL on the map in a way that nobody else in New York State is on the map.

“It’s been a long time coming.”

Council members credited Mr. Walter, who has made many trips to Albany to lobby for the bill.

The town also had George Hochbrueckner, a former congressman and state assemblyman, working on the case this year to get both the EPCAL legislation and the EPCAL subdivision approved.

Mr. Hochbrueckner was the congressman who sponsored the bill that saw the U.S. Navy give the land to Riverhead Town for economic development to replace the jobs that were lost when Grumman, which tested fighter jets at the site, closed up shop in the early 1990s.

“I started this in 1993 and I’m glad it’s finally settled in 2013,” Mr. Hochbrueckner said Friday.

The bill has undergone numerous revisions over the past two weeks until language acceptable to all parties was agreed upon this week, Mr. Walter said.

There are currently identical versions of the revised bill in the State senate and Assembly.

The revisions eliminate the original bill’s plan to create a commission made up of town, state and county representatives and instead leaves the approval process entirely within the Riverhead Town Board’s control.

The proposal would call for a generic environmental impact study of all development at EPCAL to be completed upfront with input from town, state and county agencies, and then subsequent development applications that conform with that overall plan would not need to do separate environmental studies, thus cutting the review time needed for the project.

It’s similar to a plan the town enacted for downtown Riverhead under the Cardinale administration, although that plan relied on Apollo Real Estate Advisors to complete the upfront study, whereas in this instance, the town has already begun the study under a contract with VHB Engineering, which also is creating the subdivision map for EPCAL.

The bill was on the floor of the full Senate for a vote on Wednesday but was set aside so that the changes could be made to the language.

The Assembly also made those same changes to the bill on Thursday, according to Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who is sponsoring the bill along with state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Mr. Thiele, whose district covers the South Fork, has been acting as a sort of “defacto” North Fork assemblyman since the North Fork position was vacated earlier this year when Dan Losquadro resigned to become Brookhaven Town highway superintendent.

The bill must still be voted out of the local government committees in both houses and then be approved in a vote before the full houses of the Senate and Assembly by Thursday, June 20, which is the last day of the current session of the state Legislature.

tgannon@timesreview.com