01/23/14 1:11pm
01/23/2014 1:11 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Senator Ken LaValle at a previous Calverton Business Incubator event.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle wants New York to delay Common Core rollout.

State Senator Ken LaValle is calling on education department commissioner John King to “hit the delay button” with rolling out new, more rigorous curriculum in public schools through the Common Core. (more…)

01/13/14 11:30am
01/13/2014 11:30 AM
COURTESY PHOTO | Gov. Andrew Cuomo at last week's State of the State address.

COURTESY PHOTO | Gov. Andrew Cuomo at last week’s State of the State address.

Last week in his 2014 State of the State speech, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pitched a teacher incentive plan, which could total more than $6 million for “highly effective” teachers from Riverhead to Oysterponds.

Calling the incentive program the Teacher Excellence Fund, Mr. Cuomo stated that any teacher in New York rated “highly effective” under the state-mandated evaluation system would receive a $20,000 bonus, which he described as the first of its kind that offers, on average, 27 percent of a teacher’s salary.

Of 610 teachers in Riverhead, Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport and Oysterponds School Districts, 320 teachers received “highly effective” ratings last year.

Read a transcript of the governor’s address here

If 320 teachers received $20,000 bonuses, it could cost $6.4 million. The governor left out details in his speech noting how the bonuses would be funded.

“You want teachers who can perform and do perform?” he said during his speech. “Then incentivize performance with a performance bonus and pay them like the professionals they are.”

Local superintendents provided the Riverhead News-Review with their districts’ teacher evaluation results. Shoreham-Wading River’s ratings weren’t immediately available, and due to the small staff at New Suffolk School, results were not released..

School district Total teachers evaluated
Teachers rated ‘highly effective’
Percentage Cost, at $20,000 bonuses
Riverhead 321 148 46 $2.95 million
Mattituck-Cutchogue 137 90 66 $1.81 million
Southold 83 59 71 $1.17 million
Greenport 56 18 33 $369,600
Oysterponds 13 5 39 $101,400
Totals 610 320 52 $6.4 million
01/09/14 7:00am
01/09/2014 7:00 AM

New York State Capitol

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to make marijuana available in 20 New York hospitals for patients with cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses. An executive order creating an interim medical marijuana program could allow him to bypass the state Senate, which has been blocking medicinal marijuana legislation efforts.

This is welcome news for those seeking relief from pain and discomfort caused by illness. It’s also promising for those who consider this an important step toward modernizing state marijuana laws by taxing and regulating its sale and use, as with alcohol and tobacco. Our current system has done much more harm than good, most notably through the imprisonment and restrictive criminal records of countless non-violent offenders over the course of decades — not to mention the violent drug trades the laws have helped create.

Historic references to marijuana as treatment for various ailments go back thousands of years, and even today approximately 76 percent of doctors worldwide sign off on medical uses where it is legally available, according to survey findings recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Marijuana can be used to treat more ailments than prednisone, for example, yet isn’t nearly as harmful to the body. Something seems amiss when we live in a state where morphine is legal for medicinal use but marijuana isn’t. This contradiction can be explained by the fact that marijuana became a scapegoat drug beginning in the early 20th century — fueled by headline-grabbing politicians — without evidence to prove any real dangers or benefits. The argument that has evolved since holds that marijuana, though itself not especially dangerous, is a gateway drug that leads to other drug use. Prominent experts debunk this theory again and again, pointing out that marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug chosen by people who go on to use other drugs only because it’s the most readily available. In fact, most people consume alcohol before ever using marijuana.

Relaxing marijuana laws isn’t just something being promoted by those on the left. Fiscal conservatives point to the huge amount of money and resources being wasted on policing, prosecuting and imprisoning offenders. Many people readily recognize that marijuana use in and of itself does not infringe upon others’ health or safety, thus its use should be a personal choice and no business of the government’s. An exception would be the operation of a vehicle after having used marijuana, which is still illegal even in Colorado and Washington State, where recreational marijuana use has been decriminalized.

In the new year, New York State lawmakers, especially Senate Republicans, should rethink their knee-jerk stances against pot and pass a law that permit medical uses of marijuana. They should also reconsider the real benefits of proposed tax-and-regulate legislation versus the real costs — and imagined benefits — of the status quo.

11/26/13 7:16pm
11/26/2013 7:16 PM
CREDIT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

CREDIT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

A storm bringing fierce wind and rain is expected to touch down in the area on Tuesday into Wednesday, just in time for Thanksgiving weekend.

 

The rainfall and winds – which could top 50 miles per hour – will hit on the busiest travel day of the year, as a storm heads up the east coast bringing a mix of snow and sleet to the lower part of the country.

Due to warmer temperatures, Long Island is not expected to get snow Tuesday or Wednesday, with heavy rain predicted to develop after 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. The NWS has issued a wind advisory will be in effect starting at midnight and lasting for a full 24 hours.

According to the advisory, southern winds will typically carry between 25 and 35 miles per hour, with the strongest winds expected from late tonight into Wednesday evening. A 100 percent chance of rain is expected through Wednesday, with temperatures later cooling and a 40 percent chance of rain/snow on Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a winter weather warning for motorists in advance of first major winter storm of the season, urging drivers to use caution while traveling during ice or snow conditions, and to arrange travel plans to avoid being on roadways during the storm.

“As New Yorkers are beginning to travel for the Thanksgiving Holiday, we are also preparing for the first major winter storm of the year which is expected to bring snow and ice to communities across the State,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Recognizing that the harsh weather as well as the increased use of roadways has the potential to cause serious inconvenience for motorists, I have directed the State’s transportation agencies to take all necessary preparations to be ready to clear roadways as quickly as possible.”

In addition to the slowdowns on the roadways, some of the country’s busiest airports  in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston are also bracing for delays, according to the Associated Press.

The storm is blamed for killing at least 14 people in five states in the midwest and south, mostly related to traffic accidents, according to NWS.

The New York State Department of Transportation is raising awareness for winter driving safety, promoting the initiative: “If you see Ice and Snow, Take It Slow.”

NYSDOT tips for safe winter driving include:

  •  Never follow a snowplow too closely or attempt to pass one. Remember that the highway ahead of the plow is usually snow-covered;
  •  Adjust speed for road conditions and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles;
  •  Schedule extra time for winter travel and be patient during ice and snow removal operations;
  •  Assume that bridge surfaces are slippery, as they freeze more quickly than road surfaces;
  •  Be wary of black ice, which can be difficult to see but makes conditions slippery when pavement temperatures are below freezing;

Motorists should also include the following emergency items in their vehicles:

  •  Flashlight with extra batteries
  •  Charged cell phone and automobile charger
  •  Basic first-aid kit
  •  Blankets or sleeping bags
  •  Extra clothes, including rain gear, boots, mittens, and socks

For real-time traffic and road condition updates, Thruway travelers are encouraged to visit www.Thruway.ny.gov, sign up for TRANSAlert emails at http://www.thruway.ny.gov/tas/index.shtml, or follow @ThruwayTraffic on Twitter. Also for more information and to sign up for free alerts about hazardous travel conditions in your area, go to www.nyalert.gov For weather forecasts, visit National Weather Service – Albany at http://weather.gov/aly .

NYSDOT provides a travel advisory system that features real-time travel reports and can be accessed by phone at 511 or online at www.511ny.org. The Web site features a color-coded map indicating which state roads are snow covered, ice covered, wet, dry, or closed to help travelers determine if travel is advisable. The system provides real-time snow and ice conditions for interstates and other heavily traveled roads, as reported by snowplow operators.

11/18/13 4:00pm
11/18/2013 4:00 PM

KATHERINE SCHRODEDER PHOTO | Alan Martinez, third place winner in a “World’s Fastest Shucker” contest, shows off his work at Claudio’s Restaurant.

After the last tasting of wine was sipped and the final oyster was shucked, organizers of the first-ever Taste North Fork festival are hailing the event a success. So successful, in fact, the North Fork Promotion Council is already working toward repeating the event in six months.

On Monday, NFPC president Joan Bischoff said members voted unanimously to bring back the event sometime in March or April following the large spike in business the three-day Veterans Day festival brought to the North Fork.

“The enthusiasm of the North Fork is what is driving this,” Mr. Bischoff said. “We’re going to try to schedule it on a weekend where there is something already going on, like restaurant week. It will be a good way to start off the summer season.”

Taste North Fork was made possible through a portion of a $335,000 “I Love NY” grant, aiming to help promote agritourism on the East End. Since the East End Tourism Alliance, Long Island Wine Council and North Fork Promotion Council unveiled the plan in August the event has received an overwhelming response from local businesses and town officials, organizers said.

“Businesses had anywhere from 20 to 40 percent increases in traffic and sales,” said Brain DeLuca, of East End Tourism Alliance. “We had some vineyards with 60 to 80 percent increases in traffic and sales. Overall it was a tremendous success. The was a lot of collaboration between the businesses.”

Throughout the long weekend more than 50 local wineries, restaurants, hotels and shops offered a full range of activities celebrating local wines and foods across the region.

Participants had the option of hopping on a free shuttle bus provided by Hampton Jitney that ran in a loop between Riverhead and Greenport. There were also feeder buses from the Cross Sound Ferry and Long Island Rail Road. The free ridership was another first on the North Fork.

“We had a lot of ridership,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Over 1,000 people took the jitney. Hopefully this will demonstrate to the county and the state that need to start funding something similar in coming years.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that he was pleased with the turnout.

“We launched the ‘Taste NY’ campaign earlier this year to highlight the superior products that are grown and produced right here in New York and last weekend’s “Taste North Fork” event marked our latest effort,” he said. “The event was a great success in promoting the local food and beverage products to New Yorkers and visitors, and we will continue to push this ‘buy local’ movement all across the state to support our vibrant agricultural industry.”

cmurray@timesreview.com 

10/30/13 5:00pm
10/30/2013 5:00 PM
CYNDI MURRAY FILE PHOTO | Erosion has claimed much of the beach at Norman Klipp Park in Greenport.

CYNDI MURRAY FILE PHOTO | Erosion has claimed much of the beach at Norman Klipp Park in Greenport.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted a law last week aimed at protecting and preserving East End coastlines that are at significant risk to climate change and sea level rise.

Proposed by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the new law notes rising sea levels as one reason towns can purchase shorefront property using Community Preservation Fund dollars.

While towns could previously purchase undeveloped land on the shore, climate change could not specifically be one reason why towns were paying for them.

“What we wanted to do was to put in the statute that one of the factors towns can consider is the issue of climae change, and sea level rise,” said Thiele. “While there may be disagreement as to their cause, nobody can deny that [climate change] is happening.”

The law, signed last Wednesday, came just days before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which damaged shorelines along the North Fork.

Each of the five towns uses a Community Preservation Fund to preserve environmentally sensitive land for open space, farmland preservation, historic preservation and parks for recreational use, but existing law did not specifically include at-risk coastlines, he said.

The fund, approved by referendum of East End voters in 1998, applies a 2 percent tax on all real estate transfers to set aside funds for land preservation purchases.

According to Mr. Thiele, real estate transfer tax revenues for the first nine months of 2013 have raised $1.77 million for Riverhead Town, while Southold Town has taken in $2.98 million. Since the fund’s start, more than 10,000 acres of land have been preserved.

“In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, it was recognized that there was also a need to further ensure that we also protect lands that are at risk of coastal flooding and sea level rise,” Mr. Thiele said. “These sensitive lands are critical to the future of our local coastal communities.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, increases in heavier rainfall and projected sea level rise could lead to more frequent damaging floods – along with storm surges of greater intensity in the Northeast.

“It is fitting that we take this step to conserve our beautiful and pristine beaches that not only act as a buffer to protect our coastal communities but also represent an emblematic symbol of Long Island’s East End,” said Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who sponsored the state Senate bill.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town has been examining areas that may meet the new law’s criteria.

“If it’s undeveloped shoreline – our interests are already there,” Mr. Russell said. The town had been looking into acquiring funding thorough the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to purchase coastal farmland at a high risk of flooding. The new law gives the town another option to work with, he said.

“The land preservation committee will look at the new law and see how we can make it work for Southold,” he said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town has “attempted to buy wetlands in coastal areas since the inception of the fund, but now this gives us the absolute authority where as before it was more of a general authority as open space.

“It’s a good thing, unfortunately for the Town of Riverhead; we don’t have much CPF money left – but it’s a good tool to have for the future,” he said.

In the early 2000s, Riverhead Town leaders started borrowing against future CPF revenues to buy open land before an anticipated rise in real estate values. But when real estate market stalled, revenues to pay off the debt did not come in as expected, leaving an annual shortfall of nearly $4 million, according to a News-Review report.

Should the town find the appropriate funds, Mr. Walter said the coastal area off Creek Road in Wading River is an example of a space the town might be interested in.

“The houses along Creek Road are always at risk because it is a bit of barrier road that protects the wetlands,” Mr. Walter said.

Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said “the key word in this legislation is ‘undeveloped’ lands.”

“This is what the original act intended, so this particular bill makes clear that vulnerable coastal areas will be a priority for CPF finding in the years ahead,” Mr. Amper said. “Sea level rise will affect Long Island Sound and it will affect the Peconic bays.”

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said towns could gain waterfront access while protecting sensitive marshland that needs to be preserved – actions that many towns are already invested in.

“It’s not really a departure from what we’re doing now,” said Mr. Krupski. “The areas you’re talking about, they are areas already important to the program.”

Adding coastline into the mix with already sought-after farmland and open space means “each town really has to do their due diligence and prioritize,” Mr. Krupski said. “How do they want to spend their money?”

10/24/13 1:57pm
10/24/2013 1:57 PM
Calverton EPCAL sign

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

The state bill to create a plan to fast track development projects at Enterprise Park at Calverton is now law.

The bill, which Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has called “the single most important piece of economic development legislation for Long Island,” is seen as a key to the future redevelopment of the former Navy-owned property in Calverton, which was given to the town in 1998 for economic development to replace the jobs lost when the Grumman Corporation left the site in 1995.

Since that time, the town has only sold two pieces of the property it acquired, and much of the acreage remains undeveloped.

The fast track bill was signed into law Wednesday night, the last day Governor Andrew Cuomo had to act on it, according to Drew Biondo, a legislative aide to state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), the bill’s sponsor in the state Senate.

Fried Theile (I-Sag Harbor), who represents the South Fork, sponsored the Assembly bill.

Mr. Walter said Mr. Thiele worked tirelessly on getting the bill passed.

“Without him this would not have happened,” Mr. Walter said. “Assemblyman Theile had something to do with every single draft of this legislation and there were probably more than 50 drafts. The residents of the Town of Riverhead owe Fred Thiele  a great debt of gratitude.

“And this is a in district from which he can’t get one vote,” Mr. Walter continued. “It’s a true testament of not only working across party lines but across district lines to promote what is good for both the East End and New York State. It’s wonderful that the South Fork has him as a legislator.”

Mr. LaValle called EPCAL “the last major economic development site in Suffolk County. For the town of Riverhead it means tax relief and for all of the East End, it will spur economic development and create jobs.”

The bill was approved by both houses of the legislature in June and was delivered to the governor’s desk on Oct. 11. From there, he had 10 days to either approve it or veto it, excluding Sundays.

However, had he taken no action, the bill would have automatically become law after the 10 day period, which ended Wednesday, officials said.

The bill establishes the EPCAL Reuse and Revitalization Area, a 2,124-acre area for which Riverhead Town will develop an overall generic environmental impact study (GEIS) outlining what can and can’t be built there.

After the GEIS is complete and approved, any fully engineered development proposal for projects within the area covered by the study will be guaranteed approval within 90 days of the application’s filing. If an application isn’t approved in that time frame, it will receive a default approval.

The town must first complete that study before the fast track plan can take effect, but the study has already began and is expected to be done next year sometime, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

The study, done by VHB Engineering, will cost about $500,000, and includes zoning recommendations, a market study, an environment study and a 50-lot industrial subdivision map for the EPCAL property.

Once the subdivision is approved, town officials hope to be able to sell off smaller parcels of the land and begin to derive revenue off of it.

10/03/13 9:16am
10/03/2013 9:16 AM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Farm Stands like Hallocks Cider Mill in Laurel will soon be able to sell local wine.

Wine lovers will soon be able to pick up a bottle of local vino at their nearest farm stand.

Continuing his push to promote New York State vineyards Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed new legislation permitting the sale of wine at roadside farm markets.

“These new laws will build on our continuing efforts to promote New York’s wine industry across the state and beyond, boosting tourism, local economies and job growth,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

Mr. Cuomo signed bills last Friday allowing farm stands to sell local wines and creating several new wine trails in upstate New York. They go into effect March 31, 2014.

On the North Fork, which already boasts an established wine trail, the farm markets law allows for sale of wine that is manufactured and produced by up to two licensed farm wineries, special wineries or micro-wineries located within 20 miles of the roadside farm stands, according to the law.

While in 2009 the mere mention of allowing wine sales at supermarkets had liquor store owners furious and scared for their livelihoods, the new law is not drawing the same amount of criticism.

Jim Silver, general manager of Empire State Cellars in Riverhead, said he doesn’t think allowing farm stands to sell local wine would have a negative impact on his business.

“The seasonality of farm stands is so limited that I don’t think it will have an impact,” he said, adding that farm stands are restricted to carrying only two brands of wine and that climate control might cause a storage issue for farmers. “Do I think it’s a good a idea? Yes. Do I think it’s a great idea? No.”

Steve Bate, the Wine Council executive director, believes the law will have a positive impact on the local economy.

“I think it provides a terrific new opportunity for wineries and farm stands to work together to promote the sale of local products,” he said. “This is just the latest example that Governor Cuomo really understands and appreciates the importance of agriculture and agritourism to our state’s economy.”

Mr. Cuomo has spearheaded several initiatives to bolster the wine industry.

In July 2012, the governor signed legislation designed to support New York’s breweries and wineries, as well as increase demand for locally grown farm products and expand industry-related economic development and tourism.

The Empire state is home to nearly 500 wineries, breweries, distilleries and cider mills that account for more than $22 billion in annual total economic impact in the state and support tens of thousands of jobs statewide, the governor’s office said.

The state ranks third in the nation in wine and grape production, has the second-most distilleries and three of the top-producing 20 brewers in the nation, Mr. Cuomo said.

The 2013-14 state budget introduced several new initiatives to help improve the marketing of New York State-produced products, including a total of $7 million for Market New York and Taste NY to support a multifaceted regional marketing plan that will promote regional tourism and New York-produced goods and products.

cmurray@timesreview.com