11/04/12 3:54pm
11/04/2012 3:54 PM

JOHN DUNN FILE PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer announced Sunday federal aid is coming to local municipalities.

Local federal elected officials announced Sunday FEMA aid is now available to fund repairs for public infrastructures and facilities damaged this week by Hurricane Sandy.

According to a press released issued by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s office,  FEMA administrator Craig Fugate agreed to expand President Barack Obama’s major disaster declaration to include all categories of public assistance for the counties affected by the storm, including: roads, bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and equipment, utilities, parks, recreational facilities, beaches and more.

Initially, municipalities on Long Island and in New York City and the Hudson Valley were only eligible to receive federal aid for some public services like debris removal and emergency protective measures.

Residents in those areas have been eligible for individual assistance from FEMA.

Mr. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand applauded FEMA’s recent decision.

“It is critical that FEMA has heeded our call and expanded the major disaster declaration to include full public assistance for communities throughout storm-ravaged New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley,” Mr. Schumer said.

“Providing this full range of federal disaster assistance is essential for repairs to everything from sewages facilities, to parklands, to the hundreds of roads and bridges that were destroyed in the storm, and I am pleased that our communities can know that the federal government will be there to help as they continue their response and recovery efforts.”

Ms. Gillibrand agreed and described the damage she has seen as “devastating.”

“The federal government has a responsibility to stand with these families every step of the way to help them recover and rebuild better than ever before,” she said. “The Obama administration promised no red-tape, and this is another example of the president backing up that commitment.”


04/12/11 4:35pm
04/12/2011 4:35 PM

The nearly 1,000 job cuts projected for Brookhaven National Laboratory will be saved under the terms of a budget agreement reached in Congress last week, according to local officials.

A bill that passed through the House of Representatives last month would have cut $1.1 billion from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, a move federal officials warned would result in the loss of 930 jobs at BNL. But a compromise made in Congress last week restored all but $35 million back into that part of the budget, according to numbers released Tuesday by the offices of Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York).

“This was a fight about Long Island’s future and that future is brighter because we have preserved 1,000 local jobs and cutting edge research,” Mr. Bishop said in a statement.  “Saving BNL from the budget axe not only preserves 1,000 Long Island jobs, it helps ensure that America will continue to drive innovation and reap the economic benefits of advanced research.”

The estimated loss of jobs came from an impact analysis conducted by the lab at Mr. Bishop and Mr. Schumer’s request, following news of an estimated 30 percent cut to funding of federal science facilities proposed by House Republicans.

The analysis revealed the cuts could have forced the lab to, at least temporarily, close its two largest research facilities.  It also would have cut some funding to programs conducting research into alternative energy and life sciences, according to Mr. Schumer’s office.

“This is a huge victory for Long Island that preserves the job-creating, cutting-edge scientific work being done at Brookhaven National Lab,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “We can and should cut costs, but not at the expense of cutting jobs on Long Island or limiting our nation’s ability to out-innovate our competitors.”

Local and federal officials offered support for the lab soon after the possible cuts were announced. Mr. Bishop and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko held a rally near the lab last month and Mr. Bishop said he also helped supporters of the lab create a website that brought attention to possible cuts.

Mr. Bishop said he announced his support for the compromise, which will still feature a record $38 billion reduction in federal spending, only after verifying the restored funding to the Office of Science.

Lab officials said Tuesday that while they are still awaiting official word from Washington, they are pleased by the early reports.

“While we won’t know the final outcome until the budget is approved by Congress, signed by the President, and apportioned by the Department of Energy, we deeply appreciate Senator Schumer’s, Senator Gillibrand’s, and Congressman Bishop’s support for science and their willingness to protect the Lab and its programs,” said Doon Gibbs, Deputy Director for Science & Technology at BNL.


02/24/11 7:00am
02/24/2011 7:00 AM

JOHN DUNN PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer at a news conference in Port Washington Feb. 18, announcing the Senate had passed an FAA Reauthorization Bill that ordered the FAA to impose mandatory rules to limit helicopter noise.

Championing Long Islanders who say that noise from passing helicopters is intolerable, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is trying to force the Federal Aviation Administration to implement rules to do something about it.

Sen. Schumer, declaring a “major breakthrough” in the effort to see something done by the FAA, said this week he had sponsored an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill that gives the agency a 12-month deadline to adopt regulations to reduce the amount of helicopter noise Long Islanders have to endure.

The senator’s amendment does not push for any specific regulations, including a rule proposed by the FAA at his urging last May that  would make mandatory a currently voluntary North Shore helicopter pathway a mile offshore over Long Island sound from Oyster Bay to Orient Point. The proposal was opposed not only by helicopter operators but North Shore residents.

The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 17. The full House has yet to consider its version, which does not include a similar amendment. A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he would try to add identical language to the House bill, which probably will not come up for a vote for several months.

If the Republican leadership does not allow for amendments, Mr. Bishop’s spokesman said, the Schumer provision would still be on the table when a House and Senate conference committee negotiates a final version to be submitted to the president for his signature.

In addition to setting a deadline, the Schumer amendment “provides explicit legal authority for the FAA to implement helicopter flight regulations, shielding the agency from potential litigation,” according to Sen. Schumer’s office.

Published last May, the FAA’s proposed rule making the North Shore route mandatory remains “under review,” according to an FAA spokesperson. The spokesperson would not say why or comment on any legislation pending in Congress. A comment period on the proposal ended last summer. Sen. Schumer himself wrote in opposition to the proposal after it became clear many Long Islanders did not want all helicopter traffic concentrated on one route.

Helicopter and aviation industry organizations also have opposed the rule, saying it would create a collision hazard by concentrating traffic, and that it would raise costs by requiring more fuel as well as GPS equipment for precise for navigation.

Some critics questioned the FAA’s authority to mandate fixed routes and minimum altitudes for helicopters operating under “visual flight rules,” which normally allow helicopter pilots wide discretion in dealing with navigation, weather and other concerns.

Sen. Schumer said his amendment to the FAA bill “puts all ambiguity aside and for the first time gives the FAA unquestionable authority to put helicopter regulations in effect while providing a hard and fast deadline to start providing some relief from ear-shattering helicopter noise.”

The current voluntary North Shore route puts traffic at least a mile offshore, and at least 2,500 feet high, between Nassau County and Orient Point. However, pilots may turn inland when they are approaching their destinations — either Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, a helipad on Dune Road in Southampton or East Hampton Airport — where most helicopters bound for the East End are headed.

That means North Fork, Shelter Island and some South Fork residents are still exposed to noise from helicopters passing overhead.

East Hampton town and Suffolk County officials have established voluntary East End arrival and departure routes aimed at reducing helicopter noise from those overflights. They call on pilots heading east to cross the North Shore at the mostly undeveloped former Grumman property in Calverton and avoid the most populated areas as they fly to Gabreski Airport. Pilots heading further east are asked to follow Sunrise Highway to Shinnecock Canal then continue offshore, over Peconic Bay, through the South Ferry channel between Shelter Island and the South Fork before turning south and inland near Sag Harbor toward East Hampton Airport.

Many pilots heading to East Hampton ignore the voluntary route that calls for a turn inland at Calverton. They continue east off the North Shore and turn inland over the North Fork because a it’s shorter route.

02/21/11 9:39pm
02/21/2011 9:39 PM

Employing language much favored by political figures, Senator Chuck Schumer has announced that the bill recently passed by the Senate funding the Federal Aviation Administration represents a “major breakthrough” in the effort to control the noise made by helicopters crossing the North Fork on the way to and from East Hampton and Southampton. The senator added an amendment ordering the FAA to come up with rules that address the noise problem within 12 months. The extremely noisy aircraft now cross over the North Fork wherever a pilot sees fit. A designated flight path that keeps the copters out over the Sound until they reach Plum Gut is voluntarily and hardly, if ever, used.

A major breakthrough? Not quite, since the House of Representatives has yet to take up that authorization bill. How the measure might fare there is anyone’s guess, but there’s reason for concern given the new GOP majority’s strong pro-business tilt. Within the past week the North Fork suffered a significant setback in the House when that chamber agreed to maintain funding for a new animal disease research center in Kansas — in the heart of cattle country, of all places — to replace the Plum Island lab.
Then there’s the East Hampton town councilman’s admission that a number of his constituents have attorneys lined up to fight any flight path switch that would put the helicopters over their homes.

Something tells us we’re in for a long, bumpy flight.

02/01/11 6:32pm
02/01/2011 6:32 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announces the town's plans to launch a two-year study of the Enterprise Park at Calverton property, with the aim of having it become a bustling industrial zone.

Riverhead officials hope to change the fortunes of the town’s languishing Enterprise Park at Calverton by defining eight distinct planning tasks for determining how to market the property effectively, Supervisor Sean Walter announced at a much-anticipated press conference last Thursday.

The cost of each task will be capped, he said, with the absolute maximum the town would pay for the “comprehensive re-use initiative” totaling $448,000.

Mr. Walter and other town, state and county officials who attended the press event outside Town Hall agreed the price would be worth it. They say the town’s failure to do the right kinds of planning in the past is one reason the park — commonly referred to as EPCAL — has failed to generate many jobs or much tax revenue.

The Town Board is expected to hire the land planning firm Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) to update several key EPCAL studies. The move was approved by a 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.


Councilman John Dunleavy voted against the measure, insisting that similar studies have already been conducting. He also said that, with the economy down, it was a bad time to spend taxpayer money.

The goal is to have all zoning and development guidelines in place so developers will know what they can and cannot build at the EPCAL site, which was transferred from the U.S. Navy to Riverhead Town in the mid-1990s for $1. The federal government said at the time that the land should be used for economic development to replace jobs that were lost when Grumman stopped making naval aircraft there.

Mr. Walter envisions a scenario in which projects that meet all the criteria can be approved within 75 days.

Community Development Agency funds will pay for the studies, he said, including revenue the town has received from land sales or contracts for land sales at EPCAL.

The eight tasks to be performed by VHB include assembling and evaluating existing data (the cost capped at $29,000); examining existing case studies elsewhere where redevelopment has worked (capped at $9,000); a marketing analysis (to be subcontracted by VHB, capped at $20,000); modification of the property’s zoning and reuse plan (capped at $70,000); a generic environmental impact study, to include studies of wildlife, among other things (capped at $160,000); and a traffic impact study (capped at $65,000).

The town probably will not attempt to market the property again until all studies are done and the proposed uses for the land are known, Mr. Walter said, although he added that the town doesn’t really market it now, and doesn’t even have a website for EPCAL.

“EPCAL is no longer going to be the place where bad ideas come to rest,” Mr. Walter said.

In the past, the town has entertained proposals at EPCAL calling for an indoor ski mountain, polo fields, carnivals and movie studios — “but nothing has ever come to fruition,” he continued. “Everybody with a dollar and a dream comes to EPCAL.”

The town has so far seen about $25 million in revenue from EPCAL but has never invested more than $50,000 in promoting commercial development of the site. It has spent nearly $1 million on new ballfields, which have yet to open, Mr. Walter said.

Because the town has not subdivided the property, it cannot legally sell lots at EPCAL, he said. Likewise, the town has never done a comprehensive wildlife study of the 2,900-acre property, something the state Department of Environmental Conservation has required, the supervisor said. The state DEC and Riverhead Town have butted heads for years about jurisdiction over proposed development at the Calverton site.

The 1,000 acres of land zoned for recreational uses at EPCAL also hasn’t been good for commercial development either, the supervisor said.

“We have been advocating this approach for several years,” said Peter Scully, regional director of the state DEC, who attended the press conference.
Mr. Scully said he had written former supervisor Phil Cardinale in 2005 and had advocated the more inclusive planning approach then.

“Business owners need to know that they can build what they need to build and can get a permit in a defined set of time,” Mr. Walter said. “I spent 12 months trying to get a defense contractor to come to EPCAL, but they left because they needed to have a shovel in the ground within six months.”

Because VHB will provide what are considered professional services, the job is not subject to competitive bidding. VHB has said the studies will take about two years to complete.

“This is one of the most important and responsible decisions ever made in the history of EPCAL,” Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen said, adding that the cost of the project will be small compared to the benefit of developing the property properly.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that in two years, when the studies are done, the town will be in a position to market EPCAL again.

“Right now, the economy is sluggish,” she said, explaining that the down real estate market is not the time to undergo such a lengthy process.

At the press conference, Mr. Walter briefly discussed his plan to establish a regulatory agency at EPCAL comprising town, state and county officials.

Although he had referred to it in the past as an “authority,” he said he did not want to cede control to the state. Instead, he envisioned an agency where all the levels of government that have regulatory authority would be represented. He added that the town should have a majority vote on such a board.

The supervisor briefly discussed his hope that EPCAL could play a role in the “regional innovation cluster” uniting Brookhaven National Lab, Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Lab to create Long Island jobs.

“There is a reason why we are the worst state in the union to do business in,” said freshman state Assemblyman Dan LoSquadro (R-Shoreham). “We have created an unbelievably highly politicized regulatory environment in which business cannot operate. They are stuck in a quagmire of countless levels of government holding them up for time immemorial.”

He said the state needs to partner with towns on projects like EPCAL in order to make the state competitive again.