10/22/14 8:00am
10/22/2014 8:00 AM
A sandbar at the end of Pine Neck Road in Southold. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A sandbar at the end of Pine Neck Road in Southold. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

It’s no Mega Millions, but 19 Suffolk County homeowners will soon hit the lottery in a county drawing to test new wastewater treatment systems.

Suffolk County officials are seeking homeowners willing to offer their properties as testing sites for advanced wastewater treatment systems, in hopes of finding a system suitable for use in individual homes.  (more…)

09/19/14 1:41pm
09/19/2014 1:41 PM
Howard Meinke of Laurel, shown in a headshot that appeared with his guest columns in The Suffolk Times, died Thursday night.

Howard Meinke of Laurel, shown in a headshot that appeared with his occasional guest columns in The Suffolk Times and News-Review, died Thursday night.

The North Fork is a better place today thanks to the work of Howard Meinke, fellow environmental advocates and colleagues say.

He was a tenacious champion for the environment and for the quality of life issues affecting his neighbors. He always educated himself on the problems the North Fork faced before backing a solution.

Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said the North Fork might have become developed like Brookhaven Town had Mr. Meinke not been around.

“The problem with Brookhaven was that they didn’t have Howard Meinke,” Mr. Amper said. ”I don’t believe [the North Fork] would be the wonderful place that it is without him. He is the model, the consummate community advocate and I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.” (more…)

03/17/14 12:00pm
03/17/2014 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

Saying a lawsuit against the Suffolk County isn’t quite enough, environmentalists have taken to parking lots from Southold to Huntington to get a referendum on this fall’s ballot to halt a county effort to use $33 million in reserved Drinking Water Protection funds.

Dollars are raised for the Drinking Water Protection Fund through a 1/4 percent sales tax, and several dedicated programs exist within the fund. One of those, the sewer stabilization fund is meant to offset large spikes in sewer rates for residents, and the last fall the county decided to budget $32.8 million from that fund to help balance the 2014 spending plan.

While the Pine Barrens Society of Long Island, along with the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, filed suit last week against the decision, Group for the East End has joined the Pine Barrens Society in gathering 10,000 signatures before the end of April. The hope is to get a measure to overturn the decision to use the funds this year.

“We’ve been arguing against it pretty vociferously,” said Bob DeLuca, president of GFEE. “But you hit that point when you realize nobody’s listening.”

Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030.

The PBS sued Suffolk after it decided in 2011 to use close to $20 million to balance its budget previously. That litigation is still making its way through the justice system, though is expected to be heard later this year.

In order to qualify to get on the ballot, according to PBS president Dick Amper, the groups have to gather 2.5 percent of the population in each town who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

That equates to about 10,500 signatures, or a town-by-town breakdown as follows:

  • Shelter Island: 39
  • Southold: 237
  • Riverhead: 268
  • East Hampton: 205
  • Southampton: 475
  • Brookhaven: 3,137
  • Smithtown: 974
  • Huntington: 1,623
  • Islip: 1,917
  • Babylon: 1,623

Mr. Amper said on Monday morning that he’s been “amazed at the number of people who know about” the issue as PBS and GFEE petitioners have approached citizens in public places such as parking lots at supermarkets or post offices.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s original budget last year had not called for dipping into the sewer stabilization fund at all, but rather closing the budget gap in the $2.7 billion budget through borrowing from the New York State Dormitory Authority, a path that would have required legislation approved at the state level. A report from the County’s Budget Review Office identified that plan as a risk because of the necessary legislation.

Justin Meyers, communications director for Mr. Bellone, said last week that the county exec plans on replenishing the fund.

“The fact of the matter is that there are two overarching concerns,” he said. “First, if the money is being taken and used for something other than drinking water, it must be repaid. The county executive completely supports that.”

He added that also, the county “needs to engage the public and voters on the issue if it moves forward.”

Mr. Meyers added that once the county decides to spend the money from the sewer stabilization fund, the county legislature would have to pass a measure approving the spending. Within the language of that approval would be a repayment structure outlining when the county would pay the fund back.

Mr. Amper said a ballot referendum would be the only way to ensure that the funds are paid back, noting that a similar use of Drinking Water Protection Program money in 2011 did not require county legislation.

“We want to guarantee” that the money is paid back, he said. “And we’re going to do that through courts, or the court of public opinion.”

The plan laid out by the county last fall intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund in 2017, though the county would still have to formally adopt a repayment schedule. Last fall, the balance in the sewer stabilization fund hovered around $140 million, leaving over $100 million left, should the $33 million be allocated this year.

However Mr. DeLuca noted that part of the Drinking Water Protection Fund already reserves a portion of revenues raised for balancing the budget. According to the county charter, about 32 percent of the proceeds raised by the tax go toward reducing county property taxes.

“You got money for the purpose of reducing taxes,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Stay away from the other part.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

01/23/14 11:00am
01/23/2014 11:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

Environmentalists rallied in Albany last week to support a bill that would establish and implement a water quality protection plan aimed at reducing nitrogen levels in ground and surface waters across Long Island.

One major component of the legislation would require all septic systems near coastlines or public water sources to be replaced by more high-tech nitrogen-reducing systems. But that part of the bill is generating skepticism tied to a lack of tested technology and to the potential costs for governments and property owners alike.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said the legislation, if enacted, could “make the largest contribution to Long Island’s environment of any piece of legislation ever written.”

But it’s still early in the process.

State lawmakers refer to the measure, which is still in committee, as a “study bill,” calling it simply a starting point for discussion.

Read the bill here

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D- Lindenhurst) proposed the legislation in August, with state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) proposing a matching bill in the Senate soon after. They caution that the bill needs more work, but both hope to get it passed during this legislative session and said a final draft is expected in April.

The bill aims to curb the amount of nitrogen — which comes from human and animal waste, fertilizers and other sources — reaching area bays and Long Island Sound, feeding algal booms that deprive waters of their oxygen.

It also calls for creation of a Long Island Water Quality Commission that would establish and then oversee implementation of an island-wide water protection plan.

As proposed, the 11-member commission would include two representatives from the governor’s office, one representative each from the Senate and the Assembly, both county executives, one representative from each county legislature and a single member representing all Long Island town and village governments.

It would also include a technical advisory member to represent county health and planning departments and a citizen’s advisory representative such as an environmental or industry advocate. With a protection plan in place, local governments would have to adopt and amend land use, zoning and engineering specifications to adhere to the plan, according to the bill.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), whose district spans the North Fork, and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter each flagged that component of the proposal as something that wrests zoning control from local officials.

They also said such a commission would direct too much power away from elected leaders.

“It would kind of give the state zoning authority,” Mr. Krupski said. “You need to have elected officials on [the commission] really, being that they are the ones on the front lines making decisions based on someone having elected them to that positions.”

“What they are asking us to do is abdicate our zoning authority, give 100 percent of our zoning authority to what is mostly an unelected group of individuals,” Mr. Walter said. “I could not support the legislation as it is written.”

Mr. Walter said while he is in favor of a plan to improve water quality, he believes affected towns should be broadly represented. That’s the case with the five-member Central Pine Barrens Commission, which includes the supervisors of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton, as well as the county executive.

The water protection plan would affect too many people on Long Island and they need proper representation, he said.

Mr. LaValle, who wrote and sponsored the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, said state officials are taking those concerns into consideration and plan to invite local government officials to the table to voice their concerns.

“My approach is to be inclusive and to make sure that people’s points of view are represented,” Mr. LaValle said. “Everyone can’t get everything they want, but it should represent the stakeholders’ major concerns.”

As for curbing nitrogen flow into water, the bill calls for the removal of existing commercial and residential septic systems, which would be replaced by nitrogen-reducing systems. The mandate would apply to all such “on-site” septic systems within 1,000 feet of a coastline or public supply well.

“We have 17 [public] supply wells in Riverhead and we’re surrounded by water,” Mr. Walter said, “Thousands of homeowners could be impacted.”

Currently, conventional underground on-site septic systems release nitrates into groundwater at a rate of 35 to 50 milligrams per liter, said Bob DeLuca of Group for the East End, an environmental advocacy group working with lawmakers on the bill. The county health department’s standard for drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter and, according to Christopher Gobler, marine researcher for Stony Brook University, aquatic life is affected by levels of 0.5 milligrams per liter or higher.

Any new nitrogen-reducing system would have to reduce that output by half, Mr. DeLuca said, keeping in line with the National Sanitary Foundation’s standard, which “speaks to a 50 percent reduction.” The nonprofit foundation develops public health standards that help protect the world’s water; and certifies that emerging de-nitrifying systems and technology meet those specific standards, according to its website.

“It is not a bill that says everybody in Suffolk County has to rip up their backyards and put in a system next week,” said Mr. DeLuca. “There are places where they will need advanced nitrogen treatment and where they will not.”

Mr. DeLuca, Mr. Amper and other environmentalists traveled to Albany last Tuesday hoping to gain support for the bill — which the two state lawmakers stressed could look very different in its final draft, given all the concerns.

Engineering experts argue that the proposed legislation is not in line with available sewage treatment technology, as no de-nitrification system is currently approved by the Suffolk County health department for use on a consumer level.

“There’s no technology to do what they are asking for,” said professional engineer Joseph Fischetti of Southold. “The problem all comes down to individual sub-surface sanitation and there is nothing out here that takes nitrogen out of individual sub-surface sewer systems. So we’re not there yet.”

Mr. DeLuca said health department engineers are currently testing available technology and are in the process of studying at least three systems.

Mr. Fischetti also spoke to the cost of such systems, which he said can range from $10,000 to $30,000 and higher. Such systems, he said, would require long-term maintenance, some seasonally, which would add to those costs.

“This a very complicated problem and they’re going to put legislation out there that’s going to be costing people tens of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Fischetti said. “It affects almost everybody; look at a map and draw a line 1,000 feet from the coast. You have to start talking about how much this is going to cost.”

Mr. Sweeney said the protection plan would incorporate identifiable means of paying for all the septic system upgrades, without putting all of the cost on ratepayers or property owners.

“We recognize it simply isn’t realistic to turn to homeowners and say, ‘This is all your problem and now you have to fix it at your expense,’ I don’t think that could happen, much less that it would happen,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Mr. Krupski, a former member of Southold Town’s Board of Trustees, which is tasked with protecting the town’s water sources, applauded the effort to move forward on improving water quality.

But, he added, the bill as proposed seemed to outline quite an expensive endeavor for no guaranteed payoff.

“Who is going to do the work? And who going to pay for it?” Mr. Krupski asked, adding that nitrogen is not the only factor in water degradation. “Look at everything that goes down the drain. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket and then say nitrogen was just one player with everything going into groundwater.”

“Everybody is interested in how this affects them, that’s natural,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We’re having those discussions and we could end up, who knows, in a very different place down the road from where we are right now on this issue.

“The main point was to get a discussion going and figure out what can reasonably be done,” he said, “and what we need to do to address the issue.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

12/05/13 8:00am
12/05/2013 8:00 AM

Property owners across the North Fork and beyond now have easy access to information concerning contaminated areas they may – or may not – have known existed in their neighborhoods.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released information about 1,950 different locations across the state that have been investigated for possible environmental contamination, according to DEC officials.

Prior to the release, only two locations in Southold Town and the Riverhead area had been made public on the DEC’s website, the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton (more commonly known as EPCAL) and the Mattituck Airbase, said DEC spokesman Aphrodite Montalvo.

Though nine other locations have been added to the website, none of those locations have been newly discovered as contaminated sites, she said.

The information can be accessed on the DEC’s website along with about 2,500 sites that had already been made public and listed online, good for 4,450 total sites.

The newly added sites were mostly unknown to the public until now, local environmentalists said.

Jenn Hartnagel, a senior environmental advocate for the nonprofit Group for the East End, said she had been calling on the state agency “for some time” to release information about sites it has been investigating, in the interest of “transparency.”

“The earlier we know that their might be a problem, the more capable we are with dealing with them and making informed decisions,” she said.

Making the information readily accessible to the public gives people and local governments the opportunity to better understand these locations, and the extent of potentially hazardous conditions associated with groundwater and soil contamination, she said.

Prior to the release, information about these sites was only available by request, largely because the information is considered to be preliminary, incomplete, or not verified, Ms. Montalvo cautioned.

“Information about these sites can easily be misunderstood,” she said. “Their mere existence may unnecessarily raise concern about human exposures or environmental impacts before the sites are better characterized. Due to the nature of this information, significant conclusions or decisions should not be based solely upon the released summaries.”

The DEC released information about the sites in response to an increasing number of requests for property information, often associated with buying and selling property, according to an agency release announcing the measure. Below is information on sites, as provided online. The number matches the map above.

1) Calverton NWIRP 02 (EPCAL)

Grumman Boulevard, Calverton

As many as 230 gallons of fuel are recorded to have been spilled in the area. Groundwater contaminants found included fuel-type and chlorinated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), believed to be from unreported spills of solvents used to clean the aircraft engines and fuel systems. Potable water that is contaminated above drinking water standards is currently being treated.

2) Riverhead Landfill

Youngs Avenue, Riverhead

This facility accepted municipal and industrial wastes, and construction and demolition debris. In 1980, spent industrial solvents of unknown composition were disposed at an on-site brush dump. The results of the most recent sampling, done in June of 1992, indicate that no substance of concern was found to be migrating from the landfill.

3) Riverhead Hortonsphere Site

West Main Street, Riverhead

Manufactured gas and stored natural gas. Began operations sometime prior to 1944 and was dismantled and removed in 1998. The site has been undeveloped since.

4) L.I. Horticultural Research Lab

3059 Sound Avenue, Riverhead

Application tanks containing pesticides were periodically washed and cleaned with rinse waters discharged into two leaching structures located on-site, which led to the contamination of subsurface soil.

A well survey was conducted in the area and no site-related contamination has been detected in the private wells. Contaminated surface soils were excavated and the remaining deep soils will be covered with an impervious liner to minimize further groundwater contamination.

5) Altaire Pharmaceuticals Inc.

311 West Lane, Aquebogue

This facility is being tracked because it once managed a type of hazardous waste.

It has not been determined whether any environmental releases have caused concern at this facility. As information for this site becomes available, it will be reviewed by the NYSDOH to determine if site contamination presents public health exposure concerns.

6) Graphics of Peconic Inc.

300 Pleasure Drive, Flanders

This facility is being tracked because it once managed a type of hazardous waste.

It has not been determined whether any environmental releases of concern have occurred at this facility. As information for this site becomes available, it will be reviewed by the NYSDOH to determine if site contamination presents public health exposure concerns.

7) Mattituck Airbase

Airway Drive (off New Suffolk Ave), Mattituck

Solvent rinses and wastewater from the facility were discharged to leaching pools until the pools were closed in 1979. Analyses of samples from the pools indicated elevated levels of copper, iron, nickel, zinc, lead, and cadmium. Contaminated soils were excavated and disposed of in 1997.

8) Southold Landfill

Cox Lane, north of Route 48, Cutchogue

This facility accepted municipal and domestic wastes, demolition, and landscaping debris, and cesspool and septic tank wastes from 1951 to Oct. 1993.

Based on the information contained in the reports, the wastes disposed at this site are not hazardous.

9) Cutchogue Freone Plume

Harbor Land and Oak Street, Cutchogue

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has discovered VOCs in private homeowner wells in the area. A later investigation found no sources of VOCs breaching groundwater standards and it was further determined that there is no longer a threat in this area.

10) Southold Acetylene Gas Production

370 Hobart Road, Southold

The acetylene manufacturing facility, which was operated by the Southold Lighting Company from 1906 to 1921, produced acetylene gas for the surrounding community. A number of organic and inorganic compounds are present at the site in surface soil.

11) Mitchell Property

115 Front Street, Greenport

Fourteen underground storage tanks containing gasoline, diesel fuel, fuel oil or waste oils had leaked, impacting soils in the vicinity of the tanks. Soils were later excavated and disposed of off-site. The site has since been remediated.

08/19/13 1:30pm
08/19/2013 1:30 PM
Times/Review Newsgroup hosts legislative debate

GIANNA VOLPE FILE PHOTO | Martha Clara Vineyards is on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

Eight North Fork wineries can now add a L.I. Sustainable Wine logo to their 2012 vintages.

On Friday, environmental advocacy organization Group for the East End officially endorsed the work of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW), a not-for-profit organization that provides education and certification for Long Island vineyards.

“We applaud the efforts of LISW in becoming the first vineyards in the eastern U.S. to earn certified sustainable status,” said Aaron Virgin, vice president of Group for the East End. “It couldn’t come at a better time as the Long Island wine industry celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

“This is the right direction the wine industry should be headed in.”

There are currently 10 “certified sustainable” vineyards on Long Island, eight of which are on the North Fork: Bedell Cellars, Harbes Family Vineyard, Martha Clara Vineyards, One Woman Wines & Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Roanoke Vineyards, Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard and Shinn Estate Vineyards. On the South Fork, Wolffer Estate Vineyard and Channing Daughters Winery earned the distinction.

Six North Fork vineyards that joined the LISW in 2013 and are working toward sustainability certification include Kontokosta Winery, Lieb Cellars, Mattebella Vineyards, Mudd Vineyards, Sparkling Pointe and Surrey Lane Vineyard.

LISW’s sustainability certification process is monitored by Allan Connell, former district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Mr. Connell oversees a checklist of nearly 200 sustainable grape growing practices.

According to LISW’s website, sustainable viticulture practices include science-based nutrition management to promote vine health and most importantly limit or prevent nitrate leaching into groundwater, how fertilizers are stored, and vine size measurements to help adjust and limit nitrogen use.

“The announcement of our first certified sustainable vineyards strengthens the ecological leadership and social responsibility of the Long Island wine region,” said Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. “The effort of creating meaningful, rigorous sustainable farming standards for grape growers proves that Long Island wineries are serious about making world-class wines that are ecologically sensitive.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

08/03/13 2:30pm
08/03/2013 2:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Baiting Hollow farmer Jeff Rottkamp turning over one of his fields earlier this year for the planting of early sweet corn.

Growing sweet corn on the North Fork is an art form. It takes time, attention and plenty of fertilizer to ensure crops have enough nutrients to thrive.

The results are delicious, but the process can cause unintended harm to the environment, namely pollution from nitrogen that seeps into ground and surface water and feeds damaging algal blooms.

In an effort to achieve a successful harvest while protecting the environment, Suffolk County farmers are participating for the second year in a conservation project this summer to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers on sweet corn and potato crops. The technology, called controlled-release fertilizer, is designed to break down gradually according to the plant’s need for nutrients. The product would replace conventional fertilizers that can dissolve during heavy rains and enter local water systems.

Cornell Cooperative Extension and American Farmland Trust are spearheading the water-quality improvement project. CCE is working directly with 35 farmers to calibrate equipment to apply fertilizers at the correct rate. To test the product’s efficiency, samples will be taken from corn and potato crops produced with traditional fertilizer and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer to determine if both crops are receiving adequate nitrogen, according to AFT.

“Long Island farmers are well aware of concerns about drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary,” said David Haight, New York director of AFT. “Our project offers practical ways for farmers to sustain crop yields while reducing nitrogen entering the water.”

Last year’s program had 10 participating farmers, who were able to cut their fertilizer use by an average of 20 percent while sustaining farm productivity, according to AFT.

Marty Sidor, owner of North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue, said the product fits well in his planting and fertilizing plan.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Mr. Sidor said. “I have seen crops that store better and I have not seen one deficiency in the field through all this time.”

Fourth-generation farmer Phil Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead, is having similar success with the conservation methods.

“We practice very intensive agriculture,” he said. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.”

To regenerate the soils, Mr. Schmitt employs an integrated pest management approach to reduce his use of pesticides and spreads compost to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. As a part of this initiative, Mr. Schmitt is using controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn.

He made the switch, he said, “to do the right thing.”

To encourage participation, the program provides risk protection for farmers interested in reducing dependence on traditional fertilizers, but concerned about possible yield losses. The farmland trust and AgFlex, a private company that manage the risks farmers face when adopting conservation practices, introduced the protection policy to 10 Suffolk sweet corn growers in 2012. It pays farmers cash if a new conservation practice, such as switching to a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, reduces yields — and therefore income.

Becky Wiseman, CCE’s agricultural environmental stewardship coordinator who works with farmers on the program, said it addresses water contamination, one of the toughest issues local farmers have ever faced. The region’s aquifers, the sole source of drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, suffer from heightened levels of nitrogen, according to the farm trust.

Suffolk County long ago recognized that safeguarding agriculture involves safeguarding agricultural lands. Suffolk launched the country’s first farmland preservation program in the 1970s. Before that, aggressive real estate development reduced land in active farming from 100,000 acres during the mid-1900s to the current 34,000 acres. Without the action, Long Island would have lost nearly all of its farms, Mr. Haight said.

Today, agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Suffolk County ranks first in New York in annual farm sales, with more than $300 million in farm products sold in 2010, according to the trust.

“We hope Suffolk County will once again be a national leader by demonstrating that it’s possible to work with farmers to protect water quality while keeping farms economically viable,” Mr. Haight said.

cmurray@timesreview.com