05/18/15 2:30pm
05/18/2015 2:30 PM
A view of Flanders Bay Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Rachel Young)

A view of Flanders Bay Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Update Monday 2:30 p.m.: A state pathology lab investigating the die-off of dozens of turtles in Peconic Bay has found marine biotoxins are likely the cause.

Though findings from a necropsy were “nonspecific” — meaning the turtle’s death could not be directly cited to the presence of the red tide byproduct saxitoxin — testing on the contents of the turtle’s intestines was inconclusive but revealed that saxitoxin may have been present, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

“Circumstantial evidence is consistent with the terrapins being poisoned with saxitoxin,” said state spokesperson Lori Severino. “If additional terrapin carcasses are found, [the] DEC will test them as well in an effort to confirm the cause of deaths in this terrapin die-off.”

Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons executive director Karen Testa had told the News-Review the group was hoping the turtles had been killed because of the harsh winter and not the toxin. She said the poisoned turtles may have been just coming out of hibernation when they ate the toxic shellfish.

“What that does is it paralyzes them and they would just drown. It’s a horrible death, “she said. “They get their first meal and its poison. It’s horrible.”

Original story: Flanders Bay and western Shinnecock Bay have been added to the list of local waterbodies where the harvesting of shellfish is temporarily prohibited due to unusually high toxin levels, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation announced Saturday.

Three area creeks were also shut down by the state in the last two weeks.  (more…)

03/07/15 8:00am
03/07/2015 8:00 AM
A sandbar juts into Peconic Bay at the end of Pine Neck Road in Southold. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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

Compared to people living in western Long Island, those on the East End are in a better position to recognize the connection between the environment and the economy. The region also has a proven track record when it comes to protecting a way of life. Case in point: the Community Preservation Fund, which uses a tax on local real estate transactions to preserve farmland and open space.  (more…)

11/17/14 10:00am
11/17/2014 10:00 AM
This shot was found shot with an arrow in July 2011 in Riverhead. It was treated and released back into the wild that September.

This swan was found shot with an arrow in Riverhead in July 2011. It was treated and released back into the wild that September. The person who shot it was never found.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has launched a new hotline for the public to report wildlife and environmental crimes.

The toll-free number is 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267). The 24-hour hotline connects callers to a DEC police dispatcher, according to a press release.

(more…)

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