04/28/11 5:51am
04/28/2011 5:51 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The image on the kiosk at Hallockville Museum Farm in Northville looking at it you can sight through the window and line the nuclear power plants with the existing wooded horizon.

If it weren’t for the tenacity and courage of a small band of North Fork farmers, some of whom have been working the land here for generations, all of us — on both forks — would be living in the shadow of nuclear plants with the same design as the destroyed plants that are devastating Japan.

Through tedious and expensive litigation, the Long Island Farm Bureau, together with several East End towns and the League of Women Voters, revealed dangerous fictions that were being peddled by the nuclear industry to sell their magic elixir here. But our East End common sense cut through the deception and we exposed what will go down in history as a shameful corporate fraud.

It was the winter of 1974 when three young farmers visited me in my law office above an appliance store in downtown Riverhead. They were worried about Long Island Lighting Company plans to build two nuclear reactors in Northville. The trio, Bill Nohejl, Robbie Hartmann, and Cliff Foster, officers of the Long Island Farm Bureau, had a budget of a few thousand dollars and wanted to retain me to represent them in upcoming state hearings on the transmission lines that would divide farms on Long Island’s most fertile and scenic agricultural corridor.

Together we began the fight that would ultimately bring nuclear power to an end on Long Island.  What we learned about the nuclear industry during that time would greatly alarm us. And because of the recent tragedy in Japan, we know now that little has changed.

In a nutshell, nuclear power is a dirty, dangerous, and expensive form of electrical energy. All nuclear power does is boil water to make steam to turn electric turbines that are a century old in design. Nuclear fission doesn’t magically create electricity; the turbines do that job, just as they do in the old coal-fired plants. As a result of the disaster in Japan, the entire world now sees the danger of this water-boiling technology. Nuclear power should be off the table as a viable energy source.

There is one place in America where the nuclear option is off the table, and that is eastern Long Island. Trust me.

Here’s how it happened:

After 80 full days of hearings and the testimony of dozens of expert economic, scientific, and engineering consultants hired by the Farm Bureau, we defeated LILCO’s plans to build a “Nuclear Power Park” of 19 — yes, 19 — nuclear plants around the East End from Wading River east to Orient on the North Fork, and then from Westhampton east to Montauk on the South Fork. The first two in the series were to be built along the coastline in Northville, which LILCO and the state referred to as Jamesport.
Through cross examination in the Jamesport Nuclear Regulatory Proceedings, the Farm Bureau secured the 4-inch-thick Nuclear Power Park Report, which included site plans and surveys of the future locations of these nuclear reactors. LILCO intended to supply the entire East Coast with electricity using the essential cooling waters of the Atlantic Ocean, so readily accessible on the relatively unpopulated East End.

The farmers were not persuaded by the editorial writers of Newsday and The New York Times, who regularly argued that the Farm Bureau and others raising questions about the safety and false economics of the nuclear industry were misguided and misinformed.

With a straight face, LILCO’s scientists testified in Riverhead that there would never be an accident that would exceed the radiation safety limits in the regulations. On cross-examination, they were forced to admit that during an accident maximum radiation limits are suspended. In other words, during an accident, an unlimited amount of radiation could spew from a plant but the utility could accurately assure the public (as they are doing now in Japan) the emissions do not exceed safety limits.

The scientists testified that no released radiation would be immediately harmful to the residents living in the vicinity of a nuclear plant. On cross-examination, they were forced to admit that no one dies immediately from cancer and leukemia but it takes a period of time for these “health effects” (as they euphemistically called them) to occur. In other words, the utility could accurately say (as they are doing now in Japan) that there is no immediate danger to the residents of the area.

The scientists further testified that the Jamesport plants would not kill any fish, as a full 10 percent of the waters off Long Island Sound would be sucked through a pipe measuring eight feet in diameter, during the course of each year, to cool the nuclear core. On cross-examination, they were forced to admit that the water would be heated 32 degrees, thereby killing billions of fish eggs each year, decimating the number of fish that would spawn in the Sound from then on. Although the Sound would essentially be sterilized, they defended their statement that no fish would be killed by saying they wouldn’t exist to begin with!

Over time, it became clear to everyone at these hearings that the nuclear industry was built upon an elaborate deception of the public and of public officials who were making energy decisions that would commit us for decades to come. The corporate “science” simply could not be trusted. Apparently, the government of Japan trusted the American companies selling these nuclear plants. And that is what went wrong.

Fortunately for us on eastern Long Island, the farmers refused to back down. They took on the industry. In a ferocious eight-year legal dogfight, the farmers argued it made no sense that the biggest machine ever made by man would never have an accident, would never have pumps fail, would never overheat. They argued that if an accident happened, even just once, it could sterilize a large portion of Long Island requiring permanent abandonment of homes due to radiation contamination. They argued that even if an accident was not catastrophic the crops on Long Island would forever be tainted in the minds of the public, ruining a billion-dollar agricultural industry .

All of this is now happening in Japan.

The farmers also stressed that the cost of these gargantuan machines was intolerably high and were only being built due to massive tax subsidies for the corporations to build them. They pointed out that it would also be costly to protect the nuclear plants and nuclear waste from terrorists and the environment, for which no solutions existed either then, or now.

The farmers engaged in eight years of grass roots fundraising in order to be able to submit reams and reams of testimony from qualified scientific experts regarding these issues. During this public battle, the farmers kept saying there had to be a better and cheaper way to make steam to turn turbines. Clean natural gas would be a better way to boil water, or instance. They argued that “painless conservation,” such as more efficient air conditioners and other appliances and programmable thermostats, would make far more energy than all the 104 nuclear plants in the country combined.

Fortunately the farmers and other well-informed activists convinced New York governors Hugh Carey and later Mario Cuomo — in one-on-one meetings — that common sense should prevail. Both governors listened to the arguments of the farmers and their allies, and had the political courage to squash the Jamesport Nuclear Reactors and years later, the Shoreham Reactor.

Just think about where we would be right now if the Newsday and The New York Times editorial boards and the utility company got their way and the East End were ringed by 19 nuclear reactors. It was a close call.

Tom Twomey resides in East Hampton and is a partner in the law firm of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo with offices in Southold, Riverhead, and throughout Suffolk County. He served as a Trustee of the Long Island Power Authority from 1989-95 and played a role in decommissioning the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant.

04/21/11 4:45am
04/21/2011 4:45 AM

Now we know for certain what we have long suspected. The Riverhead Town Board is totally dysfunctional. Four Town Board members have confirmed it, and even some of them acknowledge it’s time for change. Just read the public statements — as reported by local media — made by our incumbent town officials over the last few weeks.

Councilman Jim Wooten

“I just don’t feel the local people of Riverhead are being fairly represented.”

“I can’t take the infighting anymore. It’s not good for Riverhead.”

“People think it’s time for a different kind of leadership in Town Hall.”

“Riverhead can do better. I see this dysfunctional board which I think hinders government.”

“Sean is paranoid about everybody…”

Supervisor Sean Walter

“I have a board where at least three of the four board members think they should be supervisor.”

“Councilman Wooten has been in office four years. Ask him what his accomplishments are.”

“I’d like to get a new town council member.”

“We need people with vision. Jim Wooten does not have vision.”

“I guess in January he [Wooten] will be looking for a job.”

Councilman John Dunleavy

Walter’s management style can be off-putting (paraphrase).

“Last week he got mad at me and came into my office and said some threatening words to me. I think that it’s immaturity.”

Councilman George Gabrielsen

“I really don’t know where he [Wooten] is coming from.”

“I don’t have a clue what he’s thinking.”

“I think personalities is what’s driving this.  It’s almost bizarre.”

The supervisor and Town Board members have told us voters exactly what we need to know. It is time for different leadership in Town Hall. The infighting on this dysfunctional, all-Republican Town Board is not good for Riverhead. There is no vision on this Town Board. The work of this one-party board is too often disrupted by party politics and petty personality differences.  The actions of our supervisor do suggest immaturity and paranoia.

We do need new board members. Riverhead can do better.

What is extraordinary is that the supervisor and three Town Board members have admitted all of this by their public statements. Who can disagree? They work with each other every day (or at least those days they show up).

To borrow a phrase from Councilman Gabrielsen, it really is “almost bizarre.”

Our supervisor and Town Board members cannot find time to attend a board meeting to consider a major polo proposal at EPCAL. They are quick to dismiss before hearing all the facts a proposal to rent downtown dock space for a dinner cruise boat. Yet they can find time to publicly berate each other. John Abbaticchio, a member of the business group which sought to rent downtown dock space is an independent third party observer. He says (referring to Town Hall) “Things are a little cuckoo over there.”  Who can argue with this observation?

Councilman Wooten last week announced “It is time for the [Republican] Party to have a new appearance in Town Hall.”  How about a disappearance on Election Day instead? While the supervisor and his all-Republican Town Board insult each other and fiddle around at the edges of the town’s real problems, Riverhead burns.

Mr. Villella is the chairman of the Riverhead Democratic Committee and a former Riverhead supervisor.

04/19/11 3:17pm
04/19/2011 3:17 PM

For 30 years I’ve been a journalist with NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and before that with Walter Cronkite of CBS News. I’ve won two Emmys for investigative reporting. My avocation is animal lover and volunteer — not animal activist, which has a negative meaning in Riverhead. For four months since I exposed the lies surrounding the euthanasia of the dog Bruno on Dec. 21 — lies made up by animal control officer Lou Coronesi, who then shared those lies and others about me with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Police Chief David Hegermiller — I’ve been banned from being a volunteer or even walking on shelter property.

Mr. Coronesi said Bruno had bitten a child in the face; Councilman Jim Wooten shared the real bite report with me. My own investigation could not even establish if Bruno ever bit anyone in an alleged dog fight. Mr. Coronesi also said I was disrespectful to him. To avoid him, I made a point of going to the shelter when he wasn’t on duty. One day, unfortunately, he was on duty.

With no witnesses around, Mr. Coronesi then defamed me to his bosses. This man, who has been convicted of animal-related crimes, was believed. I was banned just like Linda Mosca of RSVP, who was banned over a year ago.
What’s going on here?

Maybe in the movie “Deliverance” Mr. Coronesi would have been kept on the job, but in the real world, I believe it’s scandalous that he still is collecting a paycheck from Riverhead taxpayers after criminal convictions dating to 2003 for unlawfully hunting and possessing animals protected by federal law, and then driving with a suspended license. This and the disrespectful way he’s treated volunteers and lied about them can’t be countenanced any further. The man must go.

What is the union thinking protecting Mr. Coronesi, who has a criminal record? And what is Mr. Walter thinking protecting such a person in an election year? And why did Mr. Walter set me up in a distorted story about a medical situation that I was just reporting about at a town meeting so proper medical attention could be given to shelter animals. To his credit, Mr. Walter says the dogs at the Riverhead Animal Shelter are now being tested regularly for disease.

Well over a year ago I adopted two badly injured pit bull puppies from Riverhead. They were going to be euthanized because of financial reasons, I was told. With the help of Gail Waller, private donations and the badly maligned rescue group RSVP, whose members have saved so many Riverhead shelter dogs, the pit puppies now are well and in great homes. RSVP is the reason why the euthanasia rate in Riverhead — that never has many dogs to start with — seems low.

I also know that authorities have a way of distorting facts and figures. I sued Southampton Town after I was unlawfully banned from its shelter for what I reported firsthand. I know that records can be changed or never turned in. I know that records can be more fiction than fact. I won a jury trial in federal court in Islip and an appellate court decision over this matter and the violation of my First Amendment rights.

The Bruno case is a paradigm of what a lying employee can get away with. In the April 7 issue of the Riverhead News-Review Chief Hegermiller was quoted as saying, “Lou is more by the book, which I don’t think they (the animal activists) like.” Chief, if Mr. Coronesi’s killing of Bruno was “by the book,” then you knew Bruno was supposed to be walked finally by volunteers — after isolation since Oct. 7 — because that was all written down. Mr. Wooten learned that Mr. Coronesi had indeed informed his superiors of Bruno’s change of status. Nevertheless he was euthanized. Why?

And why, Chief Hegermiller and Supervisor Walter, do you continue to advocate and protect this man who disrespects or bans volunteers and does as little as possible to provide a good life, exercise and homes for the animals in his charge?

Ms. Lynch is a New York City and Southampton resident.

04/13/11 10:46am
04/13/2011 10:46 AM

One day last month I received phone calls regarding a morning WRIV radio program. It appeared that host Bruce Tria was taking a call from a weekly caller who keeps him informed about Riverhead School District news. On this particular show, she said one of the varsity football players was told he would not play if he didn’t participate in fundraising efforts.

In response, I made a phone call to that same person to ask her if she in fact made these comments on the radio.

Indeed, she verified her statements on that broadcast.

A perplexing coincidence was that this same story was told to me when I was a member of the Riverhead Board of Education by a fellow board member, now off the board, who did not raise money or permit her children to participate in fundraising efforts.

One of our football coaches called Mr. Tria the next day, stating he has been on the football staff for over 10 years and has never heard a comment like that reported nor could he even imagine a situation where playing time depended on fundraising. Anyone who truly knows head varsity football coach Leif Shay and the football staff can verify the professionalism, organization and quality football program that is the hallmark of our athletic program pride. The players are treated with respect and, in turn, they are respectful. As actions speak louder than words, this program has won both the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Scholar Athlete team award and Section XI Sportsmanship award on several occasions.

This incident brings to mind another commentary made by two school board members at the May 26, 2009, board meeting and in a subsequent column written by News-Review sports editor Bob Liepa. The column was headlined “A sad commentary on coaches.”

The issue revolved around tame, plain comments from then-varsity and varsity assistant baseball coaches. The spring 2009 baseball season did not end as they had hoped. According to the original game article, the coaches stated: “We beat ourselves up; our team just did not click.” Mr. Liepa’s column later pointed out that no inappropriate words or harsh criticism was directed at any individual players.

I was on the school board for 12 years, the last two as president. I read a statement at the beginning of each meeting that stated: “Comments will not be permitted in open session both for or against employees, students or Board of Education members.” Yet, Mr. Liepa’s column continued: “Angela Devito took issue with quotes in my story attributed to Coach Hackal and Assistant Coach Todd Van Scoy and then spoke out against them publicly.” These comments came in direct disregard of New York State School Law as well as Board of Education policy  No. 1440: “Complaints about school personnel.”

I have known Scott Hackal for many years. As a teacher, person and coach, he is the best of the best, including his team winning both the NYSPHSAA scholar team and Section XI Sportsmanship award in the 2009 season. I was not on the school board in the spring of 2009, but if I had been, I would have stopped Ms. Devito and Ms. Prete’s comments and apologized to Mr. Hackal and Mr. Van Scoy. There’s an old saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Playing at the varsity and junior varsity level is not a right, it is earned through talent and hard work. Ninety percent of our coaches are also certified teachers with master’s degrees. Grading a test or report is no different than grading athletes on their performance. The coach determines who will start by judging which players give the team the best chance to win; the rest of the team competes as part of the game plan. All athletes are a very important part of a team. They all receive accolades when championships are won or spoken to as a team.

Many of our student athletes receive partial or full scholarships to college. Riverhead has a strong co-curricular policy, which is adhered to by our coaches, ensuring their courses of study are paramount. A majority of our varsity teams win the New York State Scholar Athlete team award, including this past winter season, when all the varsity athletic teams were recognized for such a distinction.

If you have a chance, ride past our playing fields that are usually teeming with athletes. Even watch our crew team rowing the Peconic. It’s all such a positive sight to see.

Our athletic director, Bill Groth, initiated and won a grant from Coca-Cola over 10 years ago for over $420,000, which is shared with the music and photography departments. PTO and booster clubs over the years have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our students, schools and fields. Athletic boosters and coaches often contribute to camps, clothing, equipment or other things many athletes can’t afford, without any expectations, fanfare or publicity.

I, for one, am proud of the contribution and spirit that our students, teachers, coaches, district employees, PTOs and booster clubs bring this school and community.

Ms. Gassert is a former Riverhead school board member and president, PTO president and PTO Council president and an athletic booster club member. She lives in Riverhead.

03/31/11 5:39am
03/31/2011 5:39 AM
Tim Bishop

SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO Congressman Tim Bishop at a recent press conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Well, leave it up to the ingenuity of American business 200 years later to prove him wrong.

Few people enjoy paying taxes, but most recognize that paying taxes is a necessity. While we can all debate the best level of taxation, we broadly understand their need and the value of the services they support.

This entire system is upended by efforts by the richest Americans and top corporations to use their resources and influence to avoid paying their fair share. In fact, a recent New York Times report showed that last year, not only did General Electric avoid paying taxes on its $5.1 billion in U.S.-based profits, GE actually got a $3.2 billion rebate!

This windfall is no accident; GE employs 975 highly paid lawyers and accountants to ensure the company pays as little tax as legally possible. GE’s tax shop is also on the lookout for ways to amend the tax code to the company’s advantage, with an army of Washington lobbyists at the ready. It is a sorry state when profitability is based on hiring accountants to devise new ways to exploit loopholes rather than workers to build better products.

The bottom line is that the tax code is written by Congress, and we all need to take responsibility, Democrats and Republicans, for devising a system with so many loopholes that a profitable company can escape taxes entirely. Much is made of the 35 percent federal tax rate for corporations, but virtually all corporations pay a far lower effective rate — and a great many profitable corporations pay no corporate taxes whatsoever.

The fact that corporations are able to avoid paying taxes is unfair to those of us who pay our fair share. But the issue takes on added urgency at a time when we are grappling to control a deficit that all sides can agree is unsustainable. It is neither fair nor sustainable to say that the deficit requires us to cut financial aid for nine million students, fire 1,000 scientists at Brookhaven National Lab and eliminate heating oil assistance for thousands of desperate Long Islanders, but heaven forbid we collect one dollar in revenue from General Electric. But that is what the House Republican budget does.

Additionally, the House Republican budget would cut $250 million from enforcement at the IRS. In other words, we’ll be making it easier for people who cheat on their taxes, putting an even heavier burden on the rest of us who play by the rules.

Perhaps some will say, “OK, they’re not paying taxes, but they’re putting people to work.” Unfortunately, in the past decade, GE has eliminated 20 percent of its American workforce while hiring workers overseas.

Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and work to restore a fair tax code. Some may choose to demagogue an issue like this and say I want to raise taxes. If you consider that GE paid zero on more than $5.1 billion in profit, then yes, I suppose that’s correct. I also suppose you could say that if they paid one dollar that would represent an infinite increase in taxes.

I hope we can address this problem in the same spirit as when Ronald Reagan worked with Congressional Democrats in 1986 to support sweeping changes to the corporate tax code when he found that numerous large businesses were effectively paying no U.S. tax, including — you guessed it — GE. But that bipartisan reform has been steadily eroded over the past 25 years, to our nation’s great detriment.

Real reform will make the tax code simpler and perhaps lower rates, while eliminating loopholes to ensure that the effective rate is fair and evenly applied. This will help encourage job creation and investment in America, while ensuring that corporations, not just middle-class families, pay their fair share to fund our government.

Mr. Bishop is a Democrat and Southampton resident who represents New York’s 1st Congressional District.

01/25/11 9:49am
01/25/2011 9:49 AM

Court decisions concerning land use recently reported by the Riverhead News-Review require response by the North Fork Environmental Council. The New York State Supreme Court determinations in question basically undermine the Town of Riverhead’s independence and ability to enforce its own zoning regulations.

The News-Review article of Jan. 6 reported the determination by Supreme Court Judge Peter Cohalan requires that the town must reverse its position to dismiss the application by the Jamesport Manor Inn to expand its operation to include catering. In this article, Supervisor Sean Walter is quoted as saying that Riverhead has “no choice but to appeal [the Supreme Court decision]. It doesn’t make for good law or good precedent. It needs to be appealed.” A follow-up article on the matter that was printed in the News-Review of Jan. 20 implies that even though the town has filed a notice to appeal the court’s verdict, the Town Board may not actually proceed with the appeal. The North Fork Environmental Council believes that the Town of Riverhead has an obligation and responsibility to follow through with an appeal in order to defend its ability to enforce its zoning regulations and to protect the quality of life for Riverhead’s residents, for whom those zoning regulations were crafted.

The court determined that catering is a “permitted, incidental and customary accessory use to the permitted restaurant” and that not allowing this expansion of commercialism in the town’s Agricultural Protection Use zone would result in a financial hardship for the owners of the restaurant. However, finding that “the proposed catering facility does not change the basic nature of the use of the property” is, in Judge Cohalan’s own words, an arbitrary and capricious determination. Furthermore, the court’s decision is based in part upon the fact that there are other nearby facilities that also provide catering, such as Martha Clara Vineyards.

What apparently was not recognized is that these businesses were established prior to the adoption of new zoning regulations. The town’s position that allowing the construction of a catering facility adjacent to the restaurant is by definition an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use must be sustained if the town’s own zoning laws are to have meaning.

The principal owners of the Jamesport Manor Inn, Matt and Gail Kar, are well-liked and highly respected members of the community and have donated generously to the North Fork Environmental Council. Regardless, it would be irresponsible of the North Fork Environmental Council to not support the town’s intentions to appeal the court’s decision.

The second issue that was reported in the Jan. 13 News-Review involves a state Supreme Court decision denying Riverhead’s ability to enforce an injunction against the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. The town was reacting to complaints by neighbors that the vineyard was conducting “special events, like weddings and parties, without obtaining proper town permits” and the noise generated by the loud music at these events was an infringement on the quality of life of surrounding residents. The court’s determination in this case was based upon the position that any activity that promotes farming activity should be allowed and cannot be regulated by town code. This decision has the potential of negatively impacting the rural character of the entire Sound Avenue corridor and the North Fork of Long Island. The council applauds the entrepreneurship of the wine-producing industry of the North Fork and the fact that most of the vintners are successful without the hosting of the types of events conducted by the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. Hopefully, the owners of the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard will realize that they have a certain responsibility to help preserve the rural and scenic quality of Sound Avenue.

The North Fork Environmental Council calls on the Riverhead Town Board to act responsibly to enforce its zoning laws and protect its local jurisdiction to protect residential and agricultural zones from improper commercial development. The Town of Riverhead is a critical part of the North Fork and the government of Riverhead needs to do whatever it can to help “save what’s left.”

Mr. Bartunek is vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council.