05/08/12 7:00am
05/08/2012 7:00 AM

Former Riverhead Councilwoman Barbara Blass, preservation advocate Richard Wines and local green activist Lillian Ball are this year’s recipients of environmental awards given by the North Fork Environmental Council.

The NFEC announced Friday that Ms. Blass will receive the organization’s Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year honors for her long-standing efforts to preserve the environment.

“Trying to look ahead, her work on Riverhead’s Master Plan and open space preservation are testaments to someone who cared, worked hard and got things done,” NFEC stated in announcing the awards. “But after leaving office, the caring, concern and dedication to doing what’s right didn’t end. To this day, Barbara can be found attending numerous meetings in and around the North Fork, trying to make sure that she is doing all she can do to protect the people and the places she so loves.”

Mr. Wines and Ms. Ball are this year’s Environmental Hero Award recipients.

The group credits Mr. Wines, who currently serves on the Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Commission, for successfully preserving many historically significant structures, including parts of the Hallockville Museum Farm and the Jamesport Meeting House. Mr. Wines is also involved with a grassroots efforts to keep Sound Avenue rural.

Ms. Ball has been recognized for her vision and drive as an environmental artist and artist. In 2009, Ms. Ball presented a plan called “WaterwashTM” — a combination of permeable pavement, vegetative swale and informational signs — to reduce stormwater runoff at Mattituck Inlet.

The awards ceremony is June 2 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Hallockville Museum in Riverhead. Tickets are $40 each, $70 per couple. Call 298-8880.

jennifer@timesreview.com

08/03/11 11:34am
08/03/2011 11:34 AM

When it came to opposing a proposed shopping center on the corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue, members of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association in Reeves Park stood side by side with members of townwide environmental and civic groups like the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the North Fork Environmental Council.

But on the subject of whether Rich Vlacci’s R&K Precision Autoworks on Sound Avenue should be granted a special permit to double the size of that business, they broke ranks during a Town Board public hearing Tuesday.

Residents Mike Foley and Dorothy O’Haire, both vocal opponents of developer Kenn Barra’s proposed shopping center, both of whom said they were founding members of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, urged the Town Board to grant a special permit to R&K.

Mr. Foley, who is also an RNPC member, said he’s gone to R&K about a dozen times for car repairs over the years.

“Each time, I’ve gotten an honest and fair price and excellent work,” he said. “Everyone in Reeves Park will tell you, he’s always there for the community.”

He said Mr. Vlacci always cleans up his shop area at the end of the day and complies with town codes.

Mr. Foley said that when environmental groups “don’t make exceptions for people who do the right thing, then we lose credibility as groups.”

“If ever there were a site plan that should be approved, it’s this one,” Ms. O’Haire said. The proposed expansion looks more residential and fits in better with the area than what’s there now, she said.

Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Eric Biegler said the association supports Mr. Vlacci’s proposed expansion.
Former councilman George Bartunek, who is an NFEC vice president, said R&K is seeking to expand a use that doesn’t comply with its zoning.

“Over the years, nonconforming uses should lapse,” he said. “A 100 percent expansion of a nonconforming use is a terrible precedent.”

Dominique Mendez of RNPC said the fact that Mr. Vlacci does good work and is a nice man “doesn’t change the fact that he’s asking for a 100 percent expansion of a nonconforming use on Sound Avenue.” She said an expansion that big is too big, and that her group seeks to protect Sound Avenue against over-commercialization.

Jim DeLuca, a representative for Mr. Vlacci, said the building has been used commercially since 1954 and has been owned by R&K since 1986.

He said Mr. Vlacci’s reputation for restoring cars is such that the television show “Pawn Stars” on Friday filmed an episode featuring his work.

Mr. Vlacci said he’s “sworn to secrecy” about the content of the show until it airs.

tgannon@timesreview.com

01/26/11 6:12am
01/26/2011 6:12 AM

JULIE LANE PHOTO New man at the helm at North Fork Environmental Council Bill Toedter hopes his communications skills will help focus attention on what’s needed to protect the environment.

As it embarks on what it’s calling a “west to east agenda,” the North Fork Environmental Council has chosen a new leader, Bill Toedter, 51, of Southold, to remedy what members regard as their organization’s major shortcoming — a weak effort to communicate what they have achieved. He took over for former president Ken Rubino in November.

“We’ve been quiet and there’s a perception,” said Mr. Toedter, “of ‘what have you been doing?’ We’re here, we’re active and we want to become involved with more.”

“We have been a failure at advertising the good works that we do,” said Robert Feger, an NFEC vice president and former organization president.

Mr. Toedter studied marine biology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, but then returned to the North Fork, where he’d grown up, to pursue a career in corporate communications, operating his own consulting firm, Conceptualeyes. He was initially involved in educating employees about benefits, but his scope widened to include marketing and branding. Now he said he’s determined to use his communication skills to benefit the NFEC.

“There’s a little bit of complacency” among residents who fail to recognize the impact of unchecked threats to the environment, he said. That’s where he thinks he can educate the public and enlist volunteer support to tackle projects that can make a difference.

He’s a third generation North Fork native. Although he spent some of his early years in New York City, “My growing up was here. I saved up all my money to buy a boat, not a car,” he said.

His answers to some questions posed recently by Times/Review Newsgroup:

Q — How is your outreach different today?
A — “The new [NFEC] newsletter was constructed to integrate various issues, from the development at EPCAL, millions of dollars spent on the fish ladder in Riverhead, the development of Sound Avenue. If you look at Sound Avenue and protecting the rural nature of it, what leads you to believe that you shouldn’t be doing the same for County Road 48 and 25 out to Orient? Once you get out there, for people to come and enjoy this, you need to talk about mass transit. Things are connected. What we do about trying to preserve the rural quality of Sound Avenue leads to transportation issues, which leads then to traffic issues and the use of the railroads and the use of the county bus system. It talks about how we then protect the quality of life here on the North Fork.
Bringing board meetings to the different towns and getting students involved and planting seeds early is important. A marketing scheme is about hooking them young. We need eyes all over the place. We also need hands to help us. We need minds to help us think through these things.
If you do an initiative once, that raises awareness, but you also have to have the steps in there for them to take action. But what happens down the road as people move out and other people move in if you don’t keep that awareness going.”

Q — How extensive do you expect funding cuts to be?
A — “In general, you’re looking at almost a quarter of every federal dollar that was due to be spent being eliminated. That means all the federal funds are under the knife.

Q — What are the major problems on your radar threatening our environment?
A — “Nitrogen loads in groundwater resulting from wide use of septic tanks. The first thing Southold is going to do — and all the towns are mandated to address — is stormwater runoff. But where does the money come from? Where are you going to get the money to re-engineer all the roads and all the catch basins?”

Q — What’s your pitch to potential NFEC members?
A — “We’ve got to answer the question people have, ‘What does it mean to me.’ If you’re drawn to the North Fork or have a business interest here … why aren’t you a member of the North Fork Environmental Council to help to save those things or at least why aren’t you doing the things that help protect those?”

Q — Money aside, what obstacles do you face?
A — “We’re not going to make everybody happy with what we do. We’re not anti-business. We’re not anti-anything. In 2012, we’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of NFEC and the reason that we’ve been here for 40 years is not that we change, but we keep building on the good that the organization has done.”

jlane@timesreview.com