06/20/14 12:00pm
06/20/2014 12:00 PM
An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein Courtesy Photo)

An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein Courtesy Photo)

New data outlining the extent of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in New York State was released Thursday by a state Senate group that also came up with an action plan for combating the spread of such diseases.

Known as the Senate Majority Coalition Task Force on Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases, the task force was organized in October amid rising concerns regarding the spread of such diseases statewide.

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06/18/14 7:00am
06/18/2014 7:00 AM
Long Ireland Brewery co-owner Greg Martin (center) harvests hop cones with assistant brewers Liam Hudcock (left) and Fred Keller at Condzella Farm in Wading River in 2012. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Long Ireland Brewery co-owner Greg Martin (center) harvests hop cones with assistant brewers Liam Hudcock (left) and Fred Keller at Condzella Farm in Wading River in 2012. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Shortly after announcing that New York State was loosening some of its restrictions on wineries, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will do the same for craft brewers.

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04/01/14 7:00am
04/01/2014 7:00 AM
grossman_karl150Hands down, what is the dumbest thing the Department of Environmental Conservation has ever come up with?

How about the DEC’s plan to slaughter 2,200 beautiful, elegant, graceful birds, the total population of mute swans in New York State?

“It is real stupid,” said Larry Penny, for 28 years East Hampton Town’s director of natural resources and environmental preservation. The DEC claims it needs to kill the swans because they’re an “invasive” species.

“Nonsense,” says Mr. Penny.

They were brought to North America from Europe after the Civil War and “they’re not doing any harm.” Also, there “are natural checks on their population — raccoons and foxes take them. They’re subject to a lot of pressure,” Mr. Penny said.

Hugh Rafles, anthropology professor at The New School in an op-ed prominently featured in The New York Times last month — “Speaking Up for the Mute Swan” — wrote: “There’s a larger issue here.

The real environmental problems faced by New York State are created not by birds but by people. In the nearly 150 years that the mute swan has been among us, it has witnessed a radical decline in the extent of the state’s wildlife habitat, and in the quality of its waters and soil.”

Because “of their limited diet, mute swans are a sentinel species, concen- trating contaminants in their livers and revealing the presence of chemical toxicities in fresh water. Rather than eliminating swans, we should pay attention to their struggle to survive and what it can tell us about the state of our state.”

From the celebration of mute swans in “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky to the ballet of mute swans gliding on Long Island ponds and bays in the summer leading a line of signets, they represent their species at its loveliest.

The DEC grew out of the state Conservation Department, established in 1911, which, in turn, replaced the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission, formed in 1895, both mainly created to regulate hunting. The legislation creating the DEC was signed into law on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, reflecting the upsurge of environmental consciousness in the state and the U.S. in the 1960s.

The outrageous swan kill isn’t the only wrong-headed move by the DEC in recent times. For example, last year it issued a report on pollution from the Long Island Compost facility in Yaphank that stated: “This investigation points to the need to modify the operation practices at these facilities in order to prevent such occurrence.” Yet months later the DEC rubber-stamped a fi ve-year permit renewal for the 50-acre Sand Land operation in Noyac where comparable production of mulch is going on.

Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken and Southampton Town asked the DEC to require monitoring wells be installed to check on any Sand Land pollution as a permit condition. The DEC ignored this, said Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, speaking before the Noyac Civic Council last week. “The DEC has a lot of problems,” Mr. DeLuca said. “It’s incapable of doing a lot of things.”

There have been some terrific people at the DEC. Tony Taormina, long its Long Island-based director of marine resources, was an extraordinary environmental watchdog, a crusader against DDT and a key fi gure in the 1970s involved in enacting state laws protecting wetlands.

But, overall, Mr. Penny said, the DEC has been “a mixed bag.” It’s “been generally pretty good,” but “they have so much on their plate. Their problem is they never have enough staff.” And, he added, the DEC has trouble “finishing things.”

Fortunately, the harebrained scheme to eradicate mute swans will not be moving ahead right away. There has been, rightfully, a public and official uproar. The state agency admits it has received over 1,500 comments from individuals and organizations and 16,000 letters overwhelmingly opposed to the idea and petitions with 30,000 signatures against it.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) is co-sponsoring legislation requiring a moratorium on the plan and asking the DEC to prove the swans cause “actual damage to the environment or other species.” State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has introduced his own bill for a moratorium and “independent study” of the DEC’s justification.

DEC Commissioner Albert Martens now says there will soon be “a revised plan.”

Revised?

He and the DEC should pack it in now and forget about murdering swans.

03/18/14 6:00am
03/18/2014 6:00 AM

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Since the moment I was sworn in as your assemblyman, the one topic that seems to come up in just about every conversation is the implementation of Common Core. I have listened to parents, educators, students and taxpayers about the myriad Common Core issues and problems that plague our children and schools. The Common Core mandate provides for a series of new national education standards administered at the state level through a series of federal mandates and grants. Though well-intentioned, the rollout and implementation of Common Core has been acutely fl awed, raising the ire of most parents and stakeholders in the education system. (more…)

08/07/13 2:57pm
08/07/2013 2:57 PM

Testing

State officials released Wednesday the results of math and English Language Arts assessments that students took in April, with the numbers showing Riverhead students lagging behind their peers statewide.

Of Riverhead School District students in grades 3 through 8, 74.7 percent failed to meet the state’s math proficiency standard and 73.8 percent failed to meet the state’s ELA proficiency standard for the 2012-13 year.

Statistics for all New York schools in which students sat for the assessments showed 69 percent of students failed math and 68.9 percent failed the ELA exam. School districts in Suffolk County generally fared better than the state overall, with 66.8 percent failing math and 63.7 percent failing ELA.

(Scroll down to view a list of state assessment results for each school.)

For the first time this past school year, math and ELA assessments included elements of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The common core standards are a new set of national benchmarks designed to help public school students master language arts and mathematics.

The initiative requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

The first group of students required to pass Common Core-aligned Regents exams for high school graduation will be the class of 2017, state officials said.

While the state Department of Education has claimed implementation of common core aims to better prepare students for college and careers for the 21st century, many parents and educators have criticized the move because they believe teachers are being forced to abandon true learning for “teaching to the test.”

The results of the new assessments are expected to be tied to the state-mandated annual professional performance review plans, known as APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For individual school districts to qualify for part of the grant, the state required them each to implement their own APPR program this year.

It had been expected that proficiency levels would be significantly lower compared to the 2011-12 school year and the scores “will not negatively impact district, school, principal, or teacher accountability,” State Department of Education Commissioner John King said in a statement.

“These proficiency scores do not reflect a drop in performance, but rather a raising of standards to reflect college and career readiness in the 21st century,” Mr. King said. “I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers, and principals. It’s frustrating to see our children struggle. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by frustration.

“We must be energized by this opportunity. The results we’ve announced today are not a critique of past efforts. They’re a new starting point on a roadmap to future success.”

Scroll down to view Riverhead’s results. Click here for statewide results.

April 2013 state assessment results complied by the Riverhead News-Review

06/02/13 8:40am
06/02/2013 8:40 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork's corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork’s corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

New York could become the first state in the nation to require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such, a move farmers say could put locally grown produce at a disadvantage.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) have sponsored legislation to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. The bills follow years of debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, which were introduced in the early l990s. Legislation has been proposed in several states, including California, where it was put before voters in 2012 as Proposition 37 and failed by a slim margin. Bills have been introduced more recently in Connecticut and Maine.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is produced when genes from one species are extracted and artificially introduced into the genes of another, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary.

The practical applications of this process include giving a plant the ability to produce its own pesticide to deter insects, thereby saving farmers having to apply costly and potentially dangerous pesticides, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology, which investigates the risks and impacts of GMO foods.

Major GMO food crops include soy, cotton and corn, said Dale Moyer, associate executive director of agriculture for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk. It’s not employed on fresh fruits and vegetables such as oranges or peppers.

Varieties of sweet corn are the only GMO crops grown on the North Fork intended for human consumption, but they’re very limited, Mr. Moyer said. Some area farmers also grow field corn, used primarily as animal feed, he added.

Under the pending legislation sweet corn varieties grown from genetically modified seeds would fall under the mandatory labeling requirement.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Mr. LaValle. “Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

But Steve Ammerman, spokesperson for the NYS Farm Bureau, said mandatory labeling is unnecessary.

“We believe the policies should be based on sound science, and the science so far is that GMO foods are safe,” Mr. Ammerman said. “Labeling would imply that GMO foods are not.”

He argues that labeling will put GMO-grown products at a disadvantage when placed next to other produce. “If a consumer walked up and saw a label that said ‘Contains GMO,’ it misleads the consumer,” he said.

Kathleen Furey, director of GMO Free New York, said genetically modified foods have not been proven safe. There have not been any long-term, independent, peer-reviewed human consumption studies to support that claim, she said. The longest study to date on GMO foods ran about two years and involved rats, not humans, she said.

The study, led by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini, found that mice fed a diet of genetically modified corn experienced increased mortality, tumors and organ damage compared to a control group that was fed non-modified corn, said Ms. Furey.

“We deserve the right to know what were eating,” she said.

About 80 percent of what shoppers see on supermarket shelves contain GMOs, said Ms. Furey. Many of the products are processed foods, including infant formulas.

Consumers do have one way of spotting GMO-free foods. Certified organic foods do not contain genetically modified products, Mr. Ammerman said.

If labeling is mandated, farmers would rather see labeling say something like “GMO free” as compared to “contains GMO,” said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

The legislation is expected to come up for a vote before the current legislative session ends June 20.

cmiller@timesreview.com

05/23/13 8:00am
05/23/2013 8:00 AM
Great job Riverhead police

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Town police and state troopers teamed up to capture a shooting suspect Monday night on Osborn Avenue in Riverhead’s Polish Town

Alarm bells rang out through Polish Town Monday night as ambulances and town and state police cars — their lights and sirens blaring — descended on several crime scenes within minutes, and just a few blocks, of one another.

It was no terror scare, but it was no drill either. Police arrested a shooter accused of injuring a woman on Raynor Avenue with a shotgun blast and, in a separate case, a would-be armed robber on Osborn Avenue.

Monday night’s incidents, culminating with police officers storming an Osborn Avenue house and dragging out a suspected gunman, served as a reminder of the dangers our police and emergency workers face every night, often when the rest of us are tucked safely in our beds.

We also saw on full display the fine work of two police agencies that coordinated with each other and mobilized quickly to secure three crime scenes and make quick work of violent acts in our communities. While such incidents in town are, of course, cause for concern — and downright frightening for many — Riverheaders can take comfort in the quality of the men and women sworn to protect us.