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12/13/13 10:00am
12/13/2013 10:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Newly-purchased fire hydrants may have to be sold for scrap if new federal regulations aren't changed or put on delay.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Newly purchased fire hydrants may have to be sold for scrap if new federal regulations aren’t changed or delayed.

Stockpiles of fire hydrants previously purchased by local water districts could soon be useless following new federal standards for lead used in infrastructure that provides drinking water.

Effective Jan. 4., the maximum amount of lead allowed for use in pipes distributing drinking water will change from 8 percent to .25 percent — a new standard enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new standard is a result of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act passed in January 2011, aimed at reducing the amount of lead in drinking water pipes and other plumbing fixtures to protect public health.

Although the act was passed nearly three years ago, the EPA only recently indicated fire hydrants would have to meet the new standard – because they can be used to provide drinking water in emergency situations – according to a release from Sen. Charles Schumer’s office.

Any hydrant installed on or after Jan. 4 would need to meet the new EPA standard, according to the guidelines.

“As soon as [the law] was passed we changed our policy to immediately order fittings that didn’t contain lead so three years from then we’d be ready – nobody had any idea they were going to include fire hydrants,” said Suffolk County Water Authority commissioner James Gaughran. “Fire hydrants are used for fire safety purposes.”

He said had the agency known three years ago, it would have prepared to comply. They agency was notified Oct. 22, when a summary of the law’s guidelines was released by the EPA, he said.

The SCWA services about 1.2 million people annually through more than 37,000 hydrants, and services most of Southold Town.

The agency’s existing stock of hydrants yet to be used numbers about 400 — valued at about $1,000 apiece — that, combined with associated fittings, totals about $450,000 of what could be unusable equipment, Mr. Gaughran said. If no exemptions are made, or delay is granted by the EPA, the existing stockpile would be sold at scrap value, he said.

“We’re certainly concerned about lead contamination getting to the drinking water, but it takes a long time,” Mr. Gaughran said. “Give the industry time to develop and manufacture the new hydrants, so that there is competition – so we don’t get rate shocked,” he said. “Who knows, they could double or triple in price.”

Riverhead Town Water District Superintendent Gary Pendzick said he only keeps about a dozen new hydrants in stock, each valued at about $1,500.

“For us it’s not that much of a consequence,” Mr. Pendzick said, adding that he hopes to be able to order equipment to retrofit the hydrants he currently has in stock.

Problem is, the supply industry hasn’t had the time to manufacture parts that meet the new EPA standard, he said.

“We called to get pricing and our supplies said they are not making retrofit kits yet,” Mr. Pendzick said.
They are not even making the hydrants yet.

At a press conference Monday, Mr. Schumer called on the EPA to exempt existing stocks of fire hydrants purchased before it released the guidelines in October, which he says will save water districts thousands of dollars.

On Dec. 2, the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that would add fire hydrants to the list of devices exempt from the new lead standards – which includes toilets and shower parts. Action from the Senate and presidential approval would still be needed to fix the problem for local water districts.

Mr. Gaughran, who called the problem “just another example of government bureaucracy out of control,” said the agency replaces about 200 of its roughly 3,700 hydrants each year – many of which become damaged in winter storms and car accidents, he said.

The Riverhead Water District replaces about a dozen of its 2,000 hydrants each year, Mr. Pendzick said.

While lead is rarely found in source water, it can enter tap water through the corrosion of plumbing materials, according to the EPA.

Exposure to lead can affect nearly every system in the body, and exposure above levels of 15 parts per billion can cause  delays in physical and mental development in babies and children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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11/16/13 2:30pm
11/16/2013 2:30 PM

JOHN DUNN FILE PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer at a news conference in Port Washington.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at leveling the playing field for New York fishermen when it comes to catching one of region’s most popular fish — summer flounder, commonly known as fluke.

Mr. Schumer says the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which manage tri-state area fisheries as well as others along the East Coast, are using outdated and flawed data to set New York’s fluke regulations.

As a result, local anglers are at a disadvantage, with stricter size and catch limits compared to nearby states, Mr. Schumer says.

He is now proposing The Fluke Fairness Act, intended to require the two leading bodies to consider a regional management system that would establish uniform size and bag limits for neighboring states – and require the commission and the council to use “the best available” science and data to amend the Fishery Management Plan for fluke, which is used to ensure that fish stocks remain sustainable.

“Fluke was the mainstay of our business,” said Captain Sloan Gurney of the Black Rock fishing charter boat, which operates out of Orient Point. “But the unfair regulations have hurt us tremendously.”

Mr. Gurney, who has been fishing the area for about three decades, said when the regulations came down in the late ’90s, they made the East End a less desirable place to fish compared to other areas with higher bag limits.

He calls the regulations “unfair and inequitable,” and said “they’ve been going on for far too long.”

“The fish don’t know state boundaries. It doesn’t make any sense that a fish swimming from New Jersey to New York should have a different size limit,” Mr. Gurney said.

Data sets from the 1980, 1989 and 1998 fishing seasons were used to determine the regulations for each state’s commercial and recreational fluke industries, according to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

1998 was the last time anglers in the tri-state area were subject to the same regulations, said Captain Bob Busby, president of the North Fork Captains Association, which represents area charter boats. He’s also a member of the advisory panel on fluke for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Mr. Busby said those outdated numbers don’t adequately account for the area’s current fluke populations, which have since shifted due to migration, water temperature and recovery from any over-fishing, according to 2012 data from the Interstate Fisheries Management Program, which assess fish stocks annually.

Currently, recreational fishermen in New Jersey and Connecticut can catch up to five fluke at least 17.5 inches long per day, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, while recreational anglers in New York can take only four fluke, which must be at least 19 inches long, according to the state DEC.

“If it was going to change then I certainly think regional management would be a step in the right direction,” Mr. Busby said. “New York would probably be the ones with the most to gain from it.”

If managed as a region, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut would all have the same size, bag limit and season, he said. Though, he warned, North Fork fishermen rely heavily on a May 1 opening date for the fluke season, which is when the area gets its “run of fish,” and potential changes to that date could hurt the local industry. (For example, New Jersey’s fluke season starts May 18 and Connecticut’s starts May 15.)

“Who knows, in some way we may be shooting ourselves in the foot, too,” Mr. Busby said.

Mr. Schumer said that by wiping out the old data and encouraging the two leading councils to adopt a more regional approach, “New York should be expected to gain the type of fairness in the management system they have lacked for approximately 15 years.”

11/04/12 3:54pm
11/04/2012 3:54 PM

JOHN DUNN FILE PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer announced Sunday federal aid is coming to local municipalities.

Local federal elected officials announced Sunday FEMA aid is now available to fund repairs for public infrastructures and facilities damaged this week by Hurricane Sandy.

According to a press released issued by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s office,  FEMA administrator Craig Fugate agreed to expand President Barack Obama’s major disaster declaration to include all categories of public assistance for the counties affected by the storm, including: roads, bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and equipment, utilities, parks, recreational facilities, beaches and more.

Initially, municipalities on Long Island and in New York City and the Hudson Valley were only eligible to receive federal aid for some public services like debris removal and emergency protective measures.

Residents in those areas have been eligible for individual assistance from FEMA.

Mr. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand applauded FEMA’s recent decision.

“It is critical that FEMA has heeded our call and expanded the major disaster declaration to include full public assistance for communities throughout storm-ravaged New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley,” Mr. Schumer said.

“Providing this full range of federal disaster assistance is essential for repairs to everything from sewages facilities, to parklands, to the hundreds of roads and bridges that were destroyed in the storm, and I am pleased that our communities can know that the federal government will be there to help as they continue their response and recovery efforts.”

Ms. Gillibrand agreed and described the damage she has seen as “devastating.”

“The federal government has a responsibility to stand with these families every step of the way to help them recover and rebuild better than ever before,” she said. “The Obama administration promised no red-tape, and this is another example of the president backing up that commitment.”

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04/12/11 4:35pm
04/12/2011 4:35 PM

The nearly 1,000 job cuts projected for Brookhaven National Laboratory will be saved under the terms of a budget agreement reached in Congress last week, according to local officials.

A bill that passed through the House of Representatives last month would have cut $1.1 billion from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, a move federal officials warned would result in the loss of 930 jobs at BNL. But a compromise made in Congress last week restored all but $35 million back into that part of the budget, according to numbers released Tuesday by the offices of Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York).

“This was a fight about Long Island’s future and that future is brighter because we have preserved 1,000 local jobs and cutting edge research,” Mr. Bishop said in a statement.  “Saving BNL from the budget axe not only preserves 1,000 Long Island jobs, it helps ensure that America will continue to drive innovation and reap the economic benefits of advanced research.”

The estimated loss of jobs came from an impact analysis conducted by the lab at Mr. Bishop and Mr. Schumer’s request, following news of an estimated 30 percent cut to funding of federal science facilities proposed by House Republicans.

The analysis revealed the cuts could have forced the lab to, at least temporarily, close its two largest research facilities.  It also would have cut some funding to programs conducting research into alternative energy and life sciences, according to Mr. Schumer’s office.

“This is a huge victory for Long Island that preserves the job-creating, cutting-edge scientific work being done at Brookhaven National Lab,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “We can and should cut costs, but not at the expense of cutting jobs on Long Island or limiting our nation’s ability to out-innovate our competitors.”

Local and federal officials offered support for the lab soon after the possible cuts were announced. Mr. Bishop and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko held a rally near the lab last month and Mr. Bishop said he also helped supporters of the lab create a website that brought attention to possible cuts.

Mr. Bishop said he announced his support for the compromise, which will still feature a record $38 billion reduction in federal spending, only after verifying the restored funding to the Office of Science.

Lab officials said Tuesday that while they are still awaiting official word from Washington, they are pleased by the early reports.

“While we won’t know the final outcome until the budget is approved by Congress, signed by the President, and apportioned by the Department of Energy, we deeply appreciate Senator Schumer’s, Senator Gillibrand’s, and Congressman Bishop’s support for science and their willingness to protect the Lab and its programs,” said Doon Gibbs, Deputy Director for Science & Technology at BNL.

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02/24/11 7:00am
02/24/2011 7:00 AM

JOHN DUNN PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer at a news conference in Port Washington Feb. 18, announcing the Senate had passed an FAA Reauthorization Bill that ordered the FAA to impose mandatory rules to limit helicopter noise.

Championing Long Islanders who say that noise from passing helicopters is intolerable, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is trying to force the Federal Aviation Administration to implement rules to do something about it.

Sen. Schumer, declaring a “major breakthrough” in the effort to see something done by the FAA, said this week he had sponsored an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill that gives the agency a 12-month deadline to adopt regulations to reduce the amount of helicopter noise Long Islanders have to endure.

The senator’s amendment does not push for any specific regulations, including a rule proposed by the FAA at his urging last May that  would make mandatory a currently voluntary North Shore helicopter pathway a mile offshore over Long Island sound from Oyster Bay to Orient Point. The proposal was opposed not only by helicopter operators but North Shore residents.

The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 17. The full House has yet to consider its version, which does not include a similar amendment. A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he would try to add identical language to the House bill, which probably will not come up for a vote for several months.

If the Republican leadership does not allow for amendments, Mr. Bishop’s spokesman said, the Schumer provision would still be on the table when a House and Senate conference committee negotiates a final version to be submitted to the president for his signature.

In addition to setting a deadline, the Schumer amendment “provides explicit legal authority for the FAA to implement helicopter flight regulations, shielding the agency from potential litigation,” according to Sen. Schumer’s office.

Published last May, the FAA’s proposed rule making the North Shore route mandatory remains “under review,” according to an FAA spokesperson. The spokesperson would not say why or comment on any legislation pending in Congress. A comment period on the proposal ended last summer. Sen. Schumer himself wrote in opposition to the proposal after it became clear many Long Islanders did not want all helicopter traffic concentrated on one route.

Helicopter and aviation industry organizations also have opposed the rule, saying it would create a collision hazard by concentrating traffic, and that it would raise costs by requiring more fuel as well as GPS equipment for precise for navigation.

Some critics questioned the FAA’s authority to mandate fixed routes and minimum altitudes for helicopters operating under “visual flight rules,” which normally allow helicopter pilots wide discretion in dealing with navigation, weather and other concerns.

Sen. Schumer said his amendment to the FAA bill “puts all ambiguity aside and for the first time gives the FAA unquestionable authority to put helicopter regulations in effect while providing a hard and fast deadline to start providing some relief from ear-shattering helicopter noise.”

The current voluntary North Shore route puts traffic at least a mile offshore, and at least 2,500 feet high, between Nassau County and Orient Point. However, pilots may turn inland when they are approaching their destinations — either Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, a helipad on Dune Road in Southampton or East Hampton Airport — where most helicopters bound for the East End are headed.

That means North Fork, Shelter Island and some South Fork residents are still exposed to noise from helicopters passing overhead.

East Hampton town and Suffolk County officials have established voluntary East End arrival and departure routes aimed at reducing helicopter noise from those overflights. They call on pilots heading east to cross the North Shore at the mostly undeveloped former Grumman property in Calverton and avoid the most populated areas as they fly to Gabreski Airport. Pilots heading further east are asked to follow Sunrise Highway to Shinnecock Canal then continue offshore, over Peconic Bay, through the South Ferry channel between Shelter Island and the South Fork before turning south and inland near Sag Harbor toward East Hampton Airport.

Many pilots heading to East Hampton ignore the voluntary route that calls for a turn inland at Calverton. They continue east off the North Shore and turn inland over the North Fork because a it’s shorter route.

02/21/11 9:39pm
02/21/2011 9:39 PM

Employing language much favored by political figures, Senator Chuck Schumer has announced that the bill recently passed by the Senate funding the Federal Aviation Administration represents a “major breakthrough” in the effort to control the noise made by helicopters crossing the North Fork on the way to and from East Hampton and Southampton. The senator added an amendment ordering the FAA to come up with rules that address the noise problem within 12 months. The extremely noisy aircraft now cross over the North Fork wherever a pilot sees fit. A designated flight path that keeps the copters out over the Sound until they reach Plum Gut is voluntarily and hardly, if ever, used.

A major breakthrough? Not quite, since the House of Representatives has yet to take up that authorization bill. How the measure might fare there is anyone’s guess, but there’s reason for concern given the new GOP majority’s strong pro-business tilt. Within the past week the North Fork suffered a significant setback in the House when that chamber agreed to maintain funding for a new animal disease research center in Kansas — in the heart of cattle country, of all places — to replace the Plum Island lab.
Then there’s the East Hampton town councilman’s admission that a number of his constituents have attorneys lined up to fight any flight path switch that would put the helicopters over their homes.

Something tells us we’re in for a long, bumpy flight.

02/01/11 6:32pm
02/01/2011 6:32 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announces the town's plans to launch a two-year study of the Enterprise Park at Calverton property, with the aim of having it become a bustling industrial zone.

Riverhead officials hope to change the fortunes of the town’s languishing Enterprise Park at Calverton by defining eight distinct planning tasks for determining how to market the property effectively, Supervisor Sean Walter announced at a much-anticipated press conference last Thursday.

The cost of each task will be capped, he said, with the absolute maximum the town would pay for the “comprehensive re-use initiative” totaling $448,000.

Mr. Walter and other town, state and county officials who attended the press event outside Town Hall agreed the price would be worth it. They say the town’s failure to do the right kinds of planning in the past is one reason the park — commonly referred to as EPCAL — has failed to generate many jobs or much tax revenue.

The Town Board is expected to hire the land planning firm Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) to update several key EPCAL studies. The move was approved by a 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.


Councilman John Dunleavy voted against the measure, insisting that similar studies have already been conducting. He also said that, with the economy down, it was a bad time to spend taxpayer money.

The goal is to have all zoning and development guidelines in place so developers will know what they can and cannot build at the EPCAL site, which was transferred from the U.S. Navy to Riverhead Town in the mid-1990s for $1. The federal government said at the time that the land should be used for economic development to replace jobs that were lost when Grumman stopped making naval aircraft there.

Mr. Walter envisions a scenario in which projects that meet all the criteria can be approved within 75 days.

Community Development Agency funds will pay for the studies, he said, including revenue the town has received from land sales or contracts for land sales at EPCAL.

The eight tasks to be performed by VHB include assembling and evaluating existing data (the cost capped at $29,000); examining existing case studies elsewhere where redevelopment has worked (capped at $9,000); a marketing analysis (to be subcontracted by VHB, capped at $20,000); modification of the property’s zoning and reuse plan (capped at $70,000); a generic environmental impact study, to include studies of wildlife, among other things (capped at $160,000); and a traffic impact study (capped at $65,000).

The town probably will not attempt to market the property again until all studies are done and the proposed uses for the land are known, Mr. Walter said, although he added that the town doesn’t really market it now, and doesn’t even have a website for EPCAL.

“EPCAL is no longer going to be the place where bad ideas come to rest,” Mr. Walter said.

In the past, the town has entertained proposals at EPCAL calling for an indoor ski mountain, polo fields, carnivals and movie studios — “but nothing has ever come to fruition,” he continued. “Everybody with a dollar and a dream comes to EPCAL.”

The town has so far seen about $25 million in revenue from EPCAL but has never invested more than $50,000 in promoting commercial development of the site. It has spent nearly $1 million on new ballfields, which have yet to open, Mr. Walter said.

Because the town has not subdivided the property, it cannot legally sell lots at EPCAL, he said. Likewise, the town has never done a comprehensive wildlife study of the 2,900-acre property, something the state Department of Environmental Conservation has required, the supervisor said. The state DEC and Riverhead Town have butted heads for years about jurisdiction over proposed development at the Calverton site.

The 1,000 acres of land zoned for recreational uses at EPCAL also hasn’t been good for commercial development either, the supervisor said.

“We have been advocating this approach for several years,” said Peter Scully, regional director of the state DEC, who attended the press conference.
Mr. Scully said he had written former supervisor Phil Cardinale in 2005 and had advocated the more inclusive planning approach then.

“Business owners need to know that they can build what they need to build and can get a permit in a defined set of time,” Mr. Walter said. “I spent 12 months trying to get a defense contractor to come to EPCAL, but they left because they needed to have a shovel in the ground within six months.”

Because VHB will provide what are considered professional services, the job is not subject to competitive bidding. VHB has said the studies will take about two years to complete.

“This is one of the most important and responsible decisions ever made in the history of EPCAL,” Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen said, adding that the cost of the project will be small compared to the benefit of developing the property properly.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that in two years, when the studies are done, the town will be in a position to market EPCAL again.

“Right now, the economy is sluggish,” she said, explaining that the down real estate market is not the time to undergo such a lengthy process.

At the press conference, Mr. Walter briefly discussed his plan to establish a regulatory agency at EPCAL comprising town, state and county officials.

Although he had referred to it in the past as an “authority,” he said he did not want to cede control to the state. Instead, he envisioned an agency where all the levels of government that have regulatory authority would be represented. He added that the town should have a majority vote on such a board.

The supervisor briefly discussed his hope that EPCAL could play a role in the “regional innovation cluster” uniting Brookhaven National Lab, Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Lab to create Long Island jobs.

“There is a reason why we are the worst state in the union to do business in,” said freshman state Assemblyman Dan LoSquadro (R-Shoreham). “We have created an unbelievably highly politicized regulatory environment in which business cannot operate. They are stuck in a quagmire of countless levels of government holding them up for time immemorial.”

He said the state needs to partner with towns on projects like EPCAL in order to make the state competitive again.

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