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Source: Times Beacon Record Media

Environmental issues command full attention


Posted: February 17, 2011
Originally Published: February 16, 2011

Nitrogen runoff in groundwater and increasing the use of solar energy were some topics of discussion at Sen. Ken LaValle's annual Environmental Roundtable last Thursday held at Suffolk County Community College in Selden.

LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) was joined by Assemblyman Fred Thiele, county Legislator Ed Romaine and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, as well as other town supervisors and town board members, civic leaders and representatives from Citizen's Campaign for the Environment, the Long Island Farm Bureau and grassroots organizations among others. The event serves as a forum for environmental experts to share their input on efforts to protect our local environment.

Thiele (R-Sag Harbor), who attends the roundtable every year, said the event has been "very valuable in the past."

Peter Scully, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, started the roundtable off by discussing the current state of the environment. He said the DEC has had "successful enforcement efforts having to do with illegal solid waste activity" and the department has been working closely with stakeholder groups and a technical advisory committee to bring a new Long Island pesticide use management plan to fruition.

Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, brought up two pieces of legislation. The Solar Power Jobs Act, which Esposito said was introduced last year, would require the state to increase the use of solar power, bringing solar power use across the state to 5,000 megawatts by 2025, Esposito said. "That might sound like a lot but frankly it's a very baseline small level," Esposito said, adding the bill is important because it would allow solar companies to "build their businesses here and know there will be business here for them to stay and to grow."

In addition Esposito hopes the Suffolk County Legislature will approve recently introduced legislation that would require health care facilities to have safe disposal plans for pharmaceutical drugs. When poured down the sink or flushed these substances "end up in groundwater and they end up in surface waters at bays and estuaries," Esposito said, adding she hopes the state will implement similar legislation.

Romaine (R-Center Moriches) discussed his concerns over nitrogen levels in groundwater and surface waters. "There are alternatives to the cesspool septic system that was developed over 60 years ago," he said. Romaine plans to introduce legislation on March 8 that would define nitrogen sensitive zones in Suffolk County. The amount of nitrogen in groundwater has increased "over the last 10 years and that's a tremendous concern to me," Romaine said.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, later said the idea that there's going to be zero tolerance with nitrogen getting into the water and zero tolerance with pesticides is "not real world" and said the amount of nitrogen that makes its way into groundwater is not significant. "We have to balance economics with environment," Gergela said.

An example, Gergela said, is that local farmers have been experimenting with slow-release fertilizer that reduce nitrogen impact on groundwater. However this fertilizer "costs several hundred dollars a ton more than traditional typical fertilizer." He said he is working to weed out mismanagement practices within the industry "as well as reduce nutrient inputs."

Also mentioned during the roundtable was the possible reopening of Stony Brook University's Southampton campus, a college that had majors focused on environment and sustainability. LaValle said "hopefully" soon he will update the public status on the college. Thiele also said he's hopeful about a potential "major public investment."

"And you've never heard me say the words Southampton and hopeful in the same sentence," Thiele said.

Scully also spoke about the recently completed Carmans River Watershed Protection and Management Plan. The Carmans River, ten miles long, runs through the Central Long Island Pine Barrens Region, which is publicly protected and managed land. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," Scully said. "Creating a plan is one thing and a lot of work but making sure the plan doesn't simply sit on the shelf and collect dust is a real challenge."