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Thursday
May182017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Is Atlantic Oil Drilling In Our Future?

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Nearly 50 years ago I broke the story of the oil industry’s interest in drilling in the offshore Atlantic. Largely because of moratoria enacted by Congress, it didn’t happen in the U.S. Atlantic in the decades since. But now with President Donald Trump’s having just signed an executive order on offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Arctic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, it could.        

Here in Suffolk, John V. N. Klein of Smithtown was a leader in the opposition to offshore Atlantic drilling—first as presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature and then when he became Suffolk County executive. Earlier, Mr. Klein, a Republican, was Smithtown Town supervisor.

“We’re opening it up,” said Mr. Trump adding that “offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent.”

It was in 1970 that a Montauk fisherman told me that east of Long Island he saw the same kind of ship he observed searching for oil when he was a shrimper in the Gulf of Mexico. As an investigative reporter for the daily Long Island Press, I spent a day calling oil companies to be told by PR people from each that their companies were not involved in searching in the Atlantic. As the day ended and I was leaving the office, there was a return call from a Gulf PR man who said, yes, Gulf was out there looking for oil and gas as part of a “consortium” of 32 oil companies. These included the companies which all day had issued denials. It was an initial experience in oil industry honesty, an oxymoron.

I pursued the story up and down the Atlantic. In 1971, I visited the first drilling rig set up, off Nova Scotia.  On the rig were capsules designed to eject workers. A rescue boat went round and round “We treat every foot of hole like a potential disaster,” explained the Shell Canada executive. It was obvious on the rig that offshore drilling is fraught with danger.

As to the booms proclaimed by the oil industry then and now as capable of cleaning up spills, the Shell Canada man said they “just don’t work in over five foot-foot seas.” In Nova Scotia or in the Atlantic off the U.S., five foot seas are common. So the oil could be expected in many, if not most, circumstances to hit shore. 

U.S. Department of Interior records I examined acknowledged spillage being chronic in offshore oil drilling. And, it was admitted by the federal government that the Atlantic is a far more problematic place to drill. The President’s Council on Environmental Quality declared:
“The Atlantic is a hostile environment for oil and gas operations. Storm and seismic conditions may be more severe than in either the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico.”

The 2010 blowout and massive spill from BP Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf provided an exclamation point to the accident-prone, indeed disaster-prone process. It’s drill, baby, spill.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s order, 16 U.S. senators put forth the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Anti-Drilling Act which would ban oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic. They include: Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey; 

Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Dianne Feinstein of California; Ben Cardin and  Chris Van Hollen of Maryland; Bill Nelson of Florida; all Democrats; and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

From the House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami, declared: “The potential damage to our world-renowned coral reefs, robust fisheries, pristine beaches and tourism-supported small businesses should far outweigh any short-term benefit anticipated in the administration’s plan. Tourism is the driving force behind our state’s economy and offshore drilling threatens the very resources that these visitors come to Florida to enjoy.” .” Congressman Charlie Christ, a former Florida governor, a Democrat, asked Mr. Trump to reverse course and put “the well-being of our coastal communities above oil industry profits.”

In South Carolina, Frank Knapp, president of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic, said: “President Trump referred to offshore drilling creating good jobs and showed no concern for those who will lose their jobs due to oil spills and leaks,” 

A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit challenging it. These include the League of Conservation Voters—its first lawsuit in its 50 years, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife. Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark said: “We do not need and cannot use the oil that may lie under these waters if we ever hope to meet our nation’s commitment to addressing climate change.”

In fact, the order comes while there is a glut of petroleum in the world—why the price of gasoline at the pump here in Suffolk these days has dropped to $2.45 a gallon and less.  

And why spend many millions for exploration and test-drilling for unneeded oil instead of advancing the further implementation of solar and wind energy? These clean, green, renewable sources are the fastest-growing energy sources worldwide.  

The only part of the Atlantic off North America where there’s been drilling has been off Nova Scotia, the site of my visit to a rig decades ago. A report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation earlier this year was headed: “Nova Scotia offshore oil and gas ‘doesn’t look good’ after Shell seals two wells.” It began: “Shell’s decision to seal two exploration wells off Nova Scotia has set back the province’s dream of offshore riches.”

Turns out the dream of a barrel of oil “gold” in the Atlantic could be an illusion. 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.

Saturday
May132017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - New Interest In Democratic Party Linked To Donald Trump

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

The presidency of Donald Trump has resulted in a “huge increase” in interest and involvement in Democratic Party activities in Suffolk, says the county’s Democratic chairman, Rich Schaffer. “People have been reaching out to town [Democratic] committees through the county and to us,” said Mr. Schaffer other day.

Since the election, the Suffolk Democratic Party has received thousands of telephone calls and emails “from people who want to get involved—and do something,” said the party leader.

Meanwhile, anti-Trump “resistance” groups have sprung up in Suffolk and with the Suffolk Democratic Party are committed to opposing Mr. Trump and defeating officeholders backing him. 

Mr. Schaffer has sought to coordinate with these groups. He held a meeting recently with 50 people from the groups at Suffolk Democratic Party headquarters in Bohemia. “We all have the same goals—defeat of [Lee] Zeldin and [Peter] King.” Republican Zeldin is an avid supporter of  Mr. Trump with ties to him that go back to 2014 when Mr. Zeldin first ran for Congress and Mr. Trump contributed to his campaign and made a robocall describing Mr. Zeldin as “a terrific guy” and “very conservative.” 

GOPer King initially held Mr. Trump was “not fit to be president,” but after Mr. Trump clinched the GOP nomination, endorsed him with reluctance—“I don’t agree with Donald Trump on everything,” he said. The third congressman representing Suffolk is Democrat Tom Suozzi.

The district of Mr. Zeldin of Shirley, the lst C.D., includes most of Smithtown, a slice of Islip, all of Brookhaven Town and all five East End towns. The district of Mr. King, the 2nd C.D., includes Babylon and Islip Towns and extends west into Nassau County where he resides, in Seaford. Mr. Suozzi’s district, the 3rd C.D., takes in Huntington and also extends into Nassau where Mr. Suozzi lives, in Glen Cove, and goes further west into Queens.

All seats in the House of Representatives will be up for election next year.

“It’s important that we supplement each other to achieve our goals,” said Mr. Schaffer of the anti-Trump “resistance” groups. The Democratic chairman, a former Suffolk County legislator and now Babylon Town supervisor, spoke about how “every day the actions of Trump and his cast of characters—on health care, the environment, on issue after issue” provides added momentum to the opposition to the Trump presidency here.

The situation in Suffolk mirrors the national picture.

The Washington Post published an article last month headlined, “Democrats partner with political newcomers aiming to create anti-Trump wave in 2018 midterms.” It began: “A wave of first-time candidates eager to fight President Trump and his young administration plan to challenge House Republican incumbents, giving Democratic Party leaders hope that they can capitalize on the anger and intensity of grass-roots protests and town hall meetings across the country this year….Democratic strategists are trying to take advantage of the groundswell of engagement.”

One of the anti-Trump “resistance” groups in Suffolk is IndivisibleNY01 in the lst C.D. of Mr. Zeldin. As it says on its website https://medic3569.wixsite.com/patchogueindivisible under “Mission”—“To share knowledge of our political process and performance of our elected officials so that we can inspire our community to contribute to their and their family’s future, by persuading our representatives to represent US.” Under “Our Principles,” it states—“The current administration and elected officials will take America backwards and MUST BE STOPPED! Any elected officials that don’t represent us properly MUST BE STOPPED!….Whenever one of our representatives acts, whether sponsoring or co-sponsoring a bill, makes a speech, votes on legislation, etc. that doesn’t consider our concerns,” that representative “must be told, loudly.” An early action of the group was a demonstration at an event involving Mr. Zeldin.

A recent meeting of IndivisibleNY01 was addressed by Bryan Erwin of Riverhead whose background in government includes being an aide to former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. He discussed political strategy.

John A. Smith of Patchogue, founder of InvisibleNY01, says: “We see that there are a lot of angry and scared people in our communities. We want to direct that anger and fear into something constructive. We want to educate and register those people in our communities to vote and get involved. We want them to realize they have a voice and that we need their voice to change the racist, authoritarian and corrupt agenda being carried out by the president and the party in control of the county.” 

Anti-Trump energies in Suffolk are also being channeled through social media. In a recent Facebook posting, psychotherapist Michael Z. Jody of East Hampton cited various “monstrous” appointments by Mr. Trump, among them Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry who has said he wanted “to shut down” DOE; Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA which “Pruitt has been battling for years;” Betty DeVos as head of the Department of Education although she “does not believe in public education…. And on and on it goes…We need resistance like our lives depend on it,” said Mr. Jody, because they “just might.”

Friday
Apr282017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - At 96 Harriett Crippen Brown Gumbs Still A Princess

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

She is a 12th generation descendent of Chief Wyandanch, the premier chief or sachem on Long Island in the 16th century, who gifted to Lion Gardiner what became the land on which the Town of Smithtown is situated. Lion Gardiner later conveyed the land to Richard Smythe, and thus Smithtown took form.

As an infant on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, Harriett Crippen Brown Gumbs was given another name—Princess Starleaf.

The other day, sitting alongside his mother, Edward A. Gumbs spoke of the tradition of providing such an honor when a child is deemed very special, when “a sparkle in her eyes” and other signs indicate “this baby is going to be very smart.”

“I’m still a princess,” said Ms. Gumbs with her warm, sweet smile.

Ms. Gumbs, who turned 96 last month, is the oldest female Shinnecock. She is the matriarch of the tribe. (The oldest male Shinneock is Lubin Hunter who’ll become 100 next month.)

And her life has demonstrated how she truly deserved the title of princess. She’s brilliant, a fount of information—and there’s still a sparkle in her eyes.

I recall decades ago Ms. Gumbs and I giving a presentation together on the history of Long Island—she about its earliest years and I about modern times. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of the original inhabitants of this island. Through the years, she has given presentations here and elsewhere in the United States and also abroad representing the League of Women Voters with which she has long been active.

She is spunky. For instance, when we spoke recently on the reservation, she was challenging the designation of native people as “Indians.”

This derives from the quest by Columbus to sail west to get to India and encountering a continent in between and thus the natives got to be called Indians. Ms. Gumbs said she prefers the term “aboriginal natives of the soil.” (This corresponds with the dictionary definition of aboriginal—“inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists.”) And she believes “of the soil” is important, too, reflecting the intimate relationship Native Americans have had with the land. Indeed, her family—there were 10 brothers and sisters and she is the last—farmed.

Originally, there were 13 tribes on Long Island. The Nissequogue was the tribe in what today is the Town of Smithtown.

There are two reservations on which these original inhabitants still live—the 800-acre Shinnecock reservation, west of Southampton, and the Poospatuck reservation in Mastic, containing less than a tenth the land and with a quarter of the population of the Shinnecocks.

Ms. Gumbs was speaking about how “they put us on a small reservation. We were pushed back”—an issue she has raised through the decades. Here like all over what became the United States, the land of native people was taken from them in outrageous ways. This was facilitated by the natives never perceiving land as a commodity, something to own, but as sacred. Originally, before the Europeans arrived, the Shinnecocks lived ocean-to-bay. 

As Ms. Gumbs told The New York Times in 2000, “We feel that we are on the verge of extinction and annihilation if we do not defend ourselves and stand up for our rights.” That was in the midst of a battle with a developer building a 38-house subdivision on acreage near the reservation’s disputed northern border.

Since 2010, it’s been the Shinnecock Indian Nation—with the tribe receiving, after a 30-year effort, federal recognition. Ms. Gumbs had a lot to do with that. Starting in the 1970s, she did extensive research which was key. Previously, it had state recognition.

The history of the Shinnecocks is well-presented at the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum. Its pow-wow every Labor Day weekend, which started in 1912, has been ranked by USA Today as one of the 10 great pow-wows held in the U.S.

Ms. Gumbs has three sons—and now 52 great-great-grandchildren!

She is a summa cum laude graduate of Southampton College with a degree in history/education. She has been the historian of the tribe, and also a business entrepreneur and teacher.

The Southampton school system recently decided to include elements of Shinnecock culture in all classes—in partnership with the Shinnecocks. The state requires schools to teach about Native Americans but it has been mostly about upstate tribes. ‘They want to know something about us,” smiled Ms. Gumbs.

“My mother loves life, loves youth,” Edward was saying. “When she sees youngsters—and they call her grandma and Aunt Harriet—it makes her day. Warmth comes from it. It’s like a ray of sunshine.”

Princess Starleaf herself is a ray of sunshine.

Thursday
Apr202017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Lyme Disease

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

This could be a bad year in Suffolk County for Lyme disease—the malady of which residents here were among the earliest victims.

“Forbidding Forecast for Lyme disease in the Northeast,” was the title of a report last month on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” Neither that program nor NPR are prone to exaggeration.

“Ticking time bomb…Lyme disease is set to explode in the U.S. this year,” was the headline this month of an article in a publication also known for careful journalism, New Scientist.

Both told similar stories. The NPR report began with findings of ecologists Felicia Keesling and Rick Ostfeld who have studied Lyme disease for more than 20 years, she at Bard College, he at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, both in the Hudson River Valley upstate. 

“The Hudson River Valley experienced a mouse plague during the summer of 2016,” related NPR. “For most people it was just a nuisance. But for Keesling and Ostfeld, the mouse plague signaled something foreboding. ‘We’re anticipating 2017 to be a particularly risky year for Lyme,’ Ostfeld says. They can predict how many cases there will be a year in advance by looking at one key measurement: Count the mice the year before. The number of critters scampering around the forest in the summer correlates to the Lyme cases the following summer, they’ve reported.”

“Mice are highly efficient transmitters of Lyme,” NPR continued. (Mice and deer are the prime transporters of ticks carrying Lyme disease.) “So that mouse plague last year means there is going to be a Lyme plague this year…Ostfeld says, “He’s not exactly sure which parts of the Northeast will be at highest risk. But wherever Lyme exists, people should be vigilant, says epidemiologist Kierste Kugeler of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC].”

The New Scientist piece, quoting Mr. Ostfeld extensively, says of the “coming outbreak”—“Thanks to a changing climate it could be one of the worst on record: the ticks that carry the disease have been found in places where it has never been before been a problem—and where most people don’t know how to respond. The danger zone isn’t confined to the U.S.: similar signs are flagging potential outbreaks in Europe.”

Suffolk folks were hit early with Lyme disease. That could be expected considering the disease was named for Old Lyme, Connecticut where it was first identified in 1975. Old Lyme is across the Long Island Sound, 10 miles from Plum Island. The 2004 book “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory” by attorney Michael Christopher Carroll links Lyme disease to the release of ticks in experiments there. Plum Island Animal Disease Center officials deny this. 

Initially, in the early 1980s, the leadership of the Suffolk Department of Health Services  downplayed the seriousness of Lyme disease. In most instances it can be cured with prompt treatment with antibiotics.  But ticks carrying the disease are miniscule and signs of infection don’t always appear. Some people end up with chronic Lyme disease with its profoundly debilitating impacts. It can be fatal if it gets to the heart or brain. 

Lyme disease has spread widely. In the U.S., as a map in the New Scientist article depicts, it is now in all the New England states, all over New York State and extends through New Jersey and Pennsylvania and into Maryland and Virginia. It has jumped to the Midwest affecting Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. And there is Lyme disease in Florida, and also in California and elsewhere on the West Coast.

Ms. Kugeler of the CDC said in the NPR report: “We think the true burden of Lyme disease in the U.S. is [yearly] about 300,000 cases. Lyme disease is quite a big public health problem.” 

Suffolk government has come far on Lyme and is now fully aware of the gravity of the disease. There is a Suffolk County Arthropod-Borne Disease Laboratory headed by Dr. Scott Campbell. A county lawmaker leading in the fight against Lyme has been Legislator Brigit Fleming of Noyac who last year got the county’s Tick Control Advisory Committee (now chaired by Dr. Campbell) reactivated and $100,000 in county funding for a tick testing program.

On the state level, in 2014 a bill of Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor allocating $500,000 for “Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Prevention and Treatment” was enacted. Mr. La Valle is a member of the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases though which he has been able to obtain money for anti-tick efforts in Suffolk. But an initiative spearheaded by Ms. Fleming and sought this year by Messrs. LaValle and Thiele for $500,000 for a Lyme disease “surveillance and management program” in Suffolk failed to be included in the new state budget.

Meanwhile, as was exposed by the 2009 documentary “Under Our Skin,” an Academy Award semi-finalist and winner of 20 film festival awards, the health insurance industry has manipulated medical boards into denying the existence of chronic Lyme disease—the industry doesn’t wasn’t to pay for the expensive treatment needed. In 2014, a sequel to “Under Our Skin” was released. Visit www.underourskin.com for more details about this scandalous situation.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.

Wednesday
Apr192017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - The highlight of my life

SUFFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

It was a highlight of my life. 

Dennis Fabiszak, director of the East Hampton Library, sent an email last month saying: “I have great news. Your archive is now live. We currently have 3,401 documents included and we are scanning every day…Here is a direct link to the archive.” http://easthamptonlibrary.org/long-island-history/karl-grossman-research-archive/

What a thrill! After 55 years as a journalist on Long Island, all my files—thousands of articles and what historians call “primary documents”—are being digitized by the East Hampton Library to be available to anyone on Long Island and indeed the world.

They chronicle the modern history of Long Island which I’ve covered from 1962 to the present, for most of the years as an investigative reporter and columnist. My now nearly 50-year-old column, begun at the daily Long Island Press, has since The Press folded in 1977 run in weekly newspapers and now also on news websites. The material amassed derives, too, from my work as nightly news anchor on the island’s commercial TV station, WSNL67, and host of “Long Island World” on its PBS station, WLIW21.

It’s a great honor to donate all the material to the East Hampton Library. The title of the archive: “Karl Grossman Research Archive.” 

The East Hampton Library is famous for its Long Island Collection.

As the library notes on its website: “What was once a room specially built in 1930 to house the personal collection of historian Morton Pennypacker is currently a 5-room research and study area containing a vast array of original, historic, as well as contemporary materials that chronicle life on Long Island from the seventeenth century to the present day.”

The “Long Island Collection’s holdings include photographs, postcards, whaling logs, diaries, account books, deeds, wills, genealogies, maps, architectural drawings, oral histories and newspapers. Various items of note include Native American documents and artifacts, the 1599 Gardiner family bible, the original deed to Shelter Island, the Captain Kidd ‘cloth of gold’ [presented by the pirate on a visit to Gardiner’s Island], and materials relating to the Culper Spy Ring.”

I’ve had a front-row seat as Long Island has exploded in population and gone through many changes—while, so fortunately, preserving much of its beautiful nature and the charm of its communities.

Some examples of what you and others can now start to access digitally:

Robert Moses was hell-bent between 1962 and 1964 on building a highway the length of Fire Island but was stopped by creation of a Fire Island National Seashore.  I was in the middle of this story. All the documents—Moses’ declarations, the statements of Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore—and many, many articles, are all there. 

The establishment by New York State of Stony Brook University was mired in “town-gown” conflict with some in the nearby area objecting to the university and its students. This culminated in an army of Suffolk Police streaming onto the campus at 5 a.m. on January 17, 1968 in a raid I covered called “Operation Stony Brook.” The police put out a 107-page manual, in my files, identifying student after student as a purveyor of drugs, mostly marijuana. One of the cops whose undercover activities, hanging out with Stony Brook students, led to the raid would later remark: “We were the first police department that ever had the nerve to hit a university.”

There are voluminous records and articles on a huge Suffolk scandal of the 1970s—the $1 billion Southwest Sewer District project.  With sewering on again here, they offer lessons.

The Long Island Lighting Company spent decades seeking to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants with Shoreham the first. There are thousands of records of this ultimately defeated scheme to make Long Island what nuclear promoters called a “nuclear park.” I also wrote a book published by Grove Press on this nuclear push titled “Power Crazy.”

With development pressures intense, Suffolk created an extraordinary Open Space Program, the largest land acquisition undertaking of any county in the U.S., and a first-in-the-nation Farmland Preservation Program. Many documents and articles about them are in the files.

There were major campaigns for the secession of the East End of Long Island from Suffolk County to form a separate Peconic County, and there are records of these drives.

There was Charles T. Matthews, scion of a prominent Suffolk Republican family, bolting to run on the Democratic ticket for Suffolk DA in 1965 charging organized crime was in the midst of trying to take over the Suffolk GOP. He cited names and meetings. There are the records on this.

There was the scam about building a “deepwater port” in Jamesport. Excavation on a square mile of land along the Long Island Sound was proceeding full-tilt by 1970. But, in fact, what was involved was a gigantic sand mine, no port. I received the George Polk Award for my journalism’s role in stopping this. Then LILCO bought the land for four of its planned nuclear plants. And this was stopped in the 1980s. I was deep as a journalist in this phase of the saga, too. The land is happily now the site of Hallockville State Park.

If you’d like to support this archive project, please contact Mr. Fabiszak, at dennis@easthamptonlibrary.org, or call him at 631-324-0222, extension 7.  

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.