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Friday
Feb172017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Protecting Farmland On LI

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Suffolk County government is moving forcefully to appeal a judge’s decision seen as severely undermining the county’s Farmland Preservation Program and also with new legislation overcome issues raised in a lawsuit that resulted in the ruling.

County Executive Steve Bellone, in outlining the twin strategies, declared last month: “We believe that the findings in this lawsuit strike at the very heart of future agricultural success in Suffolk County and that the findings fail to recognize that support structures on agricultural land have always been an essential and inherent component of agricultural production…I want to ensure that Suffolk County’s vibrant agricultural industry continues for future generations.”

The lawsuit brought by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society held that allowing structures on farmland saved under the landmark and nationally-emulated Farmland Preservation Program was a violation of the program. This was permitted by amendments to the program approved by the Suffolk Legislature in 2010 and 2013. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan agreed with the stance of the Pine Barrens Society.

But as Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming of stated at the press conference January 11th with Mr. Bellone: “Our goal is not to allow development on farmland. On the contrary, the goal is to prevent overdevelopment by preserving and supporting our working farms. Our critically important agricultural industry will only survive if farmers can undertake the basic practices that make a farm work and turn a profit. Row crops must be watered, protected from wildlife, and supported by machinery that needs to be stored. Our preservation program must allow for these basic practices, our legislation confirms.” 

Also at the press conference, Vito Minei, former chief of the Office of Ecology in the county’s Department of Health Services and now executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said “hopefully” the county’s appeal of the judge’s ruling plus the legislation will “prove successful in undoing the potentially devastating effects on agriculture that could result from the judgement.”

Legislator Al Krupski of Cutchogue, also a sponsor of the legislation, drew from his extensive experience as a fourth-generation Suffolk farmer, to tell of how accessory structures are needed on farms.

A statement from the county executive’s office noted that “farmland protection programs across the state and across the nation all recognize that farming requires accessory support structures including greenhouses, barns, fences, animal pens and farm stands to maintain the economic viability of the agricultural operation. Accessory structures have always been essential to the art and science of agriculture. They are inherent and necessary components of agricultural production and working agricultural lands.”

The county is hiring the law firm of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo of Riverhead, well-known for environmental litigation, to represent it in the appeal at a cost, if necessary, of up to $100,000. 

The Suffolk Farmland Preservation Program has been a key to saving an important and historical activity here and keeping Suffolk a top agricultural county in the state which also encourages tourism. It was initiated in 1974 under County Executive John V.N. Klein of Smithtown and has saved 10,750 farm acres. Mr. Klein is a former Smithtown Town supervisor and a county legislator representing Smithtown and was the first presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature.

The basis for the program—a first-in-the-nation concept—is purchase of “development rights.” Owners of agricultural land are paid the difference between the land’s value as farmland and it being developed. The land must then remain in agriculture in perpetuity. 

The legislation, advanced by the county executive, Mr. Krupski and Ms. Fleming, sums up the situation well. It begins stating that “Suffolk has worked assiduously since the early 1970’s to preserve and protect the county’s farmland resource, agricultural industry and heritage” with “the most important tool in the county’s agricultural preservation effort” the “pioneering” purchase of development rights. The program “has been amended and updated…in order to stay current with changing practices in the agricultural industry and to ensure the program’s continued success.” The judge’s “ruling upset a consensus on farming practices that was reached by the county’s policymakers after years of careful deliberation with all interested stakeholders.” It “will severely undermine the county’s farmland preservation efforts.” 

Farmers in the preservation program “are unsure what actions they may take to sustain production on their lands, and farmers who were considering entering the program are now hesitant to do so. Further, this legislature finds that the uncertainty surrounding the program’s future makes it more likely that thousands of acres of unprotected farmland will be converted into non-agricultural uses.” Thus this “clarifying legislation”—spelling out how limited and neceded structures can be on preserved farmland—is being brought forward “to allow the county’s farmland program to continue functioning.”

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
Feb112017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Long Island Making Clean Energy History

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

“It was a big day! Long Island is making clean energy history for the island, for the State of New York and for the country,” exclaimed Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, about the approval on January 25 by the Long Island Power Authority of what is to be the biggest offshore wind farm in the United States. Fifteen wind turbines to be erected by Deepwater Wind are to go up 30 miles southeast of Montauk.

And in equally big renewable energy news, just two weeks earlier Governor Andrew Cuomo declared in a regional State of the State address for Long Island that the aim for the state is to “reach 100 percent renewable [energy] because that’s what a sustainable New York is really all about.”

A major part of that power will come from offshore wind, he said in the presentation January 10 at Farmingdale State University. “We want to get 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.” (That’s three times the electricity that the Shoreham nuclear plant would have provided. It was stopped from going into commercial operation by grassroots and governmental opposition on Long Island based on health and safety concerns, and its nuclear innards removed.)

Last year, the governor along with New York State agencies developed a plan to have renewable energy sources provide 50% of electrical energy used in New York by 2030, a so-called “50-by-30” initiative. The 100% goal signifies a major change.  

Mr. Raacke, who was at both the governor’s State of the State address and the LIPA meeting where the LIPA board voted unanimously for the 15 wind turbines 30 miles off Montauk, called the governor’s call for a 100% goal “remarkable.” He noted that the town board of East Hampton, where Renewable Energy Long Island has its office, has committed the town to a 100% renewable energy goal. For this to be a state goal, too, said Mr. Raacke “is great.”

On the offshore wind project the LIPA board would subsequently vote on, Mr. Cuomo in his address said: “They will not be visible from the beach. They will be 30 miles southeast of Montauk. Not even Superman standing on Montauk Point could see these wind farms. But the upside is tremendous. It will be the largest offshore wind project in our nation’s history…It’s jobs, it’s clean energy and it’s inexpensive energy which then drives the economy.”

A problem for years in the development of offshore wind farms in the United States—stopping proposed projects between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and off Jones Beach on Long Island—was closeness of the turbines to the coast. Residents complained of that disturbing the view.

But Deepwater Wind, based in Rhode Island, has made technological breakthroughs allowing wind turbines to go up way out to sea, beyond the horizon.

In December, five Deepwater Wind turbines began spinning 12 miles east of Montauk  becoming the country’s first offshore wind farm. 

Deepwater Wind has even bigger offshore wind projects planned including one more east of Long Island and a second west of Long Island off the New Jersey coast. Central Long Island is also slated to have an offshore wind farm. Solteil Wind, a Norwegian company, won a $42 million federal lease last month to put up 194 wind turbines in the Atlantic well off Jones Beach.

The 15-turbine offshore wind farm approved in a 9-to-0 vote by the LIPA board has made national news—quite a distinction for Long Island. “Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm Will Be Built Off Long Island” was the headline in the New York Times. Offshore wind has “struggled to take off in the United States, but the Long Island project signals that the long-awaited promise of a new, low-carbon source of electricity is poised to become part of the national energy mix,” said the article.

Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, following the LIPA action, described it as “a big day for clean energy in New York and our nation. “ He praised Governor Cuomo for setting “a bold vision for a clean energy future” and said “this project is a significant step toward making that a reality.” Added Mr. Grybowski: “There is a huge clean energy resource blowing off of our coastline just over the horizon, and it is time to tap into this unlimited resource to power our communities.”

Many Long Island environmentalists, area public officials and union members—who are looking at the construction jobs that offshore wind will provide—were at the LIPA meeting and celebrated after the vote.

There is still resistance to offshore wind farms even though they would be far out to sea. Fishing interests are concerned.  Mr. Raacke, who has visited wind farms in Europe—where there are many—said: “Offshore wind farms can co-exist with commercial fishing. This is not a new issue. It has been resolved in Europe. It can be resolved here.”

 

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.

Sunday
Feb052017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - "Civil Rights On Long Island"

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

“Civil Rights on Long Island” is a new book by Christopher Verga. And, starting his presentation at the Suffolk County Historical Society, he said he “chose the project” because it involves something that has “fallen through the cracks”—although a huge issue.

It goes back to the time of slavery and, shockingly, Suffolk and what was then a bigger Queens (taking in what later became Nassau County) having “the largest slave population in the North,” said Mr. Verga.  As Mr. Verga, who teaches a course, Long Island History, at Suffolk County Community College spoke, on the screen flashed details: “During the time period of the 17th Century to the late 18th Century, Suffolk County Long Island’s population was comprised of 18% enslaved and Queens County (most of modern day Nassau County) was comprised of 27% enslaved.” 

In response to questions at the well-attended presentation January 21 at the society in Riverhead, he said the “average” slaveholder here had two to four slaves—although large wealthy families had far more. Terrible treatment of the island’s original Native American inhabitants ran in parallel, and some “Indians were also enslaved.” 

Later, participation in elections by African-Americans, Native-Americans, and poor people generally, was formally “prevented in 1821 by a New York State Constitution clause requiring a person [men] to own $100 to $250 worth of property to vote.”

In the 1920’s, the Ku Klux Klan became a dominant force here—one out of seven Long Islanders were members of the KKK. “This was rampant on Long Island,” he said.  

People running for public office would say, ‘I’m a member of the Klan so vote for me,” and there were signs aplenty posted declaring: “We Support Klan Members.” 

The big foe of the KKK was the Catholic Church, said Mr. Verga, emphasizing that the fight against racism and bigotry is also a big part of civil rights history on Long Island..

The KKK “hated immigrants” and was hotly anti-Catholic, along with being virulently anti-black and anti-Jewish. Being “anti-immigrant to the fullest and anti-Catholic” ran “neck-and-neck” for the KKK, he related, because most newcomers to Suffolk and what became Nassau were Catholic. The line of the KKK, he said, was that Catholics “prayed to someone in Rome and were not allegiant to America.” 

Flashing on the screen was a photograph of an anti-KKK demonstration in Bay Shore in 1923 that consisted, said a report in the Brooklyn Eagle, of an astonishing 40,000 people and was organized by the Holy Name Society of the Catholic Church in protest to KKK members running for public office, including that year, for Islip Town supervisor.

“The biggest issue on Long Island was immigration,” said Mr. Verga.  And the “biggest donors” to the KKK were “real estate companies. They kept the Klan viable.” On the screen flashed a piece of local KKK literature listing donors, with real estate companies topping the list. In response to a question from the audience, Mr. Verga said that these companies believed that if there were diversity in housing it would somehow lower real estate values.

It was a time that “Catholics were worried” about being targets of the bigots. What ended that was “changed demographics.” There were too many Catholics—they had gained strength in numbers.

In the post-World War II period, bias still raged with restrictions against blacks and Jews in “a lot of areas.” Levittown, with its 17,000 homes, formalized racism in deeds to those houses that stipulated they were not to be for—as a Levittown legal document appeared stating—“any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”

But there were people “challenging boundaries…breaking racial barriers” on Long Island, and it became a “battleground” in the nation’s civil rights struggle. This included Thomas Romano, seeing “what Levittown was doing” and building a development called Ronek Park in North Amityville for which an ad that flashed on the screen declared:  “Dedicated to the Proposition That All Men Are Created Equal.” 

Mr. Verga spoke of how Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a rally here—as a photograph of Dr. King at that demonstration appeared—and there was also a discussion accompanied by photographs of Long Islanders involved in the civil rights battles here including Dr. Eugene Reed who went on to become state NAACP president, and Irwin and Delores Quintyne, leaders of Suffolk CORE. And “Jewish groups were big” in the island’s civil rights efforts, he said. “All these groups worked together. It was beautiful.” 

A key part of what happened after the war, said Mr. Verga, involved black soldiers coming home and finding “the same sort of discrimination prior to the war.” Their reaction was: “I came home and I thought we were done with this racism.”

Today “we still do have obstacles,” there are “still areas not integrated,” he said. “We still have work to do.” But there has been substantial change. On the screen came a photo of DuWayne Gregory, an African-American and presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, and other examples of change. “We have made great strides, but we still have a long way to go.” Still, he said: “Once you have progress, you can’t stop it.”

Victoria Berger, executive director of the society, commented on the importance of Mr. Verga’s presentation. “The timeliness of embracing all the diversity we have on Long Island right now is really critical.” It sure is—and the history that Mr. Verga provides highly illuminating. 

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.

Thursday
Jan262017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Closing the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

As State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. declared about the agreement to close the Indian Point nuclear power plants less than 50 miles from western Suffolk County, 55 to 80 miles from central Suffolk—as the crow flies and radioactivity spreads—“it is a huge step forward in protecting the health and safety of all New Yorkers..”

New York City is even closer to the two long accident-plagued nuclear plants—they’re 26 miles north of the Bronx line, 30 miles from Times Square. 

They’re 46 miles from Smithtown, says the “Distance Between Cities” website.

These aged problem-plagued nuclear plants have constituted a huge danger for the most densely populated area of the United States.

“This closure will put New York State on the fast track to expanding its renewable energy portfolio,” Mr. Thiele of Sag Harbor said. “By shifting our focus to green, renewable energy, we can grow our economy, create jobs, and safeguard the health and safety of residents and state’s natural resources for generations to come.”  

Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down, and in announcing the agreement on January 9 called the two-reactor Indian Point facility a “ticking time bomb.” Under the agreement, Indian Point 2 will close by April 2020 and Indian Point 3 by April 2021.  

For decades, environmentalists and safe-energy organizations have been highly active in working to shut down the plants. Riverkeeper has been deeply involved and its president, Paul Gallay, along with top New York State officials led by the governor, signed the agreement with the nuclear plants’ owner, New Orleans-based Entergy.

Mr. Gallay after the signing described Indian Point as the “biggest existential threat to the region.” These are very strong words but were confirmed years ago by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in an analysis of the impacts of a meltdown with breach of containment (a “China Syndrome” accident) at every nuclear power plant in the U.S. 

The 1982 report, “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences” or CRAC2 (it’s available on-line), considers “peak early fatalities,” “peak early injuries,” “peak cancer deaths” and “scaled cost billions in 1980 dollars.”

For Indian Point 2, the analysis, done at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, projects: peak early fatalities—46,000; peak early injuries—141,000, peak cancer deaths—13,000, scaled cost in billions—$274 billion (which in today’s dollars would be $1 trillion). For Indian Point 3,  it calculates: peak early fatalities—50,000, peak early injuries—167,000,  peak cancer deaths—14,000, scaled cost in billions—$314 billion And the report in determining “scaled cost” includes “lost wages, relocation expenses, decontamination costs, lost property” and a portion of the U.S. rendered uninhabitable for centuries because of radioactivity.

And these aren’t just numbers—they represent people’s lives being lost, their being injured and left with cancer, and part of the planet ruined.

Said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., vice chairman of Riverkeeper: “The agreement marks a milestone in America’s historic transition from a dirty, dangerous energy system to clean, safe, wholesome, local and patriotic power supply.” Son of the late U.S attorney general, he is the co-director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace Law School.

New York State and the environmental and safe-energy groups won, in part, on Indian Point by using a similar tactic as we on Long Island used to prevent the Shoreham nuclear power plant from going into commercial operation and the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) from building seven to eleven nuclear plants here. The strategy involved getting around federal “pre-emptions” on nuclear power. 

The promoters of nuclear power arranged in the 1950s for a supportive federal government to have “pre-emption” over states and localities on most nuclear plant issues. On Long Island, a strategy of grassroots activists with support of Long Island officials and Andrew Cuomo’s father, then Governor Mario Cuomo, was using the state’s power of eminent domain. The Long Island Power Act was enacted in 1985 giving the state the authority, if LILCO persisted with Shoreham and its other nuclear plant projects, to seize its assets and eliminate it. There was no federal “pre-emption” preventing that. And LILCO gave up.

On Indian Point, grassroots activists and the state zeroed in on denying Entergy the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit that allowed the plants to discharge 2.5 billion gallons of water a day into the Hudson. This “once-through” cooling system has been killing massive amounts of fish and radioactive poisons have been released into the river. There was no federal “pre-emption” preventing this SPDES strategy. Another big factor causing Entergy to give up—competitive power now being less expensive then nuclear including renewable energy with safe solar and wind power foremost and offshore wind playing a huge role.  

There are post-agreement complaints by some about replacing the electricity Indian Point generated. That’s baloney. There are alternatives. We can easily have energy we can live with.

Tuesday
Jan242017

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Remember NYMA Pres. Trump "A Cadet Does Not Lie, Cheat Or Steal" 

 

By Karl Grossman

Dr. Allen L. FeinDonald Trump, who became president of the United States last week, considers the four years he spent at the New York Military Academy pivotal in his life—as does a Suffolk-based doctor who also is a graduate of NYMA.

Indeed, not only did Dr. Allen L. Fein, a clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and a specialist as a family physician, go to NYMA, but so did his two older brothers. And his brother, Jared Fein, was in the same graduating class as Mr. Trump.

There is also another governmental angle to Dr. Fein’s attendance at NYMA. One of his various roommates and friends there was David Zeldin, father of Congressman Lee Zeldin of Shirley. This month, Lee Zeldin, who served as an officer with the U.S. Army in Iraq, will begin his second term representing a district of the House of Representatives that includes most of the Town of Smithtown.  

Dr. Fein says NYMA “was fantastic, a great experience. I was very happy there for four very good years. It was the real deal, a serious military school. I loved the small classes and the very outstanding committed academic and military staff.” And it was very important, he said, to his subsequent academic life which included attending and receiving his M.D. from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

NYMA is located in the village of Cornwall-on-Hudson 60 miles north of New York City. It was founded in 1889 and has been one of the oldest military schools in the U.S. Its graduates include bandleader Les Brown and among those who attended but did not graduate were film director Francis Ford Coppola and composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

Dr. Fein’s father was from Flushing, Queens, went to military school himself and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His mother, from Canada, and father met in Florida. And the family subsequently settled in Montreal.

Although his older brothers went to NYMA, the decision for him to also go there was made late. “I had completed my first year of high school in Canada,” Dr. Fein said. And then his father mentioned that there was a possibility of receiving a “band scholarship” at NYMA. He played clarinet and oboe in its band, and also played the school’s noted pipe organ at Catholic services.

There were “kids from all over the world” at NYMA, he recounts. “We all got along.” He encountered “no racism”—and in the case of he and David Zeldin, both Jewish, and who both also served at NYMA as “rabbi aides,” no anti-Semitism.

There was hazing, he acknowledged, but this involved “having to do push-ups and going for walks in the snow” and no major violence. “There was, of course, minor physical violence and serious mental intimidation, much like real military boot camps.” 

“It was not a country club. If you screwed up, you were held accountable. There was no mommy or daddy to run to,” he said. “We didn’t have TV…I’m convinced that the structured time definitely helped me academically.”  He was at NYMA from 1966 to 1970.

Dr. Fein and his wife, Beverley, are the parents of three and reside in Water Mill. 

Although he is a great fan of NYMA, Dr. Fein is highly critical of Mr.Trump.

Dr. Fein comments that “it’s hard for me to understand how someone who spent four formative years living with people from so many backgrounds—and NYMA was a real melting pot—could have turned out to be so divisive.”

He is especially “concerned about Trump’s impact” on health care. “I was a Bernie Sanders supporter,” said Fein, and highly impressed and supportive of the Vermont senator’s plan for national health care. The U.S., he notes, is “the only major industrialized nation in the world that treats medicine as a private for-profit business, not a right.”

He finds as “absurd” Mr. Trump’s assertion that “he had more military training at military school than soldiers in the Army.” Overall, he has been “not impressed” by Trump statements. “It’s show-biz that has to be taken with a grain of salt.”

Furthermore, he sees Mr. Trump’s activities over the years as not adhering to two basic mottos at NYMA—that “a cadet does not lie, cheat or steal” and “I expect to pass through this world but once…any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow cadet, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

NYMA, although it thrived for more than a century, filed for bankruptcy in 2015—its enrollment having sunk to 100 compared to more than 500 in the 1960s. It was closed, and then sold at auction to a group of investors from China who reopened it on a tiny basis (29 students) last year as a private business. 

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.