Tag Archive | "East End"

Celebrate Earth Day Across the East End

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By Claire Walla

This coming Saturday, Christine Fetton will spend most of her waking hours at the Southampton Town transfer station in North Sea, doing what most people probably consider a most undesirable activity: monitoring trash.

As the director of waste management for Southampton Town, monitoring trash at the town’s transfer station, where she keeps an office, is a relatively routine role for Fetton. However, this Saturday is Earth Day, which means Southampton Town will be holding its annual Great East End Clean-Up (which runs through Sunday).

This time last year, Fetton said the town collected a grand total of 56 tons of garbage.

“I think we’re going to be a little busier this weekend than we are during normal weeks,” she said with a grin.

As in years past, the Clean Up will bring hundreds of East End residents to beaches and parks throughout Southampton Town for a conscientious environmental cleanse in the name of Earth Day, the one day out of the year when communities around the world make an effort to beautify their immediate surroundings.

In addition to the Great East End Clean Up, residents here will also be able to take part in a smattering of other nature-oriented events. The South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (on the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike) will host a cleanup of its own at Sagg Main Beach from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 21, followed by an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The open house will not only include a Live Raptor and Animal Show at 1 p.m., but also a walking tour that requires nothing but your eyes and a working cell phone.

“You dial a number on your cell phone and it goes to a recording with information about that stop [on the nature walk],” said Nature Educator Lindsay Rohrbach.

Out in Montauk, Earth Day will be widely celebrated on Earth Day’s official date: Sunday, April 22. From 9 a.m. to noon, people will be invited to clean up areas around Edgemere Street (garbage bags will be available at the movie theater), and from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. kids will be able to decorate reusable grocery bags at the Montauk Playhouse.

The emphasis on reusable bags is also a big part of this year’s town-sponsored events in Southampton. During the Great East End Clean Up, trash collectors will be asked to separate single-use plastic bags from the mix. According to Fetton, this accumulation of plastic will be used as data.

“This way we can work to establish a baseline of usage, which we can compare to next year’s numbers,” Fetton explained.

While the town voted against instituting an all-out plastic bag ban (like the one now in place in Southampton Village) earlier this year, it has embarked on an educational campaign, urging residents to limit their dependence on plastic.

This entire effort, called Greener Southampton: The Solution is in the Bag, will be kicked-off this Saturday, as well. Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera and Councilman Chris Nuzzi, in addition to the town’s Sustainability Coordinator Liz Plouff will be at the King Kullen Supermarket on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton from noon to 2 p.m. to discuss the environmental hazards of plastic bags. (Those shopping within that time frame who spend $10 or more at the store will receive a free reusable bag.)

Taking a momentary break from the plastics discussion, Plouff will also talk about the town’s Green Homes initiative, through which homeowners in the town of Southampton can request free audits on their home’s energy efficiency. She will also mention the town’s anti-idling campaign.

In the end, Fetton said there may only be one organized town-wide cleanup in Southampton, but she hopes this year’s educational efforts will have long-lasting effects.

“The key is continuing education,” she said.

While plastic bags may take center stage this year, Fetton said these educational efforts, which have branched out to civic associations and other community groups, try to incorporate all aspects of sustainability, from limiting the use of plastics to diminishing the number of idling vehicles.

“All of these issues mesh very well because they have a ripple effect for one another, and when you live more sustainably you reduce the amount of pollutants in the environment,” Fetton continued. “We have to get away from the mindset that Earth Day is just one weekend out of the year.”

MTA Hopes to Implement Some of SEEDS Study Before 2015

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By Claire Wall

Do you remember when you could see a flicker of light at the end of the Long Island Rail Road tunnel?

Well, according to those integrally linked to the future of transportation here on the East End, it may be faint, but it’s still there.

It’s been 10 years since local transportation experts banned together under the leadership of the New York Mass Transit Council (NYMTC) to create SEEDS: Sustainable East End Development Strategies. And while not much has been said of the plan since it came to a conclusion in 2005, those at the helm of the effort believe change is afoot.

“I’m optimistic,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. of the possibility of increasing rail service between Patchogue and Montauk. He noted that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has already allotted $80 million in its capital plan for 2010 – 2015 for small diesel trains, called “scoot trains,” that would be added to rail lines to increase the frequency of train service in the east.

What’s more, as Southampton Town Director of Transportation Tom Neely pointed out, the MTA has also reserved $50 million in its five-year capital plan to create an electronic signal system on the South Fork. One of the biggest issues responsible for the infrequency of train travel between Patchogue and Montauk, Neely explained, is that train operators on this leg of the LIRR track are in “dark territory”: they’re not in communication with one another, so two trains headed for each other on the same track would have no way of knowing they’re aiming for collision.

“It’s the same way they did it 150 years ago,” he exclaimed.

While funding is only really targeted for this service at this point and is not a total guarantee, Thiele continued by saying, for him, seeing this support from the MTA “is a step in the right direction.”

It also helps, Thiele continued, that the newly elected Suffolk County Legislator Steve Bellone “has endorsed all of this,” having made transportation his number one East End issue on the campaign trail.

“We’ve had the most support we’ve ever had on this,” he added.

Comprising nearly five years of research, the SEEDS study lays out comprehensive plans for both sustainable growth in terms of population and infrastructure, and increasing the frequency and efficiency of public transportation on the East End. In the end, the two go hand-in-hand. In building up village and hamlet centers to be high-density and therefore low-impact, this would create opportunities on the East End for implementing transit centers.

Neely pointed to the new development plan at the Bulova building in Sag Harbor as a good example of sustainable growth. Because it aims to create high density residences in a downtown area, “it’s a very good example of a development that can make good use of public transportation,” he said.

Recognizing the problems with scant train service on the East End and the subsequent absence of a coordinated bus system, the SEEDS study ultimately resulted in two plans aimed at increasing train travel to and from the East End, Neely said.

The system would ideally function with inter-modal transportation hubs. After restoring train service to Calverton and Grabeski Airport, Neely said there would be at least five major inter-modal hubs (linking train and bus services) throughout the East End: East Hampton and Southampton Villages, Hampton Bays and downtown Riverhead. The SEEDS study also discussed the need for a water taxi between the North and South Forks, which would necessitate an inter-modal transportation hub in Greenport, as well.

“To move forward we would need strong political report,” said Neely, who played a significant role in overseeing the SEEDS process. The transportation projects alone are estimated to cost more than $1 million to fully implement.

While he did say Congressman Tim Bishop had once requested $1 million in earmarked funds to continue this project, the poor economic climate has impacted the state’s ability to move forward in support of this.

“Earmarks are pretty much dead in the water at this point in Congress, “Neely said.

And while Assemblyman Thiele has also drafted two bills, one to create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Council and the other to create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority, he said legislators have thus far failed to act on either measure.

Ideally, Neely said the five towns of the East End — Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold — should work together to create a Transportation Development District, as NYMTC recommended. However, at this moment, nothing seems to be moving forward on that front.

While he continues to hope the MTA will pull through and put its money where its mouth is, in the meantime Neely said efforts to rebuild and construct the towns of the East End in environmentally sustainable ways will have to be done on a local level. Southampton Town, for example, has adopted a Complete Streets policy that will encourage new developments to consider adding bike lanes and sidewalks, for example, when repaving town roads.

In the end, Neely hopes legislators will continue to work to get state funding to act on the SEEDS plan.

“Anything would be better than what we have right now,” he continued. “Which is nothing.”

Thiele Secures East End Forum on Stimulating the Local Economy

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This summer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of regional councils statewide that will vie for funding for projects aimed at stimulating local economies.

And New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. wants to ensure the East End gets its own fair shake at the funding.

After issuing a statement last week with New York State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro calling for the Long Island Regional Economic Council to host a public forum on the East End, Thiele’s request was quickly approved by the Governor’s office.

On Wednesday morning, Thiele announced that the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council — one of 10 councils in the state charged with creating economic plans for their regions — will host an East End forum. The event will take place October 3 at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on East Main Street in Riverhead.

A time for the forum has yet to be announced, said Thiele.

Asking for the special session, said Thiele on Wednesday, was an effort to ensure the East End’s needs don’t get lost in the shuffle as the region’s economy differs from the remainder of Long Island.

“The regional council hosted public forums in Nassau County and the council had one in Melville, in western Suffolk, but we haven’t had one on the East End and they don’t call Long Island ‘long’ for nothing,” said Thiele.

So far, he said, the regional council has heard from communities that are largely suburban and densely populated, while the East End remains an agricultural Mecca, with an economy tied to the fishing industry and certainly, tourism and second homeowners.

“They are different issues at hand here, but no less important,” said Thiele.

At the forum, he said he expects local chambers of commerce to attend, as well as the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Long Island Wine Council, as well as representatives from the commercial and charter boat fishing industries.

“I just want to make sure our part of this region doesn’t get ignored, and I have to say, the governor’s office has been completely responsive to our requests.

Thiele has also asked the Long Island Development Council to revive the East End Economic and Environmental Task Force first created by Governor Mario Cuomo in 1994 to come up with new economic strategies for the East End.

Additionally, Thiele said he believes the council should consider specific policy initiatives, which could improve the East End economy, focusing on transportation, education, agriculture, fishing and the tourism industries.

Specifically, he would like the council to revive the repaving of Route 27 from County Road 39 to Montauk, and wants the council to explore the institution of a five town coordinated rail/bus shuttle system. Thiele also advocated the re-opening of the Southampton campus under the State University of New York (SUNY) banner, as well as the creation of a Regional Sustainability Institute.

To promote local farming and fishing industries, Thiele called the elimination of what he called “excessive paperwork” for local wineries and the promotion of aquaculture in general. He also called for state advocacy to revise fishing quotas that he deemed unfair for New York fishermen.

Thiele also said the council should revive a commitment in investing in land preservation and environmental infrastructure to protect the tourism and second homeowner industry, create a sales tax exemption at the pump for commercial fishermen and charter boats and revise the Resident State Income Tax on second homeowners.

All of these initiatives, argued Thiele, will benefit the East End economy as a whole.

A Safe Haven for the East End’s Homeless

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By Emily J Weitz

What would you do if when you walked out of a movie on a chilly winter evening, you found a homeless man slumped in the doorway, hiding from the cold? Would you offer him a dollar, or a blanket, or a place to stay?
These are questions that those who have lived in the city know all too well. But here on the East End, it’s much easier to believe that homelessness is not an issue. You don’t see wheelchairs parked outside 7-Eleven with people sleeping beside them. You don’t get hit up for a quarter every time you set foot on Main Street. But that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there.

The homeless population on the East End is significant — an estimated 400 to 500 people are currently living out of their cars or in the woods. And as the nights get longer and colder, these people need the help of their community if they’re going to survive. Maureen’s Haven, an East End organization devoted to serving the community’s homeless, invites people to spend the night in a place that’s safe, warm, and just as important, dignified.

Maureen’s Haven was founded in 2002 by Kay Kidde, who financially supported the effort on her own at first. Since then it has grown into a non-profit that offers housing to the homeless on both forks of the East End seven nights a week during the coldest months of the year, from November 1 through March 1. There are 14 host houses of worship across the East End that serve as temporary accommodations for guests. Every day, while many of us are driving by obliviously, people congregate at the railroad stations in Riverhead, East Hampton, Hampton Bays, and Montauk. There they are screened for behavior and drug and alcohol use. Then they’re shuttled to the host place for the evening, where they’re provided with a warm meal prepared by volunteers. After sleeping over, they get breakfast and a bagged lunch to take on their way.

“It’s important to have tolerance towards people who are homeless,” says Tracey Lutz, Program Director of Maureen’s Haven. “It’s not just people who have drug or alcohol problems or who are criminals. Some people have just hit on hard times.”

The philosophy of this organization is rooted in respect and Lutz notes this respect is evident in the quality of the services the guests receive, such as the meals carefully prepared meals. Lutz calls a recent dinner “Lovely. We walked into the church and there were no paper plates. There was regular dinnerware with silverware and candles. It was like walking into a restaurant.” Guests sit together, with volunteers and staff, and eat. They share their stories. They make connections.

Father Shawn Williams, of Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, recalls the first time his parish hosted Maureen’s Haven last year.

“We slept on air mattresses on floors with the guys that were there. You realize that there is a lot more of a homeless population you might have ever thought,” says Williams. “I have never failed to find that people in this situation are unfailingly polite. They really do appreciate when people extend themselves for them. I don’t know if people always have that expectation.”

Williams remembers waking up in the morning “at an ungodly hour,” beside a man who “had been a little cranky… But he knew what he had to do and he had his routine. I kept thinking about this guy having to make sure everything was in order for that day, making sure he could get someplace where it wasn’t too cold. This guy has been reduced to this small amount of stuff. It really nails you … It’s a lot of work just living.”

It begs the question: between breakfast at one church and dinner at the next, where do these people go?

“Some of them work full time jobs,” says Lutz. “They just still don’t get paid enough to put a roof over their heads.”

Others are day laborers, and some attend programs for mental health issues.

“One lady spends a lot of time on the bus,” says Lutz. “She’ll do the Montauk to Orient loop and back. That’ll take up a day. Others will go to McDonalds and buy a cup of coffee and sit for two hours reading the paper. Holidays are the hardest time for our guests because everything’s closed and they have nowhere to go.”

That’s why on Christmas Eve, the doors of the hosting church will open early, at 1 p.m. That evening, guests will join the congregation to watch the Christmas play and celebrate the holiday. Lutz notes that because Maureen’s Haven is known as a safe haven for the homeless, a real community has developed around it.

“We have a core group of regulars and we are their extended family,” says Lutz. “Some of our guests, when asked to list the next of kin in case of emergency, list us.”

And , she adds, they unite with one another as well.
“There was a woman in the program who was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” says Lutz. “Everyone took care of her in her final days. They made sure she had a permanent place to stay the last weeks of her life. Everyone chipped in and gave her a proper funeral. That’s what happens in the program. You get connected to them.”

Volunteers make the work of Maureen’s Haven possible, and many parishioners at the participating church have jumped in to lend a hand.
“There were people in my congregation up to 80 years old, plus teens helping set up,” says Father Williams. “I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t appreciate the opportunity to be of help to people, or who didn’t grasp what it was they were seeing. Given the chance, most people do want to help.”

Tracey Lutz agrees.
“It’s remarkable how people come together as a group to do something so loving and caring,” she says. “Without the volunteers we have, we’d never be able to offer this service. We have 1,500 volunteers who take the time to make meals and treat their fellow human beings with love and care, which is just a beautiful thing.”

The shelter service is only one part of what Maureen’s Haven does. There’s also the HOPE line, which is a walk-in center and hotline number (1-877-727-6820) that people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness can use as a resource for assistance in securing housing or jobs. And then there’s an achievement center, located in Riverhead, where individuals can get help with their GEDs, job applications, and resume writing. They can even get appropriate clothes to wear in preparation for interviews.

High Surf Alert for Weekend

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Both Hurricane Igor and Tropical Storm Julia are still spinning in the Atlantic Ocean this weekend, far away from Long Island and not forecast to make landfall anywhere along the east coast of North America.

The pair produced a meteorological phenomenon unseen since the 1920s by simultaneously recording 131-mile-an-hour-plus winds earlier this week, each reaching what is described as “Category Four Hurricane” status; only Category Five storms with winds of 155-miles-an-hour-plus rate higher.

While the two storms have stirred up the mid-Atlantic, at more than 1700 nautical miles south-southeast of Montauk, both have been at enough of a distance to have little effect here.

That will change this weekend, waves from Igor rolling in today and staying on through Tuesday as the storm tracks towards the North Atlantic while Julia continues to fade well out at sea.

Waves, Sweeps and Swells

On Friday, Atlantic-facing locales from the Delmarva Peninsula through Cape Cod saw the ocean disturbed by a frontal system that moved off the East Coast Thursday evening.

That fast-moving energetic low-pressure system, which spawned tornado-like conditions in Queens Thursday night, created a powerful east-to-west sand-chewing sweep along our local ocean beaches yesterday and steep, erratic waves for local surfers.

Swellinfo.com, an online weather and surf-forecasting site, reported Friday, Hurricane Igor wave energy “had not yet propagated north of the Outer Banks, although Mid-Atlantic buoys north of the Outer Banks were starting to picking up long period swells.”

Those are the swells to be on the rise locally the next few days.

Ocean-goers will see the energy from Igor in a distinct pattern of line-like waves appearing in somewhat far-apart intervals and moving through the water from the southeast in discernable groupings, or “sets”.

Those swells will start to fill in today, but the greatest rise in surf heights is likely to be most noticeable Sunday morning before finally peaking out late afternoon Monday and dropping off quickly Tuesday afternoon.

Igor to Stay Off Shore

As of 5 a.m. this morning, Igor was a churning Category 2 powerhouse, packing sustained winds of 109 miles-per-hour and in-storm waves topping 40 feet, 510 nautical miles south-southeast of Bermuda and over 1100 nautical miles south-southeast of Montauk.

Igor is expected to gain strength later today and become a Category 3 hurricane, with sustained 120-mile-an-hour winds, before dropping off in intensity during the day on Monday.

According to swellinfo, Igor’s projected path is likely to be close to that of Hurricane Danielle, an August storm running an arcing course parallel the Atlantic seaboard and never making landfall.

Danielle, which came within 840 nautical miles southeast of Montauk as a Category 1 storm, produced rip currents and storm surges that cut into East End ocean beaches and spiraled out sets that kept surfers busy for a four-day stretch.

Igor is forecast to come as close as 620 nautical miles as a Category 2 Monday morning before turning northeast towards the Grand Banks and diminishing Wednesday and Thursday off Newfoundland.

Anyone going to ocean beaches the next four days to watch the surf should be careful along the water’s edge and be aware that hurricanes produce irregular surges and forceful undertow.

Sick Day

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Health care. Do you have it? If not, you’re out of luck. If so, you’re one of the lucky ones. Especially if your employer picks up the entire premium for you. Or maybe your health care cup is half full. Yes, you have health insurance — but your employer pays half or less of the premium. Which means, given the cost of premiums these days, much of your salary goes just to ensure you have coverage.

Unless of course, you have Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. In which case, right now, your hard earned dollars are going to a company that says you can’t even use your insurance at the three nearest hospitals.

Hmmm. And people are saying we don’t need health care reform in this country? That’s just sick.

It’s time for real and civilized debate on this topic. Let’s stop all this dog and pony show nonsense. Because this system just ain’t working.

Storm Warning

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By Karl Grossman

We dodged another hurricane bullet last weekend—Hurricane Bill veered to the northeast and missed Long Island. But sooner or later, we’ll be hit again—and by a big hurricane. We’re due.

Long Island stands to suffer major, potentially catastrophic damage. Construction has boomed along the coastline for years, unmindful of the inevitable consequences of building in the teeth of the ocean. As to the threat of sea-level rise caused by global warming, Long Island and much of the world remain asleep.

It looked for a time that Bill might head for Long Island. A LIPA spokesman said Bill “could significantly impact Long Island….We have to let the storm run its track.” Luckily, a front moving from the west nudged Bill eastward.

LIPA and emergency management agencies of the state, Suffolk and Nassau Counties conducted a Hurricane Preparedness Drill. “Our greatest defense…is to be prepared,” said LIPA President Kevin Law.

But in a broader sense, are we prepared or, in fact, heading in the other direction?

 “Liquid Assets, Seaside Homes for Those Who Love The Shore,” was a recent headline in the real estate section of Newsday focusing on the “shameless love affair between Long Islanders and our ocean beaches…For some, these weekend flings will never be enough: Some need to commit. To make a life together. To possess.” The two-page spread featured a collection of available seafront houses including a $2.35 million number in Westhampton Beach. “Like our own personal red carpet,” it comes with a “private boardwalk” that “stretches…50 feet…through the dunes, all the way down to the sandy shore.” Very nice, but how will it do when the next hurricane strikes?

The Hurricane of ’38 wiped out virtually every house from the Westhampton Beach barrier beach, now relined with many more and bigger structures.

Amid the vested interests in the U.S., beach house homeowners have been highly active. There’s an organization called the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association which this year named Fire Island the winner of its Best Restored Beach Award. Fire Island was cited for a program of dumping sand on its beaches. The sand is sure to last—until the next big storm.

The organization’s website (www.asbpa.org) describes it as “active in persuading the Congress to enact legislation authorizing federal sharing of the cost” of coastal sand-dumping, which it prefers to call “beach nourishment.”

Through malleable members of Congress, this group, and similar ones, have gotten taxpayer dollars—billions of them—spent to try to protect beach houses from the ravages of the sea.

Its website speaks of its “outrage” when the White House Office of Management and Budget recently “pulled funding” from a variety of Army Corps of Engineers seaside sand-dumping projects. “The projects on the Corps’ list were shovel-ready,” it declared. It said in 2007 “beaches contributed $322 billion to America’s economy…At a time of economic recession, the beach is an even more desirable and affordable…This is not the time for the federal government to abandon coastal communities.”

Beach house interests—with political contributions—will try to get Congress to overturn the Office of Management and Budget’s sensible effort to restrain taxpayer-supported shoreline sand-dumping.

Meanwhile, there is global warming. “Three key facts about rising sea levels need to be hammered home to the world’s politicians and planners: sea-level rise is now inevitable” and “will happen faster than most of us thought,” said the respected British publication, New Scientist, in an editorial last month. “Even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow, the oceans will continue to swell…as glaciers and ice sheets melt.” 

 “None of this means we should despair and stop trying to curb emissions,” said the New Scientist. But “alongside these efforts…we must stop building in the danger zone.” It cited the “countless billions” now being spent worldwide on “constructing homes, offices, factories…in vulnerable coastal areas…If we want to build a lasting legacy for our descendants, we should do so on the plentiful land that is in no danger from the sea.” 

Resisting Preservation

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A clutch of Suffolk County legislators is opposing efforts to acquire land to preserve open space and safeguard the underground water table and to save farmland

—matters on which nearly all officeholders in Suffolk have agreed upon for decades. But citing the economic downturn, this grouping—oblivious to tourism and farming as mainstays of the Suffolk economy and dependent on a green environment—says Suffolk must call a halt to these preservation initiatives.

The view of a group of four and sometimes five members of the Suffolk Legislature—out of 18—prompted Legislator Edward Romaine to give an impassioned speech at the legislative meeting last week after, again, there was resistance to preservation measures.

 “I take a longer view,” said Mr. Romaine. The preservation efforts of Suffolk through the years have stopped the “suburban sprawl that has enveloped so much of our county.” Because of these initiatives “not every inch of the county has been developed” and “we saved our farmland.” There have been crises in the past, he noted, citing among them gas shortages and long lines at gas stations in the 1970s. But the county has consistently remained on a course of conservation. County government must not now “walk away from that,” said Mr. Romaine of Center Moriches.  As officials, he said, their prime responsibility is what “we will leave” for future generations.

A series of bills had just come up to preserve land and safeguard water on the East End and in Brookhaven Town, that part of Suffolk that has not been overtaken by  sprawl. As he has done at every legislative meeting for months, Legislator Cameron Alden, before each bill was to be voted upon, went on about tough economic times and how the county can no longer afford such expenditures. .

Mr. Alden of Islip and Thomas Barraga of West Islip are the most outspoken advocates of stopping preservation. They’re usually joined by Ricardo Montano of Central Islip and DuWayne Gregory of Amityville. About half the time, they’re also joined by William Lindsay, presiding officer of the legislature.

The tone is sometimes sarcastic. For instance, last week when the vote on one of the measures—to preserve seven acres in Sagaponack—was called, Mr. Lindsay quipped: “There’s a community, Sagaponack, really being paved out.”

Thanks to the efforts of community residents, environmentalists and enlightened officeholders, Sagaponack has not been paved over. It’s still the beautiful “Kansas with a sea breeze” that Truman Capote described when he lived there, an exquisite tapestry of farms and homes abutting the ocean.

Once I lived a few miles from Mr. Lindsay’s home in Holbrook. The area was beautiful and green back then in the 1960s. Then, suddenly, the bulldozers came and, in rapid order developments and shopping centers came to dominate the landscape. In the wake of this kind of thing, Suffolk officials—led by visionary County Executive John V. N. Klein, creator of a county farmland preservation program which has become a national model—began taking actions to not let this happen to everywhere in Suffolk.

Messrs. Alden, Barraga and company would end these efforts. If they succeed, destroyed would be what is central to Suffolk’s economy: a tourism industry that brings in $4.8 billion a year, along with farming that keeps Suffolk County the top agricultural county in the New York State in the value of its produce. The sprawled-over areas on Long Island no longer attract tourists and neither will what’s left—if it doesn’t stay green.

Moreover, the money used for preservation comes from funds set up by referenda—approved overwhelmingly time after time by county voters—which are not allowed to be used for any other purpose. Also, the amount spent annually represents “less than one percent of annual county expenditures,” notes Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

Interestingly, his organization has polled Suffolk residents in recent months and most say that despite the economic situation they still “strongly want” preservation, he said. The claims of Messrs. Alden, Barraga and the others “don’t ring true to the public.” People on Long Island also understand, said Mr. Amper, that taxes skyrocket with development because services and infrastructure must be provided for the growth. He  added that “now is the perfect time for preservation” with prices low and “more willing sellers than ever.”

Legislator Jay Schneiderman is concerned, meanwhile, that the preservation opponents “are getting more votes now. It’s getting closer and closer.”

 “Our economy,” says Mr. Schneiderman of Montauk, “is interconnected with our environment. If we are going to see strong growth economically, it’s precisely because we’ve preserved the natural beauty of the area.” 

Seeking Immigration Answers

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By Marianna Levine

It was clear from the start that several audience members at a panel discussion last Thursday on immigration were not immigrants themselves. They were there as concerned residents who came with their own opinions on immigration they hoped to be able to air during the discussion. However, the event’s organizers, Organizacion Latino Americana’s (OLA), as well as the discussion’s moderator, Joachim Mendez created some ground rules he introduced with a joke to dispel the already apparent tensions, “If you have something you want to say we’ll have a beer later. If you have a question then raise your hand.” He stressed this was an informational meeting and not a debate.

Still the first person to speak was an woman from Southampton who expressed fear that people who were born and raised on Long Island were being treated like outsiders rather than insiders.

“We are American citizens, and we’ve welcomed an international community here for over 45 years. Can we be included in this dialogue please?” To which Mendez responded, “(the welcoming has occurred for) more like a couple hundred years. And we shouldn’t get into this now. I will not allow it. If you don’t have a question we’ll move on.”

From then on there were a plethora of questions from both local business owners as well as immigrants asked in both Spanish and English, and always translated for all to understand. Most questions concerned small business owners and the need for work visas and driver’s licenses for their workers, the actual naturalization process, and most urgently what was occurring with immigration reform in Washington D.C.

The panel, held at the Bridgehampton National Bank meeting room in Bridgehampton, included immigration attorneys Millicent Clarke and Allen Kaye (of the American Immigration Lawyers Association), as well as the Executive Director of the Long Island Immigration Alliance Luis Velenzuela, and Congressman Tim Bishop.

The immigration lawyers fielded the questions regarding the immigration process, often cautioning audience members to be wary of so-called lawyers who promise to put aside tax money for the future for undocumented workers or who make any easy promises about the naturalization process. Both Clarke and Kaye suggested waiting for immigration reform prior to starting any paperwork.

Kaye explained that there are basically only three ways to get a Green Card in the United States. You can either get one through an employer, or by marrying or being related to a citizen, or you can have resided here illegally for over ten years and take your chances before a judge in court. He then explained that trying to get a Green Card properly as an undocumented person almost always means, “You’re asking to be deported.”

Congressman Tim Bishop arrived soon after this discussion began, and addressed questions on comprehensive immigration reform. An audience member asked in frustration, “What is wrong with getting in line and waiting?” To which Congressman Bishop replied, “The fundamental problem is that the current system is a broken system that simply doesn’t work. I think we can all agree that it isn’t working. This discussion is a symptom of the fact that the system is broken. We don’t have a visa system that works. We have people who stand in line for 5 to 20 years and nothing happens.” He also added that, “No solutions can come from the vantage point of anger. I believe we should make a good faith effort to put our differences aside and try to bring people together.”

Bishop explained the new comprehensive immigration reform would come about in four parts in something referred to as the “Strive Act.” First the U.S. government would need to intensify border protection, and crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers. Thereafter the government would construct a visa program that actually worked and reflected the needs of our country and business owners. Bishop explained this would include a simplified agricultural work visa. He then noted that the fourth aspect of this plan is the most controversial, since it would create a path to legalization for those who are currently in the U.S. without proper documentation.

“Undocumented workers would be given a work visa as long as they have a clean record for about 11 or 12 years,” said Bishop. “They would have to pay a fine and back taxes on the money they earned off the books. They would have to learn English and civics and maintain a clean record for that period. After that they would be granted permanent residency.”

Asked when immigration reform would be passed, Bishop answered, “I believe it will be considered sometime in June or September. President Obama has made it very clear he supports comprehensive immigration reform.” He also said that he guessed the bill had a better than 50/50 chance of passing this year.




Basic Information

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This week we found that many local community groups and village officials are discussing the newly enacted decision by Cablevision to withhold two local channels from the airwaves for those subscribers who only pay for their basic package. The two channels are 20 and 22 — a public access channel and a government channel. We find this — at the very least — disturbing. Cablevision is saying that basic subscribers can get the channels, but for a price. Though the company is willing to provide one free box to each home, residents with more than one television would have to purchase all others — as would schools and hospitals which have multiple sets in multiple rooms.

Are we missing something here? Public access means exactly that. In the case of a public access channel, the public should have the right to view it without the added expense of having to purchase a converter box to gain access to the channel. The other channel at issue is a government channel, one where those in the community can watch the goings-on at the local level through the broadcast of town board meetings and other programming.

Television programming is going digital in 2009, and we could better sympathize with Cablevision’s position if it were unable to provide channels 20 and 22 to basic subscribers because of technical reasons. But their reasoning isn’t technical. It’s financial. By eliminating those two channels, it frees up more bandwidth and allows Cablevision to carry other, more lucrative, offerings. But it is our position that Cablevision should provide access for all Cablevision subscribers — no matter what level package a subscriber pays for.

We like the idea that there are airwaves that belong to the “public” regardless of how much money you have and what you can afford. To restrict those who can’t afford digital television or worse, the elderly, who often cannot figure out how these digital converter boxes work, seems to us, discriminatory.

Nancy Graboski said, in addition, one of the things that is beneficial about the public access channel is that it helps those who may not be able to get to public meetings, feel that they are able to participate.

At it’s basic level, we feel that television has done well in its education and informative role, and when these two channels are taken away — what is left for those with basic packages remains some of the less educational and informational programming — infomercials and home shopping is what immediately comes to mind.

What we learned this week from a Cablevision representative is that only 10 percent of the viewing audience will be affected by this change. Is that all? Just 10 percent? Given the fact that 20 and 22 are the channels that residents are expected to tune to in times of emergencies — hurricanes, blizzards or even manmade disasters, do you think that 10 percent is acceptable? We feel that no one should be excluded and feel pressured into spending more money for this upgrade.

Many rely on public access to understand the immediate world around them, so Cablevision please give us back our channels. Otherwise, we may just have to make sure all those residents who don’t know how to program their TVs or those converter boxes have your phone number close at hand on the day the broadcast world goes digital.