06/18/14 7:00am
06/18/2014 7:00 AM
Long Ireland Brewery co-owner Greg Martin (center) harvests hop cones with assistant brewers Liam Hudcock (left) and Fred Keller at Condzella Farm in Wading River in 2012. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Long Ireland Brewery co-owner Greg Martin (center) harvests hop cones with assistant brewers Liam Hudcock (left) and Fred Keller at Condzella Farm in Wading River in 2012. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Shortly after announcing that New York State was loosening some of its restrictions on wineries, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will do the same for craft brewers.

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04/24/14 12:55pm
04/24/2014 12:55 PM
East End Livestock and Horsemen's Association members take trail rides in the spring and fall each year after getting permission from the state parks department. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

East End Livestock and Horsemen’s Association members take trail rides in the spring and fall each year after getting permission from the state parks department. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Nature buffs who’ve been waiting more than a decade for access to Northville’s Hallock State Park Preserve will soon have their chance — as work to create an access way, visitors center, and trails is scheduled to begin sometime this year, according to a release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Mr. Cuomo announced Tuesday that a total of $90 million in state budget funding had been secured for work at 53 parks and historic sites across the New York State — with $3 million going toward work at the 220-acre preserve.

The news comes some 14 years after the state purchased the park property and an adjoining 300 acres from KeySpan Energy for $16 million in 2002.

It’s also one of a handful of announcements during that time that work would start on the park. Meanwhile, no-trespassing signs had marked trees along the public parks perimeter, keeping it from being utilized, before the News-Review reported on the signs in 2008.

A view of the Long Island Sound to the east from the bluffs. (Credit: Richard Wines)

A view of the Sound looking east. (Credit: Richard Wines)

At that time, Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said he was confident work would start at the park later that year, and two years after he announced the project would be receiving a $1 million grant for an environmental educational center on its grounds.

In the meantime, however, Mr. LaValle said this week that money is no longer available, and had been redirected elsewhere into the state parks system since it was never used.

But his prospects for the park were buoyed by the new allocation of $3 million, which he helped secure.

“I think this is the beginning of opening up a great resource for the people of the East End to enjoy, and people visiting from across the state — because the environmental parts of nature there are very, very special,” he said.

The park property stretches from Sound Avenue to the Sound and includes open plains, a tidal pond, thick woods and a mile-long stretch of pristine beach.

The $3 million comes in addition to $3.9 million that had been raised from the sale of the adjoining 300 acres — which were sold as protected farmland to local farmers, said Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and HIstoric Preservation.

The newly allotted $3 million and about $900,000 from the farmland sales will be used to construct an entrance route, visitor center, a “green” parking area, and trails to provide public access to undeveloped areas of the park, Mr. Keefe said.

“Right now there is no legal way to access that park,” said Richard Wines, president of the Hallockville Museum Farm that borders the property. “The additional $3 million is great news for the public who will finally have access to enjoy this incredibly beautiful resource.”

Mr. Wines said the current plan, which was developed in 2010, is to put the visitor center close to the Hallockville Museum on Sound Avenue.

Should that be the case, Mr. Wines said the museum stands to benefit greatly, and could possibly share services with the park at some point in the future.

The visitor center will house restrooms and a meeting room to gather for educational events and programs, Mr. Keefe said, adding that a finalized design plan is currently in the works, with construction to begin sometime in 2014.

“We have been waiting for years now for things to get going so the public would have assess,” said Joseph Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, which helped facilitate the sale of the protected farmland to raise funding for the park’s development. “It’s a beautiful piece of property. It was a major accomplishment for all of us that were involved in it.”

Many players took park in the conservation — and now the much-anticipated development plan for the park — a close to 50-year process that, were the land not protected, it could have been transformed to fit any number of different development projects, including nuclear power plants, said Herb Strobel, executive director of the Hallockville Farm Museum.

“Very few residents have any idea of what the land might have [otherwise] been,” Mr. Strobel said. “It could have been a major industrial seaport… [or a] site for several nuclear plants— but it is not. It could have been the site for major residential development—but it is not.”

“Each of these scenarios would have dramatically changed Riverhead, the entire North Fork, and probably the whole East End,” he said.

Long Island State Parks Commission member and Hallockville Museum Farm director, George Bartunek, said the pairing of the state park with the closeby Hallockville Museum and the Long Island Antique Power Association “creates a grouping of attractions on Sound Avenue that will reflect the connection between Long Island’s natural history and its agricultural heritage.”

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Trails, starting from the visitors center, will lead north to the property’s sandy beaches, though there will be no actual beach usage permitted initially, Mr. LaValle said.

“This is the first step,” Mr. LaValle said. “That park, in terms of the future, will have a mirage of different uses. I think given the economy it’s always good that people have local options that they can do with their family.”

Funding has also been set aside for other local state parks, it was announced this week.

Orient State Park will also be receiving $200,000 to replace a failing drinking water line for a health and safety reasons, while Wildwood State Park will be receive unspecified funding for upgrades to non-compliant cesspools.

“As we celebrate Earth Day, we continue to invest in our parks and historic sites statewide,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “New York is proud to have the nation’s oldest State park system, and we will continue to do all that we can to preserve and guard these natural resources so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

According to Mr. Cuomo, a recent study by Parks & Trails New York found that state parks generate $1.9 billion in economic activity annually and support 20,000 jobs statewide.

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03/18/14 6:00am
03/18/2014 6:00 AM

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Since the moment I was sworn in as your assemblyman, the one topic that seems to come up in just about every conversation is the implementation of Common Core. I have listened to parents, educators, students and taxpayers about the myriad Common Core issues and problems that plague our children and schools. The Common Core mandate provides for a series of new national education standards administered at the state level through a series of federal mandates and grants. Though well-intentioned, the rollout and implementation of Common Core has been acutely fl awed, raising the ire of most parents and stakeholders in the education system. (more…)

06/01/13 10:00am
06/01/2013 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork's corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork’s corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

New York could become the first state in the nation to require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such, a move farmers say could put locally grown produce at a disadvantage.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) have sponsored legislation to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. The bills follow years of debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, which were introduced in the early l990s. Legislation has been proposed in several states, including California, where it was put before voters in 2012 as Proposition 37 and failed by a slim margin. Bills have been introduced more recently in Connecticut and Maine.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is produced when genes from one species are extracted and artificially introduced into the genes of another, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary.

The practical applications of this process include giving a plant the ability to produce its own pesticide to deter insects, thereby saving farmers having to apply costly and potentially dangerous pesticides, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology, which investigates the risks and impacts of GMO foods.

Major GMO food crops include soy, cotton and corn, said Dale Moyer, associate executive director of agriculture for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk. It’s not employed on fresh fruits and vegetables such as oranges or peppers.

Varieties of sweet corn are the only GMO crops grown on the North Fork intended for human consumption, but they’re very limited, Mr. Moyer said. Some area farmers also grow field corn, used primarily as animal feed, he added.

Under the pending legislation sweet corn varieties grown from genetically modified seeds would fall under the mandatory labeling requirement.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Mr. LaValle. “Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

But Steve Ammerman, spokesperson for the NYS Farm Bureau, said mandatory labeling is unnecessary.

“We believe the policies should be based on sound science, and the science so far is that GMO foods are safe,” Mr. Ammerman said. “Labeling would imply that GMO foods are not.”

He argues that labeling will put GMO-grown products at a disadvantage when placed next to other produce. “If a consumer walked up and saw a label that said ‘Contains GMO,’ it misleads the consumer,” he said.

Kathleen Furey, director of GMO Free New York, said genetically modified foods have not been proven safe. There have not been any long-term, independent, peer-reviewed human consumption studies to support that claim, she said. The longest study to date on GMO foods ran about two years and involved rats, not humans, she said.

The study, led by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini, found that mice fed a diet of genetically modified corn experienced increased mortality, tumors and organ damage compared to a control group that was fed non-modified corn, said Ms. Furey.

“We deserve the right to know what were eating,” she said.

About 80 percent of what shoppers see on supermarket shelves contain GMOs, said Ms. Furey. Many of the products are processed foods, including infant formulas.

Consumers do have one way of spotting GMO-free foods. Certified organic foods do not contain genetically modified products, Mr. Ammerman said.

If labeling is mandated, farmers would rather see labeling say something like “GMO free” as compared to “contains GMO,” said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

The legislation is expected to come up for a vote before the current legislative session ends June 20.

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03/29/13 3:58pm
03/29/2013 3:58 PM

Aside from school aid bumps, other items in the New York State budget adopted Thursday include a “middle class” tax rebate for families with kids, a creation of a bar-type exam for prospective teachers and financial incentives for top-performing teaching.

The spending plan will also increase the state minimum wage, and provide more highway improvement funds for local towns.

The budget deal extends from last year a higher tax on top earners, which reportedly raises about $1.9 million annually.

The 2013-14 budget is the third consecutive state budget that’s been adopted before the April 1 deadline by which it’s supposed to be adopted. That hasn’t always been the case, as the state routinely missed the budget deadline for many years prior to that.

This is the first time since 1984 the state made the deadline three years in a row.

Overall, the $135 billion budget increases total state spending by under one percent, according to state documents.

“This budget agreement puts New York on track to have the third consecutive on-time, balanced, budget that holds increases in spending under 2 percent,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

The adopted budget “includes direct tax relief for middle class families in the form of a $350 Family Tax Relief credit,” according to officials.

Over the next three years, each New York family with at least one dependent child and a household income between $40,000 and $300,000, will receive a “Family Tax Relief” credit in the amount of $350.  The statewide amount of these payments will be $1.23 billion over three years, beginning in 2014.

The budget extends the “middle class” personal income tax rate reductions enacted in 2011, which were due to expire in 2014. Those reductions will provide 4.4 million taxpayers with $707 million in tax relief per year, according to state officials

The new budget also calls for creation of “Bar Exam for Teachers,” officials said.

“To ensure the best and brightest are teaching our children, the State Education Department will increase the standards for teacher certification to require passage of a “bar exam,” in addition to longer, more intensive and high-quality student-teaching experience in a school setting,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The state also plans to reward “high performing teachers” under the new budget.

“To improve results and incentive high-performance, the budget implements a program that will offer $15,000 in annual stipends for four years to the most effective teachers beginning with math and science teachers,” the governor said.

A total of $11 million in incentives will be given statewide. Specifics were not available on how teacher performance will be judged.

Local municipalities on the North Fork will see an increase in Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the new budget, which increased that fund by $75 million statewide.

“This nearly $7 million in funding for towns and villages in the First Senatorial District will allow us to put New York back to work by repairing roads and bridges,” said state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

This is the first time since 2008 that CHIPS funding has increased.

Locally, Riverhead Town will receive $372,218 in CHIPS funding for 2013-14, an increase of 26 percent over the previous state budget allocation.

Likewise, Southold Town will get $421,071, a 28 percent increase, Southampton Town will get $842,159, a 28 percent increase, and Shelter Island Town will get $123,321, also a 28 percent increase.

Greenport Village is getting $52,902, a 24 percent increase, and the tiny Village of Dering Harbor on Shelter Island, is getting $59,891, a 27 percent increase.

The new budget also raises the minimum wage in New York State from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour, but over three years.

“Recognizing that New York’s minimum wage is unlivable and that 19 other states have higher minimum wages than New York, the budget raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour over three years, beginning with $8.00 by the end of 2013, $8.75 by the end of 2014, and $9.00 by the end of 2015,” the governor said.

The budget also provides hiring tax credits to businesses that hire returning veterans and young people.

The credit will equal 10 percent of wages paid for hiring veterans, and 15 percent of wages if the veteran is disabled, officials said.

The budget includes a refundable tax credit for businesses that hire people under the age of 20, which officials say will save those businesses a total of $112 million over three years, statewide.

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