Long Island’s unique proximity and relationship with the surrounding natural environment is one of constant discussion, importance, and planning. A thin sandbar surrounded by water, Long Island relies on its environment to sustain itself economically, mainly via tourism and aquaculture.

            However, the thin sandbar is regularly considered on borrowed time regarding coastal erosion, the sole-source aquifer, and land preservation, among other concerns. An island only so big that continues to grow in population makes practices like conservation and agriculture much more complicated than they once were.

            Elected officials, environmental leaders, and community activists convened at Suffolk Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center in Riverhead last week for their annual environmental roundtable. The roundtable was started roughly thirty years ago by then-Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). The yearly tradition continued after LaValle’s 2020 retirement by his successor, Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

            “Incredible legislation has come out of this over the years,” Palumbo told The Messenger. “When Senator LaValle retired and I was running for his open seat, he asked me to keep these meetings going. I have been to many of them and it’s developed significantly over the years.”

            Palumbo listed initiatives that were products of these meetings, including, but not limited to, the Community Preservation Fund, the Bond Act, the Pine Barrens Act, and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

            “Like any other piece of legislation, it starts with a good idea,” says Palumbo, referencing the workshopping this yearly meeting can produce. One such idea discussed at last week’s forum was the regulation of the horseshoe crab fishing industry, for which horseshoe crabs are harvested to be used primarily as eel bait. Another entails toxins and chemicals in cosmetic products, which can harm animals upon whom the products are tested or the people who use them.

            “It’s everybody in,” said Palumbo. “And that’s really the important part of this type of a forum is that you bring in all the stakeholders. In 2022, New Yorkers overwhelmingly approved the Environmental Bond Act, equipping our state with a historic $4.2 billion to enhance environmental conservation and reduce the state’s carbon emissions. As lawmakers, we bear the responsibility to ensure that these funds are spent wisely and as effectively as possible. Our conversations today help guide our efforts as we work toward achieving these important goals.”

            Congressman Nick LaLota (R-Amityville) of the First District headlined the meeting, alongside Senator Palumbo, Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), and Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow).

“Being pro-environment on Long Island is a bipartisan issue to ensure that our Island and our environment are not just great for us to utilize for our self-enjoyment, our preservation, or our economic goals, but for generations to come,” said LaLota. “It’s part of being a conservative. If you’re a conservative, you have to think long term, or that our environment ought to be a bigger part of our platform. It’s important that we’re all working together on this. This dynamic doesn’t exist at a bipartisan level throughout the rest of the nation. We’re proud to have it exist here. I’m all in.”

LaLota discussed some of his initiatives he has sponsored during his first term in Washington.

“The first piece of legislation I submitted was the Plum Island Preservation Act. We should codify that,” said LaLota. “We should enshrine in federal law that, for perpetuity, we preserve Plum Island as an ecological preserve.”

LaLota also mentioned his bipartisan work with Congressman Joe Courtney (D, CT-02) in their efforts to reauthorize the Long Island Sound Program through 2028. The program was created in 1985 to study and address the environmental problems affecting the Sound and its associated bodies of water, including the watershed based in Canada.

LaLota and Courtney co-chair the Long Island Sound Caucus. LaLota also sits on the Climate Solutions Caucus, co-chaired by Suffolk’s own Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport).

Beth Fiteni, a committee member of the Long Island Organics Council, mentioned that according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, there are “179 large institutions that are generating more than two tons of food scraps per week.”

“It looks like the food scraps are not going to any place on Long Island because there are no composting facilities or anaerobic digesters, so the food scraps are going off Long Island being trucked, like most of our garbage is, aside from the incinerators,” said Fiteni. “So, when it comes to anaerobic digestion, there is, I think, a place for it. We just have to be careful of the PFAS and the digestate, but we definitely would like to see more composting facilities on Long Island. We can put the nutrients right back into our soil for the farms here on Long Island, and it’s an economic opportunity as well for new businesses.”

Fiteni also says that the rollout of the program would need to occur on the township level, adding that the Council worked with the Town of Riverhead to organize food scrap drop-off sites.

“We just need to push the towns; they’re the responsible parties, but they need to be pushed to take that responsibility on. We need money for education and outreach.”

Joyce Novak, Executive Director for the Peconic National Estuary Program, thanked the elected officials for their work in preserving and fighting for the health of the region, but remarked that coastal erosion defense can only go so far past sand replenishment.

“It’s really important that areas of Long Island are supported for comprehensive resilience plans,” said Novak. “Resilience is unsustainable by just continuing to act in this defensive way. We have to play offense and look to the future, and we’ll point out that the East End does have underserved communities. They’re often overshadowed by the affluence, but they’re there, and I think we all need to make a more concentrated effort in that.”

Suffolk County Legislator Ann Welker (D-Southampton) reverberated these comments, and even asked for temporary measures ahead of the summer season.

“I just wanted to implore and urge anything that could be done in terms of a temporary measure, in terms of sand placement, until that beach builds up as beaches usually do during the summer season,” said Welker. “So, temporary placement of sand along that mile-and-a-half stretch of beach [Ditch Plains, Montauk] would be very much appreciated.”

Rob Carpenter, Administrative Director for the Long Island Farm Bureau, renewed his budget request for deer fencing and advocated for farmland prioritization in the five eastern towns.

“I am grateful for the insightful discussions at this year’s Environmental Roundtable hosted by Senator Palumbo,” said Assemblyman Thiele. “Collaborating with dedicated leaders is crucial for shaping our legislative agenda to protect Long Island’s environment. In Albany, I’m committed to securing state funding for initiatives that assist in essential environmental protection and programming. Conservation is key to maintaining our unique quality of life here on the East End and ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.”

“Our environment is the life blood of the East End, and our success depends on preserving that environment for today, and the future,” said Assemblywoman Giglio. “Working farms, active fisheries, scenic vistas, and clean water are the foundation upon which our community success is based. I thank each of you for continuing to support that which is so precious to our families, and I thank my fellow elected officials for their efforts to ensure these resources receive the funding they deserve. Our unwavering united support for the environment demonstrates the importance of this cause, and I pledge to continue that support, now and in the future.”

“Addressing climate change and our many environmental concerns is crucial to helping preserve our beautiful state for future generations to enjoy,” said Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson Station). “Through conversations at Senator Palumbo’s annual Environmental Roundtable event, we can implement plans and discuss ideas to address ways to protect our waterways and ensure clean drinking water and beaches for people to enjoy. I want to thank Senator Palumbo for organizing this important event and my colleagues for their participation and great efforts toward protecting our natural resource.”

Other elected officials in attendance were Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Southold Town Supervisor Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Sagaponack Mayor William Tillotson, Westhampton Beach Mayor Ralph Urban, representatives for Suffolk County Legislator Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point) and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches).

Other community leaders and activists in attendance include President of Suffolk County Community College Edward T. Bonahue, Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association, George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, and Adrienne Esposito and Maureen Dolan Murphy of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Previous articleSuozzi Wins NY-03 Special, Wins Crucial Seat for Dems
Next articleThis Week Today
Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.