In the news tonight: loans and grants to Connecticut companies; tax cuts for New York business and the promise of low cost wind power on Long Island.
The Connecticut Post reports:
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indian tribes are close to an agreement to expand gaming beyond their reservations with Keno. But the legislature is considering a bill to repeal Keno before it starts.
Both tribes have the exclusive right to offer gaming in the state. Expansion of gaming outside their reservations requires agreement by both tribes or they could stop sending the state 25 percent of their slot machine revenue.
Keno is expected to bring $31 million into the state's General Fund over the next two years. Each tribe would pay the state 12.5 percent of their Keno revenue.
Tony Uliano, a Rocky Hill restaurant owner, told the Public Safety Committee that many people now travel to Massachusetts and New York State to play Keno. He urged the committee to defeat a Keno repeal bill.
However, State Senator Art Linares, a Westbrook Republican, and ranking member of the Children's Committee is for repeal. He said he's worried Keno will expose young residents to gambling.
Governor Dannel Malloy has said he would sign a repeal bill.
The state of Connecticut Bond Commission released 25 million dollars in funding Friday for three companies.
The funding is a combination of grants and low interest loans to companies that create and keep jobs in the state for a certain period of time.
Datto of Norwalk, a company that provides backup and disaster recovery solutions for businesses, received a 1 million dollar grant and a 5 million dollar loan.
Core Informatics of Branford, a cloud-based software company will receive a grant and a loan as well.
This program supports investments and growth of young, small companies. The loans are forgiven if the companies meets certain job growth levels over the next several years.
Pitney Bowes, the large Stamford based company also received a low interest 15 million dollar loan that is forgiven if it retains 1600 jobs and creates 200 new jobs in the next five years.
Governor Cuomo announced an agreement Friday on the 2014-15 State Budget. It holds spending growth below two percent while collecting $69 billion in taxes this year.
The state will collect 7.2 billion in corporate taxes and 1.2 billion in bank taxes, according to Cuomo’s budget office figures.
While personal real estate taxes are limited to a 2% increase by state law, this year corporation taxes will be reduced by about 2% or $150 million per year. Bank taxes will be reduced by about 20% or $250 million per year.
The Budget will establish a 20 percent real property tax credit for manufacturers who own or lease property and lower the tax rate on income for all manufacturers from the current 5.9 percent to zero in 2014 and thereafter.
For just plain folks, the budget includes a two-year property tax freeze. It would include a rebate for homeowners if their local governments and schools stay under the property-tax cap. Households that earn under $500,000 would be eligible.
Next year, the rebates would be tied to local governments staying under the cap and developing a plan to save 1 percent of their tax levy per year, over three years.
The budget also includes a renter's rebate.
A 200 megawatt wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean could soon provide power for Long Island’s East End.
Deepwater Wind, won a federal lease last July to develop the project on the outer continental shelf 30 miles east of Montauk.
Last week it applied to the Long Island Power Authority, owner of the power system operated by PSEG, to supply power to the energy grid on Long Island.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said their proposal could deliver a large, cost-effective source of new, clean energy to the East End, ’without being seen” as early as 2018.
Underwater and underground transmission cables would connect the wind generators to an existing substation on the South Fork.
120,000 homes would be supplied with electricity at a cost expected to be competitive with fossil fuel and solar energy. Power charges have peaked lately on Long Island due to the high cost of gas fired generation.
Friday, March 28:
It’s official. Governor Dannel Malloy announced today he will run for a second term. He said Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman will again be his running mate.
The Appropriations Committee wants to increase state spending by about $12 million more than what Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed in February, bringing their budget within $700,000 of the state spending cap.
Malloy’s $19 billion budget proposal was about $8 million under the spending cap.
“In reality, it’s well above that 700,000 figure ,” Republican Sen. Rob Kane said. “It’s probably $500 million over the spending cap when you talk about all the different funds that have been used to avoid it.”
The spending cap, which was instituted at the same time as the income tax, is calculated by tying increases in state spending to either personal income growth or the rate of inflation. The growth rate allowed this year under the cap was 1.74 percent. The average growth rate over the past 20 years has been 4.6 percent per year.
This year, Malloy didn’t propose any changes to the spending cap knowing there was still opposition to it from three Democratic Senators who refused to allow the changes last year.
The White House may be extending the enrollment period for people who want to sign up for plans on the federal health insurance exchange, but Connecticut and New York are holding firm to the March 31 deadline.
Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said that since Connecticut is a state-based exchange it will stick to the midnight, March 31 deadline.
The New York plan’s website, info.nystateofhealth.ny.gov, indicates the deadline is also March 31.
Those who enroll by that time will have health coverage effective May 1.
In order to avoid a tax penalty next year residents must have some form of health insurance before the March 31 deadline.
Earlier this week, more than 170,000 Connecticut residents and 1 million New Yorkers had signed up for plans through the exchange.
In Connecticut, about 62 percent enrolled in Medicaid with the balance enrolled with one of the three private carriers.
Links to both the state and federal plans are available at wpkn.org/health
Suffolk County residents are advised that the largest facility in the county, Stony Brook University Hospital, may accept only one of the offered insurance plans.
In February Stony Brook announced an agreement with Magna Care. That company will lease their provider network to Health Republic one of the insurance plans offered by the health exchange.
At the time the hospital said it was in discussion with five other insurance providers.
Stony Brook University Hospital and Southampton Hospital are close to an agreement that would join the East End hospital with Stony Brook and build a new medical facility on the university's Southampton campus.
Stony Brook purchased the campus from Long Island University in 2006. It is about four miles from Southampton Hospital.
Southampton's chief executive Robert Chaloner said, the hospitals are working together to complete all the various legal and regulatory steps that will be required for final approval by the facilities respective boards and the regulatory authorities.
The deal stipulates that Southampton would operate under Stony Brook's license.
Details such as where on the 85-acre campus a hospital might be built, or whether any money will change hands are not decided.
Meanwhile construction of an addition to the hospital in Southampton Village is proceeding. In August 2013 the hospital broke ground on a “Heart and Stroke Center “ funded by a $5 million donation from Audrey and Martin Gruss.
The Big Duck in Flanders has been picked by the federally funded Peconic Estuary Program for a demonstration project showing how simple steps can reduce pollution in the estuary system on the East End.
The iconic roadside tourist attraction will be getting a rain garden this summer. And a rain barrel.
The Big Duck, built in 1931, was once a store that sold ducks raised in Flanders. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rain gardens have native plants that thrive with only rain water and do not need fertilizers, which can wash into the bay. Marine experts have said for years that fertilizer runoff into the estuary system must be prevented.
A similar project is planned for this summer near Hashamomuck Pond in Southold Town.
The estuary program is offering rebates up to $500 to people who build rain gardens at homes along Reeves Bay in Southampton and Hashamomuck Pond in Southold.
Thursday, March 27:
Democrats in both legislative chambers voted to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017 after debates Wednesday. Governor Dannel Malloy, plans to sign it Thursday.
State Democrats have made the bill’s passage a top priority during this election year session. It mirrors a federal policy called for by President Barack Obama.
Currently, Connecticut’s minimum wage is $8.70 an hour. The legislation will boost that to $9.15 on January 1, 2015; to $9.60 on January 1, 2016; and finally to $10.10 on January 1, 2017.
The Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee was scheduled to meet today to vote on their response to Governor Malloy’s budget adjustments unveiled in February.
Malloy’s $19 billion budget included a 2.7 percent increase in spending over last fiscal year and was $8 million under the spending cap. The budget included $40 million in early childhood and K-12 education spending, increased funding for private college and hospital payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, and $51 million in tax cuts.
The legislature’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee will unveil the revenue portion of the budget next month.
The legislature and Malloy’s administration will then negotiate a final budget behind closed doors that the full legislature must approve before May 7.
Local farmers are concerned that potential legislation out of Albany aimed at cleaning up Long Island’s water will saddle them with the financial burden that comes with any new regulations – according to the Riverhead News-Review.
So growers and industry advocates are calling on state lawmakers to fund research and stewardship programs that can teach growers how to protect groundwater and farm sustainably.
The state legislation would establish and implement a water quality protection plan aimed at reducing nitrogen levels in ground and surface waters across Long Island. Excess nitrogen levels have decimated the region's shellfish stocks.
In recent years, advancements in growing techniques have included organic options for pest management and the adoption of slow-release fertilizers but agricultural research programs have been facing annual cuts every year.
That has impeded their ability to help farmers like those on Long Island who fear the new regulations.
Legislator Al Krupski represents the first district in the Suffolk Legislature. He is also a farmer.
Krupski told WPKN Radio News the proposed legislation is lacking in detail.
Krupski: “And I don’t think you should pass any bill that could have un-intended consequences. To an industry – part of our culture. That would be irresponsible to pass something and see how this works out.
You know agriculture has done an awful lot in the past three decades to not have any negative impact on the groundwater – on pesticide use and nutrient use.
As farmers we live on the farm. It was our own and our family’s health and safety that were considered about first.
And the second thing is economics – the less input that you have to buy to put into your production makes you much more sustainable.”
Local veterans turned out for last night's Riverhead Board of Education meeting to support veterans' property tax exemptions authorized by the State Legislature last year. Some veterans questioned why the board has not yet already adopted the exemptions. If implemented, they will not be available until the 2016 tax year.
Other school districts — including Shoreham-Wading River and six of the 13 districts in the Town of Southampton — implemented the exemptions in time to provide veterans relief on their 2015 tax bills.
Tax assessors say any property tax exemption requires the rest of the taxpayers in the district to pay more to make up the difference.
For instance school taxes on the average home could increase from $21 to $24 per year in the Riverhead school district.
Senior tax payers would see a reduction of their tax exemptions and low income seniors would see a larger reduction.
A public hearing is required before the exemption can be passed.
Wednesday March 26:
Connecticut residents who don’t qualify for Medicaid have just six more days to sign up for health insurance plans if they want to avoid a tax penalty next year.
Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, the state's health insurance exchange, said enrollment has increased dramatically in recent days. He said there are 307 call center representatives available to help customers through the enrollment process. That’s more than double what they had in December before the first deadline.
The private insurance carriers, which struggled to get bills and ID cards out to their new customers, are also better prepared to handle the surge of last-minute applications, Counihan said.
On Monday the exchange enrolled almost 1,200 residents with one of the three private insurance providers participating on the exchange. Since Oct. 1 62 percent of residents enrolled with Anthem, ConnectiCare, or HealthyCT and 38 percent in Medicaid. Counihan said the goal is to have 185,000 individuals enrolled before midnight Monday, March 31. About 30 percent of those enrolling are under the age of 35, a critical demographic needed to balance the greater health care needs of older residents.
And, for another angle on Obamacare, advocates for Latinos in Connecticut say no group of people in the state is more likely to be uninsured than the state’s Latinos, and Obamacare won’t change that.
The Hispanic community is facing unique hurdles signing up for the Affordable Care Act, including cultural factors, lack of information about Obamacare, financial limitations and fears of giving the federal government information in the belief it could be used to deport family members.
The end result is that Latinos, who make up 25 percent to 30 percent of the uninsured in Connecticut but only 14 percent of the state’s population, are expected to remain over-represented in the ranks of the uninsured for years -- despite Obamacare.
Latinos, especially newcomers and older Hispanics, are less likely to use the Internet or have broadband at home than other Americans. Yet the principal way to sign up for the Affordable Care Act in Connecticut is through the website Access HealthCT.com.
Dozens of bilingual “assisters” have been hired by Access Health CT who are helping to enroll Latinos in the ACA. But the Hispanic Health Council, which covers Greater Hartford, has been able to enroll only about 100 people a month, most of whom are Latinos who prefer signing up for health care face-to-face.
On Long Island, Southold’s landfill will soon be the site of a 12-acre solar panel array and a natural gas generator project has been proposed for the same site according to the Suffolk Times.
PSEG Long Island chose the Cutchogue site for construction of a 2,000-kilowatt solar facility.
Poughkeepsie-based firm SunEdison will lease the land from the town for 20 years and install the solar arrays. The lease agreement will bring in $57,000 annually for the town. SunEdison will enter into a 20-year power purchase agreement to generate the power for PSEG.
Southold Town is also hoping to bring a 75,000-kilowatt power generating facility to the Cutchogue landfill. On Tuesday the town board issued a letter supporting Northville Industries proposal to PSEG for the installation of three natural-gas fired generators on a two-acre parcel of town-owned property. The lease could bring in roughly $1 million in revenue annually for Southold Town if the utility approves the project. The decision is expected next year.
And, in another PSEG-related story, angry Nassau County residents have urged PSEG Long Island to stop work on a high-voltage power line on 210 poles stretching from Great Neck to Port Washington.
At a raucous community forum Monday, nearly 300 North Hempstead Town residents urged the utility to bury the line and remove 60 installed poles.
But David Daly, PSEG Long Island's president and chief operating officer, said the five-mile overhead line on 85-foot-tall poles is required for reliable service.
The utility said it is open to eventually burying the line, but the residents would need to pay for it, at a cost of $4 to $6 million per mile.
Daly said, "If we need to underground the circuit, it needs to be paid for by the residents.” County officials plan to lobby federal officials for funding to bury the wires.
The utility is dealing with opposition to a similar project in East Hampton.
Tuesday March 25:
The Government Administration and Elections Committee stripped restrictions on public access to 911 recordings from a bill before voting on the controversial proposal Monday. The bill seeks to find compromise between open government and crime victims’ privacy.
It would define a special class of public records, which the public could inspect but not copy. The language placed the burden of releasing those records on the person requesting the documents.
A task force that proposed the bill called for recordings of 911 emergency calls and pictures depicting the bodies of homicide victims be included in this class of records.
But lawmakers removed language regarding 911 recordings from the bill, meaning the public will retain access to them.
They preserved the look-but-don’t-copy policy for pictures depicting homicide victims but flipped the burden of proof so it falls on the government to explain why they should not be released.
Open government advocates and Senate President Donald Williams have opposed the bill, saying it will reduce transparency in the criminal justice system.
Advocates of victim privacy feel the legislation has swung too far in the other direction, saying it's not a compromise at all.
The bill now heads to the Senate and possibly to the Judiciary Committee, which has its own similar bill.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s senior criminal justice adviser reported positive statistics to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Friday at an annual briefing on Connecticut crime trends.
Among the report’s highlights were a five-year, 11 percent drop in crimes reported to police, a reduction of the state’s prison population by 8 percent since 2010, and an almost 24 percent decline in arrests since 2009.
The report also found an increased utilization of a special parole program among inmates in halfway houses. The number of special parolees in that setting has increased about 40 percent from last year.
Lawlor said much of the drop in crime rates corresponds to a national trend that has seen crime decline around the country. He said increased use of discretion and community policing by law enforcement also has led to fewer arrests.
But Lawlor said some Connecticut policies have helped reduce the number of people in the state’s criminal justice system. For instance, he estimated that the 2011 law that made possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketable offense has resulted in around 6,000 fewer arrests every year.
The number of homeless schoolchildren in New York state has soared since the recession and those who try to find and help them say their resources are dwindling. Mark Scheerer of New York News Connection reports:
The number of homeless schoolchildren in New York has soared since the recession, and those who try to find and help them say their resources are dwindling. The children and their families are living in motels, basements, trailers, doubled up with other families and friends - many of them victims of the foreclosure crisis or Superstorm Sandy.
Sarah Benjamin works with homeless pre-kindergarten children out on the North Fork of Long Island.
Benjamin: "It’s more of an invisible problem here. For instance, if there was a couple of big shelters you could see the numbers of children that were out here that were homeless. But there aren’t any shelters."
The Parent-Child Home Program she operates in Greenport reaches out to find homeless toddlers and help their families prepare them for school. The homeless schoolchildren in K through 12 are a problem school districts have to deal with, with declining state education funding.
More than 1 million New Yorkers have completed applications for insurance in the state's new health exchange.
The Department of Health says enrollment for individual and family coverage since October includes nearly 343,000 New Yorkers in the 16 commercial and nonprofit insurers in the exchange and more than 374,000 in government-funded Medicaid.
Open enrollments continue through next Monday for 2014 coverage at state-approved rates. Applicants with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for tax credits to help offset premium payments.
More information on how to enroll in New York and Connecticut or elsewhere in the US is available at wpkn.org/health.
Monday, March 24:
Connecticut may be on track to end this fiscal year with a more than $504 million surplus, but nonpartisan fiscal analysts say the 2015 budget is running a $69 million deficit and the 2016 budget will be in deficit by over $1 billion.
Republican lawmakers say it’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy’s fault.
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney and House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero said Monday that the governor deliberately ignored warnings last fall from the state Comptroller and Education Department when he shortchanged retirees’ healthcare and magnet schools in the budget he proposed in February.
According to nonpartisan fiscal analysts the state is on track to spend about $92 million more than anticipated in the February adjustment for 2015. This includes about 51 million related to retiree healthcare costs and 18 million for magnet schools.
Ben Barnes, Office of Policy and Management Secretary said last week the magnet school deficit is a result of “unbudgeted legislation requiring the state to pick up preschool tuition costs, and also due to supplemental transportation costs for the Hartford Sheff settlement.”
Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said “In contrast to previous administrations, Governor Malloy has shown that he can manage to the bottom line. That’s why we’ve held growth to less than 2.8 percent over the course of his term.”
Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey’s proposal to have Connecticut’s private colleges and hospitals pay property taxes has received mixed reviews.
On Friday, Sharkey told the Planning and Development Committee of communities’ growing frustration at “shouldering the burden of providing these tax exemptions.”
Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, or PILOT, is state reimbursement to cities and towns for municipal taxes they can’t collect on state-owned land, colleges, hospitals, and new manufacturing equipment.
Sharkey said his “reverse PILOT” proposal shifts the burden from the host community to the private institution.
While committee co-chairman Representative Jason Rojas said he understands the idea, he wants more information about education costs and possible tuition increases.
Goodwin College President Mark Scheinberg said the bill holds institutions like his hostage. He said this proposal would amount to a 20 percent budget increase; the college hasn’t raised tuition in four years.
Scheinberg pointed out that state schools aren’t being asked to do this.
Sharkey said he’d be interested in combining the state property PILOT with his private colleges and hospital proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney has proposed a similar combination. His bill would create a sliding scale of reimbursement. It received a public hearing last week in the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee.
Westchester’s Journal News reports that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wants the Entergy Corporation, owner of the Indian Point plant, to publish semi-annual reports detailing major safety incidents at its 10 nuclear power plants.
DiNapoli is asking Entergy's shareholders to approve his proposal when they meet in Mississippi in May.
DiNapoli's proposal would have Entergy reporting on "near misses" at its power plants, a term borrowed from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group. That group defines a near miss as an event that substantially raises the risk of damage to a reactor and results in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sending out an inspection team.
In a report released last year, the Union of Concerned Scientists tallied 14 near misses at the nation's nuclear plants in 2012. Two were at Entergy-owned plants other than Indian Point and involved a cooling water leak and a cooling water pump failure.
The Common Retirement Fund, the pension system for state and local governments outside of New York City, held Entergy shares with a market value of about $45 million at the end of the state's last fiscal year.
If your house was damaged in Hurricane Sandy or Irene or Tropical Storm Lee, you have until April 11 to apply to New York Rising for assistance in recovering.
You can do this in person at 475 East Main Street, Suite 202 in Patchogue or online at apply.nysandyhelp.ny.gov
Close to 6400 homeowners have taken advantage of the program since it opened nearly a year ago.
Friday, March 21:
For gun control supporters, there has been little national progress since Congress defeated background check legislation close to a year ago.
But Connecticut’s senators said Thursday they’re in it for the long haul.
At a panel discussion on firearm background checks in East Hartford, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal acknowledged a feeling of negativity among advocates of stricter gun laws. But he said he and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy did not intend to abandon the issue.
Murphy said. “When we get this bill back on the floor—we don’t know when that will be, whether it’s this year, next year, three years from now—we want to have built up a mountain of information, a mountain of data so that no one can say with a straight face that we shouldn’t expand background checks,”
Blumenthal said. “We’re not going away, we’re not surrendering despite the current pessimism that a lot of people may feel”
A Muslim family from Farmingville says they were assaulted, battered and forcibly removed from the Empire State Building's observation deck while they were praying last year, according to a New York Post report.
Fahad and Amina Tirmizi have now filed a $5 million lawsuit against the owners of the building, as well as a security company, alleging that they "were unfairly targeted because they were Muslim and wearing traditional Muslim attire"
The Tirmizis say they were peacefully reciting evening prayers in a quiet area with their two children on the observation deck last July 2 when they were confronted by two security guards who told them they were not allowed to pray on the deck. The family says they were then “forcibly escorted” out of the building.
The Huffington Post reported that the suit also accuses the Empire State Building of having an unlawful policy "whether express or implied, that subjects Muslims to greater and/or heightened suspicion, security and/or surveillance compared to other religious and non-religious individuals."
In Hauppauge on Tuesday, transit advocates urged the state for more funding for Suffolk County’s bus system in the final state budget.
Advocates from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and local groups stood outside the New York Department of Transportation’s office Tuesday.
They gathered in support of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s request for $10 million in additional state funds to expand service to Sundays and later into evenings.
Enhanced transportation is needed in the region, where riders rely on service to get to work and school or to shop. For some residents, public transit is their only means of transportation.
Commuters also spoke their mind, saying that buses are systemically late or frequently don't show up at all.
Members of the Long Island Business Council said that enhanced service would help the small business workforce get to work and bring in additional customers to local businesses.
Advocates said that people with disabilities make up a large segment of the public transportation ridership. They depend on public transportation to access medical services, to get to work, and to shop.
Southampton environmentalists are renting goats to get rid of weeds that have defied the efforts of volunteers to dig them up.
Volunteers' work and thousands of dollars in expenditures by Southampton Town have gone toward trying to rid fields of Autumn Olive, an invasive plant that grows so quickly it chokes out the native species in a 40-acre field off Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.
The field is protected from development by the town. Because it is also home to turtles and snakes and other species, officials can't use lawn mowers to trim back the plant. Pesticides also cannot be used because it is close to freshwater lakes.
Enter the goats. Nubian dairy goats, rented from farmers in upstate Rhinebeck, will be brought to Bridgehampton in a few weeks. They will be fenced in on a few acres of the field, where they will be free to eat the existing plants as well as any new green shoots. Then the field will be replanted with native vegetation.
Once one part of the field is rid of Autumn Olive, the fences will be moved and goats will be free to continue munching.
Thursday, March 20:
The Connecticut Post reports: The Bridgeport City Council approved a deal to lease the top of the shuttered landfill at Seaside Park to United Illuminating for a solar field.
The 20-year agreement will net the city an estimated $7 million in rent and tax payments.
The vote was 15-5 in favor.
Critics had argued that the landfill is passive parkland that should be preserved, not industrialized.
The council agreed to ask city attorneys to require the lease to make UI responsible for addressing all public safety concerns and security measures.
Bow hunting deer on private property on Sundays would be permitted under a bill supported by Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee.
The bill aims to help manage Connecticut’s overabundant white-tailed deer population. DEEP wants the bill modified to limit the Sunday hunting to “deer management zones,” where deer have overpopulated and become destructive.
There were about 120,000 deer in the state when the department last did an estimate about five years ago. Since then the agency has been focused on regions of the state like Fairfield County, where the animals have become most problematic.
The DEEP’s Klee says “In areas with high densities, deer are causing extensive damage to ecosystems and property and elevating public health and safety risks through tick-borne illnesses and vehicle collisions.”
The department has taken a number of steps since 2000 to reduce the number of deer in the state, including increasing the number of deer that hunters are permitted to kill and adding a crossbow hunting season in January.
Last week’s radiation alert for Mattituck was a false alarm. Federal officials announced there was no evidence of any radiation spike, despite reports otherwise from a private Arizona-based group.
Representatives for multiple national and state oversight organizations said they’ve never heard of the group, Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, which supposedly issued the alert.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Elias Rodriguez said, “We don’t have any validated data that would indicate a cause for concern.”
Thursday morning Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said "All testing revealed normal levels throughout the Mattituck area,"
Congressman Tim Bishop said “This appears to be a case of a mistaken reading by a non-governmental entity and there is no cause for alarm. I have asked the EPA to keep me informed of any changes in the area.”
The rebuilding of Fire Island's Sandy-leveled dunes won’t start until September. The delay means the barrier island and vulnerable South Shore will face a second hurricane season without crucial defenses, according to Newsday.
The revised timeline is included in a draft environmental assessment released this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Under the plan, 41 oceanfront properties that stand in the way of the planned 15-foot-high dune line will be bought at an estimated cost of $46 million. But the owners will receive their homes' current value -- not the pre-superstorm Sandy market price - as initially promised.
The plan calls for spending nearly $162 million in an emergency effort to rebuild Fire Island's natural defenses with 7 million cubic feet of sand. Completion is now slated for August 2015
The Suffolk County Legislature approved a bill Tuesday night that raises the legal age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products from 19 to 21.
The bill, which will become the law on Jan. 1, 2015 will prohibit retailers from selling cigarettes, cigars, rolling papers, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco or smoking pipes to anyone under the age of 21.
The legislature approved the bill by a 10-8 vote. All the yes votes were from Democrats and six of the eight no votes from Republicans.
Opponents of the bill had argued their civil liberties would be encroached upon, while business owners cited a predicted loss in sales revenue.
Centerport Democrat, Legislator William Spencer, a medical doctor and the bill's sponsor, says he wants to keep tobacco products away from young adults during the age in which they run the highest risk of addiction.
Violators could face a fine between $300 and $1,000 for a first time offense, and between $500 to $1,500 for subsequent offenses.
Wednesday, March 19:
Fatal heroin overdoses have increased in Connecticut — where, on average, about one person dies every day from an opioid overdose. Just last week police seized 2,000 bags of Fentanyl - laced heroin at a home in Hartford.
At a recent press conference, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal stated there were 247 heroin overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2013.
The addition of fentanyl, a pharmaceutical grade drug that’s more potent than morphine, has made heroin use even more dangerous. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said this mix of drugs is likely done locally and that “anytime you buy this on the street you’re potentially buying a deadly product.”
Both senators said they’re calling for federal funding for the statewide narcotics task force and promoting ways to improve law enforcement’s ability to crack down on the drug “king pins.” They also want to help users who need access to treatment.
The two Senators are supporting state legislation that would enable friends, family, and first responders to carry and administer a drug — commonly known as Naloxone — without the fear of being sued for damages if the victim cannot be saved.
Murphy and Blumenthal also said that hospitals, addiction service centers, law enforcement, and others must come together to address drug abuse and do what’s required to help individuals who are impacted by addiction.
The Connecticut legislature’s Public Safety Committee approved a bill Tuesday that gives first responders, like the teachers and police officers who witness tragic events, an opportunity to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Senator Joan Hartley, co-chairwoman of the committee, said
“It provides benefits to public employees determined to have PTSD by a certified psychiatrist or psychologist”
The bill would be retroactive to Dec. 14, 2012, the date of the Sandy Hook Elementary School event.
Representative Brenda Kupchick, a Fairfield Republican, said she hears from her towns all the time about unfunded mandates from the state. However, Kupchick said she thinks it’s “bizarre” that Connecticut’s workers’ compensation laws don’t cover mental health.
Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said that for whatever reason people often forget about the “organ from the neck up.”
Osten said “It’s unacceptable to me that we don’t address mental health issues,” “It’s not something I’m willing to let go by any longer.”
A pair of nesting bald eagles has been spotted on Shelter Island.
Mike Clifford of New York News Connection reports that experts say it's a positive sign not only for the birds, but also for the health of local waterways.
It’s confirmed – a pair of nesting bald eagles has been spotted on Shelter Island, and experts say it's a positive sign not only for the birds, but also for the health of local waterways.
The Nature Conservancy’s Mike Scheibel says eagles have been making a strong comeback and are now fairly common upstate, but this is only the third pair of nesting bald eagles found on Long Island, and the first ever confirmed to nest on Shelter Island.
Scheibel: "The birds that are here at Mashomack are actually incubating, so they have eggs at this point. The incubation period runs roughly 35 days."
Scheibel says the two-thousand-plus acre Mashomack preserve was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in the 1980s to protect another bird, the osprey.
He says now that bald eagles are nesting there too, the decision speaks to the long-term value of preserved land and its significance for wildlife.
An agricultural labor shortage is starting to have dire impacts on eastern Long Island farms, with growers increasingly unable to find workers to plant, tend and harvest their crops.
That’s the message farmers told Representative Tim Bishop at an annual meetup last Saturday morning at the Long Island Farm Bureau's Calverton offices.
L.I. Farm Bureau executive director Joseph Gergela said. "Labor is very, very tight. The shortage is driving up the cost of farm labor. The going rate is now $15 per hour. “
The shortage is affecting not only agriculture, but other important segments of the regional economy as well.
Gergela asked why Congress can't pass an ag worker visa program.
Bishop said there's no chance of any relief coming from Washington soon, since the House leadership wants to avoid having to come to the conference table on the comprehensive reform measure approved by the Senate.
Tuesday, March 18:
Attorney General George Jepsen told a legislative committee hearing Monday that the state has no compelling interest in preventing terminally ill patients from choosing to end their lives.
Jepsen was one of hundreds of people to offer testimony on legislation that would allow a doctor to prescribe lethal medication to a dying patient.
Opponents are concerned that if it passes, terminally ill people may feel coerced into suicide. Jepsen said constituents have told him that dying patients already are taking their own lives.
People with disabilities have been among the bill’s most outspoken opponents. Supporters often refer to the legislation as “death with dignity”. Some with disabilities see the term as a disparaging statement that likens a loss of faculties with a loss of dignity.
Proponents view the issue as a matter of personal choice. Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the committee that he would want the choice for himself if he had a terminal illness.
Lembo cited statistics from Oregon where 1,050 people had prescriptions for lethal medication written since a similar law went into effect there. He said about two-thirds of them used the medication to end their lives. He said, “It’s clear that having the option, having the choice and having the medication is sometimes enough to help us weather any suffering."----------------
WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus reports:
A hundred neighborhood residents, local and state officials and community leaders joined Governor Dannel Malloy and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp Tuesday afternoon to announce funding for the demolition of a building that housed a venerable community center in the city's Dixwell neighborhood.
The one million dollar state grant for planning and design work on the demolition is the first step toward rebuilding the Dixwell Community "Q" House. It closed in 2003 due to a funding crisis and has fallen into disrepair.
Standing in the plaza in front of the closed building, Mayor Harp thanked those who have worked for the past decade to create a new center to offer additional services besides all the youth programming that took place at the old Q House.
The Mayor said: “You know, oftentimes when things go away, you don't really realize that the community mourns. This community has mourned for this Q House. And everyone has really done something to bring us to this point.”
The State Bond Commission approved the funding at its most recent meeting on February 28. Malloy said it's too early in the process to estimate what the new building will cost, but he added it's likely to provide multiple services in the building and thus multiple tenants.
Patrick Young an immigration attorney and immigrant advocate blogging for Long Island Wins writes:
The New York State Senate just rejected the New York DREAM Act. The razor close vote was 29 against and 30 in favor. The bill needed 32 to pass.
Long Island’s State Senators, with the exception of the absent Phil Boyle, voted against the bill, insuring its defeat.
Young says “While Long Islanders support a humane policy towards immigrants, many of our officials have not yet heard the news.”
Governor Cuomo supports the Dream Act and a compromise version of the bill may be voted on later in the session. However, for now, the DREAM is deferred.-------------------
Newsday reports: Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corporation has finalized a deal with a Buffalo-based gaming company to run a thousand-slot-machine casino. The company promises up to $65 million in upfront financing and at least $58 million in revenue over the next decade.
Delaware North and OTB signed the agreement late last week. But the deal cannot take effect until the bankrupt OTB gets approval from federal bankruptcy court.
They expect to find a site for the 80,000-square-foot complex, which will include restaurants, bars, horse-betting area and 1,500-car parking, within a month.
The proposed 10-year contract guarantees Suffolk OTB a minimum of $4 million in the first year, then $6 million yearly. The 2014 Suffolk budget assumes $4 million in revenue. Delaware North will receive 1.75 percent of net slot revenues and 5 percent of net earnings.
The deal comes as the Republican State Senate’s proposed budget includes an additional 1,000 slot machines each for Nassau and Suffolk. Neither Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget or the Assembly’s include the additional slot machines.
Monday, March 17:
Connecticut opponents of genetically modified organisms and pesticides are pushing to enact the first ever ban on GMO grass to prevent the development of pesticide-resistant “super weeds.”
At a Friday press conference Senate President Donald Williams said:
“This is nothing less than an arms race of toxic chemicals aimed directly at the health of our people and the health of our environment“
Williams and other advocates are hoping to add language banning genetically modified grass seeds and genetically modified landscape plants to an existing bill, which would expand restrictions on using pesticides on school grounds and other public land.
Advocates are concerned that agricultural companies are developing grass seeds that will be genetically designed to withstand more application of the popular weed-killing herbicide, which contains the chemical glyphosate.
Scotts Miracle-Gro is one of the lawn care companies developing genetically modified grass. Scotts spokesman Lance Latham said they have been working for years to develop grass which requires less fertilizers and pesticides, is more resistant to drought, and does not need to be mowed as often.
Latham added. “A ban on these products before they are developed seems a bit counterproductive”.
Following a scathing report from the Federal Railroad Administration on the recent performance of Metro-North Railroad, which has included several fatalities of both passengers and employees, the new president of Metro-North held a press conference Friday inside Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.
WPKN's Melinda Tuhus was there:
The report said the railroad was more concerned with trains arriving on time than on safety. Metro-North president Joe Giulietti said he's already initiated some changes, like ordering a slow-down along certain sections of track. In response to a reporter's question about whether the new focus on safety will affect on-time performance, he said on-time performance has already suffered.
"I've also stated that it is not my goal to shorten any times but in fact to insure that every train has a schedule that can be followed and can be followed safely.
My first and foremost right now has to be that
we have protected the safety of the public and the safety of the employees.
On-time performance will come."
Giulietti took over three weeks ago. He said two other reviews, in addition to the Federal Railroad Administration report, are underway and will lay the basis for his reform efforts.
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
The Labor Department reported good and bad news Friday when it concluded that Connecticut grew more jobs than originally estimated last year, but shed 10,400 in January as winter weather slowed the economy.
The department revised its 2013 job growth numbers and found that the state had 12,300 more positions in December than it originally estimated.
The state unemployment rate also continued to decline. According to the department, it was 7.2 percent in January, down from a revised 7.4 percent in December.
Governor Dannel Malloy says total job growth was 21,000 last year. The state gained a total of 53,000 new private sector jobs since he took office in January 2011.
Connecticut Business and Industry Association Economist Pete Gioia said the report seemed to raise more questions than it answered, since it indicates that Connecticut lost 10,400 jobs in January even as the state unemployment rate continued to drop.
The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association, has fired a shot across the bow of Governor Andrew Cuomo on the issue of taxes according to the Shelter Island Reporter.
The Association members say they feel part of the proposed budget from the governor is a move to ultimately eliminate home rule for some municipalities on the East End.
In a letter sent to Albany this week, the group’s chairman, Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said they oppose the governor’s budget proposals for a property tax cap ranging between 1.46 and 1.70 percent. He called it “ultimately unsustainable” since it doesn’t take into consideration unfunded state and federal mandates.
The letter says “Municipalities can manage for a few years by deferring spending, drawing on reserves and the like, but eventually things will catch up….”
“We believe that the proposal is designed ultimately to compel the elimination of villages … your proposals are an assault on [their] independence.”
Friday, March 14:
The New York Times reports:
In light of last December’s fatal derailment, the Federal Railroad Administration has reviewed operations of the Metro-North commuter line and found that it has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and the maintenance of its infrastructure.
The report makes clear that the problems at the railroad went beyond any single person or accident and that there is inadequate training and lack of maintenance. It also states safety briefings are poorly attended and Metro-North workers often perceived that on-time performance was the most important criteria.
The railroad administration said Metro-North must submit plans to improve its safety and training programs, among other changes, within 60 days.
The railroad’s new president, Joseph Giulietti, says the railroad has already reduced some speed limits and modified its signal system to enforce them. The railroad has also initiated an anonymous safety reporting system for employees.
The report cited four accidents on Metro-North tracks in 2013: but did not include a recent fatal episode this week where a worker was struck and killed while working on the tracks in Manhattan.
Senator Charles Schumer, of New York, a frequent critic of Metro-North, said the most recent death made it clear that safety was still not a high enough priority for the railroad. The report, he said, “confirmed our worst fears,” and he called for better training.
Connecticut state colleges and universities will be mandated to provide annual student and employee training on sexual assault prevention as part of legislation approved Thursday by the Higher Education Committee.
The bill has been a top priority this year for the panel, in response to a Title IX complaint against the University of Connecticut.
In the complaint, current and former students claimed the school violated their rights by showing indifference when they reported being raped or sexually harassed.
During a Wednesday meeting, lawmakers on the committee called the bill one of the most important pieces of legislation being considered this session.
Representative Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the committee, said:
“Clearly, I think Connecticut, with the passage of this legislation, will be a national leader on the issue of sexual assaults,”
The bill includes a number of new reporting requirements for Connecticut’s public and private higher education institutions and requires them to provide victims with clear, written information on their rights and options when they report an assault. The legislation also requires schools to maintain trained Sexual Assault Response Teams.
The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution creating a tick control advisory committee to help the county’s division of vector control reduce the spread of tick-borne illnesses.
The new legislation, sponsored by Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk, was passed on March 4. It builds on a bill previously passed in October that requires county vector control, which has focused mainly on mosquito populations, to create an annual plan to combat the abundance of ticks and the spread of tick borne disease, such as Lyme disease.
The plan will outline work to be done, how it will be accomplished, and create methodology to determine the program’s effectiveness, according to the bill.
The committee will consist of 12 members, including representatives from the Department of Health Services, the Division of Vector Control, Suffolk County Parks and environmental and health experts.
Health experts have reported a dramatic increase in tick-borne disease diagnosis in recent years, with upwards of 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease being reported each year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A decision of the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals this week clears the way for the development of an addiction research facility with an attached 130-bed residential treatment center proposed for the Calverton Enterprise Park.
The ZBA said in its written determination that the project will create significant employment opportunities for Riverhead residents, create a demand for the products and services of Riverhead businesses and generate significant tax revenues,
The $10 million "CARE:NY" facility would be the first of its kind to co-locate residential treatment and laboratory research.
The project received a $1 million grant from the state economic development council in December.
The facility will forgo tax abatements available because of its nonprofit status.
The 97,000-square-foot facility is planned for a 34-acre subdivided site owned by developer Jan Burman in the Enterprise Park.
Thursday, March 13
A bill that shrinks drug-free school zones in Connecticut from 1,500 to 200 feet, being considered by the legislature is a tough sell in an election year when lawmakers don’t want to be painted as soft on crime.
But proponents like Laresse Harvey, who has been advocating for similar legislation for a decade, remain optimistic.
During the Judiciary Committee’s public hearing on the bill Wednesday, Harvey said the law is racially biased in its implementation. Also it doesn’t differentiate between possession and intent to sell.
In 1987 Connecticut passed a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for a drug offense within 1,000 feet of a school. The law was later expanded to 1,500 feet and to public housing and day care centers.
New Haven resident Barbara Fair said the only place in the Elm City that’s not in a drug-free zone is the Yale Golf Course.
ACLU Attorney David McGuire testified that the law punishes African Americans and Latinos more severely than whites for exactly the same crimes.
Representative Themis Klarides, a Derby Republican wondered why it was bad for densely populated cities to have little to no refuge from drug-free zones.
Andrew Clark of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, explained that would mean “it makes no difference (whether) you possess or sell on the doorstep of a school or in an office building in downtown Hartford, We didn’t think that was the intent of the legislature”
Officials, lawmakers, parents, and students expressed mixed feelings Wednesday at an Education Committee meeting about whether Connecticut should delay implementation of the Common Core Standards.
Some feel the public uproar over the issue is related to misinformation.
The Common Core, according to education officials, is neither a curriculum or an assessment tool.
It is a set of standards educators must use to develop a curriculum at the local level. Testing will be used to evaluate students’ performance.
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the Committee that for two years, the results of those tests won’t be tied to teacher evaluations.
Representative Mitch Bolinsky, a Newtown Republican, said “the lack of public process” is why everyone is suddenly upset about the standards.
He said he keeps hearing there was involvement from the public and teachers, but can’t find any evidence.
Education Board Chairman Allan Taylor said he doesn’t believe there were any Connecticut teachers on the national drafting committee for the standards and he doesn’t believe there was any parental involvement in developing them.
Taylor said there was consultation between the state Department of Education and people outside the department.
He said “they are very good standards and that’s the bottom line. If there are actual practical problems out there, then legislative action may need to be taken."
But exactly what those practical problems are still wasn’t clear after hours of testimony.
The rate of heroin use seems to be going up in Suffolk County, Long Island.
Last month in Riverhead, drug dealers were arrested selling a potent "Hollywood heroin" in parking lots of businesses along Route 58.
The drug treatment center, Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, has seen a sharp uptick in the numbers of clients served, from 100 in 2009 to 868 last month.
Experts say the problem is impacting area youth, with children as young as 13 in Suffolk County hooked on the killer drug.
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said the average heroin user is no longer a skinny junkie with needle marks in his or her arms hanging on the street corner; it is the average teenager, the businessman, and moms.
Law enforcement officials say the distribution of heroin on the East End and Suffolk County is directly tied to an increase in crimes.
While statistics indicate that the number of actual heroin overdoses on the North Fork is still low, experts say education and awareness are critical to protecting area youth from the heroin crisis.
Suffolk County received state approval last year to register the county in the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program. That allows health officials to teach laypersons how to recognize an opioid overdose and reverse its effects with the antidote Narcan. It has resulted in almost 600 saved lives so far.
In conjunction with the Southold Communities That Care organization, The Guidance Center in Southold will be offering a summer prevention program to be held for two weeks in July.
Wednesday, March 12
When it comes to creating a retirement plan for Connecticut residents there are still more questions than answers as lawmakers seek to find ways to ensure residents are retiring on more than Social Security.
This year, Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz tried to find a way to automatically enroll everyone in Connecticut that currently doesn’t participate in an employer-sponsored 401k or Individual Retirement Account.
At the heart of the bill, is the automatic payroll deduction to get workers who normally don’t contribute to their retirement to participate in the state plan with a “guaranteed rate of return.”
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association is opposed to the bill.
“While we agree with the premise that people should be saving more for retirement, the solution put forward in this bill is a misreading of the problem,” CBIA Assistant Counsel Eric Gjede said. “This bill is a ‘supply’ answer to a ‘demand’ problem. There is no shortage of easily accessible IRA plans available to any Connecticut resident who walks through the door of their local bank.”
The Albany Times Union reports:
All three Democratic incumbent members of the NY State Board of Regents were re-elected Tuesday by the full state Legislature, despite statements from lawmakers and organizations that oppose the way the current board has implemented the new Common Core education standards:
James Cottrell, Wade Norwood, and Christine Cea were re-elected. They set education policy and oversee the massive state Department of Education
Tuesday's vote also shed light on what had been a poorly understood and obscure process by which the Regents are chosen.
In past years Senate Republicans haven't participated in the Regents elections, but on Tuesday, Republican Senator Ken LaValle of Long Island and other Senate colleagues voted NO for all the candidates.
Teachers have complained that the Education Department has failed to support the implementation of the program with guidance material and training. They have also said that tests, which are scored into their job evaluations, should be delayed.
The Common Core issue has also led to a rift with the politically powerful New York State United Teachers union, which has historically been very close to the Education Department and the Regents. The union has pressed for a moratorium on the tests.
Also the Suffolk Times reports Governor Andrew Cuomo’s newly formed Common Core Implementation Panel has released its preliminary recommendations on how the state could improve rolling out new academic standards.
Some of the recommendations include:
• Insuring state Common Core test results in grades 3-8 aren’t included in students’ permanent records,
• reducing over-testing, and ending the state Department of Education’s data initiative with inBloom.
Cuomo said the panel will not make any recommendation to halt or slow the new teacher evaluation process.
Newsday reports: The Central Islip school board plans to ramp up efforts to curb suspected marijuana and cigarette use on high school property.
It voted to ban both e-cigarettes and tobacco use.
At Monday night's school board meeting, two relatives of students spoke about marijuana and tobacco issues they say plague the health of students at Central Islip Senior High School.
Parents have reported students “getting dizzy in the classroom” and smoking in vacant classrooms.
Security personnel will be asked to stop students from leaving and re-entering the building during school hours. Security cameras are also in place, and School Superintendent Craig Carr says "whenever possible," a teacher or security guard is on duty outside of all open bathrooms..
Carr said students thought to be under the influence of a substance will be sent to the nurse's office to have vital signs checked and If there are signs the child is under the influence, the parents will be notified, and the student will be searched.
The Riverhead News-Review says this week, the Independence Party is supporting the 12-year incumbent first district Democrat Congressman Tim Bishop from Southampton
The decision came after Mr. Bishop and Republican challengers Lee Zeldin and George Demos were screened. Zeldin and Demos are expected to run in a June 24 Republican primary.
The last time Congressman Tim Bishop ran for re-election, he did not have the support of the Independence Party, which instead went to his Republican opponent, Randy Altschuler.
In the 2010 race against Mr. Altschuler, the Independence line appeared to play heavily into the outcome of the race, as Mr. Bishop won by just 593 votes and received 7,370 votes on the Independence line.
Tuesday, March 11:
Concerns over the privacy of crime victims and the public’s right to open government were at issue at two separate, simultaneous legislative committee meetings held Monday in Hartford, centered around the recommendations of the Sandy Hook task force.
The task force was created last year by legislation that shielded the Newtown shooting victim families from the disclosure of information.
The task force approved recommendations that would prevent release of records like 911 recordings under the Freedom of Information Act, and place the burden of justifying their release on the person requesting them.
Also it would apply a federal definition of “invasion of privacy” to the Connecticut disclosure law; permit the public to inspect pictures and other law enforcement records, and petition government agencies to release those documents.
At the Government Administration Committee meeting, State Senate President Donald Williams strongly opposed the recommendations.
Task force member James Smith also spoke against the legislation. He said the group should not have been trying to balance open government against the privacy of victims.
Concurrently, the task force’s two chairmen were speaking in favor of it before the Judiciary Committee. Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, another task force member, said they anguished over finding a suitable balance between privacy and public disclosure. He said, “This is a good, fair compromise.”
In written testimony to the Judiciary Committee, the 26 families of Sandy Hook victims opposed the recommendations.
The Albany Times-Union reports that newly uncovered documents reveal the insulating fluid that had seeped into the Hudson River from a General Electric plant is more harmful than the company reported. The company has argued for years in its fight against having to clean up the river that the oil-like fluid is not harmful to humans.
Besides, GE officials said, the river was cleaning itself.
Yet the documents the Times Union obtained through the Freedom of Information Law show that company officials were warned of the potential serious health threats of PCBs decades before the government ordered GE to dredge the river.
The documents also indicate that GE flushed more PCBs into the river han government regulators estimated.
The dredging of the Upper Hudson, scheduled to resume this spring, costs GE $1 billion, and taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions in related cleanup costs.
There are growing calls for GE to help fund dredging the Champlain Canal, also tainted by the PCBs.
GE spokesman Mark Behan said "GE acted diligently and responsibly in dealing with PCBs, complied with the law and regulations and has done an exceptional job on the dredging project.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed a 2014 budget amended by county legislators earlier this month. But the budget has environmental groups preparing to sue over how the county is balancing its books.
The $2.7 billion budget – which calls for no tax increase in the county’s general fund – calls for using nearly $33 million from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, a reserve account created when Suffolk County taxpayers approved the Drinking Water Protection Program in 1987.
The fund comprises one of several dedicated revenue streams created by a one-quarter of one percent sales tax.
Critics, including Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper, say the choice to use it to close a budget gap violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves.
Amper said ”There’s no justification for violating this solemn contract with the public.”
Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030. The recent plan laid out by the county intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund – which is used to offset spikes in sewer rates – in 2017.
The county and some environmental groups remain in court over similar action taken in 2011. Bob DeLuca, executive director of Group for the East End said his organization’s members are deciding whether or not to sue.
Mr. DeLuca questioned whether or not the sewer fund would ever be replenished as promised – He said In 2017 there may be different people and priorities and maybe there will be another economic downturn.
Monday, March 10
Peter Lanza, the father of the gunman who took the lives of 20 students and six educators in Newtown, is speaking publicly for the first time in an article published today in The New Yorker.
Peter Lanza, who hadn’t spoken to his son Adam for two years before the shooting, talked to the magazine’s Andrew Solomon in September.
Mr. Lanza, a vice president for GE Energy Financial Services, was divorced from Adam’s mother Nancy, whom Adam also killed.
According to Solomon, “The only reason Lanza was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event.”
Mr. Lanza came to meetings with the victims’ families, as much to ask questions as to answer them. Mr. Lanza says “I want people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them,”
Mr. Lanza has also been cooperating with Governor Malloy’s Sandy Hook Commission, which is looking to compile a report with recommendations on how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future.
At a meeting, with Commission chairman, Scott Jackson, Mr. Lanza expressed his desire to help the commission get the necessary medical and educational reports it believes it needs to complete its analysis.
Adam was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but in his interview with Solomon, Mr. Lanza says that it may have veiled schizophrenia.
Lanza says, had he been there, Adam would have killed him also.
The Consumer Protection Department will not revoke the marijuana growers license of a Fairfield company, Advanced Grow Labs, whose manager failed to disclose that he had a similar permit revoked in Boulder, Colorado.
The license came under scrutiny this week after the Boston Globe reported that its manager, John Czarkowski [sar-COW-ski], had a permit to grow marijuana in Boulder, Colorado, revoked in 2012 after the city found more than a dozen violations. Czarkowski did not disclose the license revocation during the vetting process in Connecticut. The Hartford Courant on Wednesday reported that Czarkowski had resigned from his job with Advanced Grow Labs following the revelations from Boulder.
Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein wrote:
Our conclusion is based on our conviction, after factual review, that Advanced Grow Labs, which is primarily a Connecticut-based company whose principals have long-standing roots in the state, was equally misled by Mr. Czarkowski despite having done a thorough background check prior to retaining him. We did not reach this decision lightly.
State Representative Vincent Candelora, a North Branford Republican, said the fact Czarkowski was able to “slip through the cracks,” calls into question the “entire vetting process.”
The newly launched SoutholdLocal.com reports:
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell delivered his 5th annual state of the town address Thursday night.
Russell talked about the town's fiscal health, legislative achievements and environmental developments, and the deer cull that's had tensions flaring in Southold recently.
Russell said Southold's fiscal health is strong. It has one of the highest bond ratings awarded by Moody's.
Russell said the town is still looking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help with Superstorm Sandy relief. The town has received $616 thousand in reimbursement, with $500 thousand still pending.
Community Preservation Fund revenues for 2013 totaled over $5 million, up from $3.5 million in 2012.
The fund receives 2% of real estate transfers to fund open space purchases. A total of 64 acres were preserved in 2013, including 57 acres of farmland.
The Supervisor said Southold is not a party to the litigation over the present federally managed deer cull.
The Town’s own deer management program harvested 265 deer in 2013.
Russell said the deer issue is a "top priority and the largest crisis Southold faces. It's a public health, economic, and environmental crisis that requires action now."
Activists at Save East Hampton say the electric utility PSEG agreed, at a meeting at town hall Friday, to remove and relocate the poles for a new transmission line within 16 months. The line is being built through a series of East Hampton backroads. Financing for an alternative solution will be sought.
But PSEG intends to first complete the installation of the overhead line so it will be in place for this summer. They will consider three alternate routes.
Friday, March 7
Fitch Ratings maintained its AA rating for Connecticut bonds in anticipation of the sale of $400 million in general obligation bonds later this month.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Fitch also maintained its negative outlook of the state based on “budget vulnerability.”
In July 2013, Fitch Ratings lowered the outlook for Connecticut’s bonds from stable to negative.
Fitch stated that the negative outlook “reflects the state’s reduced fiscal flexibility at a time of lingering economic and revenue uncertainty.”
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Governor Dannel Malloy, stressed that the rating remains unchanged from last year and that the state is making progress putting money aside and paying down its debt.
Doba said. “We have a surplus, and we’re making payments to address the state’s long-term debt. The governor has reduced the state’s overall debt by more than $11.5 billion.” He added, “The fact that it takes a long time to fix what took a long time to create should be surprising to absolutely no one.”
The New Haven Register reports:
Kenneth Bowes, a Connecticut Light & Power executive, told state regulators that the company is considering a plan to charge private landowners who refuse to allow tree trimming if an outage is later found to have been caused by falling limbs.
In reaction, residents seized upon Bowes’ comment. Beth Gilson, accused CL&P of “trying to rough up its customers.”
By at a public hearing on CL&P’s tree-trimming plan Wednesday evening, Mitch Gross, a spokesman for the utility, was downplaying whether the company was seriously considering such a plan.
Gross said. “This is something that has been discussed internally, nothing more”
Shirley McCarthy, chairwoman of Branford’s Tree Commission, called the company’s tree-trimming practices “barbaric.”
Susan Bradford, a resident of Bethany, said the utility’s trimming crews “mutilated” 13 spruce trees on her property last June, including some that were 75 years old. She said they did an estimated $30,000 worth of damage.
CL&P’s Bowes said there have only been 178 tree-trimming objections raised by landowners since last December, after nearly 25,000 customers were notified of scheduled tree-trimming.
The utility plans to trim trees every four years.
The Riverhead News-Review reports:
In response to a second suit launched by animal rights activists and others, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled Thursday that the Department of Environmental Conservation can no longer issue any permits in relation to the deer cull program on the east end, at least until March 28.
Supreme Court judge Joseph Teresi, ruled that proper environmental reviews weren’t undertaken by the DEC prior to the cull.
However, the judge ruled permits and deer tags that have been issued can be filled under the existing permits.
DEC officials said in late February that permits for 12 different properties — in Southold, Riverhead, and Southampton — had been issued, with more still pending. Requests for updated totals have not been returned, and a DEC spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment Friday morning.
U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters started the cull last Monday.
An original goal of thinning the herd by 2,400 to 3,000 dropped to the 1,000 range since Southold was the only municipality to contribute funds to the program.
The Riverhead News-Review reports: The East End of Long Island’s community-supported agriculture program, Dock to Dish, has expanded to the North Fork. The program supplies about 130 area resident shareholders with fresh fish.
Local fishermen benefit by getting paid on the spot giving them immediate funds to go fishing again. They are able to meet demand for the freshest seafood available and are accountable for the quality. Consumers are supplied with, and educated about, numerous different types of fish over the 15-20 week membership period.
However, the program is controversial because it eliminates the middleman. Local seafood markets compete with fishermen that used to supply them but now can make a little more money elsewhere.
Ken Holmes, owner of Braun’s Seafood states he tries to take care of his fishermen year round and these programs actually hurt the local fish market. Mr. Holmes said, “The way you help the local fishermen is you eat more local fish and you buy it from local sources.”
Sean Barrett, a local fisherman said the Dock to Dish program isn’t meant to compete with local fish markets. Rather, he said, it’s meant to improve the overall health of the East End fishing industry, which has been negatively affected by deteriorating water quality, rising fuel costs and stringent state catch limits.
Thursday, March 6
Gov. Dannel Malloy told a group of business leaders Wednesday that there’s not going to be a budget deficit in 2016 and he’s not going to raise taxes if there is.
That’s assuming he runs for re-election and is elected to a second term.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis predicted last November that the state would have a deficit of more than $1 billion starting in fiscal year 2016.
Malloy said “If we did have a deficit we’re not going to raise taxes. We’re done, I gave.”
He said in 2011 when he took office he faced a $3.6 billion budget deficit and there was no other way to fix that problem without taking a look at everything from tax increases to changes in the state’s relationship with its workforce.
Malloy said, “I think we’re entering into a phase where over the next few years revenues will rise—not cause we’re adding new taxes—but because the economy is slowly but surely getting better”
Connecticut has discovered that one of the four companies it has granted a license to grow medical marijuana in the state has had a similar license revoked in Colorado.
Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein said Wednesday he is “very disturbed about what is alleged” against a company official of Advanced Grow Labs LLC, of Fairfield, selected by the state to grow medical marijuana in West Haven.
John Czarkowski had his permit to grow medical marijuana in Boulder, Colorado denied and revoked in 2012 due to more than a dozen violations there. They include: denying requests to officials to inspect the premises; failing to weigh, measure or label medical marijuana prior to placing it in large trash-like plastic bags; lack of operational surveillance cameras and a co-owner who appeared to be under the influence of marijuana and refused to remove his sunglasses.
Czarkowski and his wife manage three companies that have won preliminary approval to run medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts. The company’s Connecticut application is still pending.
Help may be on its way for New Yorkers who can’t find or afford quality child care for infants and toddlers.
Mark Scheerer reports on a legislative initiative introduced Wednesday.
A package of 18 bills has been introduced by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who promised its passage in the Democrat-dominated Assembly. At its heart is paid family leave for parents of newborn children or those caring for ill family members. And Silver says it wouldn’t raise taxes.
"We believe it’s handled by a 45-cent weekly payment from employees similar to the disability premiums that are now paid be employees."
Some business groups say it should be voluntary, not government-mandated. The legislation would also increase access to childcare for low-income families and raise the quality of child care programs.
Representative Michele Titus is a member of the Child Care Workgroup formed last May, whose recommendations resulted in the new bills. She says they address the fact that when it comes to childcare, sometimes jobs are at stake.
"Allowing working families to keep their jobs, not lose that job and become a recipient of the safety net, but keep them in the workforce and keep families working."
Representative Catherine Nolan points out a paid family leave measure was introduced in 2005, but not passed. "We’ve really polished it up and decided this is the moment to push it forward. We have tremendous support in the Assembly."
In January, Rhode Island became the third state to offer workers paid family leave, along with New Jersey and California.
As reported by Newsday Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gave his State of the County address Wednesday night.
Bellone devoted the largest portion of his speech to the issue of water quality.
He has made nitrogen pollution from septic tanks and cesspools his top priority this year. Suffolk is preparing a home-by-home analysis of areas to be connected to sewers,
The survey will recommend homes that should be hooked up to sewers, and those that should install new septic systems or join small regional waste treatment systems of between 50 and 100 homes. The program will not mandate compliance, however.
Bellone acknowledged that extending sewers in Suffolk -- where 70 percent of homes are on septic systems -- will cost billions. He offered no details about where the money will come from, other than saying he will seek to leverage private dollars with the help of state and federal governments.
Bellone promised a price tag for portions of the sewer plan in a few weeks.
He also said the county has made progress in reducing its structural budget deficit, noting that the county payroll has declined by 1,000 workers since he took office in 2012.
Wednesday, March 5
The Labor Committee approved legislation to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage Tuesday.
Tuesday’s 8-3 vote by the Labor and Public Employees Committee advances a proposal that would raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017, making it the highest in the nation. The bill is in line with a national proposal by President Barack Obama, who was to make remarks about it today at Central Connecticut State University.
However, Republicans on the Labor Committee opposed the bill. Representative Richard Smith, of New Fairfield, said the bill was “feel good” legislation that doesn’t solve the economic problems that contribute to poverty.
Smith said “until we start addressing the underlying issues and throwing the money there, helping those in need . . . and making them part of the workforce to earn a better wage, we’re going to be dealing with this minimum wage issue forever”
Not all Republicans oppose the minimum wage increase. Gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley released a statement Tuesday afternoon calling the wage hike “a fairness issue” that he supports nationally.
The length of time law enforcement agencies could retain license plate information was debated before the legislative Public Safety and Security Committee.
Local police chiefs want to hang on to the information for five years or more, because they say it's an important crime-fighting tool.
But opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called automated license plate recognition -- a threat to constitutional freedoms and asked the committee to require a much shorter retention period of days instead of years.
Carroll Hughes, Capitol lobbyist for the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said "The larger the database, the more accurate the description of a vehicle is going to be over a long period of time"
David McGuire, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said “The trouble arises when license plate scan data is collected, pooled and archived for months or years, the data can create a method for "retroactive surveillance of innocent people without a warrant, without probable cause and without any form of judicial oversight,"
McGuire asked the committee to set a 14-day limit, except in cases of active investigations.
The bill will be subject to revisions and debate within the committee, which has a March 18 deadline.
Montauk Shores Condominium complex has agreed to pay a $40,000 fine and remove a 12-foot stone wall along the ocean that exceeds the size permitted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
A rock wall has protected the development’s 900 feet of oceanfront for decades. Since 2002, the complex, a mobile home park condominium, has been trying to get a permit to make the wall bigger and heavier.
But state officials said the permit requests were turned down because the complex wanted to use rocks weighing 300 to 500 pounds instead of the 150-pound rocks the DEC approved.
Last March, months after superstorm Sandy scoured the Long Island coastline, the DEC approved a permit to rebuild the wall at 6 feet tall and 12 feet wide, but with stones no larger than 150 pounds.
After the work was done, the DEC inspectors found the wall to be 12 feet tall, 24 feet wide, containing rocks that weighed up to 1,000 pounds.
The oceanfront complex has agreed to a consent order from the DEC and will pay another $80,000 to reduce the wall to the size originally approved and remove rocks heavier than 150 pounds.
The Shelter Island Reporter says:
Eastern Long Island school superintendents say they don’t want to delay implementation of the Common Core standards without specific recommendations for tactics that have proven successful in improving education both here and abroad.
So Superintendents from Shelter Island, Southold and Shoreham-Wading River have organized a meeting at Stony Brook University next week with prominent educational experts.
They include former US Assistant Secretary of Education and New York University Education Professor Diane Ravitch, an opponent of school privatization.
Others include Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish scholar and visiting professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Andy Hargreaves [HAR-graves], of the Lynch School of Education at Boston University.
Invitations were sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo to state lawmakers and members of the Board of Regents.
Shelter Island superintendent Michael Hynes says “The forum is intended to explain other ways of successful teaching and learning…and it’s meant to promote local control because implementing best practices in education can’t be achieved with a one size fits all solution for every district.”
The forum at the Wang Center Theater is on Thursday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public, those interested in attending should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, March 4
The 2014 race for Connecticut governor is in a dead heat. Republican Tom Foley is tied in a hypothetical match up with Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday.
In a hypothetical match-up with Foley, Malloy wins the female vote. The poll found a large gender gap as women back Malloy 45-37 percent while men back Foley 48-39 percent.
Foley lost to Malloy in 2010 by about 6400 votes.
Malloy gets a 48 percent approval rating, while 45 percent disapprove and voters are divided about whether he should even seek re-election. Malloy’s rating hasn’t broken through the 50 percent mark in any poll, but the 48 percent is a high-water mark for him.
On the Republican side where there’s likely to be a primary this year, Foley continues to dominate the pack with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as his closest competition.
If the Republican primary were held today Foley would receive 36 percent of the vote and Boughton would receive 11 percent. The rest would be split between Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, Joe Visconti, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Senator Toni Boucher.
35 percent of Republican voters remain undecided.
The Connecticut Post reports: As many as 200 state inmates serving long prison terms could be paroled under a proposed bill.
Proponents say immature teenage brains can make life-changing criminal mistakes.
Under legislation mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the General Assembly has to adopt new rules to review the cases of juvenile offenders who were given long prison sentences.
The bill would allow the state Board of Pardons and Parole to free those convicted when under 18 years of age after serving 60 percent of sentences of 50 years or less or after 30 years for sentences over 50 years.
The bill would create an automatic review of sentences served by persons who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. It would also provide sentencing guidelines for juveniles convicted of serious felonies outlined by the United States Supreme Court.
But surviving families of crime victims warned Monday that violent offenders, no matter how young, should be expected to pay their debts to society.
John Cluny, of Norwich, whose wife and son were murdered nearly 20 years ago by then-15-year-old Michael Bernier is opposed. Cluny says he wants to make sure Bernier stays behind bars forever.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane said the role of assessing inmate progress toward rehabilitation would be the pardon board's.
Long Island New York Assemblyman Fred Thiele said the state, with its anticipated $400 million surplus this year, should make school spending a priority according to the Shelter Island Reporter,
That would please the Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which advocate for increased education spending. The groups met with Assembly Democratic conference members in Albany on Monday to discuss their tour of 14 hard-pressed school districts, according to the Albany Times-Union.
The report listed educational resource deficiencies such as increased class size and staff cuts. Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said the Democratic conference would push to increase the amount of funding.
Assemblyman Thiele agrees. Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, $22 billion is earmarked for school aid. Thiele said “That’s a good start [but] I don’t think it’s enough.”
He called for rolling back the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which cut school district spending as a reaction to the down-turn in the economy in 2010-11. Thiele said with the economy beginning to recover, it’s time to eliminate GEA.
The Suffolk County Legislature is nearing a vote on a bill that would raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products from 19 to 21.
A public hearing on the bill was held today at the Griffing County Building in Riverhead.
Legislator William Spencer, a Centerport Democrat, and a physician, is behind the bill.
The law would prohibit retailers from selling cigarettes, cigars, rolling papers, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco or smoking pipes to anyone under the age of 21. Store owners would need to confirm identification before selling those products.
Spencer wants to keep tobacco products away from young adults during the age in which they run the highest risk of addiction. He also believes the age hike would cut down on healthcare costs in the long run.
But Tom Muratore, a Ronkonkoma Republican told Patch "I think at 19 you can make your own decisions, I don’t think we need government to tell us you can do this, you can't do that."
New York City has already raised the age to buy cigarettes to 21.
Monday March 3:
The conference of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers -- or NABLEO -- took place in Rocky Hill over the weekend. The organization honored many individuals who they said have contributed to racial justice in the state. WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more.
In a dining room at the Sheraton Hotel, Mongi Dhouadi director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Connecticut, said he was being honored for his work,
Another honoree was Barbara Fair, a community activist in New Haven who's been working for years to protect the rights of those caught up in the criminal justice system, especially African Americans.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp was also honored for her role in bringing community policing to that city 20 years ago when she was on the board of alders. The theme of this year's conference was Solving Gun Violence and Racial Profiling Through Community Policing.
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
As reported by the New Haven Register: Despite Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft’s announcement last week that it was eliminating about 600 jobs, most of these in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy predicted that Sikorsky Aircraft will be making helicopters in Connecticut for a generation to come.
In January, the New York Times reported that parent company United Technologies Corporation is considering a spin-off or sale of Sikorsky.
Governor Malloy said rumors about Sikorsky’s future propelled the state to sign a deal with United Technologies, guaranteeing Sikorsky headquarters will remain in Connecticut for at least five years.
As part of the deal, the governor proposed to state lawmakers to allow UTC to use up to $400 million in unused tax credits.
The Sikorsky agreement was part of a broader deal calling for UTC to build a new East Hartford headquarters for Pratt & Whitney, which agreed to stay in Connecticut for at least 15 years.
UTC’s net income for the last 12 months was 5.7 billion dollars according to the New York Times.
Brookhaven Town officials have called on the state to scrap plans to cap a contaminated Long Island Rail Road yard in Yaphank and instead remove soil from the property.
Supervisor Edward Romaine, wrote to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, that the proposal to cap the 4-acre site less than 500 feet from the Carmans river was "completely unacceptable" because studies have found pollutants such as zinc, arsenic, lead and copper on the parcel.
The LIRR used the site as an unauthorized dump for three decades before it was closed in the 1970s, the DEC said.
The DEC plans to cover parts of the property with soil, stone or concrete, and an asphalt cap would be built on an adjoining property.
Romaine says those plans could upend town efforts to conserve the Carmans River.
Romaine wrote: "The health of our residents and our tremendous investment in the ecologically fragile Carmans River must be permanently protected from the impacts of the contaminants at this site,"
The DEC has offered no comment on it so far.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said capping similar polluted sites has proved to be ineffective.
The East Yaphank Civic Association will host a public discussion of the cleanup plan at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Dowling College's Brookhaven campus, 1300 William Floyd Pkwy., Shirley.
A proposed “energy park” at the Enterprise Park at Calverton could potentially plug Riverhead Town’s budget deficit.
In December, Councilman George Gabrielsen pitched the offer of EPCAL to PSEG as a site for a 250-megawatt gas-powered peaker plant. He told fellow town board members that power company representatives were enthusiastic about the site because of ready access to a 10-inch high-pressure natural gas line and proximity to existing high-tension lines.
Sitting as the Riverhead Community Development Agency board, which holds the title to enterprise park, the town board authorized two requests for proposals. One for the 250-megawatt peaker plant, the other for the plant plus fuel cells and a solar array.
Gabrielsen said the town received four proposals on the first RFP and offered the town remuneration far exceeding what he’d anticipated.
The councilman says the 95-acre energy park idea was well received by developers and the utility company, which indicated it may provide the infrastructure.
Gabrielsen said, “Riverhead could be the energy capital of the East End and maybe Suffolk.”
PSEG will likely make the final selection for the peaker plant site by September with construction starting in 2015.