Monday, August 1, 2016

August 2016

Wednesday August 31, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Sikorsky Aircraft cuts 150 jobs; anti-war activist Medea Benjamin speaks in New Haven; Suffolk County signs on to green energy program for business; and, Suffolk Bancorp sets shareholder vote on merger with People’s United.
Sikorsky Aircraft is cutting 150 jobs, the bulk of which are in Connecticut, Paul Jackson, a company spokesman said Tuesday. The layoffs include 109 employees from Sikorsky’s Connecticut workforce of about 8,000 workers.

Tuesday was the last day on the job for all of the workers Sikorsky laid off. The workers received severance benefits, including employment transition assistance. “Although difficult, this action is necessary to ensure we remain competitive in the marketplace, secure future business opportunities, and keep our infrastructure appropriately aligned with customer demands,” Jackson said in a statement.

The decision to lay off Sikorsky workers was called “unwelcome news to Connecticut families” in a joint statement released by Connecticut’s legislative delegation. The statement read in part: “Over the coming weeks, we will work to help those affected in every way possible and will continue discussions with Lockheed to ensure it fulfills the commitments and obligations Sikorsky has undertaken in Connecticut. We are deeply dedicated to keeping jobs in Connecticut.” However more layoffs may be coming at Sikorsky in the coming weeks and months.

Anti-war activist and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin has a new book out about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and she spoke on the issue during a stop in New Haven Monday night. WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:

Benjamin's new book is “Kingdom of the Unjust”: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection. In her hour-long talk at the downtown library she addressed some of the key facts of life about the kingdom, such as denial of human rights to its own people, abusive treatment of the huge population of migrant workers, and its intervention in wars with its neighbors, such as Yemen, where thousands have been killed by bombs dropped from planes, both of which have been sold to the Saudis by the United States government.

She said the economic links run deep between the two countries, but the people of the U.S. know very little about what goes on in the kingdom. She said she hopes her book and book tour will change that: “It's really part of  a process of educating Americans to demand that we stop funding, that we stop selling weapons to the Saudis, that we stop giving them diplomatic cover, and that we start rearranging who are our friends, not only in the Middle East, but around the world.”

Connecticut's U.S. Senator Chris Murphy was mentioned as one of the few members of Congress to question the U.S.-Saudi alliance.
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Newsday reports:
Businesses and not-for-profits in Suffolk County can now finance green-energy improvements through loans paid back on their property tax bills under a state program aimed at accelerating the transition to clean energy.

Suffolk this week became the largest municipality in the state to sign on to the program by joining the Energy Improvement Corp., a public authority that’s overseeing the Energize NY program. The Suffolk Legislature approved the county’s plan in November. Nassau County is expected to join in the fall after approving legislation earlier this month.

The Energize NY program addresses a drawback of clean energy programs by eliminating big upfront payments or higher-interest private bank loans to fund the upgrades. Instead, business and not-for-profit groups can borrow up to 10% of the value of their properties to pay for energy-saving upgrades and repairs, at interest rates of 4.25% to 5.5%.

The energy savings more than offset the new assessments on their property-tax bills through the so-called property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing, said Mark Thielking,executive director of Energize NY.

The funding can be used for a long list of energy-related improvements and equipment, including new solar panels, geothermal energy systems, fuel cells, even wind turbines. Efficiency measures such as better insulation, energy efficient motors and energy-saving boilers and heating and air-conditioning systems also are eligible.

Suffolk Bancorp has scheduled a special shareholders’ meeting on October 13 for a vote on its proposed merger with the Connecticut-based People’s United Financial.

"Suffolk’s shareholders will be asked to vote to adopt the merger agreement and approve related matters. The merger cannot be completed unless, among other things, the holders of at least 70% of the outstanding shares of Suffolk common stock adopt the merger agreement,” according to a proxy statement filed with the Securities and Ex-change Commission yesterday and mailed to shareholders of record as of August 25.

In a deal announced June 27, Suffolk Bancorp Inc., the one-bank holding company of Suffolk County National Bank, has proposed merging the bank into People’s United Bank, a wholly owned subsidiary of People’s United Financial Inc. The merger agreement is an all-stock transaction that will provide Suffolk shareholders with 2.25 shares of People’s United stock for each share of Suffolk stock owned. The proposed merger has given rise to three lawsuits filed on behalf of Suffolk’s share-holders seeking to block the merger, each claiming that the company’s board of directors, in agreeing to the merger, breached its fiduciary duties to shareholders.

The special shareholders’ meeting will be held at Suffolk County National Bank’s head-quarters at 4 West Second Street in Riverhead. Proxy cards were sent to shareholders along with the proxy statement/merger. Failure to vote counts as a vote against the deal, according to the statement.

Tuesday August 30, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Yale graduate students petition to form a union; climate change pushes Connecticut’s fish farther north; a pending bill would levy fines on Airbnb New York City rental listings; and Riverhead to pick Calverton Enterprise Park developer.

Yale graduate students filed a petition Monday to form a union.This follows a National Labor Relations Board ruling last week that gave students at private universities the right to organize. Now, graduate and undergraduate students who work as teaching and research assistants should be considered employees.

The issue of union representation for graduate students has already appeared on several campuses in Connecticut. Yale Graduate Students and Employees Organization, or GESO, has been trying to gain university recognition since the early 1990s. Many colleges and universities, however, argue that allowing grad students to unionize would undermine their academic relationship with the school.

Yale, along with the seven other Ivy League schools, filed an amicus brief calling on the Board to rule that the relationship graduate students have with their university is primarily academic.

Thirty-three schools currently have graduate employee unions, including the University of Connecticut. Like UConn, most are at public universities where students already had a right to organize.

Connecticut’s annual lobster landings have dropped from nearly 4 million pounds in the late 90s to the low six-figures. The iconic lobster has become the face of climate change in New England.

Climate shift has caused many marine animals to leave Connecticut to seek colder, deeper water. A climate-change vulnerability assessment released by Northeast Fisheries Science Center looked at 82 marine species off the northeastern U.S. It showed that nearly all are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and two-thirds had shifted northward.

Other factors are at work too. Shoreline development and pollution are two human activities putting marine life at risk, as is fishing. Rhode Island’s Science Center fisheries oceanographer Jon Hare said, regarding certain species: “Fishing had a greater impact than climate change.” Despite that, scientists uniformly say temperature is the biggest factor. 

Rutgers University ecologist and evolutionary biologist Malin Pinsky said: [Temperature] affects how a fish works…There comes a point where it can’t actually get enough oxygen at very high temperatures to avoid being eaten or to catch enough to eat and survive itself.”

After five-and-a-half years and more than $600,000, Riverhead Town is in the home stretch of subdividing, zoning and marketing the remaining land it owns at the former Grumman plant in Calverton. Town Board members have been in negotiations with two developers bidding on 600 acres the town owns at the Calverton Enterprise Park. A decision between the two is expected this week. 

The offers will bring Riverhead “tens of millions of dollars” in revenues. Terms or the identities of the developers have not been disclosed. But each plans to develop the site, rather than flip the land to other entities. The town must still obtain a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Town officials are confident approval will be forthcoming.

The new developer will face some difficult—and expensive—infrastructure challenges. The Riverhead Water District will need to build new facilities before it can supply any new development. The existing sewage treatment plant requires a costly upgrade and expansion.

Albany Times-Union reports:
Governor Cuomo must decide soon whether to authorize hefty fines for the many people who rent out their New York City apartments on Airbnb. The new measure would establish graduated fines from $1,000 to $7,500 for advertising online or elsewhere for such illegal short-term rentals.

Airbnb said it is policing its website to remove commercial operators, addressing a chief complaint of critics who say it promotes illegal hotels and effectively takes scarce apartments out of circulation. Airbnb, with 45,000 city listings and another 13,000 across the state, counters that it helps New Yorkers make money to go toward their own rising rents.

Although difficult to enforce, it is illegal to rent most city apartments for less than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not there.  Airbnb’s head of public policy Josh Meltzer said that instead of the new law, the company would like to find a regulatory solution to protect responsible people who want to rent their homes when they're away.

Monday August 29, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: towns wary of local spending cap as state begins revenue sharing; EpiPen lobbying campaign targeted Connecticut; Committee on Open Government rebuts Cuomo admin over FOIL denials; and, Southampton south shore beach nourishment plans are working.

Enjoying their first infusion of state sales tax receipts — albeit not as much as promised — Connecticut’s cities and towns remain wary of a revenue-sharing program that comes with a controversial spending cap.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities continues to press for reform of the cap, which critics say encourages some poor fiscal habits, such as borrowing for ongoing expenses. And the Connecticut Council of Small Towns continues to urge legislators to repeal the cap altogether. And with the state facing a $1.3 billion projected hole in its next budget — with signs that it could get significantly worse — communities also are concerned that the revenue sharing could end, but the cap might remain.

The revenue-sharing program caps municipal budget growth at 2.5%. Communities that exceed this threshold would have their revenue-sharing dollars reduced.

Cities and towns were supposed to share $246 million this fiscal year. But as legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy struggled to close a $1 billion hole in state finances without raising taxes, they reduced the revenue-sharing to $185 million. To help pay for the revenue-sharing, they cut other municipal grants by about $100 million from the original 2016-17 budget.

Connecticut, one of 11 states that approved a law requiring schools to stock EpiPens, is on drug maker Mylan’s sizable lobbying list. The Center for Public Integrity listed Mylan, the manufacturer of the EpiPen, as among the top companies who have recently expanded their presence in state houses across the nation.  The EpiPen is the widely used medical device that quickly administers a dose of epinephrine to counter allergic reactions,

According to the Center, Mylan, under fire for its steep price hikes of the EpiPen, expanded its lobbying presence in state houses to Connecticut and 35 additional states between 2010 to 2014. “EpiPen distributor Mylan has pushed to expand the use of epinephrine injections to treat allergic reactions in schools and restaurants,” the Center said of the lobbying campaign.

In Connecticut, Mylan hired the lobbying firm of Camilliere, Cloud & Kennedy at the end of 2013, paying it $30,000 plus expenses to represent its interest in Hartford in 2014 and $42,000 to represent the company the following year.

Meanwhile, in June of 2014, the Connecticut general assembly approved a bill that required all state primary and secondary schools to carry a supply of EpiPens.The bill, which Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law, also allowed school personnel other than a school nurse – if they were properly trained – to administer the epinephrine.

The Albany Times Union reports:
The director of the state Committee on Open Government said in an advisory opinion that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and the state department of Housing and Community Renewal should not hold back from release otherwise public documents based merely on the contention that they might relate to an ongoing federal probe of upstate development deals.

 … (T)he records sought, in my opinion, cannot be withheld on the ground that they were compiled for law enforcement purposes," wrote COOG Executive Director Robert Freeman in an opinion dated Thursday. The opinion was prompted by a request from the Times Union, which in recent weeks received rejections of requests made under the state Freedom of Information Law for two sets of documents.

One requested the timesheets of Steven L. Aiello, who worked for the state’s housing authority between July 2011 and July 2014. He is the son of Syracuse-area developer Steven F. Aiello, whose company COR Development is of interest in Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation of several state-funded, upstate development deals.

The Times Union also filed a FOIL request for financial disclosure documents completed by former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco when he returned to work for the Executive Chamber in December 2014 after a seven-month stint managing Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

Southampton Town reported this week that, based on the town’s third annual monitoring update on the town’s beach replenishment project along the ocean shore, there is now more sand along the six-mile stretch of beach from Flying Point Road in Water Mill to Town Line Road in Sagaponack than when the project began three years ago.

The town reported that more than 310,000 cubic yards of sand has accreted along that stretch of beach, after a survey conducted by the town’s engineers in July. “The survey just conducted by our project team in July 2016 shows that the beach is now wider than originally constructed, the dunes have grown materially and the project has performed above everyone’s high expectations,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman in a press release Aug. 25.

Between October 2013 and February 2014, more than 2.5 million cubic yards of sand were dredged from one mile offshore and placed along the oceanfront. The $25 million project was funded by oceanfront owners through special taxing districts, and the beach was widened by 150 feet.

“Bridgehampton, Sagaponack and Water Mill have more sand in place this summer than the day pumping finished in February 2014. It is also clear from the success of our project that everyone benefits from wide beaches,” said Jeff Lignelli of the Bridgehampton-Water Mill Beach Erosion Control District Advisory Board.

Friday August 26, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: required insurance coverage of breast cancer imaging now to include 3D mammography in CT; new overtime rule will affect Connecticut employers later this year; toxic rust tide algae spreads across entire Peconic Estuary;and Suffolk County’s legislative committees will convene in Riverhead next week.

Depending on the insurance company, Connecticut consumer may be paying for the legislature and Governor Malloy’s decision to expand required coverage of breast cancer imaging to include 3D mammography. Earlier this month during public hearings on proposed increases in their health insurance rates, one insurance company said it was going to have to raise its rates partly due to tomosynthesis, which is also known as 3D mammography. 

ConnectiCare told Insurance Department regulators that it would have to increase its rates by $1.38 per member, per month, in order to accommodate coverage of the new technology. In consultation with its chief medical director, ConnectiCare officials said it “came up with, looking at that data, an average utilization of 5,869 services per year, with an average unit cost of $110 per service. If you multiply those two numbers and divide by approximately 500,000 member months, you get to the $1.38.”

However, Anthem officials told Insurance Department regulators that they weren’t going to increase rates for this particular new coverage requirement.

Connecticut employers are bracing for a new federal rule taking effect later this year that will entitle more workers to overtime pay. The U.S. Department of Labor has finalized a rule that raises the salary threshold at which workers are exempt from overtime pay. Currently, those earning $23,660 or more are exempt from overtime pay, but that threshold will more than double to $47,476 on December 1.

The federal government estimates 4.2 million white-collar employees nationwide – executive, administrative and professional workers – whose salaries fall under the new cap could be eligible to receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Under the rule, which applies to businesses of all sizes, the salary threshold will be updated every three years and is projected to rise to $51,000 on January 1, 2020.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers have four ways in which they can deal with the new rule: they can start paying overtime; raise employees’ salaries to the new threshold to avoid paying overtime; instruct employees not to work more than 40 hours per week; or, cut employees’ base pay to offset new overtime payments.

According to Southold Local, a dangerous bloom of rust tide algae, or Cochlodinium, has spread over the past week across Peconic Bay and all its waterways, from East Hampton to Riverhead. Rust tide algae is more toxic and dangerous to marine life than red tide algae, which reduces oxygen levels in the water and triggered historic bunker fish and turtle die-off last summer. 

Thick densities of rust tide algae can itself kill marine life, including fish in just hours, and shellfish in just days. Current densities have not been seen since 2012, when a similar bloom caused a large die-off of scallops.

Densities of rust tide above 500 cells per milliliter pose lethal threat to marine life: currently the Gobler Laboratory is reporting densities exceeding 3,000 cells per milliliter. 
Christopher Gobler, director, believes recent high temperatures have driven the spread of rust tide. His lab identifies climate change as a major factor in the frequency of harmful algal blooms in local waterways.

Gobler said: “Blooms typically persist into the fall or until water temperatures drop below 60 degrees. We anticipate the rust tide will intensify in the Peconics and spread to Shinnecock Bay in the coming weeks.”

Suffolk County's legislative committees will convene in Riverhead at the Maxine Postal Legislative Auditorium in the Evans K. Griffing Building, 300 Center Drive next week in the run-up to a Riverhead general meeting on Sept. 7.

The legislature agreed to hold committee meetings on the East End for two cycles in 2016 on a pilot basis, after North Fork Legislator Al Krupski pushed for the change because of the great distance East End residents must travel to attend committee meetings in Hauppauge. Krupski said: "It’s a question of access to government, which is a key factor in a functioning democracy. Previously, some of my constituents traveled 90 minutes to speak for three minutes at a committee meeting.”

They will be held on:
10 a.m.: Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee 
12:30 p.m. Seniors and Consumer Protection Committee
2 p.m. Public Works, Transportation and Energy Committee
9:30 a.m. Veterans Committee
10:30 a.m. Budget and Finance Committee
12:30 p.m. Education and Human Services Committee
10 a.m. Operations, Personnel, Information Technology and Housing Committee
12:30 p.m. Parks and Recreation Committee
2 p.m. Economic Development Committee
9:30 a.m. Public Safety Committee
12:30 p.m. Ways and Means Committee
2 p.m. Health Committee

Thursday August 25, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut senator joins outcry over EpiPen price hikes; California-based advocacy group files federal education lawsuit in Connecticut; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs this year’s ethics bill, highlighting Citizens United reform; and, Shinnecock rebuild and fortify beach damaged by superstorm Sandy.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has joined the growing criticism of pharmaceutical firm Mylan over the skyrocketing cost of EpiPens, calling on the company to immediately lower the price of the life-saving medication. Mylan is the sole manufacturer of EpiPens - auto-injectors that deliver epinephrine - commonly known as adrenaline - to those experiencing life-threatening anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction.

On Wednesday, Blumenthal sent a letter to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch demanding to know why the price has spiked so drastically, and threatening to launch an investigation into potential antitrust violations and illegal trade practices. The price jumps, he wrote, are making EpiPens unaffordable for many families, schools and first responders. The devices are now only sold in two-packs and each pack typically costs around $600, up from $100 in 2009.

“I was both shocked and dismayed to discover that the price of your product, which has not been improved upon in any obvious or significant way, has skyrocketed by 480% since 2009,” Blumenthal said in the letter. “My office has been contacted by dozens of concerned Connecticut residents, families, school nurses and first responders who urgently require your life-saving product but fear that its skyrocketing price has put it out of reach.” He continued: “I demand that Mylan take immediate action to lower the price of EpiPens for all Americans that rely on this product for their health and safety.”

On Thursday, after Mylan announced plans to expand the company’s “savings card” program, rather than reduce prices for its life-saving drug, Blumenthal called it a a “PR fix.” “This baby step should be followed by actual robust action,” Blumenthal said.

A California-based education advocacy group backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut Tuesday seeking to establish a federal constitutional right to an adequate education. In the lawsuit, four Connecticut inner-city parents complain that they’re forced to send their children to failing public schools because they were unable to win a lottery to attend a magnet or charter school.

“These inner-city children are compelled to attend public schools that the state knows have been failing its students for decades — consistently failing to provide even a minimally adequate education,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues that Connecticut has taken steps to prevent poor and minority children from having viable public-school alternatives and is knowingly depriving these students of educational opportunity “available to their more affluent and predominantly white peers.” During a Wednesday conference call with reporters, Josh Lipshutz, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said: “The state knows that this dichotomy exists, but it has taken actions that will force these students to attend failing schools.”

The lawsuit takes aim at a 2009 moratorium on new magnet schools, a cap on the expansion of charter schools, and a per-student funding formula that limits the number of districts participating in the Open Choice program, where city students attend suburban schools.The lawsuit contends that Connecticut is infringing on the federal constitutional rights of children in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

A spokeswoman for the Connecticut Attorney General’s office said the state has not yet been served with the lawsuit and will respond at the appropriate time in court.

The Albany Times Union reports:
Facing a deadline yesterday to sign an ethics bill passed by the Legislature in June, new York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced by press release Wednesday afternoon that he had indeed signed it.

“New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people’s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process. These actions roll back the disastrous influence of Citizens United and prohibit coordination between candidates and independent expenditure committees. Through enhanced enforcement and increased penalties for political consultants who flout the law, this new legislation will root out bad actors and shine a spotlight on the sordid influence of dark money in politics,” Governor Cuomo said.

Additionally, the legislation increases penalties for lobbying violations, while providing enhanced due process for individuals under investigation for potential violations. Political consultants that provide services to sitting elected officials or candidates and who have clients with business before the government will also be required to register with the state and disclose their clients.

Newsday reports:
Thousands of feet of shoreline on the Shinnecock Indian reservation have been restored and fortified with a $3.7 million federal grant that put tribe members to work and braced the beach for future storm impacts. The project, led by the tribe and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, rebuilt the beach beyond its original state, with sand from a nearby Shinnecock Canal dredging project by Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works.

The roughly 2,000-foot-long beach gained from 80 to 150 feet of shoreline width, all now protected by boulders to reduce wave impacts and beach grasses to prevent sand erosion. The project extends into the water, where eel grass is being planted and oysters and other shellfish are being seeded to filter the water and restore aquatic life.

The project employed 12 Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal members to work during the two-year restoration. Around a third of the $3.7 million budget paid to bring sand to the beach. “We want this to be a showpiece and an example for how you can rebuild a living shoreline,” said Kimberly Barbour, marine program outreach manager for Cornell.

It’s also provided education opportunities, said project manager Heather Rogers. “Everybody’s learning about the living components of the beach,” she said. “We’ve seen a revival in animals and different species here. It’s done a lot of good.”

Wednesday August 24, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut says it’s on track to end chronic homelessness by year end; NLRB ruling boosts Yale grad-school union drive; FAA says local Long Island officials ‘misrepresented’ what they were told; and, plans for Montauk’s future start with tours and workshops.

Connecticut is on pace to eliminate chronic homelessness by the end of the year, the state’s top housing official said at a press conference in Waterbury Tuesday. State Housing Commissioner Evonne M. Klein said increased coordination between providers and government officials has helped make “significant progress” toward housing the state’s chronically homeless – those who have a severely disabling condition and have been homeless for longer than a year.

“We’ll always have a homeless population, but what we know today is that we can house them,” Klein said. “We have a system in place to identify homeless people and rapidly house them. So we’re – this is important – ‘exiting’ people out of homelessness, not managing them.”

The goal of ending chronic homelessness was set when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed onto the “Zero: 2016” initiative two years ago. Malloy was one of only four governors to do so. The state announced last fall that it had ended chronic homelessness among veterans, becoming the first state in the nation to do so.

Graduate student teaching assistants at Columbia University won a ruling Tuesday that may inject new life into the decades-long quest to unionize their contemporaries at Yale.

The ruling came from the National Labor Relations Board.
The board ruled in a 3-1 vote that graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have collective bargaining rights — that they can in fact be viewed as both students and workers under the law.The ruling specifically addressed an organizing drive at Columbia. 

The ruling overturned a previous NLRB decision in a similar case involving graduate student workers at Brown University. Tuesday’s decision disagreed with the NLRB’s earlier conclusion that “collective bargaining would unduly infringe upon traditional academic freedoms...” The new decision also argued that the graduate student employees clearly fit into the commonly accepted definition of workers under federal law. 

Aaron Greenberg said that the ruling changes the landscape at Yale, too, where he chairs UNITE HERE Local 33, which is seeking to unionize graduate student employees. Yale President Peter Salovey called the ruling an opportunity for the campus to engage in “robust debate” about unionization. “All members of the Yale community should feel free to express their views on these matters, and we look forward to constructive and respectful discussions in the months ahead,” he said.

Relations between local officials and the Federal Aviation Administration, at odds for several years over helicopter flight paths, worsened after the two town supervisors on the North Fork yesterday accused federal regulators — and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer — of being less than forthright.

Yesterday, Rep. Lee Zeldin, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter took the senator to task for what they said was his role in the four-year extension of an FAA-approved helicopter route that has East Hampton-bound helicopters flying over North Fork homes. The extension was put in place by the FAA this month without any public comment period and with no notice to local officials, who said yesterday Schumer knew about it well in advance and in fact applied “political pressure” to get the FAA to adopt the four-year extension in that manner.

FAA representatives made that clear at yesterday morning’s meeting in Ronkonkoma, Zeldin and the town supervisors said at a press conference in Riverhead yesterday. Today, the FAA fired back, accusing the officials of misrepresenting what was said at the meeting. “Comments an FAA employee made yesterday about the North Shore Helicopter Route were misrepresented,” the agency said in a written statement.

“Media have reported the claim that there was a secret deal regarding the North Shore Helicopter Route. There was no secret deal with Senator Schumer or anyone else. Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Congressman Zeldin have been unequivocal in their strong support for all over-water helicopter routes on Long Island to augment existing routes,” the statement said. “Both Senator Schumer and Congressman Zeldin have articulated the same concerns to the FAA regarding impacts to their constituents and have been equally forceful in expressing their shared position to extend the helicopter route around Orient Point, Shelter Island, and Plum Island as soon as possible.”

Newsday reports:
Four days of walking tours and workshops are being planned in Montauk as part of a hamlet study underway to determine future preservation or development of East Hampton Town’s six business areas.

The Montauk hamlet charrette is planned for Sept. 14-17 and will include tours of the harbor area and downtown, Montauk’s main business areas. Charrettes — a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions — have been held in Amagansett, Springs, Wainscott and East Hampton.

“The charrette will be an intensive multiday plan and design exercise leading to a vision for the future of Montauk,” according to a news release issued by Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board’s liaison for the hamlet studies.  

Anyone can attend the free event and should RSVP to

Tuesday August 23, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Bridgeport and Hartford school districts violate special education laws; Connecticut high court rules UConn wrongly fired employee for getting high at work; FAA approves four-year extension of North Shore route despite complaints; New York looks to expand medical marijuana program.

Bridgeport and Hartford school districts – the two largest in Connecticut – are not providing students with disabilities the education federal and state laws require, the State Department of Education determined after long investigations.

The department found Hartford schools consigning too many students to a substandard program known as New Visions. A complaint from four students represented by attorneys with Greater Hartford Legal Aid and The Center for Children's Advocacy prompted the investigations. The department has ordered Hartford to stop sending special education students to New Visions, where, according to the state, the students are taught in "a garage bay” and is "dark and in disrepair."

In a separate decision, the education department wrote that Bridgeport is not properly identifying children who need special education services or providing them with appropriate services.

In January 2014, the state ruled that Bridgeport Public Schools "systemically violated" the law. District officials had three weeks to create a plan to resolve the problems. Two and a half years later, after another complaint, the state found the problem still not resolved. The latest decision sets more specific benchmarks to bring the district into compliance.

Connecticut’s high court unanimously agreed the University of Connecticut was not justified in firing an employee found smoking marijuana while on the job, and ordered the university to give the employee his job back. In 2012, UConn Health Center skilled maintainer Gregory Linhoff was fired after getting caught smoking marijuana in a state vehicle at the beginning of his shift and for possessing three-quarters of an ounce of the drug.

Linhoff pleaded that the punishment was too severe, that he had a 15-year work history at UConn and that he brought the drug and pipe to work inadvertently. His union fought the firing, and an arbitrator eventually agreed with the union that firing him was too harsh. While the state's attorney general didn't think the firing was too harsh, the state Supreme Court justices ultimately ruled in Linhoff’s favor.

The Supreme Court also ordered that the arbitrator's decision, which had granted Linhoff back pay, be reinstated.
The court’s opinion, released last week, says: “The misconduct mainly created risks to his own safety, and not to that of vulnerable health center clients.” It further states:“We emphasize that…reinstating employees is very uncommon and is reserved for extraordinary circumstances."

The Federal Aviation Administration recently approved a four-year extension of the current New York North Shore Helicopter Route. Commonly referred to as “North Shore route,” the rule requires helicopters to fly over Long Island Sound waters and to go around Orient Point rather than fly over houses. 

But the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when required for safety reasons, weather conditions or to transition. Local officials have said this allows helicopters to cut across the North Fork on their way to East Hampton Airport as they transition south.

The officials are asking the FAA to require pilots to travel around Orient Point or fly along a South Shore route over the Atlantic Ocean. According to Congressman Lee Zeldin, calls for public input on the decision to extend the route have been “flatly refused.” He said: “There is no need for all of this traffic to be flying over the North Shore.”

Albany Times-Union reports: 
The New York State Department of Health is recommending a series of expansions to the state-run medical marijuana program nearly nine months into its first year of operation.

In its two year report on medical marijuana usage under the Compassionate Care Act, the department recommends reviewing whether the drug should be used for chronic severe pain and the registration of five additional companies, which would double the program’s size on the manufacturing and sales end. 

The report also recommends allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients, finding ways to allow schools to administer the drug under limited circumstances, evaluating home delivery for patients, and expanding companies’ ability to advertise their products.

The state currently has 6,415 patients certified to be treated with medical marijuana and 656 doctors have registered to prescribe the drug.

 Monday August 22, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Malloy administration relents, restores funding For Connecticut watchdog agencies; Connecticut 2017 state budget predicted to end the year with $200,000 surplus; Klan never shows to protest Black Lives Matter rally in Hamptons; and, New York Civil Liberties Union says Cuomo reform bill is unconstitutional.
After criticism from lawmakers and good-government groups, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration relented and restored the $183,000 they had proposed to cut from three watchdog agencies. Following a Friday meeting with the heads of the Office of State Ethics, Freedom of Information Commission, and State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Office of Policy and Management announced it would restore the funding.

“Our meeting was cordial and productive, and will lead to greater communication around budget issues impacting their agencies in the future,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said. 

However, he steered clear of acknowledging the budget holdbacks would have violated a 2004 law that prohibits the executive branch from unilaterally cutting the three watchdog agencies. “Independent of any legal interpretation of OPM’s authority with respect to budget reduction, I have voluntarily agreed that it is in the best interests of the watchdog agencies and the state to release the holdback of their appropriations. I believe they should have the resources necessary to continue their important missions through the remainder of this fiscal year,” Barnes said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration is predicting the state will end the 2017 budget year about 10 months from now with a minuscule $200,000 surplus. That’s smaller than the $800,000 surplus the state projected last August for the 2016 budget that will officially close on Sept. 30, which, even after extreme budget cutting measures were taken, ended with a $279.4 million deficit. The state will use money in the Rainy Day Fund to cover that shortfall.

In his monthly letter to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said that the 2017 budget includes substantial lapse assumptions, which is money state agencies have been asked not to spend. The achievement of those lapses “will present significant management challenges for all branches of government,” Barnes wrote.

As far as revenues are concerned, 2016 ended below expectations “and bear watching,” Barnes wrote, referring to the performance of the personal income tax. But the cushion for error in 2017 is much smaller. According to Lembo’s office, the Rainy Day Fund is currently at $195.3 million.

The size of the Rainy Day Fund has been cited by Wall Street as a concern. Three of the four Wall Street bond rating agencies downgraded Connecticut’s general obligations bonds between May and July.

Newsday reports:
The threat that the Ku Klux Klan would crash a Black Lives Matter event in Westhampton Beach emboldened the community’s response to bigotry in a well-attended rally Sunday. A group of nearly 200 marched from Village Hall into the community’s downtown, chanting “KKK, no way!”

What was intended to be a reaction to the deaths of unarmed black men across the country took on a different tone after last week’s news reports that members of the KKK were considering a protest. ‘The Klan never showed. “We spread our word. Their presence wasn’t ever felt,” said Willie Jenkins, 33, of Bridgehampton, a rally organizer who had led similar Black Lives Matter rallies in Riverhead, East Hampton and Bridgehampton earlier this summer.

The entire Westhampton Beach police force was mobilized and other agencies, including the Suffolk County Police Department, were on standby, village police Chief Trevor Gonce said. Officers had spoken to rally organizers before the event.

The gathering included those involved in the movement and those just curious. Participants sang songs about freedom. The crowd chanted “hands up, don’t shoot” outside Village Hall, alternating with chants of “black lives matter” and “blue lives matter.” “We’re trying to show that everybody matters,” Jenkins said. “The KKK is not going to deter us from spreading our message; they’re not going to scare us, especially in our own town.” Jenkins cautioned those at the rally to not engage with any KKK protesters.

Alison McNamara, 58, a retired nurse from Hampton Bays, said she was “grateful” that Black Lives Matter was hosting a rally. “I’m interested to see how people I live with, and work with, and breathe with, feel and what they think.”

In a lengthy letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, The New York City Liberties Union (NYCLU) slammed an ethics reform bill Cuomo is expected to sign soon, arguing that it is unconstitutional, and would chill free speech of politically active nonprofits. It call on Cuomo to reject his own bill (veto it) in its current form. “While the intention of the bill is to bring transparency to ‘dark money’ in politics, it is overbroad — it would inhibit public interest activity that has nothing to do with electoral campaigns. The clear if unintended consequences of this bill will be to unconstitutionally burden nonprofits as well as intimidate New Yorkers from supporting controversial causes like LGBT rights, abortion and climate change,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry said in a statement.

For instance, the group says that nonprofit groups that spend more than $10,000 on any public policy communications would under the bill have to report the name and address of donors who give over $1,000.00

While the bill has some positive elements, such as measures designed to further regulate “Super PACs,” it establishes a “sweeping and complex regulatory scheme for organizations that conduct a wide range of public advocacy work – even work that doesn’t include lobbying — and also implicates nonprofits that work with or provide services to those organizations,” the group says. For instance, charitable nonprofit foundations that give to lobbying efforts could be dissuaded from doing so under the new bill. Good-government groups have also slammed the bill, which would likely require more disclosure of their own donors.

Cuomo’s office has argued that the bill would bring sunlight to lobbying efforts, and make sure nonprofits’ tax-exempt dollars are being spent in appropriate ways. Still some observers believe that the disclosure requirements are targeted at good-government groups, which often criticize lawmakers.

Friday August 19, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news:the Connecticut Working Families Party launches a petition over workers’ wages; Connecticut reports a growth of 1,700 jobs in July; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs bill strengthening boating-while-intoxicated penalties; and, New York State health insurance premiums will see a double-digit increase in 2017.

The Connecticut Working Families Party launched a petition drive today asking Governor Malloy to support legislation that would fine large employers who don’t pay their employees $15 an hour. The Working Families Party and their allies in labor argue that large, profitable corporations pay their workers so little that most qualify for state-sponsored benefit, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated that fining companies with more than 500 employees would raise about $305 million annual for the state.The legislature has debated some version of the bill for the past three years, but has not passed it. A version of the bill was raised and then tabled in the Senate in April. However, it was amended to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Language to fine large employers was stripped through an amendment.

The Working Families Party launched the petition drive to encourage the governor to find a way to lend his support to the issue. They estimate there are 83,000 working poor families in Connecticut. The petition reads: “These workers are exploited, and the services they rely on are a strain on our state budgets.”

The Connecticut Labor Department is reporting that the state gained 1,700 jobs in July, which means that Connecticut is about 20,300 jobs away from a full recovery from the Great Recession. Andy Condon, Director of the Office of Research, said: “There is uniformly good news in our employment surveys last month.” Condon added: “Payroll jobs grew. Our labor force grew and we saw our unemployment rate decline for the first time since August of last year.”

The department did revise June’s 7,900 job gain down to 5,800. Also down in July was Connecticut’s unemployment rate. It dropped 0.1% to 5.7%, which is 0.3% higher than it was a year ago.

The state’s unemployed declined by 1,904 in July. Five of the 10 major industry super-sectors gained jobs and five declined.

Connecticut has now recovered 98,800 positions or 83% of the non-farm jobs lost during the recession. The state is averaging roughly 1,283 jobs per month since February 2010. The private sector is recovering at a faster rate and has recovered 96 percent of the jobs lost during the recession. The state has averaged a gain of about 1,392 jobs per month.

Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo signed into law a bill requiring courts to consider prior-intoxicated and ability-impaired driving convictions when sentencing someone for intoxicated or impaired boating.

Under the new law a judge would be required to consider prior DWI or DWAI convictions within a five-year period for any 30-day sentence and within a 10-year period for any 180-day sentence. According to the bill’s justification memo: “Those who repeatedly violate intoxicated operation laws should not be given leniency because they have re-offended in a boat versus a car." 

Dubbed Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law in memory of the woman killed during a 2006 boating while intoxicated accident, the legislation was carried by Assemblyman William Magnarelli and Senator John DeFrancisco.

Cuomo said: “Whether behind the wheel of a car or a boat, drunk drivers are a danger to themselves and a menace to others. This new law closes this loophole and will help keep these dangerous individuals off our roads and waterways, avoiding more senseless tragedies.” The signing of the legislation comes weeks after a boating accident on Lake George killed an 8-year-old girl and injured her mother. Authorities believe the defendants in that case were drinking before the accident. None of the defendants were hit with any type of boating-while-ntoxicated or ability-impaired charges.

According to Southold Local, this month New York State approved the biggest health insurance rate hike since Obamacare was implemented. In 2017, individual rates will increase an average of 16.6%, small group rates an average of 8.3%, the state Department of Financial Services announced.

Much higher increases will affect subscribers of Care Connect, the insurance plan owned by Northwell Health. Their rates go up an average of 29.2% for individual plans, 23.2% for small group plans. 

Care Connect had requested significantly lower increases for its more than 29,000 individual subscribers and 70,000 small group members. Its small group membership grew from 5,000 in 2015 to 70,000 in 2016. Some enrolled when the state shut down Health Republic, a health insurance co-op established under the Affordable Care Act.

Care Connect President Alan Murray said the increase in the individual plan premium represents “a one-time price correction to accurately reflect the true cost of the actual enrolled population.” He said the need for corrective action was “further compounded by the [federal] reinsurance program,” which he considers flawed because it incentivizes insurers to report higher risk data to receive large payments.  Murray said Care Connect’s rates remain competitive.

Thursday August 18, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut’s unemployment falls slightly amid July job gains; Connecticut and New York Governors in dispute over dumping in Long Island Sound; Army Corps prepares public outreach for Fire Island to Montauk Point projects; and, New York Governor signs bill requiring research dogs and cats to go up for adoption.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.7% in July after the state gained 1,700 jobs, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday. The state has added 13,000 positions since the calendar year began, but the jobless rate is still higher than the 5.4% unemployment Connecticut faced in July 2015. Private-sector employment was up by 3,000 positions in July, and has grown by 20,100 during the first seven months of 2016.

Five of the state’s 10 major industry super-sectors experienced gains in July. The leisure and hospitality sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector led the way, adding 1,700 positions each. Job gains also were recorded in professional and business services, manufacturing, and other services.

The government sector led all declining groups in July, losing 1,300 jobs. Reductions also were recorded in education and health services, construction and mining, information, and financial activities.

Connecticut now has recovered 98,800 of the 119,100 jobs lost in the last recession, or 83%. That recession ended six years and five months ago, the department reported.

New York officials say a plan to dump dredged material in eastern Long Island Sound is potentially harmful to the ecology and tourism, but Connecticut supporters say it's key to the state’s economic development and to keeping Naval Submarine Base New London off a base closure list.

A feud between Gov. Dannel Malloy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo centers on an Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers proposal to keep open a 1.5-square-mile dump site located between the mouth of the Thames River and the southeastern tip of Fishers Island.
The site, as well as two others in the western and central sound, were slated to close in December, but the EPA decided to keep the western and central sites open for another 30 years. The debate now centers on the remaining site.

Malloy and other supporters of the plan say maritime activities generate $4.8 billion in economic output and over 30,000 jobs in eastern Connecticut. They say without access to a nearby placement site, eastern Connecticut dredging projects would face increased and often prohibitive costs from transporting materials to sites at further distances, as well as increased risks to the environment from spills and increased emissions. But Cuomo said he will sue the EPA if it moves forward with its plan.

The agency is reviewing public comments on its proposal and has not made a final determination.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ long-awaited Fire Island to Montauk Point post-Superstorm Sandy re-evaluation report is now available for public review, and the Army Corps is planning several community meetings after Labor Day to give the public a chance to weigh in on the massive document.

The Army Corps is planning to set up at least four meetings throughout the Fire Island to Montauk Point coverage area in the month of September, according to Army Corps Public Affairs Specialist James D’ambrosia. Mr. D’Ambrosio said each meeting will include a presentation on the project, a poster board session explaining different aspects of the project and a question and answer period. The estimated cost of the project is $1.2 billion, funded at federal expense through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, passed just after Superstorm Sandy struck Long Island’s shores.

While Mr. D’Ambrosio said that no project will protect the coastline 100 percent from storm damage, the projects together are designed to minimize damage to life, property and infrastructure. He said the Army Corps anticipates some of the projects might be controversial, as was the case with the Montauk beach stabilization project conducted last winter. He also said representatives from his office are willing to set up additional meetings in communities where people would like to have more input.
The Albany Times Union reports:
Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed legislation requiring that dogs and cats used for research purposes by higher education institutions be put up for adoption. The law requires that those animals deemed suitable for adoption by research facility veterinarians be made available to local shelters, animal rescue centers and humane societies once research is complete.

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan and Republican state Senator Phil Boyle of Long Island, will take effect in 60 days. “This is a humane law that, for these animals, provides the opportunity for a new lease on life. Dogs and cats are like members of the family for many New Yorkers and this action will allow for more four-legged friends to be adopted into a caring home,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Rosenthal indicated that the new New York law is a step toward a larger shift away from using animals for research purposes. “Animals should not have to experience such pain and suffering. They can’t say no. They have no voice in this. There are other ways to ascertain if certain drugs are working or things like that. We need to move toward that kind of reality in society that animals are not here just for our pleasure … so science has to discover other ways to test theories, to test drugs and other things,” she said.

Wednesday August 17, 2016  (Thanks to wPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano seeks AG’s opinion on cuts to watchdogs’ budget; Connecticut agency to lay off state workers and privatize services for disabled; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces $50 million for home care for the aging; and, Brushes Creek in Laurel set for preservation purchase.

Connecticut Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven), requested a legal opinion from the attorney general Tuesday on the legality of the Malloy administration's plan to cut the budgets of autonomous watchdog agencies. The Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission and Freedom of Information Commission challenged the administration's power to make the cuts, but they are pursuing talks with the administration rather [than] seeking their own legal opinion.

Ben Barnes, who oversees the budget as the secretary of policy and management, said he is meeting Friday with the agency heads to discuss his intention to impose a mid-year budget cut of about $180,000, a small piece of a larger effort to balance the budget. In the budget adopted for the fiscal year that began July 1, the legislature authorized the administration to cut $68.8 million from the $20 billion state budget. The administration is demanding $42,549 from the Office of State Ethics, $44,442 from the Freedom of Information Commission, and $96,032 from the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

The agencies say the cuts would violate a law the legislature passed in 2004 to bar Gov. John G. Rowland from cutting their budgets while two of the three agencies were investigating him. He resigned that year while facing an impeachment inquiry. “I believe that Gov. Malloy was wrong to cut from the state’s watchdog agencies. And even if the governor could make an argument that his cuts were legal, I believe they still should not have been made. These cuts further weaken the public trust in government. Laws protecting these three watchdog agencies were put in place after a governor, while under federal investigation, tried to cut the budgets of the agencies responsible for ensuring that state officials follow the law."

He noted that the U.S. attorney's office is investigating the propriety of fundraising by the Democratic Party in support of Malloy's re-election in 2014, and he called the budget cuts ill-timed. The attorney general's office had no comment on the request.

The Department of Development Services will reduce its workforce by 605 employees after Jan. 1, 2017 and privatize most of its remaining group home services, the agency’s commissioner said Tuesday. In a letter to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, Developmental Services Commissioner Morna Murray said reducing public services in favor of privatization is consistent with national trends.

Under the plan, 30 group homes will be converted to private operation by Jan. 1, 2017. Two regional centers in Meriden and Stratford will close by October and several other day programs will also be transitioned to the private sector.

“To mitigate the adverse impacts on these public employees, the state is requesting that private provider agencies give hiring preference when possible to state employees who are displaced by the transitions,“ Murray said. “DDS may extend conversion transition periods at the discretion of the Commissioner and new providers when it is in the best interest of the individuals living in the impacted home.”

The administration has already laid off 113 DDS employees since April and the remaining staff will be laid off in two waves. An estimated 76 employees will be laid off after Sept. 1. Then another 416 employees will be laid off after Jan. 1, 2017. The plan is expected to save the agency $42 million in 2017. The remaining DDS employees will function as case managers and engage in quality assurance in both the public and private systems.

The Albany Times Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that more than $50 million has been awarded to the state’s 59 county-based Area Agencies on Aging to help New York’s seniors remain in their homes and communities of choice.

The funding, which is made available through the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program, is meant to maximize independence and forestall advanced and more expensive levels of care for seniors. “This funding will help more New York seniors stay in their homes, and live with independence and dignity. By partnering with local governments statewide, we will provide services to support these efforts and help improve the overall quality of life for seniors in every corner of the state,” Governor Cuomo said.

The in-home services program is a case-managed community-based long-term care initiative designed to serve functionally impaired older people who are lower income but not yet Medicaid-eligible, and who need assistance to remain safely in the community with an acceptable quality of life.

The program is a partnership between the state and the counties; the $50.1 million state commitment will generate an additional $16 million in funding from the counties, plus an additional $1.8 million in direct contributions from program participants. In Suffolk County, the state's allocation will be $3.7 million; local funding will add $1.2 million for a total of $4.9 million in aid to seniors.

Through out the state, nearly 70,000 seniors will benefit from the program. 

Land preservation in Suffolk County started long before 1998, when voters in the five East End towns authorized a 2% real estate transfer tax to support a Community Preservation Fund.

Back in the 1980s, the county and its 10 towns set up an account with drinking water funds that was used to pay for land preservation purchases. But some of the money allocated from that fund to Southold Town was never used and sat in the account for decades, waiting for someone to “find” it, said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski.

That is, until last year, when an employee in the county’s budget review office discovered $1.2 million that had been set aside for Southold Town’s land acquisitions and was still available. The county and town now plan to use that “found” money to purchase and preserve nearly 26 acres of creekfront property in Laurel, officials said.

The western side of Brushes Creek, off Peconic Bay Boulevard, has already been developed with homes and side streets, Mr. Krupski said. But the plan to buy six parcels from property owners on the eastern side, using a combination of CPF money and the previously forgotten funds, will prevent any more homes from going in. “This starts the preservation effort on a nice creek connected directly to Peconic Bay,” Mr. Krupski said.

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, the Southold Town Board will host a public hearing on the purchase.

Tuesday August 16, 2016   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: staff and overtime cuts to Connecticut’s Correction Department has officers concerned for safety; growing New Haven incubator gardens help feed hundreds; New York State students now required to get meningococcal vaccine before school starts; energy savings won’t pay for Southold’s new court as expected.

After layoffs, presidents of three bargaining groups representing 4,800 Correction Department employees wrote Governor Malloy about concerns for their safety. More than 100 Correction Department staffers were laid off in April while staffing levels and overtime were also reduced, according to the letter.

AFSCME Local 387 president Rudy Demiraj said the biggest concern is the reduced number of required officers at each facility, which means longer response time for support if there is an assault. He said this creates an “unpredictable” environment that’s likely to lead to an increase in assaults on staff. The letter further states: “The recent layoffs make our facilities inherently more dangerous and will wind up driving up overtime costs.”

The union wants Malloy to re-establish a Correction Staff Health and Safety Subcommittee. Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said in a letter to Malloy that posts were reduced by 56 positions, or 2.5%, across the agency’s 15 facilities while the incarcerated population has dropped by about 6.5% over the past year.

He said: “Let me reassure you that safety of the public, staff, and offender population remains a top priority.”

Connecticut Post reports:
Thirty New Haven families participate in growing incubator gardens, where the plots help feed an estimated 200 people, allowing low-income families access to healthy foods.

Some four years ago, New Haven Farms began to work with a wellness program operated by the Fair Haven Community Health Center. The health center gave patients suffering from chronic health issues a “prescription” to participate in education and gardening classes at New Haven Farms’ plot.

Families can take home a large bag of fresh grown produce every week and work with nutritionist. A farm stand operates on Saturdays where people can purchase food at low prices. Last year, there were 20 such families. Next year, 20 more are expected to join at a separate site.

New Haven Farms manager Jacqueline Maisonpierre said the farms not only help feed families, they also help build communities.

This year New York State has a new requirement, and students have two more weeks to get the necessary vaccinations before school starts.  Children entering 7th and 12th grades are required by New York State to have the meningococcal vaccine, which has been on the list of vaccinations recommended to school-age children for a decade. The vaccine protects against meningococcal diseases for which teens and young adults are at a higher risk.

Vaccination requirements have caused nationwide controversy, recently making headlines when more than 100 students in Sacramento were turned away on the first day of school for not having up-to-date vaccination records. New York accepts exemptions on religious grounds. However, if a school has an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, the district can send a non-vaccinated student home for up to three weeks.

Students are required to get a first dose of the meningococcal vaccine before entering 7th grade and to receive a booster shot before beginning 12th grade.

Southold Town needs to find a new way to pay for upgrades to its justice court, because savings from potential energy efficiencies won’t cut it, according to engineer Michael Collins. Last summer, town officials agreed to have a utility company audit several town buildings to determine where upgrades could enhance efficiency and reduce energy costs.

Those savings, plus energy credits, could have been used to replace the Southold Town Justice Court, a long-time source of criticism due to cramped conditions, safety concerns and a lack of space. But at last week’s Town Board work session, Collins said an energy efficiency assessment found the savings wouldn’t cover the costs as had been expected. He added it would take 15 years to recoup the value of energy efficiency improvements in Town Hall.

The town is considering replacing its existing justice court portable offices with five new ones placed perpendicular to the main Town Hall building. The town has no immediate plan to fund the project another way.

Monday August 16, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Trump rally in Fairfield draws thousands; Governor Malloy responds To Trump’s criticisms; shareholder lawsuit seeks to halt Suffolk County National Bank merger with People's United;and,scientists looking into unusual plant growth covering surface of Peconic River.

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump drew about 5,000 people to a rally in Fairfield Connecticut on Saturday. The crowd, tightly packed and drenched in sweat, filled Sacred Heart University's William H. Pitt Center to hear Trump, who tailored his message to include heavy criticism of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a litany of statistics about the state's sluggish economy, and the pointed question, “How did you lose General Electric?”

Trump’s decision to come to Connecticut raised eyebrows, given the state’s solidly Democratic voting record in recent years. Democrats control the governor’s office, both chambers of the state legislature, all five seats in the U.S. House and both seats in the U.S. Senate. A Republican presidential candidate has not taken the state since George H.W. Bush, who grew up in Greenwich, won it in 1988. 

“We’re making a big move for the state of Connecticut,” Trump said. “Normally, that wouldn’t happen because a Republican, in theory, doesn’t win Connecticut.” Trump repeatedly bashed Gov. Malloy, whose favorability rating in the most recent poll was 24%. He railed against Malloy’s management of the state’s economy, and said General Electric never would have left if Trump were governor.

Not everyone at Sacred Heart came to support Trump, however. About two dozen local Democrats gathered at the entrance to the university’s campus to protest Trump visit with one message – “Love Trumps Hate.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pulled no punches Saturday when it came to the performance of Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “Let me tell you how bad your governor is,” Trump told a crowd of 5,000 Saturday at Sacred Heart University. “He’s a very unpopular guy. He’s done a very poor job for Connecticut.”

After handing out 49 milk cartons to kids at summer lunch program in East Hartford Monday, Malloy also didn’t pull any punches when he called Trump a “fraud.” “Donald Trump is an out-and-out fraud,” Malloy said. “Let’s start with the fact that he won’t release his tax returns. He’s running for the highest office in the land. He said he would release his tax returns. He acknowledged that was necessary to run for president and he won’t.” Malloy opined that it’s because the tax returns will show the only one who has ever benefitted from all of his bankruptcies is Donald Trump.

As for criticism that Connecticut failed to retain GE’s headquarters in Fairfield, Malloy said the public would still be howling if he spent $162 million to retain 200 jobs. That $162 million is the amount of money the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston gave GE in economic incentives to relocate to the Bay State.

Democratic lawmakers have argued that Connecticut’s tax structure and GE’s complaints about it were exaggerated in an effort to make the state a scapegoat. They have said GE traded in its office park in Fairfield in exchange for a more urban environment that better serves its workforce.

Republican lawmakers have argued that GE left at least partly because of Connecticut’s tax structure and the lack of predictability in its budget process.

A Suffolk Bancorp shareholder has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the company’s merger with People’s United Financial Inc. In a complaint filed August 4 in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, shareholder Paul Parshall claims that Suffolk Bancorp president and CEO Howard Bluver and Suffolk Bancorp’s board of directors may have put their own interests ahead of shareholders in striking the deal with People’s United, announced June 27.

The directors and executive officers of Suffolk have “certain interests in the merger that may be different from, or in addition to, the interests of Suffolk’s shareholders generally… which may create conflicts of interest,” according to the complaint. The complaint says Bluver “steered the deal” toward Connecticut-based People’s United “to secure employment with the combined company.” Bluver, Suffolk’s president and CEO since January 2012, will become People’s New York market president after the merger.

The all-stock transaction, valued by the companies at $402 million, was approved by the boards of directors of both Suffolk Bancorp and People’s United and now awaits approval by federal regulators and 70% of Suffolk Bancorp shareholders. Suffolk Bancorp CFO Brian Finneran said Friday the bank does not expect the lawsuit to delay the transaction.

A prolific bloom of an aquatic plant is overspreading the freshwater portion of the Peconic River, west of Peconic Avenue to approximately Forge Pond.

Its identity is yet to be confirmed by scientists and state environmental officials, who say they will be taking samples for examination and testing. Upon reviewing photos of the bloom researchers at Stony Brook think it looks like a plant genus called Azolla, common name: mosquito fern.

Azolla reproduces rapidly, doubling its biomass in three to 10 days. It can grow so thick that mosquito larvae breeding in stagnant water cannot penetrate it to reach the surface and die — so it is known as a natural larvicide, of sorts (hence the name “mosquito fern.”) That’s the good news.

The bad news is when the plants die off and decompose, they produce byproducts in such great quantities that they kill animal life by depriving it of oxygen. In other words, the already-high nitrogen levels in the Peconic River — which have lowered dissolved oxygen in the water causing fish kills — are likely to get even higher during the natural life cycle of this prolific invasive plant species. If the growth is Azolla, it poses no danger to humans.

Friday August 12, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut racial profiling group discusses traffic stop data; Connecticut leaders join fight to combat opioid epidemic; New York State will offer grown-food certification program for farmers; and, Suffolk County advises early closing of three parks after mosquito samples test positive for West Nile Virus.

Yesterday, New Haven state representative William Dyson chairman of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Advisory Board, said that Connecticut “has been fortunate” to avoid the deadly shootings involving police and minorities that have plagued so many other states throughout the country. Dyson added that: “We’ve escaped, so far, but something may be around the corner.” Dyson’s words came close to the end of a more than two-hour meeting of the advisory board.

The board has been meeting regularly since May of 2012. Its focus has been to better understand traffic stop data in communities and report on it. Ken Barone, policy and research specialist at the Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy at CCSU, and a member of the advisory board, acknowledged the media attention the group’s work has attracted in May.

It recently released a study that found nine Connecticut police departments and a state police troop showed racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops they made over a 12-month period. The Racial Profiling Prohibition Project report found that Black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be pulled over during daylight hours than after dark, when officers presumably can’t see who’s behind the wheel.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is hoping a new policy toolkit, two years in the making, will help local and state leaders combat the growing opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing the state’s towns and cities. Specifically, the toolkit tells municipal leaders there are 10 things their communities can do to address the statewide drug epidemic:

1. Dedicate time to understand substance abuse and the drug epidemic in your community;
2. Take the lead to increase public awareness and engagement;
3. Designate a municipal point person or contact regarding substance abuse;
4. Encourage community, regional, and statewide collaboration;
5. Develop a one-page fact sheet and resource guide for residents;
6. Promote alternative programs – for both teens and adult – aimed at prevention and intervention.
7. Partner with schools on prevention programs and curriculum;
8. Provide first responders with (and increase public awareness of) naloxone;
9. Create safe disposal sites to discard prescription drugs; and 
10. Become an advocate towards policy change.

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, there were 208 overdose deaths in the first three months of this year.

Yesterday Gov. Cuomo signed regulations kick-starting a New York grown voluntary food certification program to help ensure quality at the market.  Over 100 New York farmers expressed interest in having the state’s "Grown & Certified" seal of approval affixed to their goods.

Cuomo said: “One of the issues is food safety, food safety is knowing what you eat, where it came from, how it was handled; what chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics were used.” He said that even as labels such as natural and organic begin popping up on food products more often, ambiguity remains because those terms don’t have legal definitions. 

Under the certification program, the state Agriculture and Health departments will visit farms to certify that products are being raised and produced in accordance with such labeling and state regulations. In addition to the certification, the state will begin a marketing campaign next fall to promote awareness of the standards and New York growers who take part.

Cuomo added:  “I think knowing it’s from New York state means it’s basically from your backyard and your state government went and did the inspection for these standards.” 

According to Riverhead Local, today Suffolk County health officials advised three parks to suspend all activities between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. effective immediately: Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown, Connetquot State Park in Oakdale and the Girl Scout Day Camp Sobaco in Yaphank. Mosquito samples collected in the parks last week tested positive for West Nile virus. 

Positive samples were also collected in seventeen other Suffolk County locations. This year, the virus has been found in fifty-seven mosquito samples and six birds. No humans or horses have tested positive. West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. 

To reduce mosquitoes around homes, eliminate stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. Clear outdoor areas of all debris, containers, tires, cans and other items that capture water. Change water in birdbaths. Trim all vegetation. Clean gutters, be sure they drain. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, saunas and hot tubs,and drain water from covers.  To avoid mosquito bites, minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn. Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods or when mosquitoes are more active. Use mosquito repellent. Make sure all windows and doors have screens in good repair. 

Thursday August 11, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Donald Trump to hold Saturday rally in Connecticut; former Connecticut GOP Representative Chris Shays joins ‘Republicans for Hillary’ campaign; shell-fishing areas closed in Southold, and Shelter Island; and, ‘Rails to Trails’ project connecting Wading River to Port Jefferson is ‘back on track.’

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump plans to hold a rally at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield on Saturday evening, veering from appearances in key swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania to try to bolster his support in a “true blue” state.

The Trump campaign officially announced the visit early Thursday afternoon. In recent history, Connecticut has leaned reliably Democratic in presidential elections. Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has said he believes Connecticut is “in play” this year.

Speculation that Trump would visit Connecticut before the announcement was made drew a sharp attack from Connecticut Democrats Wednesday. “Donald Trump stands for everything we in Connecticut stand against. From inciting violence against his political opponent, to insulting a Gold Star family, to mocking a reporter with a physical disability, Trump has shown time and time again that he is temperamentally unfit and lacks the judgment to serve as commander-in-chief,” the Connecticut Democratic Party said in a statement.

Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton will visit Connecticut to attend a fundraiser in Greenwich on August 15.

Former GOP Representative Chris Shays was one of 50 prominent Republicans on Wednesday to launch “Together for America,” a group that supports Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. Other GOP founding figures of the group include former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, New York Rep. Michael Hanna and longtime National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Shays told the Connecticut Mirror he decided to support Hillary Clinton, instead of his party’s nominee Donald Trump, for president, after watching the national parties’ conventions this summer. He said the GOP convention’s attack on Clinton, which included a mock trial  focused on her foreign policy by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, “almost felt like a lynching mob.” Shays also said Trump’s acceptance speech was “dark and angry.”

After monitoring the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last month, Shays turned his attention to the national gathering of Democrats in Philadelphia. Shays said it was “focused on light” and inclusivity. He was also impressed by Clinton’s choice of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as a running mate. “This is an indication that she is reaching out to the center,” he said.

Shays, who initially supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, said he reflected on his relationship with Clinton, a former secretary of state, when she was a senator from New York and they were both in Congress. “I had to say to myself, ‘She is a real good senator. She knows leaders all around the world, she knows Congress and she knows the American people. She’s going to make a good president,” said Shays.

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation temporarily closed shell-fishing areas Thursday in the towns of Southold and Shelter Island after heavy rains and storm-water runoff posed a public health risk. The closure includes all of Southold Bay, Pipes Cove and Shelter Island Sound lying north of Paradise Point to Crab Creek Point and west of the area from Cleaves Point to Hay Beach Point in Shelter Island. All of Hog Neck Bay and its tributaries north of the area from Nassau Point to Cedar Beach Point in Southold are also closed.

“Storm-water runoff caused by heavy rainfall carries bacteria and other pathogens into adjacent surface waters. When water quality in the enclosed creeks, coves, harbors and bays is adversely affected, shellfish in those areas have an increased potential to be hazardous for use as food,” the DEC said. The areas will reopen after water quality testing results show contamination is no longer present.

More information can be found by going to and then searching for shellfish closures.

The Port Jefferson to Wading River “Rails to Trails” project is back on track and scheduled for completion, New York First District Congressman Lee Zeldin announced at a press conference in Miller Place. The 10-mile, $9.51 million project will convert long-abandoned LIRR tracks to a bicycle and walking trail. In discussion since 2001, the trail will be 80% funded with federal money and 20% with a county match.

The Rails to Trails program was authorized by the National Trails Act, passed by Congress in 1983 allowing the preservation of decommissioned railroad tracks for the creation of recreational trails for bicycling and hiking, and allowing railroads to donate or sell unprofitable rail lines for the purpose of preservation to local governments or nonprofits for the creation of a trail. Since the law was passed, there have been more than 21,000 miles of rail-to-trails conversions.

“The Port Jefferson-Setauket Greenway Trail has proven to be extremely popular since it was opened and this new trail will be a wonderful extension of this recreational facility for our residents... a scenic and safe place for our families to walk, run or ride their bicycles,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine.

Wednesday August 10, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Liberals win Democratic primaries for Connecticut's General Assembly; federal monitor: progress being ‘made and sustained’ at Connecticut Department of Children and Families; and, new website for Long Island Aircraft Noise Complaints.

Joshua Elliott, a political outsider recruited by the liberal Working Families Party to challenge Connecticut House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, easily won a Democratic primary Tuesday over James Pascarella, the establishment candidate endorsed after Sharkey abruptly decided to retire in May.

The Working Families Party, an offshoot of labor unions, was a big winner, claiming victory for all five candidates it backed in primaries, including Senators Ed Gomes and Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport, whose careers were endangered after being denied the endorsement of the city’s Democratic machine. It also backed an incumbent, Senator Terry Gerratana of New Britain over Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, and a challenger, Michael A. DiMassa, over Representative Louis P. Esposito Jr. of West Haven.

Gerratana won with 67% of the vote. DiMassa won by 22 votes, 567 to 545, just outside the threshold for an automatic recount.

“Tonight’s results are proof positive that there is a significant shifting of the tide in Connecticut state politics. People are tired of legislators whose only solution to fixing the budget crisis is cutting taxes for the wealthy. That hasn’t worked, and it’s the working and middle class voters who have paid out of pocket for years. People want fair taxation policy and they care about raising the minimum wage, passing paid family leave, and ensuring debt-free higher education,” said Lindsay Farrell, the party's state director. 

Turnout across all the races in Connecticut's Democratic primary was 19%.

Despite continued funding cuts as state lawmakers look to curtail spending, the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) has "made and sustained progress" toward improving the state's child welfare system, a federal court monitor reported Monday. In two key areas – case planning and meeting children's basic needs – court monitor Raymond Mancuso reported his "best findings ever" at DCF in the first quarter of 2016. The improvements, while significant, still did not meet compliance standards ordered by the court monitor, however.

The latest update comes after years of previous reports showing DCF struggling to meet children's basic needs as staffing levels remained below what officials said was necessary. "Commissioner (Joette) Katz and her administration are moving in the right direction to reform the system for thousands of children and, if they can build on this recent progress, toward a successful exit from court oversight," said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children's Rights, one of the groups representing plaintiffs in the 1989 "Juan F." class-action lawsuit that led to federal oversight of DCF.

Overall, the agency met 16 of its 22 court-ordered goals to improve child welfare in the first quarter of 2016 after meeting 14 of the goals in the fourth quarter of 2015. Mancuso's report found 13 of the goals had been met for at least two consecutive quarters.

The East Hampton Star reports:
East End citizen activists focused on the problem of aircraft noise are keying in to a new online plane-tracking system that provides real-time information about planes overhead and allows complaints to be lodged about aircraft noise. The system, they say, is more user-friendly than the one set up by East Hampton Town to compile aircraft data and accept complaints about planes using East Hampton Airport.

AirNoise Report was developed by residents of Queens and Nassau affected by planes using metro-area airports. Members of the Southampton Town noise advisory committee told the Southampton Town Board recently that several antennas that relay information to the system have already been installed in areas around East Hampton Airport, and there are plans to install more. The group urged the Southampton board to use the system to collect information about aviation traffic and noise complaints. 

By logging in to a real-time map at, users can see icons depicting planes detected in the area. Clicking on an icon will reveal an aircraft’s type, altitude, and speed, as well as its registration number. Complaints can be lodged through a link in the same window.

AirNoise Report compiles complaints and issues reports to participating partners, which at present include several New York City, Queens, and Long Island elected officials and a Whitestone, Queens, citizens group. East Hampton officials have contracted with another company, PlaneNoise, for its online complaint system. East Hampton also has a contract with Vector Airport Systems to record and track the planes using the airport. The information is used to charge landing fees, but is also merged with the complaint data to determine which aircraft are causing the complaints and, in some cases, violating the town’s curfew on overnight takeoffs and landings.

A recently added public access portal allows anyone online access to a flight-tracking map that also accepts complaints. The map can be accessed through an “aircraft flight-tracking” link on the town’s main website and on the airport’s web page. The system shows a plane’s flight track and altitude within an approximately 12-mile radius of the airport, and shows aircraft flying at 10,000 feet or below.

Airport officials can see the information in real time, but the public will have a 10-minute lag time in obtaining up-to-the minute information, which has been a chief source of complaints about the system. Jemille Charlton, manager of East Hampton Airport, said yesterday that as a municipal airport it follows Federal Aviation Administration policy limiting real-time information and blocking aircraft registration numbers. Critics have also complained that Robert Grotell, the founder of PlaneNoise, has ties to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an industry association. Mr. Grotell has served as an adviser to the group.

East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said yesterday that the town was satisfied with its complaint and aircraft tracking systems. She said the spreadsheet provided by AirNoise Report was incompatible with East Hampton Airport’s data and could not be automatically incorporated into it. In addition, she said, the town, with a court case pending that challenges the airport-use restrictions enacted last year, has been advised by its outside counsel on airport matters not to change the way it collects airport use and noise data, which serves as a legal underpinning for the laws being challenged.

Tuesday August 9, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut health insurance brokers to leave exchange if commissions are cut; a legal impasse halts Candlewood Lake zebra mussel experiment; Governor Cuomo challenges New York lawmakers to justify raises; Riverhead ambulance refurbishment program means a six-figure savings.

Many of Connecticut’s health insurance brokers certified to help customers navigate the state exchange Access Health CT, say they will leave the exchange if their commissions are cut. 

As state regulators consider rate hikes for next year, both carriers set to remain on Connecticut's exchange – Anthem and ConnectiCare – could eliminate broker commissions in 2017. Since brokers are involved in about 40% of the plans sold on the exchange, according to Access Health officials, their exit could have a significant impact on enrollment next year. 

Access Health CEO Jim Wadleigh said: “We will lose a well-functioning process to assist residents of Connecticut in the selection of health plans.” He added that brokers “drive a cost into the process,” but he wants to find a solution that works for both insurance companies and brokers. Many brokers say they have not benefited tremendously from selling plans through the exchange, but work with the exchange because they are helping individuals who badly need health insurance.

Connecticut Post reports:
A legal issue between the state and federal governments has put a hold on a groundbreaking study on preventing the spread of invasive zebra mussels in Connecticut. The study, scheduled to start last week, would have tested carbon dioxide’s effect on the zebra mussels' ability to survive as larvae. 

The legal impasse is between the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which is conducting the experience, and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The Bureau of Reclamation asked Connecticut to add legal language that would protect the federal government from liability if something were to happen during the experiment. But because Connecticut is a self-insured sovereign state, it can’t without a legislative act.

DEEP’s Bureau of Natural Resources chief Bill Hyatt said his department will work with the Department of Interior’s legal team to work out an agreement. Hyatt added that the new method could replace toxic material and chemicals with carbon dioxide limits that are safe for the other aquatic organisms. Candlewood Lake Authority’s executive director Larry Marsicano said he remains optimistic that the project will proceed next summer instead.

Albany Times-Union reports:
Governor Andrew Cuomo is asking lawmakers to explain to the state’s Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive Compensation why they deserve raises. The governor said legislators should not only make their case to the commission, but also before Election Day.  

The commission is considering a proposal for a nearly 48% increase to the current $79,500 annual base pay for lawmakers, but augmented by bonuses for committee work and leadership duties. The most recent suggestion called for raising the base pay to $116,900. The seven-member commission is required to make their recommendation by November 15—one week after the general election.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie believes a raise is needed, while Rochester-area Republican Bill Nojay opposes a raise, contending the Legislature should become more part-time. Several legislators believe the issue is more pressing for New York City-based lawmakers, where the salary does not go as far as it does upstate.

If the Legislature were to receive a pay increase, it would be their first in 18 years. Polls show a majority of voters oppose an increase for legislators, who already are among the nation’s highest-paid.

The Riverhead Ambulance District will upgrade its ambulances through a refurbishment program that will cut costs of deploying a new ambulance by nearly half.

District manager Al Gehres pitched the plan last week to town board members. He told the board the upgrade involves removing the “box” from the chassis and sending it back to its manufacturer for a complete refurbishment. The refurbished box is then remounted on a new chassis, with a new engine. Other upgrades include lights, door seals, and bringing the entire unit up to original equipment manufacturing standards. 

Gehres said it’s like a new ambulance, but at a cost of roughly $125,000 instead of $194,000. The plan is to do a remount on two vehicles. He said: “This will give us four ambulances and we’ll be good for four more years.”

Monday August 8, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Feds settle dispute over voter registration in Connecticut; amid squabbling, a temporary reprieve for Connecticut's Old State House; nineteen more mosquito samples test positive for West Nile Virus in Suffolk; and, former New York Senate majority leader Dean Skelos and son to remain free pending appeal.

The U.S. Justice Department settled its dispute with Connecticut officials Friday, claiming the state has done enough to resolve concerns that it wasn’t complying with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

An investigation found that when Connecticut residents were applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses they were not being given applications for voter registration. The investigation also found that when an address was changed at the Department of Motor Vehicles there was no consistent form of communication about the address change with local registrars of voters.

Under the terms of the settlement, Connecticut has agreed to integrate voter registration as part of the licensing process at the DMV. Connecticut will also ensure that change of address information submitted for driver’s license purposes will be used to update voters’ address information unless the voter declines to update his or her voter registration. Connecticut also plans to automate voter registration by integrating it as part of the DMV’s new computer system.

The DMV and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill have put together a memorandum of understanding to automate the process over the next two years.mIn the meantime, the DMV will modify its procedures and make sure every driver is given an opportunity to register to vote, even if that requires the application to be filled out on paper and then manually entered by a DMV employee into the computer system.

The new system began operating today. 

It looks like Connecticut's Old State House won’t be stripped of its artifacts after all, but the Hartford landmark remains closed to the public while legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reconsider a budget provision that slashed funding and gave the building to a reluctant new landlord, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Malloy says he supports abandoning plans to transfer control of the building from the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Management to DEEP, a responsibility the agency says it could not fulfill under the 2017 budget, prompting an order to empty and mothball the building. Without sufficient funds to operate and protect the Old State House, Commissioner Robert Klee of DEEP ordered that valuable paintings and other property on loan, including a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, be returned to the State Library, Wadsworth Atheneum and Connecticut Historical Society.

James P. Tracy, the executive director of legislative management, said Monday that the owners have been asked to keep the artifacts at the Old State House while a permanent solution for its management is being negotiated. Plans to transfer control are on hold, meaning Legislative Management still is maintaining the building and Capitol police are providing security.

Malloy praised the legislators for deciding to halt the transfer, at least temporarily. “Pausing was the right thing to do. Now I believe we should work together to ensure that the current disruption ends soon, and that management of this important piece of Connecticut’s history stays with OLM, which had been managing it successfully for the past eight years,” Malloy said.

However, for now, without staff to greet the public and oversee visits, the building will remain closed, even if its collection remains intact and the building and its grounds are maintained by the legislature.

Suffolk County health officials are warning residents to eliminate all standing water in and around their homes and businesses after reporting that 19 mosquito samples collected July 27-28 tested postive for West Nile Virus. That report, issued Friday afternoon, more than doubled the number of mosquito samples testing positive for the virus in Suffolk this year so far. Prior to last week’s report, a total of 18 West Nile-positive mosquito samples had been collected in Suffolk this year.

It’s important to eliminate standing water because mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water — in things like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases. Even very small amounts of standing water can provide mosquito breeding areas. West Nile Virus, first detected in birds and mosquitoes in Suffolk County in 1999 and again each year thereafter, is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. 

Since its initial detection in the United States in 1999, the virus has infected 43,937 people nationwide; a little under half of those infected had “neuroinvasive” disease producing neurological effects, which can be long-lasting or even permanent.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop severe symptoms — which usually occur three to 14 days after exposure — including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to Suffolk County Health Commissioner James Tomarken. The symptoms may last several weeks and neurological effects may be permanent. People over 50 years and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

The infection can be fatal. There were 1,911 deaths attributed to West Nile from 1999 to 2015. No humans or horses have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk this year, however four birds have tested positive.

Health officials are keeping a watchful eye on another mosquito-borne disease, Zika Virus, which has been transmitted locally in the U.S. for the first time in Florida, where six people last month contracted Zika from mosquito bites in Miami. No mosquito samples have tested positive for Zika in New York.

According to The Albany Times Union:
Former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam will remain free on bail pending an appeal of their convictions, a federal judge has ruled, marking a small victory for a convicted former New York official spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision. Judge Kimba Wood ruled on Thursday that the two men can walk free as they prepare to appeal their corruption convictions based on their belief that their jury received improper instructions in light of the McDonnell decision.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was convicted in a separate corruption case weeks before the Skeloses were convicted last year, also has sought to use the McDonnell decision to remain free on bail pending appeal. He is scheduled to head to prison August 31. Judge Valerie Caproni ruled he will not have to pay the first chunk of some $7 million in fines and forfeitures leveled against him until that date as well.

In the McDonnell decision, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the public corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, as it considered what constitutes corruption and what constitutes everyday government action for a benefactor, or “politics as usual.”

Friday August 5, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut unemployment claims now accepted online; Quinnipiac Poll gears up for the final stretch of Election 2016; controversial plan to close Long Island bluefish fishery mid-season has been halted; and, a New York State Assemblyman plans to introduce a “Blue Lives Matter” bill.

Connecticut residents looking to open or re-establish initial unemployment insurance claims can now do so online.

The state Department of Labor launched in late June and, according to department spokeswoman Nancy Steffens, last week more than half – 55% – of those filing new or reopened claims did so via the site. Steffens added that more than 14,000 people have used the website since it launched just over a month ago. Previously, those opening first-time unemployment insurance claims had to do so by phone with a customer service representative, though they could then file weekly, continued claims online.

According to Labor Commissioner Scott D. Jackson, the online option will let residents avoid waiting on the phone, especially during high-volume periods.  During peak times, he added, claimants were waiting an average of more than two hours for assistance by phone.
The site is available in English and Spanish, and can be accessed on computers, tablets, and smart phones. According to Jackson, the new site is part of a broader Labor Department efforts to streamline services and become more efficient.

The November showdown for the White House between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has brought those who do presidential polls, including Quinnipiac, a lot of attention – and the election is still four months away. Doug Schwarz, director of the Quinnipiac poll, said, “Yes, we’ve been quite, quite busy.”

One reason things have been so busy, Schwartz said, is that Quinnipiac is doing “a lot of swing state packages,” meaning their telephone bank of callers are compiling results from three different states at one time. Schwartz said: “That means 3,000 voters need to be polled, 1,000 in each state. If we are polling one state, it usually take[s] us four or five nights to complete a poll. When we are doing three states at once, it can take 10 nights.”

The poll director added that three states that Quinnipiac has polled the most in the swing state packages are Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

According to Southold Local, a controversial plan announced last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to close the Long Island bluefish fishery mid-season, has been halted. Several months into the 2016 fishing season, federal officials abruptly announced that New York State had exceeded its commercial bluefish quota in 2015 and would have to stop fishing midway through its 2016 season. 

Accompanied by an outcry, federal and state elected officials and commercial fishermen, New York State immediately challenged the accuracy and timing of the data used by NOAA.  As a result, yesterday, a new federal rule was adopted to keep the Long Island bluefish fishery open for the remainder of the season. The new rule will now allow transfers of bluefish quotas from the coast-wide recreational quota to the commercial quota.   

First District congressman Lee Zeldin said:  “As a direct result of our advocacy, NOAA took a second look at the data that was outdated and wrong, and revised their plan allowing commercial blue fishing to continue. The fight to make sure all these decisions are based on up-to-date data and sound science will continue, but this is a solid win.”

Republican Ron Castorina from Staten Island announced Thursday his plan to introduce a “Blue Lives Matter” bill, to increase penalties for assaulting any police officer statewide by adding a hate crime to the charges. 

Castorina said: “All of this is cumulative,” including the murders of two NYPD officers in December 2014 and more recent murders of Dallas police officers in July, that provided the impetus for the legislation.  Castorina continued: “This bill allows for the public who want to protest peacefully to have the ability to do so without having a rabble rouser come in and throw a bottle or a punch or a rock. Maybe that person … will think twice because they’ll know there is a heightened level of offense for attacking a police officer.” 

Castorina said his bill will apply only to police for now, though he indicated he is open to expansion if “there was a need for other groups to be protected.” Under state law, hate crimes cover those perpetrated against a person because of his or her race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age (defined in the law as anyone older than 60), disability or sexual orientation.

Thursday, August 4, 2016      (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: ConnectiCare almost doubles its requested 2017 rate hike; CBIA targets swing districts, tries to tilt Connecicut Senate to GOP; New York letter to Obama seeks halt to more Long Island Sound dumping; and Suffolk County may cut nine bus routes in October.

A day before a public hearing on its requested off-exchange rate increase, ConnectiCare nearly doubled its original request for a rate hike from 24.3% to 42.7%. ConnectiCare’s off-exchange plans cover 37,142 individuals. The insurer also revised its proposed 14.3% rate increase for on-exchange plans to an average increase of 17% on June 15. Those plans cover 47,597 people.

Lynne Ide, director of program and policy at the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said the last-minute rate revision came as a total surprise to those who attended the public hearing Thursday. Submitting a revised rate request of 42.7% a day before a public hearing “does not build trust in consumers,” Ide said.

ConnectiCare executives told insurance regulators Thursday that the demand for medical services hasn’t slowed in the third year of the Affordable Care Act. It was initially thought that the pent-up demand for services by individuals unable to obtain insurance before the ACA would subside by 2017, but both ConnectiCare and Anthem executives told the Insurance Department that it’s not been their experience. There’s also the expiration of the federal reinsurance program that they said will impact rates.

As far as the need to nearly double its off-exchange rate, ConnectiCare said their off-exchange members are utilizing their health insurance in a rate “far in excess of anything we could have predicted or which we have seen in our careers in healthcare.”

The Insurance Department regulators will have the final say in September when they determine whether the rate requests submitted by the insurance companies are adequate and not excessive or discriminatory. Regulators are not able to consider the affordability of the plans as part of their calculation.

The state’s largest business trade group is making its first major foray into the world of independent expenditures with a $400,000 campaign aimed at helping Republicans win a majority in the Connecticut Senate and narrow the Democratic majority in the House.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association filed an independent expenditure report Wednesday outlining a plan to buy radio ads, direct mail and web marketing in support of four Republicans attempting to win Democratic seats. They also intend lesser spending in 11 House races, supporting two Democrats and nine Republicans.

“We’ve had an impact talking to the hearts and minds of lawmakers, but in an election year, the voters have the power to make change,” said Brian Flaherty, a former legislator who oversees government relations for CBIA.  The CBIA says it is supporting four GOP candidates in swing Senate districts.

If the GOP can hold its 15 seats, a gain of four seats would give the party a 19-17 majority. Democrats control the House, 87-64, meaning the GOP needs a net gain of a dozen seats for a majority.

In the House, the CBIA is supporting two moderate Democratic incumbents and three vulnerable GOP freshmen. The group also is supporting six Republican challengers in competitive House districts.

Newsday reports:
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday he is sending President Barack Obama a letter signed by 30 local, state and federal officials saying New York will take legal action if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proceeds with a plan to add one or two open-water dump sites in Long Island Sound and allow dredged sludge to be disposed of there.

At issue is a plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which, subject to EPA approval, would allow the dredged material to be dumped in the eastern region of the Sound. The Army Corps, which has rejected alternative disposal methods as too costly, has said most of the dredged spoils are safe for open-water dumping. The EPA agrees.

Cuomo, however, blasted the proposal. “It would be absurd that while we are spending so much time and money in cleaning up the water, another branch of government is literally adding pollutants as we are removing pollutants,” he said. New York’s Department of State, which governs the coast, and the Department of Environmental Conservation disagree with the EPA’s conclusion, stating in a July 18 letter that additional disposal sites are not needed.

The EPA is expected to issue a final decision in the fall.

Suffolk County will propose to eliminate nine bus routes serving more than 400 daily riders in October as it looks for ways to close a looming $78 million deficit, county officials said Thursday, according to Newsday. The routes include those serving Stony Brook University, the Lindenhurst Long Island Rail Road station and the Riverhead County Center. The cuts will take effect Oct. 3.

Public hearings on the cuts will be held on Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. at the Suffolk Legislative Auditorium in Hauppauge and on Sept. 9 at 3 p.m. at the Legislative Auditorium in Riverhead.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday that county public works officials scrutinized every Suffolk County Transit route to identify where they could achieve “the biggest savings with the lowest impact.” Bellone said the cuts were necessary as growing transit operating costs threatened to push the county’s subsidy of its bus system to $36 million — an “unsustainable” amount for the county, which has projected a $78 million deficit this year.

Bellone emphasized that, even with the cuts, which are expected to save Suffolk $4 million a year, the county’s $30 million annual contribution to its transit system is well above what other counties in the state pay. “We’ve reached a point where we have no alternative but to make cuts as we deal with an ongoing fiscal issue,” Bellone said. “We’re committed to public transportation, but we also have to address the financial realities of the county.” Bellone said further cuts next year may be necessary without increased state transit aid.

Wednesday, August 4, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut’s budget deficit improves slightly; Connecticut receives nearly $1 million in grants to combat Zika virus; and, critics say sea-level rise not considered in flood-control plan for Suffolk’s southern coast.

Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo certified that Connecticut will end the 2016 budget year with a $279.4 million deficit. That’s an improvement of $36.4 million over last month. In September, Lembo will begin reporting on projections for 2017. There’s still some time for the 2016 deficit to improve because the final audit isn’t completed until the end of September.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office reported in July that “several significant revenue sources totaling approximately $900 million are still projected to be received through August 5.”

The slight improvement in the deficit this month came from one-time federal grant revenue. However, Lembo said he continues to be concerned with the continued volatility of income tax receipts. Overall, according to Lembo, income tax revenues fell $659.4 million short of the original budget projections.

Aside from the income tax, general fund revenue was $206.1 million higher than the original budget plan. This is after accounting for revenue enhancing policies implemented during the course of the fiscal year, Lembo wrote in his letter to Malloy.

Connecticut officials have nearly $1 million in new funds at their disposal to fight the Zika virus after receiving a pair of federal grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC is giving the Connecticut Department of Public Health two grants – a $579,000 grant announced Monday and a $400,000 grant announced Tuesday – to protect Connecticut residents from the Zika virus and monitor existing cases.

This week's grants add to a $320,000 grant awarded by the CDC in early July, bringing the total funds available to about $1.3 million. The $579,000 grant announced Monday will be used to “support and enhance the state’s efforts to protect Connecticut residents from Zika virus and monitor serious birth defects, like microcephaly, and other adverse health outcomes that can be caused by Zika virus,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s office said.

The additional $400,000 announced Tuesday will be used by state officials to “establish, enhance, and maintain information-gathering systems to rapidly detect microcephaly,” Malloy’s office said. Microcephaly is a birth defect of the brain passed onto a baby in the womb of a mother infected with the virus.

“This grant will continue to help Connecticut in our preparation efforts and ensure that our state’s residents are protected to the fullest extent possible. We are doing everything we can at the state level to prepare. I thank the CDC for awarding this grant to our state, and again stress the need for Congress to approve much-needed emergency funding to enhance these efforts nationally,” Malloy said in a statement.

As reported by Newsday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a revised flood-control plan to defend Suffolk’s southern coast from devastating storms by elevating homes, replenishing Fire Island dunes, restoring marshes, and building dikes. But some observers say the plan fails to take sea level rise into account. 

The $1.1 billion Fire Island to Montauk Point project spans 83 miles. It was funded by Congress after Superstorm Sandy but is now years behind schedule. The revised timeline calls for construction to start in 2018 and finish in 2025.

Retrofitting homes to withstand floods consumes more than half of the $855 million construction budget. The plan calls for elevating 2400 houses, and relocating basement utilities in others. Some houses would be rebuilt, and flood barriers would be erected around others. Six miles of roads would be turned into dikes, shielding homes from floodwaters.

WPKN News spoke to Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O, a non-profit concerned with coastal zone management and water quality.

McAllister says the plan fails to consider sea level rise and the need for relocation:

“The Army Corp is really not responding to sea level rise. It’s more responding to some of the symptoms as opposed to talking about relocation and abandonment of these flood-prone areas. These are remedial actions: call it fortification with dikes, using some roads as dikes, elevating homes, bringing utilities up out of the groundwater essentially. There’s no talk of relocation in these flood- prone areas and a perfect example is the Mastic Beach area. Wetlands are migrating landward in response to sea level rise. In many of the properties their back yard lawns are comprised of wetland vegetation that they mow. Ground water is right there at the surface and over time will be even higher."

Public hearings on the project are planned for September.

Tuesday August 2, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: several Connecticut union contract negotiations continue past deadline; proposed rail overhauls have Connecticut split; subsidies planned to help New York nuclear plants as part of clean energy plan; and, New York State bars sex offenders from Pokémon Go.

Governor Malloy’s administration is still negotiating wages and working conditions with 14 unions. The deadline for their previous contracts expired June 30. Six of the unions have extensions. However, not all of the labor rights, including cost of living increase, will continue.  The Office of Labor Relations has hired two outside law firms to help negotiate the contracts, which each have a $400,000 cap.

The 2017 budget reduces salary accounts by $255 million, and the Malloy administration must find an additional $69 million in employee savings. The administration has laid off 825 executive branch employees; the Judicial Branch has laid off 300. The administration has declined to say if layoffs will continue. 

Layoffs became necessary when the labor unions refused to reopen their contract for health and pension benefits earlier this year. That contract, which is an umbrella agreement for all state labor unions, does not expire until 2022. In March, Malloy said he expected the negotiations over wages and working conditions to have a bigger impact on the state budget than either layoffs or changes to health and pension benefits.

Differences over three Federal Railroad Administration proposals for the Northeast Corridor have divided coastal towns like New Haven and Old Lyme.

The Federal Railroad Administration, or FRA, plans to select one of three alternatives proposed for its Northeast Corridor Future Plan this fall. Governor Malloy wants the FRA to fix and modernize existing infrastructure before spending billions on expansion plans. He said Connecticut “strongly recommends” the No Action Alternative, which would limit the federal government to working on existing rail lines.

Amtrak, however, supports the most ambitious plan, called Alternative 3. The proposal would establish new rail lines and routes, including another option from New York, through Long Island, to New Haven. At a cost of about $300 billion, Alternative 3 is the only proposal that includes high-speed rail trains.

Most coastal towns said they preferred Alternative 1, the most modest plan that calls for straightening the two existing lines near Old Lyme and adding two more.

The New York Times reports:
New York State utility customers will pay nearly $500 million a year in subsidies aimed at keeping some upstate nuclear power plants operating. The subsidies were included in a clean energy program passed Monday by the Public Service Commission. The policy, championed by Governor Cuomo, calls for half of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030.

A long slump in natural gas prices has hurt many nuclear plants’ profits, prompting plans to shut down some in New York. Public Service Commission chairwoman Audrey Zibelman said if those plants closed, the state’s electricity distributors would have to rely more on power plants fueled by carbon-emitting gas and coal. 

According to the commission, starting in 2017, the subsidies would cost utility customers $962 million over two years. The overall cost would be less than $2 a month.
But some environmental groups opposed the subsidies, calling them possibly “the largest corporate bailout or subsidy” in state history.

Albany Times-Union reports:
Governor Cuomo on Monday directed the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, or DOCCS, to restrict sex offenders on parole from playing the popular Pokémon Go and similar games. Cuomo also sent a letter to game developer Niantic requesting the company's help in barring sex offenders from playing the game.

The new regulation applies to nearly 3,000 Level 1, 2 and 3 sex offenders currently on parole. Cuomo directed the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to provide Niantic with the most up-to-date sex offender registry information as well as notify Apple and Google of the public safety concerns and to work with them on enhancing user safety.

This all comes on the heels of a report released Friday showing that Pokémon have popped up in front of sex offenders' homes in New York City. The report also showed Pokestops and Gyms, at which players obtain in-game items and battle each other, are close to offenders' homes.

Senator Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, plans to introduce legislation aimed at cracking down on the ability of a sex offender to play such games.


Monday, August 1, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal calls on Congress to reconvene and approve Zika funding; Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy celebrates program to help New Haven’s residents, veterans, and recently incarcerated; Federal fisheries agency warns boaters of humpback whales reported feeding in Long Island Sound; and, noxious invasive Giant Hogweed found in Riverhead.

Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited Martin Park in East Hartford Monday to call upon Congress to convene a special emergency session to approve $1.1 billion in funding to combat the Zika virus.

Congress recessed for seven weeks without appropriating emergency funds to fight Zika. But minority Democrats have no authority to make that happen. It’s up to the Republican majority. “Cleary, action is necessary to address the looming public health crisis, an epidemic of Zika that threatens the entire country, including Connecticut,” Blumenthal said, citing the four locally acquired cases of Zika in Florida.

At the Republican National Convention two weeks ago in Cleveland, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed the Democrats for failing to pass a Zika funding bill before the recess. However, he failed to mention that the bill also cut funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as the Affordable Care Act. Those amendments were unacceptable to Democrats. Senator Blumenthal advocated for a clean version of the legislation.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, 45 Connecticut residents have tested positive for the Zika virus. Only three of those 45 are pregnant. The virus can cause babies to be born with small heads, a condition known as microcephaly. Symptoms in adults are usually mild and include fever, headache, joint pain, and rash. The symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can last for several days to a week and typically don’t require hospitalization.

Connecticut also received a $579,000 grant Monday from the Centers for Disease Control. Senator Blumenthal said the money can be used to track cases. He said it can’t be used for the full scale national effort that is necessary to develop a new vaccine, eradicate mosquitoes, or educate people to stop the spread of the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.

Congress isn’t expected to return to address the issue until September.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy was on hand Thursday at the New Haven Opportunity Center for the official opening of part of the center’s programming — job training for recently incarcerated people. One of the new initiative’s goals in New Haven will be to reduce recidivism by 50% over a five-year period, Senator Murphy said.

The center, located in the Dixwell Avenue neighborhood, is there to provide services for everyone in the city. One of its main missions will be helping those recently released from jail, and military veterans, to find jobs and housing.

Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor, who along with Murphy, showed off the new building, said: “This building will bring people together. When we first started talking about having this center, we listened to what people had to say — which was build this center in the neighborhood, not downtown in City Hall.”

The resource center will provide federal-and-state-funded employment, financial empowerment, housing, education, and re-entry services to New Haven residents. The city spent $72,000 renovating the building and will staff it with eight workers from New Haven’s payroll. The center will offer help for those from the neighborhood looking to enroll in state welfare and health programs, neighborhood programs and programs run by the Community Action Agency, MOMS Partnership, and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress.

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Fridays. The center can be reached at 203-946-8592; by email at or via the web at

Boaters on the Long Island Sound should be on the lookout for humpback whales, which have been spotted recently in the waters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries is advising boaters in Connecticut and New York to watch out for the giant sea mammals in local waters.

NOAA says boaters and fishermen have reported seeing the whales in the western L.I. Sound over the past week. NOAA said it believes there are multiple humpbacks close to shore feeding on small fish. Boaters should follow NOAA guidelines for viewing whales, including staying 100 feet away from them, the agency said.

Humpback whales can reach lengths of 60 feet and can weigh around 40 tons, according to NOAA Fisheries. Collisions can be dangerous to boaters and whales alike. When a whale collides with a vessel, it can be gravely injured and die from its injuries. Collisions with whales have also thrown boaters from their vessels.

Humpbacks create bubble clouds to corral their prey, and then lunge through the center to swallow the small fish. Fishermen or boaters in these bubble patches run the risk of colliding with a massive whale as it rapidly approaches the surface, according to NOAA.

“In addition to keeping a sharp lookout, we also ask that should the whales approach your boat, you put your boat in neutral until they have passed safely.,” NOAA Fisheries marine mammal response coordinator Mendy Garron said. “Also, please report any sightings. Locating the whales will help us keep them safe.”

Sightings should be reported to NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 866-755-NOAA (6622).
Blisters. Burns. Scarring. Long-term sensitivity to sunlight. Even blindness. These health hazards are the result of handling a noxious invasive plant known as Giant Hogweed.

The plant, native to the Caucuses Mountain area of Asia, was introduced to the United States in the early years of the 20th century as a garden ornamental. Now it grows wild along roadsides, streams, rivers, fields – basically open sites with lots of sunlight. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is warning people to be on the lookout for it since it has been confirmed to be growing locally.

It grows up to 15 feet tall on hollow stems four to five inches in diameter. White lacy umbrella-shaped flowers spread two feet across the top of the plant. Its leaves are deeply lobed and can be as large as five feet in diameter. Its very size is often what attracts people to it – inadvertently putting themselves in harm’s way by picking it, or even transplanting it to their own yards.

If you see a plant that you suspect may be Giant Hogweed, the DEC warns: Do not touch it.

Contact with the sap of the plant, in combination with water (sweat or dew will suffice) and sunlight, causes the skin and eye irritations. Should you have the misfortune to come in contact with the plant’s sap, even by brushing against its bristly stems, or touching any part of the plant including its flowers and seeds, wash immediately with soap and COLD water. Keep the affected area out of the sun for 48 hours.