This is the second story in a series on the Suffolk County legislator race and its issues as they affect the South Fork.
Traffic management on County Road 39 is a point of pride for Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. From the “cops and cones” program utilized in the summers of 2006 and 2007 to the subsequent widening of the road in 2008 and 2012, it’s a piece of his record he notes frequently.
To the Independence Party member who’s running for his sixth and final term representing the South Fork on Suffolk County’s legislature, it’s his brainchild—an example of his ability to think outside the box and deliver results.
However, in the opinion of his opponent in next month’s election, Republican Chris Nuzzi, the widening of County Road 39 is an example of Mr. Schneiderman taking the lion’s share of credit on an issue handled collaboratively—and an issue that has yet to be fully resolved.
“There’s enough credit to go around,” Mr. Nuzzi said Friday. “It’s equivalent of Al Gore taking credit for inventing the internet.”
Traffic on County Road 39 is one of several issues facing Southampton Town east of the Shinnecock Canal that Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Nuzzi have been sparring over, each trying to prove that he is better equipped to handle Suffolk County’s 2nd Legislative District, which stretches from East Moriches to Montauk Point and will, for the first time beginning next year, encompass all of Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island towns.
Mr. Nuzzi, who lives in Westhampton Beach, and Mr. Schneiderman, who lives in Montauk, both currently represent Southampton Town—the former as a Southampton Town Board member, the latter as incumbent legislator—and both have to take the sometimes treacherous County Road 39 to get across the Shinnecock Canal in order to do so.
Traffic has been a perennial problem during the summer months, as the road is a main artery running to the South Fork. The ordinary bottleneck of cars can be brought to a complete halt during major accidents, including two that occurred this past summer, each closing the road for hours and creating a traffic jam that crippled much of the region.
Mr. Schneiderman said he discovered a partial solution to the traffic woes on the road during his commute to Hauppauge eight years ago.
“I’d be staring at this open left turning lane going, ‘Why can’t we open up the left turning lane in the morning?’ Nobody’s even making left turns because the businesses aren’t even open yet—why can’t we just make it a dedicated lane to get everybody out here?” he recalled last month. “I laid the whole thing out, how we could do it with cones, and took it to the commissioner, at the time, of public works … I said, ‘Can you analyze this and tell me if it will work?’ They did and said it works.”
He then, by his account, took the idea to then-County Executive Steve Levy and convinced him to give his plan a one-week trial. “It worked so well that when he took the cones away after one week, he got, like, a thousand phone calls to put them back,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Nobody could take them away—we had to widen the roads.”
Mr. Nuzzi, who was elected to the Town Board in 2005 and has reached his term limit, said the effort was really a product of collaboration among the Town Board, the Suffolk County Department of Public Works and the county executive, along with help from the legislature.
He also said the technique, which used traffic cones to create two eastbound lanes at the eastern terminus of Sunrise Highway where County Road 39 began, had originally been implemented to handle traffic for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2004. He added that the “cops and cones” program cost the town about a half million dollars, by his estimation, during its two summers of operation.
“He takes singular credit for it, as if no one else existed,” Mr. Nuzzi said of Mr. Schneiderman. “I was there—I remember the expense to the town. I remember the back and forth between the Town Board members and the county, trying to get the county to even acknowledge the fact that something needed to be done here.”
Mr. Nuzzi also said that widening the road was only the first part of the plan to address traffic concerns on the road, adding that the county has yet to address the second piece, which was supposed to include implementing safety precautions on the road, including reducing speed and potentially dividing the highway.
“We should be having conversations about how we can mitigate speed a little bit beyond just enforcement—that’s where other safety improvements could be discussed,” he said. “That’s a conversation I’d like to bring about that has not been yet.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he would like the county medical examiner to change the policy on handling fatal accidents. While legally a local doctor or EMT can pronounce someone dead at the scene of an accident, it has been the department’s policy to send someone from Hauppauge to the scene. The legislator said he had started discussions with former Medical Examiner Yvonne Milewski before she vacated the position, adding that he plans to open the discussion up again when a new medical examiner is named.
Regarding septic systems, Mr. Nuzzi said he’d like to see stricter septic regulations from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and that he’d like to use the county’s regional influence to encourage the use of more modern septic technology. He also said he’d like the county to enforce regular pumping of septic systems, adding that he’d like the county to create a registry of every septic system.
“If they’re not even tracking what systems are where as you’re doing upgrades, how do they know where the antiquated systems are? How do they know where to focus?” Mr. Nuzzi said.
He described his proposed solution of creating a registry: “No need for new rulings or regulations, except for notification by the installer of the type of system that was installed. Doesn’t need to be any type of fee associated with it, doesn’t need to be any review … but we want notification as to what the system is, approximately where it’s located, and when the system was installed.”
Mr. Schneiderman, who also favors stricter regulation on the amount of nitrogen discharged, said he has taken steps to protect local water supplies during his time in office, including ushering through a bill that limits the use of fertilizers near surface water.
But the county legislator, a former chemistry teacher with a degree in chemistry from Ithaca College, said any new restrictions implemented won’t produce results for up to 20 years, because of nitrates that are already moving through the groundwater recharge system.
In his spare time, Mr. Schneiderman has looked into ways to counter the nitrates, such as using wood chips as a natural filtration system. He’s even come up with his own invention—a floating, solar-powered device that moves through water removing algae and storing it for later use as a biofuel—using three-dimensional computer modeling. He calls it the Baleen Buoy, in reference to the baleen whale, which filters food from water.
“The algae is actually doing its job—the algae is removing the nitrogen. That’s what we want it to do. Like any plant, it fixes nitrogen,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “The problem with algae is, as it grows it blocks the sunlight and deprives the waters of oxygen—that’s a problem. So if we can actually use the algae to remove the nitrogen, then get the algae out of there, that’s a win-win.”
Both candidates discussed a need for additional mental health services in the county, especially for children, citing a pair of recent suicides in East Hampton. In addition, both Mr. Nuzzi and Mr. Schneiderman proposed pairing county resources with schools to get children screened for mental health issues without imposing extra costs on school districts or individual families.