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Bill would rename wildlife refuge to honor ex-congressman

Rep. Thomas Suozzi announces a plan to rename

Rep. Thomas Suozzi announces a plan to rename the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge after former congressman Lester Wolff on Sunday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Rep. Thomas Suozzi has introduced a bill to rename the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge in honor of former North Shore congressman Lester Wolff, Suozzi announced Sunday.

Wolff, who at 99 is the oldest living former congressman in the country, successfully pushed to create the wildlife refuge in 1968, as former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and master builder Robert Moses pushed for an 8.5-mile bridge connecting Oyster Bay and Rye in Westchester County.

Wolff, speaking at a news conference Suozzi called at the Mill River Rod and Gun Club on Sunday, called the proposed renaming a “great honor.”

With an osprey nesting on a power pole nearby, Wolff, a Democrat, cited former President Theodore Roosevelt, who had lived nearby.

“The fact is, I was a conservationist for a long time,” Wolff said. “I was just following the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, one of our great presidents.”

Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) called Wolff’s fight for the protected area an “act of courage” for taking on Rockefeller and Moses.

“It was a great accomplishment, a great public service,” Suozzi said.

Wolff said with a laugh that having the refuge renamed for him “means I can smell the roses.” He remains active and runs the news website askcongress.org.

Wolff, who turns 100 on Jan. 4, represented areas of Long Island’s North Shore from 1965 to 1981. The 3,209-acre refuge includes subtidal habitats of the bay bottom, salt marsh and a freshwater pond.

Suozzi said he introduced the bill in Congress last week, and has reached out to the rest of Long Island’s delegation for support.

Wolff, who lives in Muttontown, noted the recent push for a tunnel between Nassau County and Westchester, saying the renewed effort would hurt the environment. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has supported a connection between Oyster Bay and Westchester as an economic catalyst that would relieve traffic congestion on the Long Island Expressway. North Shore residents at recent hearings about a possible tunnel across Long Island Sound have opposed any such projects.

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