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Students, town committee map out sustainability efforts

The high school student group recommends the town boost renewable energy sources, replace streetlights with LED lights and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Members of the Suffolk Student Climate Action Committee:

Members of the Suffolk Student Climate Action Committee: Eric Stenzel, left, Mary Jo Chan, Lilia Bartolotta, Victoria Creviston, Olivia Davidson, Sarah Sciortino and Harrison Bench. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Islip Town Environmental Council is getting the green light to shift its focus to improving the town’s energy sustainability.

The council has recently started looking into ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions at town facilities after decades of concentrating on other eco-friendly measures, chairwoman Nancy Manfredonia said. It is also adding members to its previously undermanned ranks.

“For a small group, we’ve got our hands full,” she said.

The volunteer group, which operates under the town supervisor’s office, was created to advise town officials on environmental matters in 1972 after the first Earth Day. Members have sought mainly to improve water quality for the Great South Bay, which will continue to be a top priority, Manfredonia said.

Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter announced at a town board meeting last month that the council “has been reorganized and re-energized” to act on sustainability efforts. She also approved appointing two more members to the council last fall, Manfredonia said.

The council of six is finishing preparing an annual report that will include sustainability recommendations, such as aiming to become a “climate-smart community,” a state designation that would make Islip eligible for grants funding sustainability efforts, she said.

Manfredonia attributed the council’s new focus to the work of an “impressive” group of high schoolers from Sayville and West Islip. The students of the Suffolk Student Climate Action Committee’s Sayville High School board have repeatedly called on Islip officials to set a goal of using only renewable energy sources by 2030. Students also attended the environmental council’s March 15 meeting and said they plan to participate in as many future meetings as possible.

“It’s good to hear them be so passionate and have so many facts,” said Manfredonia, who also works for the nonprofit Central Islip Civic Council. “We’ve been talking about it for a while but this prodded us to make it a priority right now.”

The students have repeatedly told town officials about their concerns for Islip’s future in the face of climate change, citing that the town is behind other ones on Long Island with renewable energy initiatives.

Harrison Bench, the group’s 16-year-old president, said town officials have not yet complied with most of the students’ recommendations, which include setting aside funding for renewable energy initiatives, such as installing solar panels.

“I, for one, am hopeful we will make progress,” the Sayville student said. “There comes a time when we have to ask ourselves, what more can we do to get them to understand what trouble we’re in?”

Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith declined repeated requests for comment and did not make any town officials available for interviews.

The town’s energy reduction efforts have included replacing streetlights with LED lights, according to a previous news report.

“They care but we have to push more,” committee co-vice president Olivia Davidson, 17, said.

The students asked anyone interested in getting involved on environmental issues to contact the group at ssclimateaction@gmail.com.

The Suffolk Student Climate Action Committee has recommended that Islip Town officials:

  • set a goal of using only renewable energy sources at town facilities by 2030
  • set aside funding in the town budget for renewable energy projects
  • hire a staffer to oversee town sustainability efforts
  • conduct an inventory of how much greenhouse gas the town produces

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