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EDITORIAL: The double zeros: Going around in circles on Long Island

Another decade over, a new one just begun.

To frame the promise of the years ahead, it's worth a look at the disenchanting ones we're leaving behind. The reign of the double zeros was disturbing and disappointing. Starting with the horror of the Sept. 11 attacks and finishing with a disruptive recession, during this decade our fundamental assumptions about physical and financial security were battered. Lives, jobs, homes, and even our optimism that the future will always be better, were lost. So on Thursday night, many of us will happily say not only good-bye but good riddance to the decade.

A flip of the calendar, however, won't end these challenges, including ones confronting us on Long Island. Lowering taxes - especially those for schools, which take the biggest bite - remains elusive. Meanwhile, the unstoppable high cost of living here continues to chase away businesses large and small and residents young and old.

At the start of the decade, the conversation about economic growth revolved around the disappearance of Grumman and the Island's aerospace manufacturing base. In 2009, we remain puzzled why the touted replacement of biotech research has failed to take root. Perhaps the emerging growth area of advanced energy research will be an answer.

The Long Island Power Authority was created in 1998 to provide relief from our punishing energy bills. LIPA has provided more reliable service than its predecessor, but its challenge is still to find a way to reduce the debt that piled up at the end of the last century for the construction of Shoreham, the doomed nuclear plant.

Efforts to provide a more affordable mix of housing have been steady, but still slow and minimal. The abundance of foreclosed homes and government financing programs may provide an opportunity for some to secure housing in the next year or two. But smart-growth initiatives, to create walkable communities near railroad stations that can keep mature suburbs vibrant, have yet to move beyond the discussion stage.

Undoubtedly new major issues will arise before we find ourselves heading into the 2020s. Until then, here are some that dominated the policy debates of the past 10 years and are likely to continue to do so.

Destination Manhattan

The promise that commuters can take a Long Island Rail Road train directly into Grand Central Terminal is entering its fourth decade, but it's possible the long-awaited East Side access project will be completed by 2020. The MTA will have difficulty providing full funding these next few years, but this project, along with a third track to speed commutes, is too critical to our future growth to languish.

Long-awaited Island

At the end of 2007, when easy credit fueled big dreams, this page detailed 14 game-changing projects from the Lighthouse in Uniondale to Riverhead Resorts in Calverton that could fuel growth and provide interesting places to live, work and play. Two years later, not one has even approached the shovel-in-the-ground phase. While the economic downturn has caused a rethinking of the possible, Long Island still needs big ideas.

Power plant struggles

In 2002, LIPA postponed a decision on whether to buy back the old power plants that KeySpan acquired when it took over LILCO. LIPA still buys the energy generated by those plants, including the warhorses in Northport and Port Jefferson, but their new owner, National Grid, has put them on the market. The New York Power Authority is taking a look to see if purchasing them would help lower costs. Decisions on closing or repowering these plants or building new ones will cause explosive reactions but must finally be made.

Drunken driving

If you were celebrating before driving on the New Year's Eve of 1999 instead of this one, you probably could have had another drink or two before you reached the legal limit. The carnage on local roads started a crackdown on DWI in 2002, and in 2006, a broader overhaul sharply increased penalties. Now, DWI with a child in the car is a felony, and starting in August 2010, everyone convicted of DWI will be required to use mandatory ignition locks. This will be the decade to measure whether tougher penalties make us safer.

Alternative energy sources

Wind turbines in the Atlantic, just a few miles off Jones Beach, didn't have popular support or make economic sense, but now there is talk of LIPA and Consolidated Edison building a wind farm off the Rockaways. Meanwhile, Broadwater, a liquid natural gas terminal proposed for the middle of Long Island Sound, just off Riverhead, got sunk for never making a compelling case for its need.

2010 starts with the installation of the state's largest solar project at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and other spots, but the real answer to bringing cheaper, renewable power to our Island might lie in building a new transmission line transporting hydropower from Canada.

Coastal management

After more than a decade of planning by the Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Long Beach in 2006 rejected a $98-million program to protect its beach from being wiped out in a major storm. Long Island's timeless struggle to combat erosion was also played out in the bureaucratic fights over a federal plan for the shoreline from Montauk to Fire Island. All the while, minor dredging emergencies to keep inlets clear surface each year, prompting an exasperated Town of Hempstead to buy its own dredge. This should be the decade in which a regional entity is created to intelligently protect our coastline.

Reform of the reform

The drive to soften the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws took a decade, but it wasn't until this year, after Democrats took over the State Senate, that many mandatory sentences for drug dealers were repealed. Now, however, there are concerns that the changes went too far. Will the pendulum move back over the next 10 years?

Round and round

Long Island's issues seem to be circular. So it's only fitting to recall that as the decade closes, the restored Nunley's Carousel, which was purchased by Nassau County in 1998 from a Baldwin amusement park, debuted in its new home on Museum Row. Now Long Island's children can experience one of life's simple joys for years to come.

Happy New Year!hN