Author Archives: Ray Tartaglione

Originally published on People’s Pundit Daily on Oct. 22, 2017.

When most think of the Long Island Sound, they picture a paradisal cut-out of communities between the eastern shores of Bronx County, New York City, and southern Westchester County. But in one of America’s wealthiest small cities, hidden health dangers breed and flourish in man-made rainwater basins and un-permitted sewage pits.

Hen Island is located less than 500 feet off the shores of Rye and serves as the not-so isolated location of summer, primitive-living cottages. Residents do not rely on modern plumbing, instead collecting and storing untreated rainwater for domestic use. Human waste for years has been dumped in sewage pits, which are located only feet away from the shoreline of the pristine Long Island Sound.

In Milton Harbor, the island is just off the mouths of Mamaroneck and Rye harbors. It is owned and operated by Kuder Island Colony Inc., but regulated by the City of Rye and Westchester County. The 34 primitive cottages on the island have enjoyed exemption from federal, state and local sanitation regulations requiring residents to use potable municipal water sources–which consequently, are already available to the island–or approved water wells.

Ray Tartaglione, a homeowner-turned-activist, has been sounding the alarm on the potential health risks caused by these systems for years in Rye. When he first purchased his property on Hen Island, he was told the sewage and water systems were legal and grandfathered in. Mr. Tartaglione joined the board and later became the president, which is when he was granted access to records showing what he had been told was false.

“I found out what they were telling me wasn’t true,” he said. “It wasn’t grandfathered in and these systems were put in illegally. I started the process to clean it up and I got a lot of resistance from the other homeowners. They were basically afraid that government agencies would come in and close the island down.”

But after holding meetings with the country health department and other agencies, he was voted off the board and his efforts were shut down. In 2008, the county removed lead investigator Ron Gatto without explanation and replaced him with Lenny Meyerson, who claimed to have inspected the island at the time and found no violations.

Worth noting, Mr. Gatto’s initial inspection found systems were installed with PVC pipe, a clear indication that the “grandfathered” explanation doesn’t hold water. While the original patent dates back to 1913, PVC/CPVC plastic piping for municipal plumbing wasn’t introduced until the 1970s, roughly two decades after the systems were allegedly installed at Hen Island.

The city council has repeatedly heard testimony from residents and experts, including Dr. Carolyn Lederman-Barotz, a physician and surgeon specializing in pediatric ophthalmology. She pled with the city council to “recognize the threat to the health and safety to the children of Rye caused by the mosquito infestation we have on Hen Island.”

“Our cottage is located on the Northern part of Hen Island. And from our porch we can see the American Yacht Club, the harbor side of Shenorock Beach Club and the children playing at these clubs and taking sailing lessons. From our back porch, we have a clear view of the marshlands conservancy and Greenhaven, its community beach and the children who play there. I make this observation to you to emphasize the effect of the mosquito infestation on Hen Island is not limited but in fact it directly effects all the Rye residents who use the beautiful coastal facilities and enjoy the natural beauty the city of Rye has to offer.”

Dr. Lederman-Barotz, who no longer lives on the island, said their family “has severely curtailed our visits to Hen Island” because “the mosquito infestation is just not worth it.”

That plea went largely unanswered.

Mr. Tartaglione, who now heads the local environmental group Heal the Harbor, said sewage and other forms of human waste eventually end up in the pristine and environmentally-sensitive Long Island Sound. It’s  just 450 feet from where one home was listed on the market for $20 million.

“Suffice it to say, we have enough information to know that Hen Island sewage has only one place to go, and that’s into the Long Island Sound,” said Terry Backer, the Executive Director of Soundkeeper. “There appears to be pollution going into the Sound, and it’s good to see an individual taking on a group because of that.”

Officials have said the dumping of raw sewage has stopped, a claim activists vehemently disputed. Video footage taken as recent as 2016 clearly shows the sewage pits. Given their location, it is irrelevant whether the sewage is directly dumped into the Sound or simply accessible through the water table.

“That’s not true. There’s a handful that have these sewage pits less than 10 feet from the water on a 2 foot water table,” he said. “You dig 2 feet, you’re hitting water.”

Since 2003, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the area has experienced a disproportionately high number of West Nile cases juxtaposed to the more-highly populated surrounding areas. In 2004, only Westchester County and Queens County reported cases to the CDC, and the area often boasts half the number of reported cases found in New York City.

Over the years, concerns over mosquito-transmitted viruses have grown to include the Zika virus. Infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects of the brain, including microcephaly and other severe brain defects. It is also linked to other birth problems such as miscarriage and stillbirth.

There have also been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a very uncommon sickness of the nervous system. It is established to have a direct relationship with areas affected by Zika.

Westchester County Health Commissioner Peter DeLucia has claimed Hen Island has been inspected–in fact, as recent as last year–and he believed residents were taking precautions.

But Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla doesn’t share the same sense of security.

“We’re densely populated; we’re an urban area,” Mayor Pilla recently told reporters. “We rely on the county health department and the county resources just for things like this, and it doesn’t sound like it’s adequate, quite frankly.”

People’s Pundit Daily made multiple requests for official responses to these allegations, but they went unanswered.


WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some experts predict mosquitoes bearing the Zika virus could hit the Tri-State Area this summer, and some cities have put a strong focus on control measures.

As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, the northern suburbs in particular are taking action. Upscale suburbanites in Westchester County collected free fathead minnows at the White Plains Airport to help keep the disease-carrying mosquitoes under control.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can lead to birth defects, is on the march this year.

“I just wanted to come here and talk to people to make sure that I was doing as much as I could have in this situation,” said Jeff Levine of Bedford. He added that he is worried about Zika.

The fish that were being given away at the airport are voracious eaters. They feed on mosquito larvae in fresh water — killing the bugs before they can fly and bite people.

But with Zika in the mix this year, is it enough?

“We’re densely populated; we’re an urban area. We rely on the county health department and the county resources just for things like this, and it doesn’t sound like it’s adequate, quite frankly,” said Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla.

Pilla thinks the Westchester County mosquito program is too passive.

There are no plans to spray for mosquitoes, and Pilla is worried about places like Hen Island – just offshore in nearby Rye. Hen Island has summer homes with rainwater catch basins – the kind of standing water mosquitoes love.

Activists said the Zika-bearing mosquito species has visited the area before.

“Asian Tiger mosquitoes — 2013, 2014,” said environmental activist Ray Tartaglione. He said in Westchester County, Hen Island will be ground zero if Zika mosquitoes arrive.

The county said it has inspected Hen Island, and believes residents are taking precautions. To make sure, though, they are placing mosquito traps later this month.

“We’re looking specifically for Asian tiger mosquitoes, and we’re going to take the mosquitoes and we send them to Alban,” said Assistant Westchester County Health Commissioner Peter DeLucia.

He said the county will not do any spraying.

“You’re not going to be able to spray your way out of the problem,” he said. “A lot of times, you’ll see places will do spraying as a nuisance measure.”

Westchester County is betting the farm on larvicide programs, but also has doubled the number of mosquito monitoring traps this year from 10 to 20 for a county of 450 square miles.

There are currently two cases of the Zika virus in Westchester County, both involving people who contracted it out of the area. Zika can be transmitted from person to person by sexual contact, and from people to mosquitoes who then bring it to other humans.


(Last week’s Rye City Council meeting had more than its share of overheated rhetoric and document tossing. But the heaviest Mayoral gaveling was reserved for a quiet ‘Residents to be heard’ pushback speech about some incorrect statements made in the media by a sitting councilman about Rye’s troubled Hen Island. I think anyone long aware of the facts here would agree this correction needed to be made because of the highly public nature of the distribution of that commentary from that sitting official. So I asked the speech maker for permission to put his text through ‘rewrite’ so as to address the Mayor’s publicly stated concerns about ‘personal attacks.’ He agreed – and he approved my reorganization of the subject matter and my edits. Here therefore below is Version 2.0 of Mr. Tartaglione’s rebuttal and correction of inaccuracies that were featured prominently on the front page of The Rye City Review.)

Good evening Mr. Mayor and Councilmembers. Tonight I’d like to thank the City Council and the City Manager for taking the time and the effort to visit Hen Island last month.

It is refreshing to see that after seven years of inaction from two prior administrations’ this Council seems to be concerned about the issues and working to develop a sensible solution. The solution, I hope, is based again on what’s best for the residents of Rye regardless of Westchester County Governments’ desire to whitewash these environmental and health issues as we have seen in the past.

One thing that we have seen in Rye in recent months, as it relates to other important issues – including the future of Playland and the affordable senior citizen housing project on Theodore Fremd- is the reality that the interests of the City of Rye are not always aligned with the interests of Westchester County Government. The same is true for Hen Island, as you hopefully once again consider what’s best for the citizens of Rye.

I am not going to detail tonight what has transpired in the past on a City or a County level. It’s not productive to look backwards when we wish to move forward. Mayor Sack expressed these same sentiments at the August 4th city council meeting when Hen Island was first listed as an agenda item. At that meeting Mayor Sack prefaced the discussion by stating, “despite the length of time that have been devoted to these issues, they have never been sufficiently framed and they have never been definitively addressed.” Mayor Sack went on to say that in the past things have been said that have caused a tremendous amount of animosity, and that it is important at this stage to remove the heat, and apply some light

Regrettably, soon after that meeting the front page of The Rye City Review carried an article about Hen Island in which a current sitting Rye City councilman stated that the Hen Island issue is “a waste of time” and it is “not a Rye issue”. I’m not paraphrasing. Those are direct quotes.

What is even more incredible is the fact that this was the only councilman who did not even take the time to visit the Island as all of his other colleagues did before making what sounds like his final determination on Hen Island.

In the same newspaper article (for some reason not yet available online) this councilman went on to explain that if he had a mosquito infestation in his backyard, he would hire an exterminator to rectify the problem. That final statement alone represents a certain level of ignorance, because unlike any other property in Rye, Hen Island collects over 33,000 gallons of stagnant rainwater (which breeds our mosquitos) in addition to multiple other unmaintained man-made breeding sites that this Council witnessed on their tour. Perhaps if this councilman visited Hen Island with the rest of the Council, he would know these things.

Additionally and contrary to the Rye City Codes, Hen Island corporate bylaws, rules and regulations prohibit island cottage owners from spraying even a can of ant and roach killer on the island let alone hire a professional insect exterminator.

Even more remarkably, while this councilman considers cottage owner requests for Rye code enforcement on Hen Island “a waste of time” – he himself is a professional code enforcement officer for the City of White Plains. In this role this councilman’s enforcement department actually visits my auto repair facility at least twice a year for code enforcement inspections. I have personally been written violations by this councilman for using inadequate electrical extension cords in my facility. Thus it boggles my mind that a Rye City Councilperson who is also a NY code enforcement officer could publicly call the violations he avoided personally observing on Hen Island “not a Rye issue”.

Please recall that we are all talking about an entire cottage community that flushes their toilets into the ground; collects bird feces infected water that residents are expected to shower in, and annually breeds’ millions mosquitoes.

I suggest all with questions here might refresh their recollections by taking a look at a map. Hen Island is in the City of Rye. Hen Island pays the City of Rye over $135,000 in taxes each year for which we receive basically a garbage truck for a couple of hours twice a year. The Council has all taken oaths to protect the health and safety of the Rye public as a primary function. And just as the geographical boundaries of Rye have long been established, so are the responsibilities of a Rye City Councilperson. Picking and choosing which Rye neighborhoods are subjected to the city’s enforcement codes – known as selective enforcement – is illegal under multiple statutes including the U.S. Constitution.

Recently there was a Rye administration that proposed a unique political theory that treated the Hen Island community as a fictional Rye entity with its own fictional set of laws and codes overseen by a deeply concerned county government. Our new administration has shown it cares about public safety and enforcement of law and 6 of its 7 members visited Hen Island and saw the conditions out there firsthand. The single councilmember who declined to join them on Hen Island also was the only councilmember to make any public comments so far – and those comments appear designed to undermine a process that was put in place by the Mayor and Council to “position ourselves to finally be able to come to a reasonable resolution of the issues, to remove the heat, and apply light.

I hope the process outlined by the Mayor and Council can proceed in good faith and in the manner the majority of the council has operated under. The health and safety of all Rye residents and the entire Sound Shore Region of Westchester are relying on it.

(See a preview of the upcoming “Hen Island – A Documentary Film” by clicking here)

(And the Rye TV video of the actual Tartaglione commentary session is available here starting at about the 19:25 time mark.)

click here for original article




While news that mosquitoes collected in the Village of Rye Brook were the first to test positive for West Nile Virus has instilled fear in residents around Westchester County, this year’s numbers of virus-bearing mosquitoes are considerably lower than those of the past and those of neighboring counties, according to county health officials.

After the mosquito batch collected by inspectors from the Westchester County Department of Health in Rye Brook on July 16 tested positive at state labs, 62 other catch basins in the surrounding neighborhoods in the county were re-inspected and 10 were treated with a larvicide by county health inspectors.

While there have been no reported cases of West Nile Virus in humans this summer, late August is typically recorded as having the highest levels. Last year produced 29 positive mosquito batches and four human cases in the county. However, there were no Westchester deaths reported as a result of West Nile.

It is the Culex mosquito–commonly dubbed the “urban mosquito” by those in entomology–that carries West Nile. This mosquito only breeds in standing water collected in artificial containers such as bird feeders, buckets and toys.

Due to the prevalence of cisterns that collect standing water, certain residents of Rye’s Hen Island–considered ground zero for mosquitoes hysteria in Westchester–have identified it as particularly problematic when it comes to the risk of breeding of virus-bearing mosquitoes.

The 26-acre island, which lies off the coast of Milton Harbor in the City of Rye and is only accessible by boat, is made up of 34 privately owned seasonal cottages on the Long Island Sound, is without a central sewage system or electricity, and with no running water, people get their water from cisterns that collect rain from rooftops.

Ray Tartaglione, a Hen Island homeowner, has owned a vacation home there for more than 15 years. He has been a frequent fixture at Rye City Council meetings for the past six years, carrying on a sometimes solitary crusade to persuade the city to address what he feels are unsanitary conditions on the island that perpetuate the risk of virus-carrying mosquitoes breeding.

According to Tartaglione, the city and county should provide modern sewage and water service and improve sanitary conditions.

Tartaglione has filed multiple lawsuits to that effect over the last decade against Westchester County, Rye City and the island’s seven-member Board of Directors.

Some on the City Council as well as some of his fellow shareholders have called some of the publicity stunts Tartaglione has used in the past as crass, such as, “Mr. Floatie,” an excrement mascot costume which became a regular at City Council meetings in 2009.

Caren Halbfinger, director of public health, information, and communications at the Westchester County Department of Health, said there is no need for county residents to be worried if they take preventative measures by surveying their property and covering open containers that might collect standing water.

When it comes to Hen Island, Halbfinger said that, last summer, the Health Department set up mosquito traps for several weeks and found one mosquito pool that tested positive for West Nile.

But Halbfinger said that, on the county’s most recent inspection of Hen Island on July 8, inspectors found that residents were carefully following the county’s recommendations by covering and screening the cisterns they use to collect rainwater.

“We can’t quantify the risk, but anywhere there is standing water, there is a risk that these mosquitoes could develop. That’s why our proactive approach is coupled with education,” she said.

Since the beginning of the Hen Island controversy, the city’s position has been that officials do not have a right to go onto private property and force residents to take measures to alleviate what might be considered unhealthy conditions since, by law, it is the county that must make the determination whether there is a risk and enforce public health regulations. But Tartaglione said the county Health Department does not inspect often enough and minimizes the possible risks. City council members have agreed the county could stand to be more responsive to Rye’s mosquito prevention-related complaints and queries.

“You have to put effort into looking for a virus,” Tartaglione said. “The county does not have a mosquito control program, they have a larvacide program, which is killing larvae; it does not kill the infected adult mosquitoes. They would like you to believe that their larvacide program is a control program. Westchester County Health Department conducts the bare minimum of monitoring to help the New York State lab and vector control unit.”

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