Irving Like vs. Big Nuke

Irving Like, an environmental giant in Long Island’s Suffolk County, New York State and the United States, has died.

Like was instrumental in getting the Shoreham nuclear power plant in Suffolk abandoned; was a key in the successful fight to stop the four-lane highway that New York public works czar Robert Moses sought to build on Fire Island and to create instead a Fire Island National Seashore; he was the author of the Conservation Bill of Rights that’s part of the New York State Constitution; and he established a model since emulated across the U.S. of exposing the deadly dangers of nuclear power at proceedings of federal nuclear power licensing agencies that otherwise are kangaroo courts. And there was so much more.

Attorney Like, of Bay Shore, Long Island never stopped fighting for the environment. He was still involved in crusades and litigation when he passed away on October 3 at 93.

I began writing about Like in 1962 and was regularly in touch with him through the years since. Our last communication came on September 20 when Irv emailed me about his crusade to have UNESCO designate Fire Island a World Heritage Site. This, he said, would result in international protection for that extraordinary barrier beach. In the email, Irv related how “my wife Margalit to whom I was happily married for 69 years” had died. “What keeps me going are the environmental projects I care about & the knowledge of people like you. Let’s keep going!!!”

I was 20 years old starting out as a reporter at the Babylon Town Leader when I first wrote about Irv. Moses, a resident of Babylon, a Long Island village, had just announced his Fire Island highway. I was dispatched to Fire Island and wrote a lengthy front page article on how the highway would pave over the exquisite nature and magical communities of Fire Island, a 35-mile long barrier beach. It was my first big story.

Irv and his brother-in-law, Murray Barbash (who passed away in 2013) swung into action creating the Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore. Irv and Murray figured there wouldn’t be a way to stop Moses on the state level. After Moses suffered what was a then record loss in a run for governor, he instead amassed vast influence in New York particularly through commissions. Needed was federal involvement to stop Moses’ highway. Also, the National Seashore goal would make the campaign positive, more than anti-highway. In 1964 the Seashore became a reality, the highway stopped.

Irv and Murray flipped that strategy on Shoreham. They determined that the nuclear project couldn’t be stopped on the federal level—with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) never having denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime. (This has continued with its successor agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.) So they formed Citizens to Replace LILCO with a focus on using state power, especially the power of condemnation, to stop Shoreham and the Long Island Lighting Company. They worked to establish a Long Island Power Authority with the clout, if LILCO persisted with Shoreham and its plan to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants on Long Island, to eliminate LILCO. The Long Island Power Act was enacted in 1985 and LILCO gave up turning Shoreham over to the state for a nominal $1 to be decommissioned as a nuclear facility.

Irv had gotten involved in challenging nuclear power in Suffolk earlier. He was attorney for the Lloyd Harbor Study Group which fought a previous LILCO nuclear plant project in Lloyd Harbor. LILCO, in the face of the opposition in that upscale village in Huntington Town decided to shift the location of its first nuclear plant to Shoreham. It assumed the Lloyd Harbor Study Group and Irv would not go many miles east to continue the battle. But they did.

The AEC construction permit hearings for Shoreham lasted two years and were the longest hearings it ever held. Irv understood he wouldn’t be able to win. But as he wrote in a paper delivered before the American Bar Association in 1971 and in a version published nationally, the AEC hearings, although fixed, could be an “educational forum to alert the public” about the perils of nuclear power and spur people to political action.

Most recently, Irv has represented Helene Forst’s Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy battling the placement of giant toxic chemical-coated poles for transmission lines by PSEG and LIPA. Ms. Forst, of East Hampton, who worked earlier with Irv as co-chair of East End Shoreham Opponents, speaks of his “brilliance, positivity and resilience.” She reflects: “l was fortunate to be able to work side-by-side with Irving, passionately fighting the David and Goliath fights that needed to be fought.”

Irv’s important work goes on and on including his being counsel to Suffolk County challenging offshore Atlantic oil drilling and his involvement in the lawsuit on behalf of Vietnam War vets suffering from cancer caused by the use by the U.S. of Agent Orange,

We must all “keep going.”


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Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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