Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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The Rocky Point School District came together under sunny skies to celebrate homecoming 2018 during the last weekend in September. Eagle fans of all ages lined the sidewalk in front of Rocky Point High School to cheer on those marching in the annual homecoming parade Sept. 29.

This year’s event was led by Rocky Point alumni, who were celebrating their 40th anniversary, and featured members of the marching band, cheerleading teams, colorful banners created by Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School students and homecoming floats fashioned by each high school grade level. The floats and banners each followed this year’s theme of “Rocky Point honors our armed forces.”

Throughout homecoming weekend, members of the high school varsity and junior varsity teams competed in challenging games against some of the region’s top high schools. The celebratory event was capped off with the traditional juniors versus seniors powder puff game, which collected donations for organizations committed to fighting children’s cancer.

In the game, Kings Park defeated Rocky Point 41-14, dropping the Eagles to 1-4 this season.

Mount Sinai Scout Michael Muroff stands with his completed Eagle Scout project Sept. 29, the front door of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Mount Sinai Boy Scout literally restored an entryway to local history to complete his Eagle Scout project.

The front door to the William Miller House on North Country Road, a centuries-old building that has long served as the headquarters for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, was in a state of disrepair for longer than historian Edna Giffen could remember. Now, thanks to 17-year-old Scout Michael Muroff from Troop 1776, a brand new door constructed with a nod to history in mind hangs from the hinges, serving as a refurbished entry to local history.

Boy Scouts hoping to achieve Eagle status, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Repairing the front door of the historical society met the criteria for Muroff, who said he and his family had been attending events — like the annual Country Fair that took place Sept. 29 during Muroff’s project unveiling — at the house since he was a kid.

Eagle Scout Michael Muroff, center, receives a proclamation from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, third from right, after unveiling is project Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I’ve always had an interest in local history, and it was always a subject I excelled at in class, and I thought by doing this project it would be a good way of giving back to the community and something that I really enjoy,” he said.

The work started with four to five weekends dedicated to just stripping the old paint off of the door frame using a heat gun and metal stripper, according to the Scout. With help from a local woodworker and others, a new, yet true to the original batten door was constructed. Batten doors traditionally have between six and eight wooden planks bound together. Muroff’s door features seven planks and includes the door’s original hinges, restored and repainted as well as part of the project. He also found authentic galvanized nails to match the original and maintain the new door’s historic integrity. The door’s original handle was left as is though, according to Muroff.

“The old door was falling apart and dilapidated, so we had to just completely make a new one,” Muroff said.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and joked she had never seen the front door of the building hang so straight and close so tightly.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” she said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

In August, Muroff’s sister Rebecca completed her Gold Award project, the equivalent to the Eagle project but for Girl Scouts, which entailed cataloging the historical society’s vast collection of historic photos. The Scouts’ dad Greg Muroff served as Michael’s Scoutmaster throughout his time working through the program.

“It’s just wonderful that many years coming down to the Country Fair and to see Postman Pete, just to have my children Rebecca and Michael give back to the historical society and the community is just a wonderful thing,” he said. “Mike has a tremendous love of history and this was an ideal project for him.”

He said it will be special for both him and his son to drive past the house on North Country Road for years to come and see his hard work front and center.

“I have to say, as his dad and Scoutmaster I’m especially proud,” the Scoutmaster said. “The Eagle Scout award is more than just a project, it’s a culmination of their Boy Scout career. It means a lot of leadership, service to the community and self-discipline.”

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though the floodwaters have receded a week later, cleanup and questions still remain.

Port Jefferson Village was hit with more than four inches of rain in about an hour during the evening Sept. 25, and while village trustee Bruce D’Abramo joked Port Jeff might have been prepared to handle a 100-year storm, it wasn’t ready for the “200-year storm” it sustained. The extreme rate of rainfall resulted in flash flooding that inundated Main Street, trapped motorists in cars, washed out those dining out in restaurants and soaked auditioning actors at Theatre Three. The theater and other businesses like Ruvo East on Wynn Lane and Old Fields of Port Jefferson a block over experienced high water marks of about four feet. Old Fields was closed for a few days after the storm while Ruvo remained closed for renovations due to the flooding as of Oct. 2. Port Jefferson School District’s two instructional buildings also were affected by the flooding, according to its website, and officials are in the process of determining what aspects of the damage are covered by insurance.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

A furious volunteer effort ensued to get Theatre Three up and running in time for its Sept. 28 productions.

“We managed to get everything ready for Friday night and ran the entire weekend,” said Jeffrey Sanzel the theater’s executive artistic director.

Bradlee Bing, who serves on Theatre Three’s board of directors and was one of its founding directors in 1973, said cleanup efforts were undertaken by dozens of volunteers and staff in the 72 hours between the storm and Friday night’s productions. Work was done around the clock, spearheaded in large part by Brian Hoerger, the theater’s facilities manager, who Bing called the “champion” of the cleanup effort for his organizational and leadership role.

“As dark a day as it was, the sunshine and light of the volunteers really rejuvenated our energies and enthusiasm for what we’ve [been] doing these past 50 years,” Bing said. “The number of people that came down, multiple dozens of people that committed their time to putting everything back in order. The support of the town and community was overwhelming.”

He said restaurants donated food to help keep volunteers going, and The Home Depot and Lowe’s donated supplies to help remove the tons of mud and other remnants of the flood. He said much of the theater’s electrical wiring was destroyed. Sanzel said some other important items sustained major damage, including an HVAC unit, the boiler, costumes, a large chunk of props used in annual productions of “A Christmas Carol,” all of the props from the touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust,” along with “many, many other things.”

“We’ve experienced in the past certain types of flooding in Port Jefferson,” Bing said. “This last one was the worst flooding event we’ve ever experienced. Wednesday morning was a mud disaster in the theater.”

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) indicated he’s seen severe flooding in Port Jeff in the past during nonhurricane weather events, but this particular storm raised his eyebrows for a number of reasons. The storm occurred during low tide and flooding was not due to tidal waters, meaning had it occurred during high tide it’s possible tidal floodwaters would have combined with the flash flooding to cause water levels to reach in the ballpark of 10 feet instead of the four to five feet that actually occurred, Englebright said.

“When you put a layer of sand on top of a living marsh and then build housing and buildings on it, and rename it from Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson, and hope nobody would notice, nature will come back and bite you from time to time,” he said. As the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, Englebright indicated storms like this one could become more frequent. “That’s a kind of a preview of what’s going to happen if we don’t seriously address climate. The big flood is still in the future, but the signposts all point toward continuing sea level rise. So I’m concerned.”

Englebright suggested in the meantime serious consideration be given to raising future structures constructed in the village above ground level.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town residents will see a small increase in their 2019 town tax bill, and minimal use of surplus to balance the proposed operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) roughly $302 million tentative spending plan, presented during a media briefing at Town Hall Sept. 28, maintains all constituent services and full-time staffing from the current operating budget, increases funding for road maintenance and keeps the garbage district rate flat at $350 annually.

The 2019 tentative budget represents an approximately $8 million increase compared to the current year. The primary cost drivers of the budget cited by Romaine are a collective bargaining agreement mandated cost-of-living raise for town employees; an extra pay day for all employees in 2019; and a more than 6 percent increase in cost of employee benefits. Still, the proposed budget complies with the state-mandated 2 percent property tax increase cap.

Romaine discussed the lack of a need to use fund balance reserve dollars to balance the budget as a point of pride in presenting the ’19 tentative budget.

“One of my key strategic financial goals since taking office in November 2012 has been to bring the town’s finances to structural balance,” he said. “The three-point plan I implemented six years ago has put an end to deficit spending, has rebuilt the town’s surpluses and has improved the town’s credit rating to a AAA with Standard & Poor’s.”

Matt Miner, town chief of operations, said it’s been more than a decade since the town had a balanced budget requiring no fund balance.

“This is really the highlight of the supervisor’s budget,” he said. “You can see that the town, prior to Supervisor Romaine’s arrival, relied heavily on the use of fund balance surplus to balance its budget and the supervisor has been very aggressive and instructed both [Tamara Wright, town commissioner of finance] and myself and all of the department heads to craft budgets to bring that application of surplus down. Each year, we’ve been doing that and to the supervisor’s credit, it is now at zero in all six major funds, something that really hasn’t been achieved.”

The supervisor touted a rededication to growing non-property tax sources of revenue, including a “huge rally” in mortgage tax receipts in recent years. The 2017 operating budget was boosted by an increase in mortgage tax revenue also not seen in nearly a decade, though 2018 estimates are falling slightly short of that performance, according to Romaine. Still, he indicated there are positive signs for the town’s housing market. In 2013, more than 62 percent of the operating budget was funded by property taxes, according to him, compared to an estimated 58.7 percent in the tentative ’19 budget.

“We have 41 grants that we have been successful in receiving, and we have another 25 in the hopper,” Romaine said, of other revenue streams for the town. “So by attracting and aggressively going after grant money, we’ve been able to cut down on our dependence on property tax.”

The town’s proposed budget includes about $87 million in capital projects for 2019. About $58 million of those funds will be set aside for new capital projects with the remainder going to projects started in prior years. Brookhaven also received a $20 million grant as the winner of New York State’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition.  

A public hearing on the budget is slated for Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall with expected adoption to take place Nov. 20.

The smell of zeppoles and sound of laughter could be heard for miles. The Mount Sinai Heritage Trust hosted its annual Fall Into Fun Carnival this past weekend at Heritage Park, featuring rides, food and good times.

A man allegedly driving while intoxicated struck several Boy Scouts from a Shoreham-based troop Sunday while they were walking on David Terry Road in Manorville, killing one, according to police.

Thomas Murphy. Photo from SCPD

Thomas Murphy was driving a 2016 Mercedes southbound on David Terry Road at approximately 1:55 p.m. Sept. 30 when his vehicle struck a group of Boys Scouts who were walking northbound on the shoulder of the roadway. Five scouts, from Troop 161 of the Boys Scouts of America, ranging in age from 12 to 16, were struck by the vehicle. One of the scouts was transported via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital and the other four were transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

Andrew McMorris, 12, of Wading River, died from his injuries sustained during the incident, according to police Oct. 1. He was initially transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in critical condition, then was ultimately transported via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital. Thomas Lane, 15, of Shoreham, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where he is being treated for serious injuries. Denis Lane, 16, Shoreham, Kaden Lynch, 15, of Calverton, and Matthew Yakaboski, 15, of Calverton, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Murphy, 59, of Holbrook, was charged with driving while intoxicated. He will be held overnight at the 7th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Oct. 1.

Detectives are asking anyone who may have witnessed this incident to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220 TIPS. Attorney information for Murphy was not immediately available.

A popular Sound Beach event for a good cause took place Sept. 22, but this year it was renamed to honor a late friend and participant.

For the sixth time, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its pet adopt-a-thon in the parking lot of the Hartlin Inn on New York Avenue, during which representatives from local animal groups and shelters set up shop and push for the adoption of dogs, cats and more looking for permanent homes. During adopt-a-thons past, Sound Beach father-daughter duo Sal and Gina Mingoia provided the musical accompaniment to the event, singing and playing instruments throughout the day. This year, Gina had to perform without her dad, who died after a battle with cancer in 2017. This year and going forward, the event will be known as The Sal Mingoia Pet Adopt-A-Thon.

“Sal loved animals, and everybody loved Sal,” said Bea Ruberto, Sound Beach Civic Association president and organizer of the event. “So we checked with the family to see if it was OK with them. They said great, they loved it, so that’s why we changed the name. And that’s what it’s going to be named from now on.”

Sal Mingoia was described as a gentle, caring soul by civic association member and Sound Beach resident Ernestine Franco.

“Although he’s gone, Sal’s kindness and generosity are not forgotten,” she said.

The event always leads to the adoption of quite a few animals, according to Ruberto, who said this year four cats, three dogs and a guinea pig were adopted, though applications are pending for the adoption of eight more cats and six other dogs. More than $1,100 was raised through donations and auction items, as well as from the sale of digital pet caricatures done on-site at the event by 19-year-old Sound Beach resident Brianna Florio using a drawing tablet. Funds raised were distributed to the animal organizations in attendance.

Ruberto credited volunteers and civic members for helping to set up and execute the event and gave special thanks to Boy Scout Troop 244 for helping to set up. A local band called Random Notes even showed up unexpectedly and offered to take turns with Gina providing music for the event, Ruberto said.

“Over the time that I’ve been involved with this event, I’ve never had to really go looking for people to step up and help — they just show up and offer their time and talent,” Ruberto said.

Library director open to hosting it again, though no plans currently in place to do so

Drag Queen Story Hour takes place at Port Jefferson Free Library Sept. 22. Photo by Amanda Schleisner

A Port Jefferson Free Library event aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity achieved its goal for some but also inspired the opposite reaction from others.

The library hosted an event entitled Drag Queen Story Hour Sept. 22, during which a drag queen trained by children’s librarians reads picture books, sings songs, and leads children ages three to eight in craft activities. The event took place at the PJFL and about 100 people attended, according to library Director Tom Donlon. The organization, Drag Queen Story Hour, has chapters across the United States and conducts the events in an effort to “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real,” according to its website.

I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

— Kyleen Burke

The library promoted the event on its online calendar as “a program that raises awareness of gender diversity, promotes self-acceptance, and builds empathy through an enjoyable literary experience.” During the event in Port Jeff Sept. 22, several protestors stood outside the library holding signs and verbalizing their opposition to exposing children to the message promoted by the event.

Donlon said the board of trustees got the idea from a patron of the library who said they had heard of the events taking place elsewhere.

“We liked it because the program was just about diversity,” he said. Donlon added the goal was not to get into gender or sexuality. He said in the lead up to the event he received many calls both in favor and against, though the program filled up completely in just five days.

“We kind of knew that people were going to be upset,” he said. “I was a little dismayed people saw it as an indoctrination.”

Donlon added he was disappointed people who elected to protest or oppose the event “co-opted” it to promote their own agenda. The social media buzz leading up to the event and the subsequent protests likely led to what Donlon and board President John Grossman each characterized as an unusually large turnout for its monthly public board meeting at the library Sept. 24, during which several community members spoke in favor of and against the program.

“I don’t know a lot about living in this community as an adult,” said Kyleen Burke, a 2008 graduate of Port Jeff schools who said she has just recently moved back to the community as an adult. “I was thrilled to learn about this program because going to school in Port Jeff schools, it was a really small district, and I watched kids who diverted from the norm in any way get bullied and not feel represented here unfortunately, even though this is, in large part a really loving, really beautiful place to grow up. So embracing this opportunity totally blew my mind of what this community could be, and represents just a tremendous opportunity to continue to embrace every single kid, and to make this a welcoming space despite what the norms might be. So thank you for wading into this water and for standing up for unpopular people. I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

Others stressed their concerns about the event didn’t come from a place of hate or discrimination.

“I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

— Ruben Cruzate

Ruben Cruzate, who said he participated in the protests, said his picture and contact information had been circulated on social media, leading to harassment and attacks, he said.

“The reason I’m here is because I’ve never experienced such hate and intolerance,” he said, attributing his experience following the protests to members of the LGBTQ+ community. “I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

Children’s librarian Margaret Smith said during the meeting the event was a “joyful” occasion featuring sing-alongs and stories about inclusion.

“Thank you for your courage and for sticking with this program that was proposed, investigated and was planned,” she said.

Smith and Donlon each said the library plans to hold “story hour” events with people from other walks of life on a monthly basis going forward. While no date has been set, Donlon said the library is open to hosting Drag Queen Story Hour again if the community is interested.

This post was updated Sept. 25 to remove mention of Ruben Cruzate as a resident of Port Jeff. This post was updated Sept. 26 to remove a quote from Theresa Bendel at her request.

Port Jefferson's stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

An idea decades in the making could take a major step forward by the end of 2018.

It still may be years before electrification happens, if it ever happens at all, but momentum is building toward funding being secured for a study determining the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road on the Port Jefferson line from Huntington to the stations east by the end of this year.

Mitchell Pally, the Suffolk County representative on the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board of trustees, said the LIRR has already appropriated funds to support the study, adding state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has also succeeded in appropriating state funds toward the plan.

“The support of the communities involved is essential to making this work,” Pally said in an interview. “The railroad is very supportive.”

Community support for exploring the possibility of electrifying the line, which currently allows trains to run on diesel fuel east of Huntington, has been building in recent years, although the idea has been on the radar for North Shore residents at least as far back as the 1980s.

Anthony Figliola, an East Setauket resident, former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities, has been leading a community coalition advocating for a feasibility study for about the last year, he said. The group, which Figliola said has been informally calling itself the North Shore Business Alliance, has been lobbying elected officials and community organizations like civic associations and chambers of commerce throughout the relevant territories in an effort to build public support for and attention on the idea. Figliola said he hopes the funding for a study will be in place by the end of the year. The study is expected to cost approximately $12 million, he said.

“It’s ripe, the community wants it,” Figliola said. “We’re very grateful for all that Mitch is doing to advocate on behalf of this.”

Figliola identified Charlie Lefkowitz, vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and real estate developer, as one of the other community members leading the charge for electrification.

“It’s a long time coming,” Lefkowitz said of progress on the feasibility study. “It was a collaborative effort on many fronts. The direct beneficiaries of it will be the communities.”

The study would examine how much faster trains on the North Shore line would reach Penn Station in Manhattan with electrification from Port Jeff, select a new rail yard to house the electric trains among other logistical particulars. Currently, the LIRR rail yard is off Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson, though several officials have indicated electrification would require the relocation of that yard and the Port Jeff train station. The former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries has been suggested as a possible new rail yard and train station.

On April 4 Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to the New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015. Figliola said his coalition had lobbied for the support of the three supervisors.

“I think it has legs,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said of electrification. “It’s such a good idea that I think it should happen.”

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