Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) will be collecting school supplies at her office, located at 306 Main St. in Port Jefferson, the Port Jefferson Free Library, Comsewogue Public Library and Emma S. Clark Memorial Library through Aug. 14.

Coordinators of the drive are looking for notebooks, loose leaf paper, three-ring binders, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, calculators, rulers, backpacks, scissors and erasers.

Supplies will be distributed during the 11th annual Stand up for the Homeless event hosted by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Aug. 29.

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Town of Brookhaven is harnessing the power of the sun.

Tara McLaughlin, Brookhaven’s deputy commissioner of planning, announced at the July 12 board meeting the town had received the bronze designation from SolSmart, an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, which helps municipalities across the country expand solar energy options and recognizes the ones that do so. Brookhaven applied for the designation in 2017, according to McLaughlin.

“As I am a competitive person always striving to achieve more, I am confident with small changes and installation of solar panels on several town buildings, next year we will at least attain the silver award,” she said.

The deputy commissioner said the town processed about 2,000 permits for solar power installation last year and expects to process at least that many in 2018.

“The world is changing, people are realizing, why not use the sun,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

In addition, the town is planning to install solar panels at Town Hall, the Pennysaver Amphitheater and Brookhaven Calabro Airport. The Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, a government department that selects projects to provide financial assistance in the form of tax reducing agreements, announced July 9 it had accepted applications for economic incentives for the airport and Town Hall installations, pledging to provide $4.6 million in assistance.

John Cerato stands next to an overgrown median on Route 25A in Miller Place. Photo by Alex Petroski

Growth is usually a positive thing, but growth in Miller Place has become a stick in the eye to a longtime resident and elected official alike.

John Cerato, a 20-year Miller Place resident who previously lived in Rocky Point, told TBR News Media this week he has progressively seen the condition of vegetation on many of the medians on Route 25A — a New York State highway — falling into a state of disrepair as it becomes overgrown and unkempt. He said he sees it predominantly as an aesthetic issue, but also has some safety concerns related to the increasingly out-of-control shrubbery. 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) echoed much of Cerato’s observations about the medians in a June 18 letter to the editor in which she proposed removing the shrubs and weeds taking over the road dividers and replacing them with flower beds.

A median near where North Country Road and Route 25A merge in Rocky Point, which includes a sidewalk and crosswalk, is almost too overgrown to walk on.

“This will not only save money by reducing maintenance (which obviously is not being done as often as needed), but it will also provide a visually pleasing appearance as we travel along Route 25A in the 6th Legislative District,” she said. 

In the letter, Anker said she has facilitated a partnership between the New York State Department of Transportation and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office through the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program to provide some maintenance on the medians recently, but even that hasn’t quite been enough.

“We recently heard back from the [NYSDOT] regional director, Joe Brown, that later this month they will begin to start replacing the 12 overgrown medians on Route 25A with a blue lyme grass similar to what has been successfully installed on Route 112,” said Anker’s Legislative Aide Robyn Fellrath-Maresca in an email July 19. “The grass is easier to maintain and minimizes weed growth. Legislator Anker appreciates the response and hopes that the change will improve the visual landscape of the community.”

Fellrath-Maresca added that Anker’s office had received numerous complaints about the medians in recent months from constituents.

Stephen Canzoneri, public information officer for the regional DOT office that covers Suffolk County, shared an update on the matter via email July 25.

“NYSDOT is improving the medians along Route 25A,” he said. “The current landscaping will be removed in the coming weeks and replaced with blue lyme grass, the same grass which is already in place along the renovated portions of Route 112. DOT will continue to work with residents and local elected officials to beautify our roadways.”

Cerato pointed to a particularly troublesome area on Route 25A in Rocky Point, where it merges with North Country Road on its north side. A walkway between the two roads is overgrown to the point that those looking to cross over Route 25A from north to south would have to step onto North Country Road or fight through the shoulder-high vegetation. Cerato said he has seen cases when parking at North Shore Little League baseball fields south of Route 25A is full, so people who park across North Country Road and walk to the fields are forced into unsafe situations.

“To have to sort of put up with this is ridiculous I think,” he said.

The Miller Place resident said he is also concerned that if an accident occurs on one side of the road and causes the cars to jump the median into oncoming traffic, those motorists would have no time to react.

“There should be some visibility,” he said. “You’re not going to have any idea they’re coming.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board have taken steps that would allow the construction of a power plant in Yaphank, complicating the status of Port Jefferson's LIPA-run plant. File photos by Alex Petroski

It’s one step forward, two steps back for Caithness Energy, LLC in Brookhaven.

After securing a win in its efforts to advance the construction of a 600-megawatt power plant in Yaphank earlier this month, Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer informed by Brookhaven Town its special use permit for the site expired July 15.

The special use permit, initially approved in 2014,  granted Caithness permission to build a power plant on the site, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. It was granted for two years and  one-year extensions were approved twice, which is the limit under town law.

“We’re looking into it, but believe it has no bearing and we look forward to the next steps before the Planning Board,” Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement.

The possibility that the permit might have expired was first raised by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) during a July 12 meeting. She abstained from voting on a motion to lift a restrictive covenant preventing the project’s advancement due to amendments made to Caithness’ original 2014 plans, which included a reduction to the plant’s output capacity and updated technology. The other five councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted to remove the covenant.

“They’ll have to file a new application for the special permit and we’ll certainly accept it,” Eaderesto said.
The town attorney noted Caithness still has a pending site plan application before the Planning Board, which would remain as such as a new special use permit is sought.

The proposed project has drawn opposition for its potential environmental impact from groups like Sierra Club Long Island and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

In addition, Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has spoken out against the proposal, warning the construction of a second Caithness plant could push her community “off the economic cliff.”

The village has argued a way to make good with Long Island Power Authority over its decreasingly needed plant — and LIPA’s legal contention its Port Jeff plant’s property tax value is over-assessed and has been for years — could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plan, according to the village.

Port Jeff Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA, that will likely result in a gradual decrease in revenue from the plant’s property taxes, which help fund budgets for the village, Port Jefferson School District, the fire department and the public library.

Brightview Senior Living is looking to construct a 170-unit facility on about nine acres of land off Route 112 in Port Jeff Station, illustrated above within the red box. Image from Google Maps

Another large-scale development project is in the works for the Port Jefferson Station area.

Brookhaven Town approved a zone change at its July 12 meeting paving the way for the construction of a 170-unit assisted living facility on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station on a parcel near The Meadow Club banquet hall. With plans already progressing in recent months to construct a 244-unit residential complex for senior citizens on North Bicycle Path just off of Route 112 and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allocating of $8 million in funds for a roughly 100-unit project for affordable and homeless housing on Route 112 near East Grove Street, this will be the third property set for massive development in a roughly mile and a half stretch of the state highway.

Baltimore-based developer Brightview Senior Living will be building and operating the assisted living facility, as it does with each of its 35 properties, according to Vice President of Development David Holland, who spoke during a town public hearing on the zone change July 12.

“We intend to be long-term citizens of Brookhaven and strive to be good neighbors to all who are around us,” Holland said.

The VP said the company expects the majority of its tenants to be in their 80s and 90s and in need of regular, daily care. Brightview’s current site plan for the approximately nine-acre plot of land includes a three-story building with dining venues, a theater, a pub, a library, indoor and outdoor lounges, as well as its own sewage treatment facility for the site.

The property was previously owned by area resident Jeff Kito and his family dating back to the 1950s, he said during the hearing. Kito is the former president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and lives on the nearby Canal Road currently. He said he and his brother decided to sell the property about three years ago and sought to find a developer interested in building something along the lines of what Brightview proposed. He said he has met with neighbors in the vicinity to discuss the plans.

“I think we’ll have a great facility for the community,” he said.

Kito’s former colleagues in the civic association submitted a letter to Brightview dated Jan. 25, 2017, stating the members had no objections to the project.

“We look forward to working with your firm as this assisted living facility proposal is further developed in our Port Jefferson Station Terryville Hamlet,” said the letter, signed by then-President Ed Garboski, who is now the vice president.

Current President Sal Pitti said in an email the civic association still has no objections related to the project. Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Anthony Guardino, an attorney representing the applicant at the July 12 hearing, each said they had received a single letter from a community member in opposition of the development in addition to several in favor, including one signed by all homeowners on Patty Ann Court, which is also nearby the boundaries of the parcel. The property is expected to have a significant buffer from other residential properties that will include sizable evergreen trees.

Holland indicated a demand for such a facility exists in the area, as Brightview determined about 1,500 assisted living beds are currently available in the town.

About 16 percent of Suffolk County’s population is 65 or older, according to the website www.censusreporter.org, which is slightly higher than the New York state and United States rates. Port Jefferson Station’s 80-plus population is substantially larger — about 20 percent — than that of the state and surrounding region, according to the site.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

A dispute inside a Port Jefferson Station pool hall resulted in the shooting death of a 27-year-old man July 22.

Suffolk County Police Homicide detectives are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred inside Billiards DBM, located at 1604 Main Street in Port Jefferson Station at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, according to police.

Following an altercation, Albert Luis Lopez Rodriguez was shot inside the hall, police said. Rodriguez, 27, of Selden was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

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2018 Regents exam results for Comsewogue students in problem-based learning classes versus traditional ones. Click to enlarge. Graphic by TBR News Media

“Teaching to the test” is a concept that no longer computes in Comsewogue School District.

Administration and faculty in Comsewogue, for the last two school years, have experimented with a problem-based learning curriculum for small groups of interested ninth- and 10th-graders, an alternative to the traditional educational strategy of focusing assignments and assessments toward the goal of performing well on state-mandated standardized tests at the end of the year. Now, Superintendent Joe Rella has data to back up his notorious aversion to one-size-fits-all education and assessment.

In all subjects, Comsewogue students in PBL classes passed 2018 Regents exams, scoring 65 or better, at a higher rate than those in traditional classrooms, according to data released by the district. On chemistry, geometry, algebra II, global history and English 11 exams, PBL students achieved mastery level, scoring 85 or better, at significantly higher rates than their non-PBL classmates.

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs.”

— Joe Rella

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs,” Rella said of how he interpreted the data, meaning students taught by alternative methods still displayed an aptitude on the state’s required tests.

Though Rella and the district have taken steps to try to have PBL assessments replace Regents exams, no avenue to do so has been greenlighted by the New York State Department of Education to this point for Comsewogue. Emails requesting comment on the significance of Comsewogue’s test results sent to the education department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) press office were not returned.

During the 2017-18 school year, about half of Comsewogue’s ninth- and 10th-graders, roughly 300 students, took part voluntarily in PBL classes, which emphasize hands-on learning and real-world application of concepts as assessments — similar to a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation — as opposed to the traditional “Regents model.” The students were still required by the state to take the Regents exams as all students are, and their performance has inspired the district in year three of the pilot to expand its PBL curriculum offerings on a voluntary basis for 2018-19 to its entire student body — kindergarten through 12th grade.

The superintendent said the impetus for the district to experiment with PBL started three years ago, when he and about 20 Comsewogue teachers spent a day at the New York Performance Standards Consortium in Manhattan. The organization was founded on the belief that there was a better way to assess student learning than dependence upon standardized testing, according to its website.

“In traditional settings, the teacher did most of the work, we listened, we copied notes and then we were tested on it,” Rella said. “The way the structure was, you spent a year learning stuff. At the end of the year, you took a test to see what you knew.”

In PBL classrooms, regardless of subject, Rella explained that a problem is initially presented, and students learn skills that are meant to help them practically find an answer to the problem. One group of PBL students during the 2017-18 school year decided to approach opioid addiction as a subject matter. Rella said chemistry students and English students worked on parallel tracks addressing that problem, with the science classes researching and presenting on the science behind addiction and the brain, and the English classes creating a public service announcement on the topic. The students presented and defended their findings and approach to the Suffolk County Legislature, with two students eventually being asked to join the county’s commission on substance addiction, according to Rella.

“It’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

— Joe Rella

“You have to acquire knowledge in order to solve the problem, so there is traditional teaching going on,” he said. “But right from the beginning, it’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

Rella credited District Administrator for Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Polychronakos as the driving force behind professional development and empowering district faculty to embrace the district’s new approach.

“We’ve so far created about 20 units of study districtwide that are ready to go for next year and we’ve piloted some of them and worked out some of the kinks,” Polychronakos said. “We’re going to continue to really just take the standards that we have from the state and make them into more of a project-based, or problem-based, learning type of experience for the kids.”

Hurdles remain for project, which could have environmental and economic implications

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

They’ve got the power.

Brookhaven Town voted 6-0 with one abstention in favor of lifting a restrictive covenant on an application by Caithness Energy LLC to construct a new, 600-megawatt energy generation plant in Yaphank at a July 12 meeting. When the board approved the independent power producer’s initial 2014 application, when it sought to construct a 750-megawatt facility, it imposed strict regulations aimed at preventing Caithness from making any changes to its plans, or face starting over from square one getting approvals. The power company asked town officials to lift the covenant for its present-day plans that feature newly available technology — which is what required the second vote, preceded by a June 26 public hearing.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) abstained from the July 12 vote after voting against the application in 2014, which passed 5-2. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted “no” in 2014, but approved the lifting of the restrictive covenant this time around.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright voted against Caithness’ application in 2014, and abstained from the vote to remove a restrictive covenant on the application July 12. File photo by Erika Karp

“In requiring such covenant proposed in 2015, the town board did not intend to require the applicant return for covenant amendments when technology changes or improves, or to construct a less impactful energy generating facility,” Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto read from her office’s findings on the matter. “In fact, the town board finds that in consideration of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the town, the town shall not regulate or restrict the technology that may be used by the applicant.”

Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement the company was pleased to hear the town had repealed the restriction.

“We now look forward to consideration and approval of the site plan filed with the Planning Board for what will be the region’s cleanest, most fuel-efficient, and most water-conserving power plant,” Ain said.

Cartright explained she was abstaining from the vote to repeal the restrictive covenant because she thought a vote to either approve or disapprove of Caithness’ entire application would be more appropriate. She also raised a concern about the special use permit issued to Caithness in 2014, which according to her interpretation of town law, expired July 15, 2018.

“That’s under consideration,” Eaderesto said of Cartright’s concern in a phone interview.
The town attorney said she expected the Planning Board to decide if Caithness will be required to reapply for the special use permit for the Yaphank site this week.

Don Miller, a spokesman for Caithness Energy, did not respond to a question raised by email regarding Cartright’s suggestion the company’s special use permit expired Sunday.

Caitness’ renewed request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with Long Island Power Authority over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on the decreasing energy demand. The settlement would smooth the impact of a potential substantial loss of revenue for the village, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and Port Jefferson Fire Department based on a reduced assessment of the plant. It would also prevent the village from being held liable for years of back pay should it have chosen to play out the legal battle in court and lost rather than settling the case. The village has argued a way to make good with LIPA over its decreasingly needed plant could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Ain, as of June 26 LIPA has made no commitment to purchase power from the company should a second facility be constructed in Yaphank. It does purchase power from the first Caithness plant.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff.”

— Margot Garant

The June 26 public hearing drew comments from those in favor of the proposal, many of whom being Longwood school district residents who would likely see a reduction in property taxes, similar to what Port Jeff residents enjoy currently for housing the Port Jefferson Power Station. Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down June 26.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff at the end of the proposed period of gradual reductions, while leaving us to deal with an enormous, closed, unusable industrial site which will need serious environmental remediation,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright. The mayor said she has sent a similar inquiry to the town board as was raised by Cartright regarding the life of the applicant’s special use permit, though has yet to hear back from Brookhaven.

A representative from Sierra Club Long Island, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, spoke out against Caithness II during the June 26 hearing.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempt to construct a new gas plant on Long Island, and we oppose the Caithness II proposal regardless of the technology involved,” said Shay O’Reilly, an organizer for the nonprofit. “It is absurd to argue that building more fracked gas infrastructure will allow us to meet our clean energy and pollution reduction goals.”

This post was updated July 17 to include comment from Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant.

Officer James Behrens assists Luis Ramirez back to shore after his canoe capsized in Miller Place. Photo from SCPD

The decisive and brave actions of a Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct officer likely saved a life Wednesday morning.

Officer James Behrens rescued two men after their canoe capsized in the Long Island Sound July 11 at about 600 feet off shore near Landing Road in Miller Place, according to police.

Behrens responded to a 911 call reporting men yelling for help in the Long Island Sound in Miller Place at about 9:20 a.m.. The officer arrived on the beach and grabbed a life ring from his police vehicle and a paddle board from a local residence, and then swam out to the men and offered assistance, police said.

Town of Brookhaven Bay Constable Steven Bennett arrived on a boat and assisted Behrens with pulling the first man, Edgar Guirola-Hernandez, 33, of Brentwood, out of the water. Suffolk County Marine Bureau Officers Neil Stringer and Christopher Erickson arrived aboard Marine Delta and pulled Officer Behrens and the second man, Luis Ramirez, 44, of Centereach, out of the water. The victims were wearing life jackets.

The victims were evaluated by the Miller Place Fire Department at the Cedar Beach Marina and refused further medical treatment.

Brookhaven Councilman Daniel Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Alex Petroski

Elected officials in Brookhaven Town are taking steps that could both lengthen and shorten their time in office.

The board voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 2 on the idea of instituting a three-term limit on elected positions while also extending the length of a term from two to four years at a June 26 meeting. This would limit officials to 12 years in office.

Brookhaven is currently the only town on Long Island with two-year terms for elected officials, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I’m supporting it because when you have the entire government turn over every two years it can provide for a lack of stability,” Romaine said on changing from two-year to four-year terms. “You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system. It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea. They said having to prepare to run for office every two years hinders their ability to complete and implement projects, especially pertaining to land use, which they said can take time.

“I believe there’s merit in establishing term limits and four-year terms,” Cartright said, but said she intends to keep an open mind and let residents weigh in. “It lends itself to better government.”

Specifically on limiting officials to three terms, LaValle said it should encourage fresh ideas and new faces stepping up to run, which he viewed as a positive, calling it a good combination both for government and residents.

If these changes are approved by the board, the proposal would go to a referendum vote in November giving taxpayers the opportunity to ultimately decide the idea’s fate. It could impact the town supervisor position, each of the six council seats, superintendent of highways, town clerk and receiver of taxes starting as of 2020.

“I think it will be a very interesting referendum on the ballot to see what people want,” LaValle said.

Bonner said she has changed her mind on term limits, saying she was among those who view Election Day as the inherent way to limit the term of a politician failing to serve their constituents.

“What it will essentially do is create not just good government, but better government,” Bonner said.

In January, the Town of Huntington passed similar legislation limiting all elected positions, to three terms of four years each.

“The town is going to be much better off,” Councilman Gene Cook said upon passing the legislation. He proposed the idea to Huntington’s board in June 2017. “Elected officials have an upper hand and can be there forever. Now, we’ve sort of evened the field today. It took a long time, far too long, but I’m glad it’s done.”

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