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Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Caithness Long Island approaches town about building new 600-megawatt plant

Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski 

Another player has emerged to complicate the legal battle with Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village in one corner and the Long Island Power Authority in the other.

Representatives from Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer with a Yaphank plant, went before Brookhaven’s board June 26 requesting permission to construct a 600-megawatt plant, which would be called Caithness Long Island II. This is not the first time, as the power company originally approached the town with plans for a power station in 2014.

“Caithness is seeking an amendment to the covenant and restrictions so it can utilize cleaner, more efficient equipment that recently became available,” said Michael Murphy during the June 26 hearing, an attorney representing Caithness.

“The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources.”

— Michael Murphy

In 2014, Caithness Energy had plans approved by the Brookhaven Town to construct a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank powered by two gas-powered turbines and a steam generator. Both Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) voted against the 2014 proposal, though it passed 5-2.

The project has been on hold ever since as energy demands on Long Island are projected to decrease, according to recent annual reports from PSEG Long Island. Then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated in August 2016 that 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs come from renewable energy sources by the year 2030.

The 600-megawatt power plant would be constructed on 81 acres of vacant land zoned for the use based on the 2014 approval. The proposal has several differences from the 2014 plans in addition to the reduced energy output including a reduction from two exhaust stacks to one; use of newer, more efficient technology; and a reduction from two steam turbines to one.

“It creates a platform for renewable energy,” Murphy said. “The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources. So, this facility will not compete, in essence, with solar and wind.”

The request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on its 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 approved, the Caithness II plant would theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Caithness President Ross Ain, 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, with a 350-megawatt natural gas fire power generating facility operating in Yaphank since 2009.

The 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.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community.”

— Margot Garant

Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down. Garant has taken to social media to urge Port Jeff residents to submit written comments to the town on the proposal.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright, referencing the impending LIPA settlement. “But at the end of these reductions, our community would still be left with an operating power plant which could produce a significant amount in tax revenues.”

The village mayor painted a dark picture for Port Jeff should the proposal earn board approval.

“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,” she said.

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 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.”

Jack Kreiger, a spokesperson for the town, said he did not know when the board would vote on the proposal.

Emergency personnel from Suffolk County Police Department investigate a report of a suspicious package — an unattended backpack — in Port Jeff Village July 8. Photo by Alyssa Cutler

A suspicious package turned a sunny Sunday in the village into an alarming afternoon.

At about 11 a.m. July 8, Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct officers and Emergency Service Section officers responded to a 911 call regarding a backpack left unattended on Arden Place west of East Main Street in Port Jefferson Village, according to police.

At about noon, village Mayor Margot Garant posted on Facebook that Arden Place, Thompson Street and East Main Street were temporarily closed while bomb squad members investigated a suspicious package.

“Please stay clear of the area and be patient while Suffolk does their job,” she wrote.

At about 2 p.m., she posted again, letting residents and visitors know the situation had been resolved and the area was back open for business.

“Go about your business Port Jefferson and thank you Suffolk County bomb squad, SCPD and our Code Enforcement Bureau,” she said.

SCPD said it was determined the backpack contained baby clothes.

Randall, Merwin and Marten Woodard will be laid to rest in Port Jefferson July 14. Photo from the Woodard family

By Alex Petroski

Three Port Jefferson natives and U.S. Navy veterans from World War II will be laid to rest in Port Jeff next week, and their families have extended an invitation to the community to share memories.

The Woodard boys — Randall, Merwin and Marten — will be buried at the Randall family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jefferson July 14 at 11:30am.

They were raised in Port Jefferson by loving parents, Madeline and Grover Woodard, and they will be honored by all three families.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket.

Joe Rezvani plans to close 8 Futons after nearly three decades in the community. Photo by Alex Petroski

The furniture store on the corner of Sheep Pasture Road and Main Street in upper Port Jefferson turned its owner’s American Dream into reality, but after 26 years in business, 8 Futons is preparing to close its doors.

Joseph Rezvani, a Port Jeff resident who immigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1960s when he was 18 got his start in the futon business in 1989, back then operating out of the garage of his home, before opening his store in Port Jeff in 1992. He owns the building that houses 8 Futons and said he’s not sure yet if he’ll rent it to a new tenant or if his wife would move her nail salon to the location. He attributed his decision to close to a number of factors — a desire to spend more time with his grandchildren, a decline in business precipitated by more online and chain store options and an ever-growing number of empty storefronts in 8 Futons’ direct vicinity.

“Doing business with Joe is like doing business with your best friend. He’s interested in what I need and what I want.”

— Donna Karol

The store was known for carrying unusual, unique items like furniture and decorative pieces in specific styles, in addition to futon mattresses and frames. The business was also known for Rezvani’s willingness to find and order specific items if they weren’t in the store, helping customers replace damaged items, assisting with assembling pieces and adding a hands-on, personal sales touch from him and his staff. He told TBR News Media in a 2006 interview he always had an interest in design and started making his own frames for the futons before opening the store and offering a wider array of furniture and other home furnishing accessories.

“I have a bond with my customers — I don’t mind spending the time with them,” Rezvani said, adding that interacting regularly with his loyal customers is easily what he will miss most about his business.

Donna Karol, a Port Jeff resident shopping for a new shelfing unit on the afternoon of June 29, said she’d moved around the area several times over the years, and each time she paid Rezvani a visit to help furnish her new home.

“Doing business with Joe is like doing business with your best friend,” Karol said. “He’s interested in what I need and what I want.”

She said she first bought furniture from Rezvani 25 years ago and has even sent furniture with her kids when they went away to college over the years.

“When I saw the sign go up, I was devastated,” she said of her reaction to hearing 8 Futons was closing. “It’s the service, him personally.”

“I have a bond with my customers — I don’t mind spending the time with them.”

— Joe Rezvani

Rezvani said at times during his years uptown he felt neglected by Port Jefferson Village, though he added he appreciates the hard work Mayor Margot Garant and her team do in trying to foster a beneficial environment for businesses. The village is in the process of implementing long-planned revitalization efforts for the uptown business district, expected to get underway in the coming months.

“I understand the mayor is doing a hell of a job, but there is a little bit more that can be done,” he said. “I’ve been struggling for the last two years to stay in business. I just didn’t want to be another statistic, another empty store.”

He said he would like to see some more incentives for landlords to be able to reduce rents imposed on tenants. Rezvani said he is thinking about continuing his business without occupying the physical space on Main Street, offering customers the opportunity to buy inventory online, but only making shipping available locally in an effort to maintain his community-oriented feel.

As an immigrant, Rezvani said he’s sometimes troubled by the political rhetoric surrounding the immigration discussion.

“There’s a lot of people — the majority — that are just looking for a better opportunity, and that makes the country better,” he said. He added that he feels his desire to seek his American Dream paid off.

Port Jefferson Village was splashed red, white and blue for its annual 4th of July Parade, hosted by the Port Jefferson Fire Department. Marchers participated from neighboring fire departments and local businesses, as well as elected officials and many other community groups. Thousands gathered on Main Street to celebrate the Independence Day pomp and circumstance.

It looked like special effects from a movie scene playing out on the harbor.

At about 1 p.m. Sunday, July 1, a 33-foot Sea Ray Sundancer boat caught fire in Port Jefferson Harbor near the Danfords Hotel & Marina dock, according to police. The cause of the fire is under investigation by Arson Squad detectives, police said. Four Connecticut natives were onboard the boat when it burst into flames — Charles Schwartz, 59, who owned the boat; Ainsley Lothrop, 30; David Lamontagne, 47; and Robert Corbi, 31.

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Michael Guerrisi was off-duty at the time and onboard his own personal boat nearby, police said. The four occupants of the boat jumped into the water to escape the burning vessel, according to the Port Jefferson Fire Department Chief Brennan Holmes’ office, and Guerrisi aided in pulling the boaters from the water to safety onto his boat.

“Kudos to Port Jeff Fire Department — responded immediately to contain the fire — fantastic job,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant posted on Facebook, thanking the neighboring fire departments for lending a hand. First responders from Setauket, Terryville and Mount Sinai fire departments arrived at the scene of the incident to help extinguish the flames.

“Thank you to Port Jefferson EMS for providing rehab to the firefighters working on scene as well as emergency medical care to the vessel’s occupants,” a message on PJFD’s Facebook page read.

The occupants of the boat were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to SCPD.

Jill Nees-Russell during a debate for village board. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson is a tight-knit community with a small-town feel, which is probably at the top of the list of reasons why people love it. A byproduct of that fact is that when a community member is lost, the impact reverberates quickly and intensely. When the person is also widely beloved, the reverberations can feel seismic.

“She was the epitome of beauty, inside and out, loved by all who had the pleasure of knowing her and she touched us all with her grace, her smile, her spirit and her optimism and pure joy for life.”

— Margot Garant

That’s what Port Jefferson Village is going through right now with the loss of Jill Nees-Russell. The village’s longtime public relations representative and general Swiss Army knife died June 18. She left behind her husband Fred and kids Henry and Lily.

Jill was as kind and generous of a person as I’ve ever met. Two years ago this week, I was promoted at TBR News Media to the editor of The Port Times Record. My predecessor, Elana Glowatz, had covered Port Jeff for nearly a decade, establishing relationships and getting a feel for the ins and outs of the community to a degree that left me feeling overwhelmed and intimidated to say the least. How could I possibly maintain the
connections she’d taken painstaking hours, days, weeks and years to craft — let alone forming new ones on top of that?

I wasn’t on the job for more than a day or two before I was alerted that I had a call from Jill.

She reached out to introduce herself and invite me to join her for breakfast and coffee that week at Local’s Café. Somehow she must have sensed my head spinning a few miles down Route 25A at our Setauket office, and was immediately looking to offer a helping hand. She sat with me for more than an hour sharing names, contacts, future programs and events — and even insisted that I try the avocado toast she had ordered. I returned to work from that meeting with a fresh outlook on my new position. I felt like a skydiver who had just been gifted a parachute. Throughout the time that our career paths intersected, I always knew I could count on her for support, be it photos from an event I wasn’t able to attend or suggestions for who might be best suited to answer my questions.

Jill’s time in Port Jeff was so far-reaching that there are likely people who never met her that were still impacted by her talents and dedication. She was one of the driving forces behind so many of the most popular events the village has to offer, putting in hours of work to make the Charles Dickens Festival and Heritage Weekend seminal occasions.

Jill Nees-Russell during a past Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson. Photo from PJV

Testimonials about her impact on people who did know her have flooded social media in the days since her passing.

“We here in the Village of Port Jefferson were so very lucky to have worked with her, loved her and spent these last 10 years with her,” Mayor Margot Garant wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post. “Jill loved life and her family so much. She was the epitome of beauty, inside and out, loved by all who had the pleasure of knowing her and she touched us all with her grace, her smile, her spirit and her optimism and pure joy for life. I will miss her more than words can ever express and I know I speak for so, so many when I say we were so truly blessed to love her and have her call Port Jefferson her home.”

Many took to a Facebook group comprised of village residents past and present to also bid Jill farewell.

“Jill Nees-Russell loved our village and bled purple,” Brenda Eimers Batter wrote. “She will absolutely be missed.”

“It’s people like her that make our village the beautiful community it is and the community it will always be,” Steven Muñoz said. “She will never be forgotten. Her passion and love for Port Jeff will live on forever.”

Rest in peace Jill, and thank you for your unwavering kindness. The way you treated people should be an example to all.

Perry Gershon thanks volunteers and supporters at his Setauket office June 26 after securing the Democratic Party nomination for Congress in New York’s 1st District. Photo by Alex Petroski

The stage is finally set for what will likely be a fierce campaign leading up to the November midterm elections.

Perry Gershon, a largely self-funded first-time candidate for political office, who spent years as a commercial mortgage lender and a small business owner, defeated four other Democrats aiming to take down incumbent 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) June 26.

Kate Browning speaks to supporters as she waits for election results to come in June 26 in Patchogue. Photo by Rita J. Egan

More than 20,300 1st District voters turned out to vote in the primary, which was open to only those registered as members of the party, as per New York State law. Gershon secured 7,226 votes, beating former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, his closest competitor, by about 1,000 votes. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another former legislator, finished third with 3,314 votes. In 2016, about 12,600 registered Democrats went to the polls on primary day to choose between Anna Throne-Holst and Dave Calone.

“The voters showed that we’re tired of what’s going on in Washington,” Gershon said to a room full of supporters and volunteers at his campaign headquarters in Setauket when it became clear his lead would hold up. He thanked his family and those who worked to help him win the nomination, as well as the other four candidates, who he said ran a clean race with an eye on unifying post-primary all along. “Our elected leaders are not responsive to what people are looking for. People want a new breed, and that’s what I stand for.”

Zeldin, who has been quiet about his potential challengers, wasted no time getting the campaign started on Twitter once Gershon became the presumed victor.

“Park Ave Perry may have bought himself the Democratic Party nomination in NY-1, but our Congressional seat is not for sale,” the incumbent wrote. “NY-1 isn’t electing a far left, Pelosi-loving, NYC Democrat who registered in our district very recently just to run for Congress.”

In an interview after his win, Gershon said he intends to make his campaign about health care, the environment and creating high-wage jobs in the 1st District.

Perry Gershon supporters anxiously await election results at his campaign headquarters in Setauket June 26. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I’m really excited, I feel like people believed in me and I’m so happy for it,” he said.

Many of those believers were people who readily admitted they’d never gotten much involved in politics in the past.

“I’ve seen a lot of people, like at my school, very few people who cared about politics beforehand but after the March for Our Lives, after the result of the Never Again movement, and even after what’s happening at the border right now, far more young people are getting involved,” said Scott Egnor, a Ward Melville High School student who helped organize the youth-led local gun control protests in March. He cited Gershon’s desire to ban assault-style weapons and strengthen background checks as the driving force behind his motivation to volunteer for his campaign. “Even at the office, he still wears his March for Our Lives hat, and I think that spoke to me a lot.”

Browning said in an interview from her watch party in Patchogue she’s not sure what her next move might be in politics, but vowed to support Gershon’s efforts to flip the seat in November.

“It’s about taking out Lee Zeldin, and we all need to regroup and support [Gershon],” she said.

All five candidates told TBR News Media in May they intended to support the primary winner.

Reporting contributed by Rita J. Egan.

Months of hard work by volunteers from the Port Jefferson community finally came to fruition June 25. Earl L. Vandermeulen’s annual senior prom, featuring a secret theme selected by the Senior Prom Committee — made up of parents and others who donate their time to pulling together the event — and arrivals to a red carpet in out-of-the-ordinary rides, went off Monday night in front of hundreds from the school and surrounding community.

This year, the high school entrance, first floor hallways, bathrooms and gymnasium were decorated in a Neverland theme, an ode to the Disney classic “Peter Pan.”

Parents of members of the senior class meet throughout the school year to vote and settle on a theme, plan the theme’s implementation, and then spend the frantic weekend between graduation Friday night and prom Monday night constructing the decorations.

“There’s a lot of people, like myself, whose kids graduated quite a while ago, who showed up and worked during the week at night or on the weekend,” said John Poulianos, a member of the committee who has been pitching in to help with the event since 1999. “I think people just feel it’s such a worthwhile event that they’re willing to give their time. It is so unique.”

Though the event was the byproduct of hard work by dozens of individuals, community members were sure to recognize the efforts of Port Jeff graduate Jon Famularo on social media.

“Your dedication makes it possible to accomplish more and deliver rich and theatrical looks for the prom,” Paul Braille wrote on Facebook.

Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center speaks during an interfaith prayer vigil June 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

Normally various religious leaders getting together at the same place and time sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station June 24 was far from a laughing matter.

United States immigration policy, specifically the recently instituted “zero tolerance policy” by President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which has resulted in the detention of several thousands of people and the separation of families attempting to cross the border together, was the topic of discussion during an interfaith vigil of prayer and unity at the Synagogue Sunday.

Reverend Richard Visconti of Stony Brook Community Church performs “Give Peace a Chance” with help from Haven Sellers at an interfaith prayer vigil regarding United States immigration policy June 24. Video by Alex Petroski

Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC, Reverend Richard Visconti of Caroline Church and Cemetery in East Setauket, Reverend Chuck Van Houten of Stony Brook Community Church, Irma Solis of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, Yousuf Sayed of the Islamic Association of Long Island, Rabbi Steven Moss of B’nai Israel Reform Temple and Reverend Kate Jones Calone of Setauket Presbyterian Church were among the speakers collectively denouncing the policy at the event.

“The goal is to inspire our community to advocate for national border and immigration policies guided by a basic sense of human dignity and worth for all people involved,” a press release announcing the event said. “America should be a country leading the world in compassion and human rights. In this moment, where our country falls short of that, the religious community continues to lead with morals and hope that our followers will stand together for these families.”

Moss, who also serves as chairperson for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said the leaders of the represented faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — were brought to the event through the foundations of religious traditions.

“We must stand firm, together — stand tall against these laws and rules, orders and directives that fail to protect the poor, the needy, the homeless, the immigrant — both legal and illegal — and their children from being mistreated, demonized, dehumanized and brutalized,” Moss said. “A government that fails to protect all people is not a government at all.”

Jones Calone, in addressing the dozens gathered at NSJC, likened what she described as the rising tensions brought about by the political otherization of migrants seeking refuge at American borders to sitting in a tub of water gradually getting hotter, adding it’s finally reached a boiling point.

It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

— Kate Jones Calone

“This is, appropriately, a confession, because if it takes the horror of hearing warehoused children crying to make many Christians uncomfortable with what is usual, then it has taken too long,” she said, turning to her bathtub comparison, and saying the temperature has continued to rise every time the nation is silently complicit with the demonization of certain religions, with limits or bans on certain people from certain places or with violence against people not in power. “’How awful,’ we say — a response I’ve said, heard, felt many times over the past weeks to stories that seem like bad dreams trickling out slowly at first and then printed in line after line, video segment after video segment. It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

Benson and the leaders, many of whom are members of the Three Village Clergy Council, indicated on a pamphlet handed out at the event that there are ways to help, directing those in attendance to familiesbelong.org, hias.org/take-action among others. He said the group is also planning on holding future events.

Trump signed an executive order last week designed to end family separations as the national attention to the story reached a critical mass, though as of press time around 500 of 2,300 separated parents and children detained apart at the U.S.-Mexico border have since been reunited. The policy has been both denounced by members of the Trump administration as a holdover Obama-era procedure and publicly cited as a new strategy intentionally instituted to deter asylum seekers from trying to come to America.

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