Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Most school district administrators and staff, like students and teachers, are able to take the summer to recharge and unwind. In Port Jefferson School District, Fred Koelbel, director of facilities and transportation, gets no such respite.

The overseer of all things buildings and grounds in the district was at the Sept. 17 board of education meeting to fill the board and the public in on the work done during the summer months and beyond. Some projects were completed using capital reserves while others were handled “in-house” by district employees, though virtually all were completed prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“We had the opportunity to see a lot of these improvements firsthand, and I certainly would commend the staff that worked on them, it was impressive,” board President Kathleen Brennan said.

Koelbel spoke about some of the bigger projects accomplished by his team of workers.

“The biggest project we undertook, and it actually started before the summer, was the complete renovation of the electrical distribution system in the high school,” Koelbel said.

Beginning during spring break, Hauppauge-based All Service Electric Inc. re-fed power lines through underground trenches. Previously, power lines from outdoor polls into the school were fed along overhead lines, susceptible to the elements and to trees. The job was completed during the summer.

“This did two things for us — now if our power goes out, part of the grid went out and we’re much higher priority to get restored,” Koelbel said. “Before when it was, a tree knocked down a line on our property, it was just our property was out, and the neighborhood might still be on and we might not be as high of a priority. But now we also have more reliable service because it’s underground, so it’s not affected by the trees.”

He said the task wasn’t easy for the vendor and commended the job.

“It snowed on them, it rained, the trenches filled up with water, their boots were getting stuck in the mud and the clay, but they persevered and got lines in,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier with the work they did.”

The new underground feeds will soon also house the school’s cable and phone lines, eliminating the need for any cables fed to the school overhead.

Many of the projects were simpler to complete, though not necessarily less time consuming. The high school track was torn up and resurfaced. The second phase of a multiyear roof replacement project continued. Sidewalks in front of the high school were replaced, as were crumbling bricks in the façade of the exterior of the building. The section of the high school driveway nearest to the main entrance on Barnum Avenue was repaved.

One of the more visually noticeable upgrades took place in the high school gymnasium. Koelbel said a new sound system and video board were installed, and the walls were repainted purple and white.

“It really has a flavor of ‘welcome to our house,’” he said of the refurbished gym.

In the elementary school, the floors of two classrooms were removed and replaced, as were the carpeted floors in a couple of hallways.

“It’s like a huge Petri dish, it’s not a good choice,” he said of carpeting in elementary school hallways, which was replaced with tile flooring.

Several doors to classrooms in the elementary school were replaced as part of another multiyear implementation, as many were beginning to show their age, according to Koelbel. Door locks in both school buildings were upgraded as well.

Blinds on the windows of classrooms in both buildings were replaced with rolling shades. Additional security cameras were added across district buildings, as were fire extinguishers for every classroom, and several fire alarms were also upgraded at the high school.

District Superintendent Paul Casciano and Assistant Superintendent Sean Leister each commended Koelbel and the district’s staff for completing the projects in time for the start of school.

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Teachers and students observe the new monitors installed in district buildings to depict the effect a newly installed solar energy system is having on Miller Place’s energy consumption. Photo from MPSD

Miller Place school district is trying to do its part to reduce its carbon footprint by embracing renewable energy sources.

The district announced Sept. 17 it had completed the installation of solar panels in each of its four school buildings, which are capable of supplying the district with 1.3 megawatts of solar energy, according to a district press release. The initiative was part of the district’s ongoing energy conservation plan, which was announced in 2014 as part of an energy performance contract approved by the board of education. The system was fully operational as of the start of the 2018-19 school year earlier this month. The system is expected to save the district about $240,000 annually in energy costs, which the district plans to reallocate to other expenses and capital improvements, according to the release.

“This investment is a testament to the district’s forward-thinking financial philosophy and will help reduce the community’s carbon footprint,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a statement. “This is something to be celebrated and we are incredibly excited that this initiative has now come to fruition.”

To quantify the energy and cost savings and to add an educational component to the system, the district has installed monitors in the front lobby of each building that will show the amount of energy the solar panels are producing at any given time, the release said. In addition to depicting the number of kilowatt-hours the system has generated, the monitors will also display the system’s environmental benefits — including the amount of electricity no longer needed to power the building and the amount of carbon monoxide no longer emitted into the environment.

“Implementing solar panels was part of the board of education’s long-term strategy to reduce costs, make the district’s facilities more eco-friendly and do our part to enhance the Miller Place community,” board President Johanna Testa said in a statement. “The board of education is committed to facilitating and organizing opportunities that will improve our district’s facilities and our students’ educational experiences. The solar energy system is one that we are thrilled to announce, and we look forward to experiencing the many benefits that this energy program will provide our district and our community.”

The project will cost about $5.4 million including interest over the 18-year span of the lease agreement with Johnson Controls.

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The Port Jefferson Power Station may soon be repurposed. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson is soon putting a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority in its rearview mirror, though the future of the property that houses Port Jefferson Power Station is still on the road ahead.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common LLC, a company dedicated to establishing energy partnerships and projects beneficial to its clients, was contracted by the village to study alternative future uses for the site. He presented options to the village board of trustees during a brainstorming session at a public meeting Sept. 17.

“I guess the goal is to try, to the degree possible, to make the people of Port Jefferson whole, or close to whole, assuming they lose some tax revenue,” Foxen said during his presentation.

Village Mayor Margot Garant expressed an interest for the village to formulate a plan of action for the site.

“Once we have our tax grievance settlement behind us, or we know that we’re at kind of a pause, the next question is ‘Now what?’” she said. “We want to advocate for a repurposing of the site to keep us viable on the grid.”

The village is among the municipalities preparing to imminently announce settlement terms with LIPA to resolve near-decade-long litigation regarding the property tax assessment of the plant, which the utility has argued is too high based on decreasing energy demand. Port Jeff has advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its baseload plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

By 2027, the power purchase agreement between LIPA and National Grid expires, and to resolve the tax certiorari challenges, LIPA negotiated with the village a nine-year “glide path” for tax revenue reductions to coincide with the agreement expiration, according to village attorney Brian Egan. The glide path includes gradual percentage reductions in assessed valuation on the property, deeming baseload repowering an unlikely future outcome. In addition, Caithness Energy LLC’s 2014 plans to construct a new 600-megawatt plant in Yaphank were revived temporarily by Town of Brookhaven’s town board this past summer, though the expiration of the company’s special-use permit for the site has put the plans back in doubt. If constructed, the Yaphank plant would further cloud the future of the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen admitted the options he brought ready to present during the meeting were dependent on Caithness II never getting off the ground, an outcome that is very much in doubt. The options also consider New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) stated goal from 2016 that 50 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2030.

The consultant suggested turning the site into a 200- to 300-megawatt plant powered by peaking units or smaller energy generation systems capable of firing up only in times of high demand, as its best option. The units operate using gas or liquid fuel, though they are viewed as efficient supplements to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which can’t handle demand on their own.

“I think it does help support renewables,” Foxen said of peaking unit plants, adding that financing the work needed to repurpose the site in this way would be hard to establish without a new power purchasing agreement with LIPA. Village officials are set to meet Sept. 20 with representatives from private Finnish company Wartsila to discuss the feasibility of installing peaking unit technology at the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen’s other brainstormed options included establishing the village as a municipal electrical utility, meaning it would assume control of energy distribution from the plant to customers to power homes, though he called the option costly and time consuming; and taking over energy distribution and limiting it to private customers at a reduced rate for businesses in specific industries that have high-energy demand, like data storage centers, for example, which could even be housed on the vacant site.

“It would be kind of an interesting magnet for a data center or somebody like that — saving money on energy might be a draw,” Foxen said.

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Wyandanch traveled to Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Sept. 15 and defeated Port Jefferson on the football field 26-23. The Royals have opened the young season with two straight losses. They’ll look to get in the win column Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. at Mount Sinai.

The Kings Park Kingsmen varsity football team traveled to Miller Place Sept. 14 and defeated the Panthers 24-6. Kings Park moved to 2-0 this season as Miller Place dropped its second straight to start the 2018 season. The Kingsmen will be back in action at 6 p.m. Sept. 21 when they host Half Hollow Hills West. Miller Place will have its next opportunity to get into the win column Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at West Babylon.

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

After a Republican primary characterized by a challenger’s legal battle, the status quo prevailed in New York’s 2nd state Assembly District Sept. 13.

Two-term incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) defeated challenger Mike Yacubich, a Shoreham resident and chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, to earn a spot on the general election ballot in November. Palumbo secured more than 80 percent of the vote, with 2,740 registered Republicans in the district casting their ballots for the incumbent to just 641 for the challenger.

“Thank you to all of the friends, supporters, staff, volunteers and especially family who sacrificed the summer to get this done,” Palumbo said in a post on his campaign Facebook page. He did not respond to a request for comment sent to his campaign email. “I’m humbled by the tremendous turnout and the results last night are a reflection of your hard work and support. It’s an honor to serve you and we are on to the November general election.”

Yacubich’s effort to challenge Palumbo wasn’t without a dose of intrigue. Judges from the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in his favor Aug. 24 allowing his name to appear on the Sept. 13 ballot following challenges to his petition signatures raised by three citizen objectors from the district concerned two Mike Yacubichs were registered to vote at the same Shoreham address — both the candidate and his 25-year-old son.

The objectors argued that since the father and son are registered to vote at the same address, those who signed the petition approving the elder Yacubich as a political candidate couldn’t have distinguished between he and his son, who also goes by Mike. The argument was heard by the Republican and Democratic commissioners of the Suffolk County Board of Elections — Nick LaLota and Anita Katz, respectively — who brought the case to the Suffolk County Supreme Court. The lower court initially ruled against Yacubich, who then appealed and won to restore his name to the ballot. The appeals court judges ruled the board of elections “exceeded its authority,” in disallowing Yacubich’s signatures, finding no proof of any intention to confuse voters.

“We fought hard and put a lot of time and effort into an election process that clearly does not welcome outsiders,” Yacubich wrote in a Facebook post. “I can only hope we shed some light on an election system that could certainly use some changes, and I hope that some good will come from us expressing our frustrations with our elected officials.”

Palumbo, who won a special election in 2013 to assume the seat he has held for two official terms following campaign victories in 2014 and 2016, will now turn his attention to Democrat Rona Smith, who he will meet in the Nov. 6 general election. Smith is a Southold resident who currently serves as chair of Southold’s Housing Advisory Commission, sits on the town’s Economic Development Committee, and is vice chair of the Southold Local Development Corporation.

“Now we move forward with real issues that are important to constituents,” Smith said in a phone interview following the primary. “It’s about coming out and saying what you believe in, what you stand for and if that connects to the constituents.”

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The annual racing of the dragons took place off the shores of Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park under sunny skies Sept. 15.

For the fifth time, Port Jefferson Harbor was the scene and The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce played host for Port Jeff’s Dragon Boat Race Festival. The day-long festival features 34 teams competing in heats with dragon boats provided by High Five Dragon Boat Co., numerous performances including the famous Lion Dance, Taiko and Korean Drum performances, martial arts demonstrations and Asian singing and instrumentals. New this year was a special Ribbon Dragon Dance and musicians playing the traditional Japanese stringed instruments, the Shamisen and Koto.

The event also offers food, children’s activities, displays set up by various vendors and much more.

The festival is the brainchild of Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, who attended a dragon boat race festival in Cape May, New Jersey, a few years ago.

Candidates to meet again on the ballot in November

Theresa Whelan and Tara Scully discuss their Democratic primary race, which takes place Sept. 13, during an exclusive interview at TBR News Media in Setauket Sept. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

Their first race is in the books, but the more important one is yet to come.

Family Court Judge Theresa Whelan defeated attorney Tara Scully in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 to secure a spot on the November ballot in the race to preside over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court. Whelan received nearly 65 percent of the vote, besting Scully 38,674 to 21,040 votes.

“Last night was a great victory for Democrats,” Whelan said in a statement Sept. 14. “I want to thank the voters of Suffolk County and Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer for having confidence in me and my credentials. I’m looking forward to presenting my 10 years of judicial experience and 30 years of courtroom experience to the voters in November.”

“Last night was a great victory for Democrats.”

— Theresa Whelan

A spokesperson for Scully’s campaign characterized the primary result as a win for the candidate.

“Tara scored her first victory in July, when her entrance into the race forced party leaders to scrap their plan to make a Conservative the candidate of the Democratic Party and scurry to find a Plan B,” campaign spokesman James Walsh said in a statement. “Today, more than 21,000 Democrats who voted to make Tara the candidate of their party sent a clear message to the party bosses that they are fed up with cross-endorsement deals. Tara is still the only candidate for Surrogate nominated by the people. No other candidate gathered a single signature to get into the race. We are confident that she will have broad support across party lines in the General Election.”

The nearly 60,000 voters in the closed primary represented a significant turnout jump from the last time Democrats went to the polls. On June 26, a little more than 32,000 Suffolk County residents registered as Democrats voted in Congressional primaries for the 1st and 2nd districts combined, though the Sept. 13 primary also featured New York gubernatorial, lieutenant governor and attorney general candidates.

“Today, more than 21,000 Democrats who voted to make Tara the candidate of their party sent a clear message to the party bosses that they are fed up with cross-endorsement deals.”

— James Walsh

The Surrogate’s Court race came under scrutiny after Newsday ran an editorial publicizing the political patronage and cross-endorsement agreements that highlighted the race. Newsday reported earlier this year District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, who is married to Suffolk’s Conservative Party Chairman Frank Tinari, and is a Conservative herself, had secured the Democratic Party line in the Surrogate’s Court race as a result of a deal with Suffolk Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer.
As a result, Scully said she gathered enough petitions to run on both Democratic and Republican lines in July to offer voters an alternative. When presented with Scully as a primary challenger, Tinari dropped out. The Democratic Party then nominated Whelan, who calls herself a life-long Democrat.

Despite Thursday’s primary defeat, Scully has secured the Republican Party line in the race for Surrogate’s court and will face off Whelan again at the polls in less than two months.

Judge John Czygier Jr., who currently oversees the county’s Surrogate’s Court, is nearing the mandatory retirement age, leaving a vacancy Scully and Whelan are competing to fill. The position, which yields a salary in excess of $200,000, carries a 10-year term, and the occupant may serve until age 70.

Surrogate’s Court is responsible for handling all issues involving wills and the estates of people who die. The court also handles guardianship hearings and some adoption cases for children whose parents are deceased. Each of New York state’s 62 counties has one surrogate judge except New York and Kings counties, which have two each.

This post was updated Sept. 18.

Being a hospital patient for any length of time is not likely an experience that engenders tranquility or inner peace for most, but local artists and hospital staff are doing their best to change that.

The 3 North Patient Care Unit at Port Jefferson’s John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, a newly constructed intermediate care unit on the third floor, is now furnished with paintings from artists who donated their work to be displayed for and enjoyed by patients and staff.

The hospital hosted a reception to thank the artists, including Irene Ruddock, president of Setauket Artists, who played a leadership role in getting the idea off the ground.

“The art installation endeavor was the inspiration of Dr. Shug-Hong Young, a cardiologist at Mather Hospital, who purchased one of my paintings which he donated to the hospital’s newest wing,” Ruddock said.

She said Young then took the idea to Mather president, Kenneth Roberts, who liked the concept and requested works featuring Long Island waterways and boats be displayed.

“This is actually a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful meeting of community members and artists with their local community hospital resource,” Roberts said. “We put a brand new wing on with private rooms with computers in the rooms so we don’t have all of the [computers on wheels] or [workstations on wheels] out in the hallways, so nothing is crowded. So we have this brand new nursing station with beautiful finishes, but the one thing we didn’t have was artwork.”

Ruddock was tasked with selecting paintings from her group’s members that fit the bill.

“I chose art that would add to the beauty of the already beautiful space, create a peaceful, serene environment that might provide a sense of spiritual healing,” she said. “I wanted paintings that touch people’s hearts and souls — ones that were memorable and draw you right into the painting.”

Young explained why he donated Ruddock’s initial painting, and why he thought it would brighten up the wing.

“It came to me that if we could bring all of these local artists [works] to the hospital, because many of the artworks reflect local scenes — the beach, the port, the pond — that would make patients feel they are not isolated, they are still connected to the beautiful environment,” he said.

Emily Emma, nurse manager for 3 North who recently transferred to the position, said she asked colleagues in her unit if there was anything she could do to elevate their work and the care they provide to patients, and a common theme emerged in the answers.

“Most of them had said, ‘We would really like some artwork on the walls,’” Emma said. “Patients can’t get enough of them. It’s really a nice peaceful journey to get through their progression of health.”

Jim Molloy, a Miller Place-based artist, was among those who donated a piece to the hospital that he called “Turning Tides.”

“I think that’s what art is about — it’s about brightening up someone’s day,” Molloy said. “If somebody can look at a piece of art and kind of escape for a while, then that makes me feel good, it makes them feel good — it’s perfect.”

Ruddock thanked Roberts, Young and Emma for their efforts in bringing the idea to fruition, as well as Mather employees Nancy Uzo, vice president of public affairs, and Laura Juliano, director of annual giving. Juliano said artist Renée Caine also provided invaluable help during the planning and installation phases of the idea. Caine donated one of her own works.

“By far, the most rewarding aspect of the project was the reaction of the patients, caregivers and staff to the paintings,” Ruddock said. “One staff member said of Michael Kutzing’s painting of a sailing vessel, ‘I mentally take a ride on the boat every day on the Long Island Sound to breathe in the air.’”

Three Village Civic Association held a forum Sept. 4 during which Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Rich Johannesen, Mary Ann Johnston and Anthony Figliola weighed in on an upcoming referendum in Brookhaven. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town has taken steps to change laws pertaining to terms of office for elected officials, but civically minded citizens are discussing it before jumping on board just yet. The Three Village Civic Association hosted a forum Sept. 4 at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library featuring four experts to discuss the proposal, which will appear on November’s ballot in the form of a referendum to be passed or failed by Brookhaven voters. Audience members came from as far afield as Medford and Patchogue.

The speakers included 1st District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Rich Johannesen, a veteran of local politics considered an expert in governmental workings, who helped lead a citizens initiative to establish council districts in the town more than 15 years ago; MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations who also has seen more than her fair share of political races and policy discussions; and Anthony Figliola, former Brookhaven deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities.

Brookhaven’s board voted unanimously Aug. 2 to establish a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6 asking town residents to weigh in on changes to terms in office for elected officials, specifically increasing terms from two years, as is currently the law, to four years for councilmembers, the supervisor and highway superintendent, which would put it on par with the other Suffolk townships. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same, single “yea” or “nay” question: limiting officials to three terms in office. That component would impact the above positions, as well as town clerk and receiver of taxes. Both components will appear as part of a single proposition, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three terms of four years each on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts since state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the Aug. 2 town hearing.

Some of the speakers at the Sept. 4 civic forum took issue with Brookhaven’s interpretation that the law of the town isn’t already limiting elected officials to serving three terms, calling on politicians to solicit an opinion from the state attorney general. Others pointed to language which could allow sitting board members to start their term clocks afresh, despite having served several terms already on the board, as particularly objectionable. Some suggested the referendum felt rushed saying, waiting a year would ensure full community awareness about the town’s intentions.

Below are some of the comments from the civic association’s invited guests in a session moderated by the civic’s Herb Mones:

Johannesen: “I’m going to be very clear — I oppose four-year terms. The longer we allow elected officials to serve without putting them before us, the more likely it is that they are going to become corrupt. I think if you look at the history of corruption in this town and you look at the history of corruption in this county, one of the reasons why our elected officials have gone south is because there were no checks and balances. There hasn’t really been the kind of political diversity we were hoping for.”

Johnston: “The founders thought it was good enough for our congressmen to be two years; the state constitution provides for our assemblymen and our senators to be two years. And if the problem is raising funds for political campaigns, then the issue isn’t the length of term, because we have no guarantee they’ll ever stop raising funds and do it continually for four years. This is what the voters want: We chose councilmatic districts and the Town of Brookhaven fought us tooth and nail all the way down the line. And now they’re telling us that the 1993 referendum that we enacted was repealed by council districts. That’s not true. We already have term limits. It can’t be repealed by implication.”

Figliola: “To be perfectly candid, whether it’s two years or four years, you can’t legislate human conduct. So, if people are going to be corrupt, they’re going to be corrupt. I think that’s what prosecutors are for. It’s very hard to get elected if you’re a challenger unless it’s an open seat. It’s possible … but it’s difficult. That doesn’t have anything to do with corruption. I believe term limits can help, they can’t completely stop it, but can help because it will open up an opportunity for citizen legislators to be able to run. What this will do is, this will say ‘you have consecutively or nonconsecutively three four-year terms and then you’re out.’”

Cartright: “As you all know, two town board meetings ago, I voted in support of putting this on the ballot for a vote. This has been something that me and my colleagues have been discussing for quite some time — at least four years or so. I think this is an important discussion that needs to be had. Am I advocating one or another? I am not. I understand both sides. My personal opinion is that for good governance, I do think that four years would be better than two years, based on my experiences.”

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