Authors Posts by Donna Newman

Donna Newman

Avatar
50 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

Kate Calone checks out an end table at the organization’s warehouse in Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Susan Risoli

Furniture is a necessity. It allows a family to sit at a table and eat together. It gives children a place to do homework. It provides the opportunity to open one’s home to guests. It’s essential for a good night’s sleep.

People transitioning from homelessness, domestic violence shelters, military service or displacement following a disaster need more than just a roof over their heads.

Inspired by a youth mission trip to a furniture bank just outside Washington, D.C., Kate Calone wondered if such a service would fly on Long Island. For some, this might have been a daunting task, but Calone set about researching and planning. She organized a feasibility committee and piloted the group to take off.

The Open Door Exchange is rounding out its second year of operations, having served more than 300 Long Island families and individuals in need. Referred by social service agencies and nonprofits, people can “shop” with dignity, by appointment at the organization’s rented Port Jefferson Station warehouse, which is configured to resemble a furniture store. All pieces are free of charge.

For her compassion, determination and leadership in helping Long Islanders in need, Calone is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Calone spent six years as an attorney before entering the Princeton Theological Seminary. When she and her husband Dave, who ran against Anna Throne-Holst in the 2016 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District and Suffolk County judge, returned to Long Island to raise their three children, Calone worked at the First Presbyterian Church in Northport before joining the Setauket Presbyterian Church as associate pastor, to work with the Youth Group.

Residents walked on the Greenway Trail to raise funds and awareness for Open Door Exchange. File photo by Susan Risoli

When she returned from D.C., she told retired Setauket businessman and church member Tom Kavazanjian her idea and asked if he’d be interested in helping. Having great respect for Calone and her worthwhile cause, he said yes.

“Kate’s leadership is unique,” he said. “She leads with a quiet confidence and is one of the most unassuming and selfless people I know. Everything she does, she does with such grace.”

With a lot of planning — and the help of a group of dedicated volunteers — Open Door Exchange was launched in January 2015, recounted Stony Brook resident and retired school teacher Diane Melidosian, who was also an early recruit.

“This was no easy undertaking,” she said. “Since there is no cost to the recipient, all costs associated with this program are handled through fundraising, grant writing and contributions.”

There were lots of logistics to be worked out and the committee used A Wider Circle, the furniture bank in the outskirts of D.C., as a model.

East Setauket resident Bonnie Schultz said being a part of the creation of Open Door Exchange energized her.

“I’d never been part of a startup,” she said. “It’s exciting. And [the organization] has grown by leaps and bounds. The amount of furniture that goes in and out of [the warehouse] is incredible.”

She said even some clients come back to volunteer.

Another member of the exploratory committee, Stony Brook therapist Linda Obernauer, said the youngsters who traveled on the mission played an important part in advancing the idea of a Long Island furniture bank.

“Kate got more interested as the kids got into it,” she said, adding that Calone has served as a role model to many of them. “People who are ‘of the fiber’ do the right thing. Kate doesn’t have to have accolades, she helps people because that’s who she is.”

John Cunniffe in his Stony Brook Avenue office. Photo by Donna Newman

To John Cunniffe, a person who lacks a knowledge of history is like a tree without roots.

So to make sure the history of the Three Village community is alive and vibrant, he’s spent the last decade offering his considerable architectural acuity to various organizations dedicated to doing just that.

Cunniffe sees the value in preserving heritage. He pays attention to the smallest of details, striving for historical accuracy while providing renovations that work in today’s world.

“There are many professionals in our community who give generously of their services to our local nonprofit organizations, often pro bono or for reduced fees, but none quite like John Cunniffe,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “He has helped jump-start and advance more important historic building projects throughout the Three Villages than I can count.”   

For his considerable contributions to the work being done by courageous nonprofits in preserving local historical edifices, for his unflagging willingness to lend his expertise to important local architecture projects and for his extreme generosity of time and spirit, John Cunniffe is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“When someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

— David Sterne

Raised on Long Island, the 45-year-old Stony Brook resident received his architectural degree from the New York Institute of Technology. He has worked for the Weiss/Manfredi firm where he honed his design pedigree.

The Cunniffes decided to return to Long Island from Virginia 10 years ago and settled not far from the Soundview area of East Setauket, from which his wife Colleen Cunniffe hails. There they are raising their two daughters.

Now known for prestigious residential projects that value historic preservation, while creating contemporary architecture for his clients, he has also become the go-to architect for important restoration and preservation projects throughout the Three Village area, Reuter said.

Cunniffe donated his services to create the documents and secure the permits necessary to relocate and restore the historic Rubber Factory Worker Houses for the Three Village Community Trust. Soon he was handling work for the Setauket Neighborhood House, the Three Village Historical Society, the Frank Melville Memorial Park, The Long Island Museum, projects in the Bethel–Christian Avenue–Laurel Hill Historic District as well as the Caroline Church, Reuter added.

“They all needed an architect,” Reuter said. “They got more than they asked for — they got thorough project planning and exceptionally good design, as well as the necessary documents and permits.”

Along the way, Cunniffe represented the Stony Brook Historic District as a volunteer on the Town of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee and advised the Setauket Fire Department on planning and design for the new headquarters building on Route 25A in Setauket.

Setauket Fire District Manager David Sterne said he feels grateful to have had Cunniffe’s participation in the planning for the new fire department structure.

“John was an integral part of the community committee for the planning and design of the new firehouse,” he said. “He attended most meetings and his insights, especially from his architect’s point of view, were invaluable. It’s one thing for a person to take part as a volunteer, but when someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell remembers where and when she first encountered Cunniffe. 

John Cunniffe constructed plans for the new Setauket Fire Department Headquarters on Route 25A in Setauket. Phto by Desirée Keegan

“I first met John when he was the representative from the Stony Brook Historic District to the Town’s Historic District Advisory Committee,” she said. “He always brought sound knowledge of architecture, a willingness to hear out the applicants and helpful suggestions to the meetings. Beyond his education in architecture, he has a sense of the importance of historical structures and how they fit into our community today.”

Russell said it is unique how Cunnife considers style, materials, location and history of a structure as well as how it has to conform to fit in today’s world.

“Whether it be its location in the community or the owner’s lifestyle, balancing all those variables takes a keen eye, and a heart for the type of work he does,” she said.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the Three Village area is a special place because of people like Cunniffe.

“Our extraordinary community is defined by caring people like John Cunniffe, whose professional architectural vision and personal commitment to volunteerism is a gift that enhances our sense of place,” he said. “We are indeed fortunate that John has chosen to invest his considerable talent and energies here.”

Reuter compared the architect’s work to another famous designer who worked in the area: Ward Melville’s architect.

“Richard Haviland Smythe did these sorts of community projects for his patron who generously funded them,” he said. “John Cunniffe is our modern day Smythe — if only we had modern day major patrons to move these many projects forward. John has been a wise, good-humored and essential partner.”

Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning representative Kevin Luzong mans his station at the BRT first public information meeting. Photo by Donna Newman

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is hoping to modernize the way Long Islanders get around.

A proposal from the county executive to create Suffolk’s first north-south multimodal transportation corridor to feature dedicated lanes for rapid transit buses running along Nicolls Road between Stony Brook and Patchogue, was presented for public information and comment Dec. 13 at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. Interested residents attended to gain an understanding of the concept of a Bus Rapid Transit service, which unlike traditional buses are not constrained by traffic, and the possible ways the roadway might be configured.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) attended the event and said she supports upgrading public transportation on Long Island.

“Suffolk County is working to create a 21st century economy,” she said. “This requires a modern transit system that alleviates the burden of traffic and provides more transit options for a less car-dependent workforce. This is a first look at a proposal for a plan. We need community input to flesh it out more and see where the ‘buy-in’ could be.”

Hahn said she believes the idea would have multiple positive economic and environmental outcomes.

“Bus Rapid Transit offers many of the advantages of a light rail system, but at a fraction of the cost — both for the passenger and to the municipality,” a statement from Hahn announcing the county’s first BRT public information meeting said.

The BRT system would feature state-of-the-art Wi-Fi equipped buses; use dedicated “bus only” lanes, with priority traffic signaling; provide boarding at modern, comfortable, secure stations; accept fares with prepaid fare cards or electronic passes; and connect the commuter or traveler to transit hubs, such as other bus systems, railways and airports.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide information about the proposed road conversion in order to interact with three Long Island Rail Road branches, Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma and Babylon, and facilitate public transportation access to Long Island MacArthur Airport. Visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to submit feedback in the form of comments and questions via mail-in comment cards or by email to LIinnovationzone@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Representatives were on hand from both the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning and engineering firms that have worked on the planning stage to further explain the project and answer questions.

Debbie Brown and Stephanie Larkin, self-described PTA moms from Selden, had several concerns.

“Are they adding a lane or dedicating one of the existing lanes,” Larkin asked, adding the road is crowded enough without losing one of its lanes.

“Who, exactly, is going to use these buses?” Brown asked.

Kevin Luzong, a spokesperson for the project, addressed the residents’ concerns.

“The bus lane will be created within the existing roadway in the median or through a repurposing of the shoulder,” he said. As for people who might be interested in using public transportation, he mentioned millennials, like himself, who utilize services across Long Island, including colleges, research facilities, and new housing options, like the Ronkonkoma Hub being developed near that railroad station.

Brown was skeptical that Long Island could be converted from a “car culture.”

“We, as parents, would have to get our kids used to buses at an early age,” she said, adding that parents might be hesitant to do so in today’s world.

BRT systems exist in more than 190 cities around the globe, allowing passengers to arrive at their destinations faster, while reducing road congestion.

The proposal did not include a potential cost for the project, though the county is examining grant-funding possibilities to help taxpayers cover the bill if the project comes to fruition.

Sycamore trees are a staple of Stony Brook's M-Section neighborhood. Photo by Donna Newman

Four months after Save the Stony Brook Street Trees was established to oppose a Town of Brookhaven Highway Department decision to eliminate nearly all the sycamore trees on roads slated for repaving in the M-section of Strathmore, a second victory has been won.

At its final meeting of the year, the town board unanimously passed a resolution moved by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and co-sponsored by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), establishing a tree advisory committee.

In announcing the resolution, Romaine indicated his satisfaction with this move to establish guidelines in Brookhaven.

“I would say it’s long overdue,” he said. “Obviously, we have some great trees in the town. We want to make sure that they are maintained and stay that way. We want to have a policy regarding the removal of any of these trees. I want to thank the councilwoman for sponsoring it and I thank my colleagues for supporting it.”

Cartright said she worked on behalf of her constituents — and all Brookhaven residents — to keep healthy trees that are so beneficial to the environment.

“I was happy to join Supervisor Romaine to put forth this resolution … to advocate for responsible townwide solutions. … I am very pleased with the resolution of this particular community concern and that we now have a comprehensive process for reviewing tree-related issues.”

In mid-August, homeowners on Mosshill Place in the Strathmore M-section were alarmed to find all the street trees marked with pink dots indicating they were to be removed. Following public outcry from fellow residents, who said they preferred to deal with bumpy roads rather than lose their tree canopy, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) sent residents a letter in September postponing the paving so the department could reevaluate its plan.

By October an alternate solution to the tree removal had been found, but the paving season was ending, and the job rescheduled for 2017.

Save the Stony Brook Street Trees continued its lobbying of the town board to prevent other neighborhoods from finding themselves in a similar predicament in the future. The group, led by Susan Ackerman, continued to press for a town policy to prevent the removal of healthy street trees anywhere in Brookhaven Town in the future.

Ackerman said she was pleased that a resolution was on the agenda Thursday night and felt cautiously optimistic.

“My feeling is that resolution 2016-0959 is an encouraging step in the right direction for the Town of Brookhaven,” she wrote in an email. “And I appreciate all the time and effort that town officials and their staffs have devoted to this issue. I hope to see the town use this resolution as a valuable tool to move toward a consistent townwide tree preservation policy.”

In fact, the resolution created two advisory committees; one to deal with a project within the town rights-of-way and a second to evaluate a project on town parklands or other town-owned parcels. Each four-person panel will be tasked with inspecting the property and making a recommendation regarding the removal or conservation of trees.

Each committee will have a representative of the town’s division of land management, appointed by the town attorney.

The rights-of-way group will also have a representative of the highway department, appointed by the superintendent of highways; a licensed professional engineer from the highway engineering division; and a Suffolk County Civil Service titled horticultural worker from the Brookhaven Ecology Center.

The town lands group will include a representative from the supervisor’s office; a representative of the parks department; and a representative from the planning and environment department, all appointed by the respective department heads.

Exceptions to tree advisory include trees that are damaged, diseased or in any way a threat to property and/or lives, or need to be removed on an emergency basis.

SBU program for retirees is unique on Long Island

File Photo

A substantial gift from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will extend Stony Brook University’s ability to offer opportunities to individuals who are semi-retired or retired.

Originally founded at the university as The Round Table, the program was renamed after receiving an initial grant from the Osher Foundation in June 2007.

A program within the School of Professional Development, directed by Wayne Holo, OLLI is open to mature adults interested in expanding their intellectual horizons in a university setting. Volunteers — very often experts in the subjects they teach — teach peer-taught sessions, which carry no credits or prerequisites. Workshops are structured to offer an informal exchange of ideas among participants.

Osher Foundation President Mary Bitterman found the Stony Brook OLLI’s progress to be inspiring.

“Since making [the] initial grant, we have been impressed by [the program’s] exceptional progress,” she said. “We applaud the collective effort and achievement of its excellent staff and its dynamic community of intellectually vigorous members. We also salute the university’s leadership for its steadfast support of the Osher Institute and for embracing the concept that education is a lifelong pursuit that has the power to forge and enhance our connection to one another and to a larger world.”

Retired schoolteacher Bruce Stasiuk, of Setauket, is one of the more popular workshop leaders in the program and his philosophy may indicate why.

“The ingenious OLLI program is like going back to school without the pressures, or papers,” he said. “Here, required courses and tests went the way of Clearasil. OLLI is all about pursuing interests, keeping active, and continuing personal growth. It’s the purest form of education — it’s fun.”

Martin and Joyce Rubenstein of Port Jefferson Station would agree. Marty Rubenstein has been a participant for nearly two decades; Joyce Rubenstein almost as long. Both have taken classes, and Marty Rubenstein has taught quite a few, ranging from physics for poets to classes in his special passion, music appreciation, including history of the big band era and history of rock and roll.

“I started soon after retirement, about 1998,” Marty Rubenstein said. “It’s a well-run program and a good vehicle for people who are retired.” He added that one’s social network disappears when you no longer see the colleagues and friends you worked with daily.

It was still The Round Table, comprised of 300 members when Rubenstein joined, and he has watched the organization grow. He said he is hoping that the new funding will make it possible to improve the model, now that there are more than 1,000 members.

Joyce Rubenstein, a participant since 2000, says she likes the variety of classes offered.

“It’s nice because I don’t have to take academic courses unless I want to. You go in and you laugh. I enjoy it. I’ve made a lot of new friends,” she said, adding, “There are some extremely smart people there. You learn a lot just by listening.”

The Rubensteins shared their OLLI experiences with Bonnie and Norm Samuels of Setauket, who take classes, too.

“It’s great OLLI has received this endowment because the program has grown so much and so many people are now involved,” Bonnie Samuels said.

Norm Samuels is a newbie, taking classes for the first time this fall. He sad he is finding his DNA class stimulating.

“It opens your mind up to more in-depth examination of ideas,“ he said. “What I’ve learned about future uses of DNA — I think it’s going to shake us to our foundations! Being on campus, seeing the young people gives me vicarious pleasure. What I’d like to see is more integration between the young ones and us elders.”

Bonnie Samuels said opportunities of that sort do come up. OLLI members were recruited this semester to be audience members for a Talking Science class for undergraduate students. The goal was to listen and give feedback to young scientists to help them become clearer communicators when addressing nonscientists.

OLLI membership is open for an annual fee to all retired and semiretired individuals. The program currently offers more than 100 workshops per semester, and a variety of day trips. Avenues for participation include workshops, lectures, special events, committees and social activities. OLLI classes include topics in history, creative arts, science, literature and computer skills; fall classes included intermediate Latin, history of England, quantum weirdness, poetry out loud, senior legal matters and a virtual investing club.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes operate on the campuses of 119 institutions of higher education throughout the nation. Stony Brook’s OLLI program is the only such program on Long Island.

For more information, go to the Stony Brook University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute website or call 631-632-7063.

‘Tis the season for tree lightings and holiday festivals.

Stony Brook Village and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosted the 37th annual Holiday Festival and Holiday Tree Competition Dec. 4 at the Stony Brook Village Center.

Parade will begin on Main Street in Setauket near the Emma S. Clark Library and elementary school

An electric float in 2014 carries parade participants. Photo from Cheryl Davie

After a one-year hiatus, a long-running holiday tradition is returning to Setauket.

It was ‘lights out’ for the Electric Holiday Parade last December, when a couple of glitches prevented the popular event from taking place. Cheryl Davie, longtime organizer of the event, which has been around for two decades, said there were budgetary cutbacks at the town level and a permit deadline was missed.

Billy Williams, a civic-minded local businessman and a member of the Setauket Fire Department, Three Village Kiwanis and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said he heard of the issues last November — just not soon enough.

“I remember moving to the area in the late ’90s and bringing my kids to the parade,” he said in an email. “I thought it was a great hometown experience. I was saddened when I heard it wasn’t happening last year.” But by the time he found out, he said, it was too late to make it happen. So he decided to pick up the pieces and planned to resurrect the parade this year.

Davie immediately offered her assistance and expertise and the two became a team. Williams joked he is the producer and Davie is the director. She’s in charge of “the script” and running the show. He’s responsible for making sure the funding comes through.

“I have put together a team of small businesses and individuals who wanted to produce a great parade,” Williams said. “We have about 20 sponsors that have generously donated to offset the cost of producing the parade. State Farm [Williams’ business], Shea & Sanders Real Estate, Four D Landscaping and Shine Dance Studios are the major sponsors — with many others contributing as well. Each has made donations of money, time and/or other needed goods and services for the event.”

Lights will blaze again when the parade kicks off Sunday, Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. There will be floats and marchers, lights and music, decorated conveyances of all kinds, entertainment, hot chocolate and cookies — not to mention the arrival of Santa Claus on the Setauket Fire Department float — according to Davie.

“We have a lot of floats signed up,” Williams said. “Thirty-five have registered so far. We are also hiring a professional marching band to perform as well as providing many other great attractions for the kids. We have Wolfie from Stony Brook University attending, as well as the SBU pep squad.”

Williams said the Three Village school district will also be well represented. Many of the elementary schools are building floats — at all grade levels — which is a change from previous years when only sixth-graders were invited to create floats. The Ward Melville Jazz Band will also perform.

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, dance academies, preschools and local businesses have registered online to participate in the parade of lights. Registration will remain open until Dec. 10.

“The more, the merrier,” said Davie, referring to participants and spectators alike.

No article about the Electric Holiday Parade would be complete without a shout out to one of the original founders and supporters. Michael Ardolino was a member of the small group that established the parade 21 years ago. Today he is very happy and proud.

“I’m so excited the parade is back,” Ardolino said in a telephone interview. “I’m so proud it’s going to continue. So pleased with the new group that has stepped up to create this year’s parade. I’m looking forward to coming and enjoying it with my granddaughter. The tradition continues.”

For more information about the parade — or if you’d like to sign up — visit www.3vholidayparade.com. Staging for the parade will begin at 3:30 p.m. along Main Street in Setauket near the Emma S. Clark Library and the Setauket Elementary School. Kick-off is at 5 p.m. sharp.

by -
0 3692
Erik Halvorsen in his last photo, taken during a Thanksgiving weekend vacation at Bear Mountain. Photo from Britt Halvorsen

Setauket arborist Erik Halvorsen, 45, died Monday, following a tragic accident while working on a tree in Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook.

The owner of Norse Tree Service Inc. was approximately 50 feet up in a tree while attempting to cut it down at approximately 11:15 a.m., according to Suffolk County Police. The trunk splintered and trapped him against the tree. Halvorsen, who was wearing a safety harness, attempted to free himself and fell 20 feet. An employee was able to lower Halvorsen to the ground. He was transported via St. James Fire Department ambulance to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the death, although no foul play is suspected. This is standard procedure in workplace deaths, police said.

George Powers, former owner of the Hither Brook Nursery in St. James, recalled his customer’s work ethic and expertise.

“[Erik] was very good at what he did — he was not a cowboy,” Powers said in a phone interview. “He took all the precautions. And then this happened anyway.”

A woman who came to the door at the Avalon office on Harbor Road in Stony Brook declined to comment, but Avalon’s Leadership Program Director Katharine Griffiths issued a statement later Tuesday morning on behalf of her entire staff.

“Erik was a friend to many of us at the park,” Griffiths wrote in an email Tuesday. “We are heartbroken over this tragic accident. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and his many friends.”

Halvorsen did a great deal of work for The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook. President Gloria Rocchio expressed her horror at the accident and her admiration for the man.

“We worked with Erik for years in Stony Brook,” she said. “He was very sensitive. When we did work on the village green, he designed [the landscape]. It was like an art form, what he did. Everyone was very happy with the result. He was very passionate. All of us here at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization are devastated. He was a great man.”

“Erik was by far one of the hardest working men we knew. He was one of the good guys, a person who would lend a helping hand without a second thought.”

—Laura Brown

The folks at Sheep Pasture Tree & Nursery Supply Inc., friends and neighbors of Norse Tree Service on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station, said he was very easy to recommend.

“Erik was by far one of the hardest working men we knew,” Laura Brown said in an email. “He was one of the good guys, a person who would lend a helping hand without a second thought. We easily recommended him to our customers because we knew he would do a good job. When he came into our office, he was always happy, fun to talk with and a gentleman. We will miss the days of him walking into our office at 5:45 a.m. to use our fax machine. We will miss him as will so many in our community.”

Bob Koch of Koch Tree Services reflected on the impact the incident has had on the community.

“I want everybody to know that the tree community is a very tight-knit family,” Koch said in a phone interview. “A tragedy like this affects everyone in it. Our hearts go out to Erik’s family. He was a wonderful young man. We all feel it when something like this happens.”

Powers shared an anecdote about Halvorsen that spoke to his character.

“He and his wife were on vacation on some island,” Powers recalled. “He saw a dog tied up in a very bad way. So he let it loose. The next day the dog was again tied up. So he adopted the dog and brought it home. He had to go through a lot of paperwork and paid to have [the dog] flown home. But that dog loved him. You could see it. He was just a good person.”

Halvorsen leaves a wife, Britt, and three children, Liv, Leif and Lilli.

A celebration of Erik’s life has been scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 17, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Old Field Club in Setauket. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Gerda’s Animal Aid Inc., a rescue organization run by Britt Halvorsen’s mother, at P.O. Box 1352, West Townshend, VT 05359, or by calling 802-874-7213.

Is it time for a second look at the reclaimed nature preserve?

West Meadow Beach as seen from clear-sky day. Photo by Donna Newman

It’s been 20 years since New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) authored legislation to create a nature preserve at West Meadow Beach, with a guarantee that it would not be a drain on the ongoing Brookhaven Town budget.

Englebright described a grueling and divisive battle that continued for the eight years between passage of the legislation and the eventual reclamation of the beach.

“I wanted to write state law that established, as specifically as I could at the time, the land uses going forward,” he said, adding that West Meadow Beach is now the most valuable asset Brookhaven Town owns.

Brookhaven officials agreed to take responsibility for the preserve, via a “home rule message,” to keep it a town property.

“Home rule message” is a New York State Assembly policy that, if a proposed bill will affect a municipality, before the speaker authorizes it to come out of committee, that municipality must signal its approval, Englebright said. Brookhaven Town, under then Supervisor Felix Grucci, did just that.

The legislation — A 11008-A in the Assembly and S 7829 sponsored by former New York State Senator James Lack (R) in the Senate — included a provision for a segregated account to contain rent money paid into it by the cottage-owners who continued to occupy them during the summers between 1996 and 2004.

In 1996, nearly 100 cottages were on West Meadow Beach. The legislation required all cottage owners to pay an annual rent to the West Meadow Beach Capital Restoration Fund overseen by both the Stony Brook Community Fund and Brookhaven Town.

In 2004, that fund was used to remove the cottages to make way for the preserve, as well as restoration of the beach.

The Gamecock Cottage at the end of Trustees Road, one cottage to serve as a local museum, and two cottages for security/park protection purposes were the only buildings not removed.

Meanwhile, the Stony Brook Community Fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. It has since declined to handle the responsibilities spelled out in the legislation.

According to the Brookhaven Town Department of Finance, these endowment funds are kept in a bank account separate from other Brookhaven Town funds. The current balance in this account is $1.45 million, which generates approximately $2,000 in interest per year to be used at West Meadow. If this interest is not used, it reverts back as an addition to the principal of the fund.

Jack Krieger, public information officer of Brookhaven, confirmed in an email that Brookhaven has been compliant with this law since it was created.

Englebright said he feels it might be time to revisit the management of West Meadow Beach.

“It may be time for a public/private partnership vision to be pursued,” he said. “A not-for-profit operating the Nature Center in conjunction with the town [would be preferable].”

He pointed out that the practice works extremely well for organizations like the Bronx Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History.

Robert Murphy, left, looks to continue serving as Smithtown’s highway superintendent, while challenger Justin Smiloff, right, looks to replace him. Photos by Victoria Espinoza

Two candidates are vying to serve the unexpired term of former Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen (R), who resigned in October 2015 shortly before pleading guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges.

When the two candidates were interviewed together at the TBR News Media’s main office earlier this month, it seemed the battle lines were drawn according to age. Deputy Highway Supervisor Robert Murphy (R) has been the acting supervisor for almost a year, since the town board named him to replace Jorgensen. He is 53.

His Democratic challenger is lifelong Smithtown resident and attorney Justin Smiloff, who said he “doesn’t need the job, but wants it because he thinks he can make a difference.” In addition to a law degree, he has an undergraduate degree in accounting, which he said he would use to “see what I can do to get more for less.” He is 35.

Among the topics of contention was the restoration of free leaf bag distribution to residents. “The leaf bag program is beneficial to taxpayers,” Smiloff said, “and if cost is a problem, cuts should be made from other areas.”

Murphy said the last time leaf bags were distributed was 10 years ago, at a cost of $187,000.

“With the 2 percent cap Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) established, some services have had to be eliminated,” he said, adding he thinks the brown paper bags could be mulched with leaves and don’t serve their intended purpose if they’ve been sitting out in the rain.

Technology use in the Highway Department was also discussed. Smiloff said his youth is an advantage in that area. He wants to see a modern, user-friendly website and feels residents should be able to text message the department. In addition, he will look at technology used in other places. Murphy said he is already networking with other highway superintendents. The Town of Brookhaven’s Dan Losquadro (R) has shared information about geographic information system currently being used to identify potholes.

Another item of debate was the use of energy-efficient vehicles.

“If we reduce the cost for fuel, money could be used for more beneficial things to help residents,” Smiloff said. On this, Murphy was in agreement. However, with $800,000 a year you can buy only four trucks, he said, indicating it will take some time to achieve true energy efficiency.

Smiloff promises voters “a new day and a new start.”

“I would deliver for taxpayers in a manner they haven’t seen before,” he said. He believes a clean sweep is necessary for taxpayers’ peace of mind.

In contrast, Murphy said his experience is worth its weight in gold.

“I have over 30 years in the field — 20 years in the private sector and [about] 10 in public civil engineering — and I have been at the department for the last five years,” he said.

In the year he’s run the department, he said he’s seen where improvements need to be made. He noted that his morals and ethics have never been questioned, and he will make sure that everything is done legally.