Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan
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Just in time for the first day of summer, the Village of Poquott debuted its new community dock at California Park June 21.

Before cutting the ribbon, Mayor Dee Parrish thanked the dozens of residents who attended the event for their support of the dock on behalf of herself and the village board of trustees.

John Tsunis, president of Gold Coast Bank, was also on hand to help cut the ribbon. Tsunis is a resident of the village, and the dock was financed through the bank.

It was the first time he saw the dock, he said, and he described it as beautiful and well-designed.

“It adds to the quality of life for the residents of Poquott,” he said after the ribbon cutting. “I think it’s a beautiful addition. We live on the water so it’s very appropriate to have a dock and a pier for people to use, and I’m very proud of it.”

The community dock, located at the end of Washington Street, had been a topic of debate in the village for nearly a decade as many were against it, fearing an increase in taxes and wanting the final decision to be made with a public referendum. A few years ago, the village board of trustees began the process of building the dock by sending out questionnaires to residents to get their feedback.

The night of the ribbon cutting the residents on hand celebrated with champagne, ice cream and taking walks on the new dock, which will also have a floating dock to help boaters load and unload their crafts.

“It’s a perfect addition to a beach community,” Parrish said after the ceremony. “I am touched by all the residents that came together to make this project a reality. The community dock will be used and enjoyed for many, many years — that makes me feel that all the hours of work have paid off.”

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The St. James Long Island Rail Road station house was built and funded by residents in 1873. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society collection

For more than a century, one thoroughfare in St. James has been hustling and bustling. It’s no surprise that the Smithtown town board and St. James residents have been directing their energy toward the revitalization of Lake Avenue in the last couple of years with the nonprofit organization Celebrate St. James. With the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road to St. James in 1872, the avenue and connecting streets quickly became the center of local commerce, especially around the LIRR station house.

The flatiron building in St. James was built in 1908 by Joseph Amey. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society collection

Smithtown Historian Brad Harris said the station house in St. James located near the northwest corner of Lake Avenue and Railroad Avenue was built in 1873 by community members, who also paid for it. Soon stage actors and other visitors from New York City, including Mayor William Gaynor, who once lived in Deepwells Mansion, were visiting the hamlet on a regular basis, especially in the summer.

“There was activity the town had never seen before,” Harris said.

Local historian Noel Gish said the St. James station house is the LIRR’s oldest one in existence still standing in its original form. In the early 1970s, the railroad considered remodeling it or tearing it down, when it was in need of painting. Louise Hall, who was the director of the Smithtown Historical Society at the time, organized a group of women to paint it, Gish said, and when the LIRR found out, they sent staff members to do the job, and the station house remained as it was.

Harris said as more people traveled to St. James, boarding houses and hotels were built to accommodate them. One hotel was built on the southeast corner of Lake and Railroad where Garguilo’s Bakery is located today. Built in 1905, the Nissequogue Hotel accommodated the visitors vacationing in the area in the summer and coming to hunt in the cooler weather. The hotel, that was renamed the St. James Hotel, was destroyed by fire in December 1962.

“The friendly ghosts of the Calderone Theater have been with me throughout the metamorphosis of this structure.”

— Natalie Weinstein

In 1908, a unique structure was built across the street from the hotel by Joseph Amey. Shaped like the flatiron building in New York City, it still stands today and has been home to various businesses throughout the decades including a soda fountain. Harris said at one point a bowling alley was located toward the back of the building in the basement, and the roof of the alley stuck out above the street.

Through the decades businesses with names such as Harry’s Barber Shop, Riis’s Stationery and Barber Shop, Sam’s Meat Market and Bohack’s Supermarket have lined Lake Avenue. Harris, who is a 50-year resident of the hamlet, said his favorite building is where Uniquely Natalie Quality Consignment is now located on Second Street off of Lake Avenue. He said the structure dates back to the 1930s, and at one time it was the Calderone Theater, which showcased live performances and silent movies. The building now houses the St. James Museum featuring local memorabilia.

Natalie Weinstein, owner of the building, purchased it in 1985.

“The friendly ghosts of the Calderone Theater have been with me throughout the metamorphosis of this structure, since I purchased it with my husband Bernie in 1985,” she said.

In addition to housing Uniquely Natalie and the museum, Celebrate St. James hosts social and cultural events at the former theater.

“It is a pivotal place for this town to regain its love and appreciation of its history, as we begin to revitalize economically and recapture what this small town has to offer,” Weinstein said.

Harris said he believes the revitalization of Lake Avenue will be a plus for St. James.

“I think people are going to discover Lake Avenue more and more,” Harris said.

Installation of the pre-treatment septic tank at the O'Dwyer's home in Strong's Neck. Photo from Tom O'Dwyer

When it came to their cesspool being replaced, one Three Village couple based their choice on their concern for local waterways.

Excavation at the O’Dwyer’s home in Strong’s Neck. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

Tom and Carolyn O’Dwyer decided to install a low-nitrogen septic system on their Strong’s Neck property this spring after learning about the treatment process. Unlike a cesspool where bacteria and nitrogen can seep out, and into local water sources, Tom O’Dwyer said in their new system water percolates through a septic system, and the advanced process removes more nitrogen than a cesspool. Excessive nitrogen can affect the oxygen level in water where it is below the necessary levels to support marine life.

“It’s good for the environment, and it’s good technology,” he said. “I do this stuff every day, so I figured I would lead by example.”

O’Dwyer, an environmental engineer, recently attended classes offered by the county to learn about the systems and the grants Suffolk has to offer to those who choose to install them.

As of July 1, Suffolk County residents who voluntarily decide to replace their cesspools will need to replace them with a system consisting of a septic tank and leaching pool at a minimum. Contractors will need to register the system with the Department of Health Services. While residents can choose a conventional septic system, another option is an advanced device that removes more nitrogen. County grants of up to $20,000 are available for residents who qualify, where the county has been offering the grants for the last two years. There is also an additional state grant of up to $10,000, which can mean a total of up to $30,000.

O’Dwyer said he and his wife bought their house four years ago, and while the cesspool hadn’t given them too many problems, after hearing about the low-nitrogen units, he thought it was the best way to go, especially with living 500 feet from the water, a part of their home they love.

“Our family enjoys swimming, boating, fishing and clamming in the local waterways, so clean water is very important to us,” he said.

“Our family enjoys swimming, boating, fishing and clamming in the local waterways, so clean water is very important to us.”

— Tom O’Dwyer

Involved with larger projects like past work on the Tappan Zee Bridge, he began hearing about low-nitrogen installation projects out East and decided to start learning about the systems and soon began designing them.

O’Dwyer said so far most of the work he has seen has been on the East End of Long Island, and he’s trying to get the word out to his friends about the grants and is currently working on three different homes on the North Shore where the homeowners are tired of their cesspool problems.

He said he found the process to apply for a grant from the county easy. He filled out an application and submitted a deed and tax forms. He said residents can then pick an engineer to design the system and pick a contractor off the list of county-approved contractors. Suffolk then directly pays the contractor.

The engineer said a site can be difficult at times due to certain ground conditions, and homeowners may have to pay more than the average of nearly $20,000. Field testing may be required to see if the ground is clay or sand and how well the soil will drain. As for engineers, the price averages around $2,500.

Treated wastewater effluent sample bottle, right, beside spring water bottle, left. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration, said Suffolk County sanitary code requires that the low-nitrogen systems treat down to at least 19 milligrams per liter of total nitrogen, and it’s the most stringent requirement in the northeast. He said while the total nitrogen from cesspool discharge is said to be around 65 milligrams per liter, “the health department staff routinely see samples with concentrations of total nitrogen far in excess of 65 mg/l and in excess of 100 mg/l.” He added that conventional septic systems discharge  61 mg of nitrogen per liter, and the low-nitrogen systems create a 70 percent reduction when compared to cesspools.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, calls those who upgrade to low-nitrogen septic systems “harbor heroes” because, he said, they care enough about water quality to do the right thing.

“It’s good to hear that homeowners in our area are installing low-nitrogen septic systems and are having a positive experience and setting an example for their neighbors,” he said. “This is especially important on Strong’s Neck where the transit time for groundwater to Setauket Harbor and Conscience Bay is less than two years.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a proponent of the bill, said the code was updated to match what was passed in 1972 for new residential construction where conventional septic systems with a leeching pool needed to be installed.

“They knew way back — almost 50 years ago — they knew the cesspool itself was not enough,” she said. “It’s essentially a hole in the ground.”

Hahn said studies of subwatersheds in the county, where more than 70 percent of structures are not hooked up to sewer systems, have shown quite a bit of nitrogen from residential waste.

She said while the low-nitrogen septic systems are not yet mandated like the conventional septic systems, it’s possible as early as next year that they could be for new home construction.

“They knew way back — almost 50 years ago — they knew the cesspool itself was not enough.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn said the commitment of the county executive, legislators and county staff members has included working with the wastewater industry to find ways homeowners can switch over to the new system, how to install and to know exactly what the systems do.

“It’s been a tremendous accomplishment to get where we’re at,” she said.

She said many residents might save money with the low-nitrogen systems if faced with replacing a cesspool or at least break even instead of choosing a conventional septic system. She did say there is a small electric charge based on the system annually and a little more maintenance that residents should be aware of when choosing the system.

As for the grants, it must be the applicant’s primary residence occupied year-round. Most residents who have applied have qualified, Hahn said.

Last week O’Dwyer sampled his new system, and he said the effluent looked clear with no odor. The field samples also showed reduced nitrogen levels. The environmental engineer said he and his wife are happy they installed the system, and now through his business, he plans to help others do the same.

“My whole career I was searching for something,” he said. “I was passionate about a lot of things, but this intertwines my passion and my hobbies with my education and engineering background, so it’s a nice match.”

Interested residents can call Suffolk County Department of Health Services, 631-852-5811, for more information.

Dr. Michael Alan Bernstein, left, with outgoing president Samuel L. Stanley Jr. Photo from SBU

Stony Brook University is preparing for the next academic year.

On June 20, SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. sent an email to students, faculty and staff announcing that the State University of New York board of trustees appointed Dr. Michael Alan Bernstein interim president of SBU. The new position will be effective on or about August 1.

“Michael is an outstanding selection for this role,” Stanley said in the email. “During his three-year tenure as Provost and Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Stony Brook he has made extraordinary contributions to every aspect of the university. His decisive and energetic leadership has been welcome and needed, and Stony Brook University is fortunate to have his steady hand at the helm going forward.”

On May 28, it was announced that Stanley will be leaving SBU and taking on the role of president at Michigan State University.

According to a press release from SBU, Bernstein was appointed provost in October 2016, and he oversaw initiatives aimed at supporting the school’s missions in research, scholarship, art-making and teaching. Before SBU, Bernstein served as the John Christie Barr professor of History and Economics and provost and chief academic officer at Tulane University from 2007 through 2016.

File photo

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and 6th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate the man who allegedly stole merchandise from a Selden store on two dates in June.

A man allegedly stole a power bank battery charger from Target, located at 307 Independence Plaza, on June 11 at approximately 9 p.m. The same man returned to the store at approximately 8:15 a.m. on June 16 and allegedly stole a second power bank.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637) or by email at www.tipsubmit.com. All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

Forsythe Meadow County Park. Photo from Suffolk County

Soon a walk in the park could turn into park stewardship for interested Suffolk County residents thanks to a Ward Melville High School student’s love for a Stony Brook park.

East Setauket teen Jake Butkevich inspired a pilot park program in Suffolk County. Photo from Maryann Butkevich

Recently, county legislators approved a plan to create a parks stewardship pilot program that will be rolled out in 10 unstaffed Suffolk parks. The idea began when East Setauket resident Jake Butkevich, 17, approached Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) about volunteering in Forsythe Meadow County Park in Stony Brook.

Butkevich said in an email that he was inspired to propose a program after volunteering in the Adirondacks where he was assigned a trail to maintain. He chose Forsythe Meadow because he wanted to give back to his community.

“Nonstaffed parks like Forsythe Meadow are perfect for stewards to take care of,” he said. “Much of the work that I have done while taking care of this park throughout the fall of 2018 and this spring is menial like trimming back bushes and picking up fallen branches, both of which make walking the trails a much more enjoyable experience.”

Hahn, who sponsored the bill to create the stewardship program, said she’s excited about the program, and while Scout troops and other groups have adopted parks in the past, she said the new initiative will allow individuals to become park stewards.

Butkevich said he’s excited about the pilot program, and he was appreciative of Hahn working with him on the idea.

“I hope this program will be effective in keeping our county parks better maintained and inspiring young people like myself to give back to the community and to be passionate about the outdoors,” he said.

Hahn said she hopes neighbors of unstaffed parks will volunteer to walk it once a week, pick up small pieces of trash and report back to the county about trees that need to be trimmed, branches that have fallen or any kind of vandalism. She said stewards will enable the county to be more on top of what is going on at the unstaffed parks, and in turn staff workers can then be dispatched to mow grass or trim trees. The legislation doesn’t name specific parks, which allows for 10 stewards to work on a park they choose.

“It would give us real eyes on the park,” Hahn said.

According to Hahn’s office, there are more than 63,000 acres of county parkland.

The pilot program will run for one year to determine the program’s feasibility for possible expanded use within the county, and after the year is up, the parks department will make the decision about fully implementing and continuing the stewardship program.

In a statement, Philip Berdolt, commissioner of Suffolk County Parks and Recreation, said the program would help to engage residents in the conservation of local parklands.

“By becoming a steward of Suffolk County Parks’ green spaces, you will help ensure that our county’s natural resources are cared for and kept safe for future generations,” he said.

The bill now awaits County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) signature.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Executive Steve Bellone attend a June 14 press conference to announce a partnership between SCPD and Stony Brook Medicine to host Mobile Mammography Van events in the county. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Stony Brook Medicine and the Suffolk County Police Department are joining forces to provide proactive health services to residents.

“By partnering with Stony Brook Medicine to bring their Mobile Mammography Van to a number of different locations all across the county this summer, we are making it easier than ever for working women to get checked.”

— Steve Bellone

Officials announced June 14 that the police department and Stony Brook Medicine’s Mobile Mammography Van will host events this summer at various county locations. The events will provide convenient access to mammography examinations for SCPD employees as well as the public.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who was previously diagnosed with breast cancer, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), members of the Suffolk County Police Department and Stony Brook’s Mobile Mammography Program coordinator Dr. Patrick Dineen were on hand for the announcement.

“Commissioner Hart should serve as an inspiration to us all, using her own personal experience with breast cancer to raise awareness about the power of early detection, which has saved countless lives,” Bellone said. “By partnering with Stony Brook Medicine to bring their Mobile Mammography Van to a number of different locations all across the county this summer, we are making it easier than ever for working women to get checked.”

Officers from the Community Relations Bureau, Canine and Aviation Sections will be on hand to interact with children while their parents are being screened, according to county officials. Activities will include demonstrations, games and giveaways.

Hart said her first mammogram detected cancer in its earliest stages, and she hoped sharing her story would inspire others to be screened.

“Our mission includes fighting crime and one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down crime is to ensure we are finding new ways to partner with all our communities,” she said. “I believe our partnership with Stony Brook Medicine will serve as a great outreach to members of the community.”

Dineen said Stony Brook Medicine was thrilled about the collaboration.

“Our mission includes fighting crime and one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down crime is to ensure we are finding new ways to partner with all our communities.”

— Geraldine Hart

“The partnership between Stony Brook Medicine and the SCPD strengthens the efforts to ensure that all women from all socioeconomic backgrounds have easier access to screenings since we visit various locations such as businesses, school districts, libraries and churches throughout Long Island,” he said. “Furthermore, not only is the SCPD dedicated to helping our community members, they believe in this program so much that we have scheduled screening events at SCPD headquarters and the 4th Precinct so that staff members are also staying on top of their health.”

Eligible residents can visit the van for screenings at the following locations:

• Diamond in the Pines, 1844 Route 112, Coram — June 29 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• St. Hugh of Lincoln R.C. Church, 21 E. 9th St., Huntington Station — July 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• St. Anne’s R.C. Church, 88 2nd Ave., Brentwood — July 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• SCPD 4th Precinct, 727 Route 454, Hauppauge — July 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Stony Brook’s website, the Mobile Mammography Van team provides services to women on Long Island, age 40 and older, who have not had a mammogram in the last year and are not pregnant. No prescription is needed. Women seeking mammograms at the mobile events should not have implants or breast issues, such as a lump or nipple discharge, and never been diagnosed with breast cancer. They should also have had an office visit with a gynecologist, primary care physician or internist within the past year who is willing to accept the results of the screening. Individuals who do not have health insurance will be processed through the Cancer Services Program of New York, if eligible. On the day of the  mammogram, women should not wear deodorant, perfume, powders, lotions or creams on the breast area.

The van travels Suffolk and Nassau counties all year round and features a registration area, waiting room, private changing and exam space, 3-D equipment and an all-female medical staff.

For more information, call 1-833-MY-MAMMO or Dineen’s office at 631-432-0267.

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

Voters in the Village of Poquott took a walk on the Bright Side June 18.

Jeff Koppelson

Tuesday night Poquott residents had the opportunity to choose among four candidates for two trustee seats on the village board. Incumbent Jeff Koppelson, who was aiming for a third term, and newcomer Tina Cioffi ran together on the Bright Side ticket and won, according to the village’s deputy clerk Cindy Schleider. Cioffi garnered the most votes at 208, while Koppelson had 207.

The duo ran against incumbent John Richardson, who was running for his second term as trustee, and Felicia Chillak, who gained 184 and 187 votes, respectively. Both were on the We the People ticket.

Koppelson complemented his running mate’s campaigning in an email.

“Tina did a great job campaigning and showed why her energy and personality will serve the village well,” he said. “Considering the size of Poquott, our margin of victory was pretty decisive so all of us feel that our message was heard and appreciated.”

With the village putting years of debate over the recently constructed community dock behind them, the incumbent recognized the amount of votes Richardson and Chillak received. The We the People candidates were proponents of the dock being put to a referendum and felt residents needed more of a voice in village regulations.

Tina Cioffi

“John Richardson and Felicia did garner a lot of votes, so we are well aware that the village continues to be divided,” Koppelson said. “We’ve tried to be inclusive, but we hope that having Tina on the board will help build consensus moving forward. Bottom line, though, is that once again the election showed that a majority of the residents in Poquott approve of the work we’ve done and direction we’ve taken the village.”

On the Facebook page Poquott Life Matters, which Chillak administrates, she posted a message after the results were in.

“Thank you to all those who came out and supported John and I,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, we were 21 votes shy. Just know we will continue for what we believe.”

Paul Edelson ran unopposed for village justice and received 344 votes.

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Three Village Dads present check to Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

It may be Father’s Day June 16, but some local dads recently decided they would try a little giving instead of receiving.

Members of the Three Village Dads Facebook page stop for a photo after presenting Stony Brook Children’s Hospital with a check for $12,000. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

On June 3, members of the Facebook page Three Village Dads presented a check for $12,000 to Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. The group raised the money at a May 18 South Setauket Park barbecue and through a GoFundMe page. Child Life Services provides therapeutic, educational and recreational activities for children during hospital stays.

“It is never easy to coordinate a giving event, but the Three Village Dads certainly went above and beyond all expectations,” Alpers said. “Our community donors help us to brighten the lives of kids and families during a difficult time. We are so grateful to this great group of community dads who chose to support all of the children in our community who struggle with illness and hospitalization.”

Three Village Dads started six years ago as an offshoot of Three Village Moms. A year later, Stony Brook resident David Tracy joined. When he noticed there were only 20 or 30 members, and there wasn’t much interaction on the page, he asked the founder if he could take over as administrator.

Tracy said the fathers talk about a range of topics from advice on lawn care to sports to politics and nothing is off limits. The group now has more than 900 members.

“Once we got stronger and larger, we realized we could do a lot of good with it,” said the former Marine, who now works for Homeland Security.

The dads regularly meet at businesses owned by members, including O Sole Mio and Sweet Mama’s in Stony Brook, Maui Chop House in Rocky Point and Rolling Smoke Grill in Lake Ronkonkoma. Tracy said the group recently began discussing how they could contribute to the Three Village community.

“Once we got stronger and larger, we realized we could do a lot of good with it.”

— David Tracy

Three Village Dads was planning a potluck barbecue to get all of the families together, so they decided to use the event as an opportunity to raise money for a nonprofit. After polling the members as to which organization they would like to contribute, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital was the most popular answer. Tracy said $8,500 was collected through GoFundMe, and more than 30 businesses that participated in the barbecue donated food or money to be part of the event. The group also raised money by selling raffles.

“I didn’t think we’d get past $5,000 much less $12,000,” Tracy said, adding that the achievement was eye-opening for him as far as the group’s potential.

The day of the barbecue about 200 attended throughout the day, which included fire trucks from the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments, bouncy houses, a DJ and more.

“We’ve really built a sense of community, and there’s a good camaraderie with all the dads on the page to really come together and support the community and community businesses.”

— Chris Carson

Chris Carson, who has belonged to the group for three years, helped Tracy plan the barbecue. The South Setauket resident, who works for Suffolk County, said the more the fundraiser picked up steam the more drive the group had to raise more money and make the goal higher.

“We’d hit the goal, and instead of stopping or patting ourselves on the back, we just set a higher goal for ourselves and kept moving forward and try to do as much as we could,” Carson said.

The dads are hoping to hold an annual barbecue and are currently discussing future events to help in the community, the county employee said, including a golf outing to benefit the VFW Post 3054 East Setauket on Jones Street and a toy drive during the holiday season.

“We’ve really built a sense of community, and there’s a good camaraderie with all the dads on the page to really come together and support the community and community businesses,” Carson said.

The barbecue wasn’t the group’s first good deed. Earlier this year, 55 members donated blood and platelets at Stony Brook University Hospital’s blood bank.

“We look out for each other. We look out for each other’s families.”

— Colby Rowe

Colby Rowe, Trauma Center Education & Prehospital outreach coordinator at Stony Brook Medicine, said donating blood at the hospital is essential since supplies are low.

A member of Three Village Dads since last year, Rowe said he appreciated how many of the dads donated, adding that many who couldn’t donate came out to support the others.

“It made me feel great not only because I’m a member of the community, a member of the group but I’m also an employee of the hospital,” he said. “It made me proud to be part of each one of those organizations.”

The turnout didn’t surprise him as he said the members are always helpful whether asking for advice or looking to borrow power tools or a beaker for a science project.

“We really are a productive group of people,” he said. “We look out for each other. We look out for each other’s families.”

Rowe said the group plans on organizing three blood drives a year with the next one scheduled for the end of June.

When it comes to creating a group like Three Village Dads, Tracy said it takes more than just one person to make it successful and credits all of the members for playing a part in the success.

“You really can’t force it,” he said. “It’s kind of a natural thing, and it has to take shape on its own.”

To join the page, which is open to dads, brothers, uncles, grandfathers and sons of the Three Village Central School District, visit www.facebook.com and search for Three Village Dads.

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

On June 18, Poquott residents will head to the polls to choose between four candidates vying for two trustee spots. This year’s incumbents Jeff Koppelson and John Richardson will go up against newcomers Felicia Chillak and Tina Cioffi. Paul Edelson is running unopposed for a four-year term as village justice.

All four board members recently answered questions via email and phone.

Incumbents

Jeff Koppelson

Koppelson, 71, has served two two-year terms as trustee and since 2017 has been deputy mayor. A Poquott resident for 47 years, he is a retired director of a psychiatric treatment program. He and Cioffi are running on the Bright Side ticket.

“I decided to run because there are a number of projects that I’ve been working on that are still in progress, such as developing a plan to stabilize Walnut Beach and continuing to rewrite our outdated village codes,” Koppelson said.

The trustee said the language for many of the codes had to be updated to bring them into compliance and to make them consistent with each other. Codes often overlap, he said, and “a number of times one code said one thing and another code contradicted it.”

Municipalities are now required to follow the International Building Code, which covers multiple construction and zoning issues. Koppelson said while a village can make a code stricter, it cannot make a code more lenient.

“So, it is important that we have our codes not only comply but be distilled down to what we as a small village need to know,” he said, adding the village posts the codes on its website for easy accessibility for residents.

After a code is rewritten, it is circulated among the board members for comments, and then a public hearing is held to give residents the opportunity to point out errors or inconsistencies before it is given to the village attorney.

Richardson, 44, is completing his first term as trustee and last year ran for mayor against Dee Parrish. The New York City firefighter has lived in the village for nearly 18 years, and he is running in the We the People Party with Chillak.

“I would like to keep some form of checks and balances on the board to prevent unfair laws and issues from being rubber stamped and pushed through and allow village residents more say on how their village is governed,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he opposes the board’s plan to classifying a zoning violation as a misdemeanor and to request a search warrant to enter someone’s home for inspection as the village deems necessary. He added he feels the moves would be an overreach of the government.

“I would like to curb the intrusive hostile government laws trying to be passed,” Richardson said.

Koppelson said Richardson’s objection is an example of codes needing to be updated, and a process was recently needed for emergency situations as one didn’t exist. For example, if it is believed there is a dangerous situation in a house and the owners don’t agree to an inspection, a search warrant is needed to evaluate the situation. It was a suggestion that came from village attorney Joseph Prokop, Koppelson said, who told the trustee that similar situations have occurred in other villages that he does legal work for.

Challengers

Chillak, 61, is vying for trustee for the second time after an unsuccessful run in 2018 for a seat. A realtor with HR Realty since 1990, she has lived in Poquott for 29 years and has been a member of the Poquott Civic Association board since 2014.

Felicia Chillak

“I am running again because I feel there should be a balance on the board,” she said. “I will continue to review and analyze all changes made in our village. As always, I will seek residents’ input because this village belongs to them. I will be the voice of the voiceless.”

She feels that many residents are hesitant to approach the board but feel comfortable talking to her, and she feels she can be a conduit between the village government and residents.

“The Village of Poquott was formed because residents did not want outside influence controlling their everyday lives,” she said. “This current board seems to be bed rocked in government control. I will strive for a balance, so we can once again enjoy all the pleasures of residing in our little corner of heaven.”

Cioffi, 50, is running for trustee for the first time. A former creative director in a Long Island-based advertising agency for 15 years, she has owned a marketing and communications consulting business since 2003. She has lived in Poquott since 2008, and her husband has owned their home since 1986.

Cioffi said maintaining the village’s website and attending board meetings inspired her to get involved.

“I saw a lot of good happening in our village as well a lot of controversy,” she said. “I saw both sides of most of the arguments and felt that my background in communications might lend a hand in resolving some of the issues, so I volunteered to redesign the website as it was an area that all the candidates agreed needed to be addressed.”

Community dock

Poquott’s dock will officially open June 13, but for years it was a hot button topic in the village. The dock, located in California Park at the end of Washington Street, had been discussed by residents for nearly a decade, and while several protested the idea, the village board began the process of building one a few years ago.

Tina Cioffi

Richardson and Chillak feel the issue is behind the village now, but in the past, both called for a referendum for residents to vote on it as both candidates didn’t feel prior questionnaires that were mailed to residents about the dock were adequate.

“The current board spoke, ignored the request of the people and for now, we have to move on,” Chillak said. “I will work toward that unity.”

All the candidates feel there may be unforeseeable issues with the dock, and it will take a season of use to formalize guidelines.

“We will need a season of using it to learn how to manage hours of usage, loitering and noise issues, and deployment of our code enforcement officers,” Koppelson said. “We also expect that there will be new, evolving issues that inevitably arise.”

Richardson said he believes all aspects “of the dock should have been discussed and decided before the dock was built.”

Other issues

All four trustees agreed that there are issues outside of the dock to resolve in the village.

Koppelson said the board has to address drainage issues in the village, and he would also like to work toward an affordable, short-term solution to stabilizing what is left of Walnut Beach. He said the village also needs to develop a way to speed up the seasonal road repair process, which starts after the winter and involves the advertising of bids and then waiting for the next board meeting to open the bids and award the contract. This leads to work not being completed until well into spring.

Cioffi agreed that the village faces the degrading of Walnut Beach and infrastructure changes including repaving and drainage and lighting systems needing to be modified “but few of the residents want to incur the tax increase that would be required to fully accommodate those requests.”

The candidate said she would like to work on feasibility studies that compare Poquott to other incorporated villages in order to find out where the village falls short and form committees with interested residents to work together with the board to obtain grants.

“I think it’s going to be a multiphase endeavor similar to how the current board addresses issues now but on a larger scale and with more people involved to expedite the process,” she said, adding the new village website includes a community section to foster participation for resident-based clubs and organizations.

Richardson and Chillak also agreed that there are issues regarding roads, lighting and drainage that need to be addressed with long-term plans. 

“There are residents that have spoken of their willingness to help,” Chillak said. “I will engage them to the best of my ability.”

Chillak said the auditor’s last report was also troubling to her, and she feels finances are another major issue. She said even though the budget looks as if the village is on target, she feels the auditor’s comments at a recent village meeting point to the fund balance being dangerously close to low.

Unity

Many feel the community dock has caused divisiveness in the village over the years, but the candidates feel that can end.

Cioffi said she ran a charity drive in December where she felt all the residents contributed generously, and if she’s elected, she plans on more community-based initiatives for children and teenagers to bring residents together.

“The residents of Poquott share a lot of common ground and we need to build on it, not break it down,” she said. “Collaboration is key. If there is an issue, a black or white solution is not going to satisfy every resident. If I’m elected, I’m going to look for the solutions that strike compromises and land somewhere in between.”

Richardson said nothing would make him happier than to see residents come together.

“The polarization of neighbors has gone on too long,” he said. “It’s a shame, because it takes away from what makes Poquott such a great place. How do you facilitate that? I think it could start with neighbors sharing more hellos and handshakes, and less rumors, lies and insults.”

The Village of Poquott will hold its annual election Tuesday, June 18, at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave. Polling will be open from 12 to 9 p.m. for voting.

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