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Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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The site of the proposed community residence on Twixt Hills Road in St. James. Photo from Google Maps

Nearly 100 residents filled the Eugene A. Senior Citizen Center in Smithtown Feb.14 to discuss a proposed St. James group home on Twixt Hills Road. Previously, St. James residents raised concerns over the home, but the latest meeting saw a shift in the majority of residents speaking in favor of the proposed plans.

The St. James residence would be operated by Life’s WORC, a Garden City-based private nonprofit organization, to provide housing for six adults with developmental disabilities and autism. The organization currently runs a total of 41 group homes and rehabilitation programs in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens.

“If these were people of a different religion or race, we wouldn’t be having this hearing,” Joseph Winters, of St. James said. “It should be no different for people with disabilities.”

If these were people of a different religion or race, we wouldn’t be having this hearing.”

— Joseph Winters

Winters said his son Sean would be one of the  individuals who would reside at the proposed group home. He said it was upsetting that his family had to attend a hearing so his son can continue to live in the town where he grew up.

Mary Rafferty, chief operating officer at Life’s WORC, said over the past couple weeks she has spoken to about 36 neighbors who have reached out to the agency with questions and concerns, and who have voiced support for the group home. She said the nonprofit organization was formed by parents raising children with developmental disorders concerned for these individuals’ future.

Rafferty acknowledged that many of the concerns St. James residents shared with her  had to do with how the home would affect the block. She said the agency purchased the home with the understanding that it would need renovations and updates. The organization plans on doing exterior work on the home, including fencing the yard to match the neighboring property owner and a circular driveway to ease traffic and parking issues.

“I’m asking you to give us a chance to show how it can work when it’s done right,” she said. 

Mary Lu Heinz, of Nesconset, said she similarly related to Winters as a parent of a 21-year-old son with autism. As she and her husband near retirement age they are facing tough decisions she said, while displaying her son’s high school graduation photograph.

“We are contemplating our son’s life when we are gone,” Heinz said. “Where will he go?”

She said a home, like the proposed residence, provides living opportunities for her son and others like him.

The sole opposition of the group home at the Feb. 14 meeting came in the form of an email from the Damin Park Civic Association stating that the home could permanently alter the nature and character of the neighborhood, as well as significantly increase motor vehicle traffic. The association also said its concerns are in no way a reflection on those individuals with either a physical or a mental disabilities.

Life’s WORC purchased the home Jan. 9 for $575,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island’s website. The four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home boasts 2,857 square feet of living space and will have a residential manager and on-site staffing 24/7.

“[quote_left]“I’m asking you to give us a chance to show how it can work when it’s done right.”

— Mary Rafferty

Denise Walsh, an employee at Life’s WORC who oversees all staff training, said the agency’s philosophy for each person they support is “living with dignity and growing with pride.”

“Due to the Padavan Law, people with disabilities still have to advocate for inclusive —but you and I have free will on where we would like to live — without any opposition,” Walsh said. “Each of these young men are people first, and their disability comes second.”

Smithtown officials have 40 days to respond to Life’s WORC, or until Feb. 24, to raise any objections to the planned Twixt Hills group home, under New York State law. The main objection the town could argue is citing a saturation of group homes in the area, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

Will Flower, who has known the Winters family for many years, asked for people who oppose the home to open their hearts.

“In the end there are only three truths,” Flower said. “Fact is, is that every town has residents with special needs and the best communities are those that welcome and have homes for them. The second is that this home is needed now and third is that this project shows that the St. James community is a community that cares.”

Commack HIgh School. Photo from Google Maps

Suffolk County police officers arrested a man who works as an evening custodian for the Commack School District after a search found he had a stash of illegal guns and drugs inside his Patchogue home.

Patrick Musumeci, 30, was arrested Feb. 6 by police officers and faces 24 drug- and weapons-related charges.

Patrick Musumeci. Photo from SCPD

Following an investigation, Suffolk’s 5th Squad Special Operations Team and Emergency Section Service officers along with 5th Precinct Gang Unit officers executed a search warrant on Musumeci’s home on Wilmarth Avenue at approximately 5:35 a.m.

In the raid, officers found 16 guns inside the Patchogue home, including one Glock semiautomatic handgun, a Taurus semiautomatic handgun and four assault rifles, with ammunition. Two of the guns, a Smith & Wesson pistol and Ruger pistol had both previously been reported stolen. In addition to the guns, officers seized five sets of brass knuckles and a switchblade.

In addition to the weapons, Suffolk County police officers seized quantities of both prescription opiates and illegal drugs from the Patchogue home. The drugs found included oxycodone, Xanax, concentrated cannabis, marijuana, morphine pills and packaging materials.

Musumeci is charged with three counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, six counts of criminal possession in the seventh degree, two counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia in the second degree, criminal possession of marijuana in the fourth degree, five counts criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, four counts criminal possession of a firearm, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree and one count of grand larceny in the fourth degree.

Commack school officials reacted to news of Musumeci’s arrest by posting a letter to district residents on its website.

“The district has found no evidence to date that he ever brought a weapon or drugs onto school property,” reads the district’s statement. “To date, we have not found any suspicious activity on school property.”

Prior to being hired, Musumeci was fingerprinted and underwent a background check by New York State, according to the district. He was cleared, and state law would have required the district to be notified of any subsequent arrests, of which they claim to have received none.

Commack school officials said the district also has conducted an extensive search of the employee lockers, areas of the buildings the evening custodian was responsible for overseeing and reviewed buildingwide video footage in the wake of the allegations.

“The district and its outside security consultant will continue to review its safety and security plans and determine whether or not additional precautions are warranted,” read the district’s statement.

Musumeci was arraigned Feb. 7 in 1st District Court in Central Islip. He was ordered held in lieu of $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond, which had not been posted as of Feb. 13.

Commack school officials said their investigation into the matter is ongoing and the district is fully cooperating with the Suffolk police department.

Millers Pond in Smithtown. File photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to those individuals who might be responsible for decapitating six birds found in Smithtown and Great River.

The Town of Smithtown’s Public Safety Department received an anonymous phone call Feb. 4 reporting three dead birds were found near the Maple Avenue and 4th Avenue entrance to Millers Pond County Park, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. The public safety officers then immediately notified the Suffolk SCPA.

Roy Gross, chief of the nonprofit animal advocacy group, said his volunteers working in cooperation with Smithtown park rangers and Suffolk County Police Department found the bodies of two chickens and a blue jay that had been beheaded lying next to a bloodied cardboard box.

“People do these animal sacrifices, and it’s absolutely illegal. They will say they are allowed to do it because it’s a religious right. It is not.”

— Roy Gross

The following day, Feb. 5, the SCPA received a report of three decapitated birds, two chickens and a dove, left alongside Wheeler Road in Great River. Gross said additional items left at the site raised questions as to whether the animals’ deaths were ritualistic in nature.

“We’ve had numerous cases over the years,” he said. “It has all the indications of a religious animal sacrifice.”

The SPCA contacted Marcos Quinones, a retired New York police detective of 36 years and renowned occult specialist, on these two cases. Quinones said he has worked with law enforcement officials at federal, state and local levels on various causes related to occult matters.

“Santeria is a nature-based religion, and it varies based on what god or goddess you worship, each has an element of nature they are thought to control,” he said. “If you needed something from them, you would do a ritual.”

Quinones said based on the location of the six birds’ bodies and items left with them, he believes the birds were killed elsewhere and brought to the pond as a religious offering for Oshun, goddess of the rivers and lakes.

“Santeria is basically a good, nature-based religion, but sometimes people take something good and misuse it,” the occult expert said. “You have to ask yourself what’s the purpose of this ritual?”

Under New York State law, to kill an animal without any intention to consume it is illegal, according to Gross.

“People do these animal sacrifices, and it’s absolutely illegal,” he said. “They will say they are allowed to do it because it’s a religious right. It is not.”

In February 2018, the Suffolk SPCA found the bodies of two hens frozen in the ice at Millers Pond. Gross said the chickens’ heads were found a short distance away, but it was originally thought that other animals may have ripped it apart from the body as potential food.

“We canvassed the area to see if anyone had chickens that were lost,” the chief said. “We did a thorough investigation but couldn’t get any information on it.”

“If there’s an arrest and conviction, that’s a check I’m happy to write.”

— Roy Gross

Gross said twice the SPCA has found a cow’s tongue nailed to a tree across from Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. Upon further investigation, SPCA volunteers discovered candle wax, pins and nine slips of paper bearing individual names had been inserted inside the cow’s tongue, according to Gross. Another time the cow’s tongue was attached by a fishing lure and left out with a bowl of livestock feed as an offering.

“Imagine if a child had come along and grabbed it or seen something like that,” Gross said. “It’s bad enough for an adult, walking along and seeing a tongue hanging from a tree or a beheaded animal. It’s barbaric and should not exist in this day and age.”

If an arrest is made, Gross said the individual will face misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty to wildlife or farm life, which carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for each offense.

The SPCA is asking anyone who may have information related to the recent discoveries in Smithtown and Great River to contact the nonprofit organization at 631-382-7722. All calls are confidential.

“If there’s an arrest and conviction, that’s a check I’m happy to write,” Gross said.

Nissequogue River. File photo by Rita J. Egan

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is calling for state police officers to investigate who is behind anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in Nissequogue River State Park.

A photo of the swastika discovered in Nissequogue River State Park. Photo from NYS PD

New York State police received a call Feb. 10 from a jogger who discovered a swastika and a hateful white supremacist slogan written in chalk along the bike path in Kings Park.

“This abhorrent act of hate is deeply disturbing, especially at a time of great division and in the wake of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in this nation’s history,” Cuomo said.

The governor’s remarks referenced the shooting at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 that killed 11 people.

“The message is deeply troubling to those who live in Kings Park community and all those who continue the fight against hated,” state Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) said in a statement. “I want to make it clear that all elected officials and community leaders are united in saying that hateful symbols must never be tolerated and those responsible must and will be held accountable for their actions.

The state police’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating the matter. Anyone who may have any information on the vandalism is asked to call 631-756-3300.

Centerport residents held a rally Feb. 9 seeking protection of the area's environment and speaking out on proposed developments. Photo from Facebook

Town of Huntington officials have decided to calm the fears of Centerport residents over potential water contamination that could harm and scare off local wildlife, particularly their beloved American bald eagles.

Dom Spada, deputy director of the town’s Maritime Services, said a 300-foot-long soft boom was installed Feb. 13 along the waterfront near the former Thatched Cottage site on Route 25A, which is currently under construction to become Water’s Edge.

“We did this at the request of the people from Centerport,” he said. “We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.”

We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.” 

— Dom Spada

The barrier is an oil-absorbent sock made of cellular fiber, approximately 8-inches in diameter, and is usually used for containing and absorbing oil-based spills, according to Spada. It will float along the top of the water and soak in lubricants and fuels without absorbing any water. It cost the town approximately $2,000 plus labor for five men needed to install it.

Over the last three weeks, Centerport residents have filed a series of complaints with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the town expressing concerns that construction debris and stormwater runoff after heavy rains could be contaminating the harbor.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) sat down Feb. 8 with Centerport residents including Tom Knight, co-president of Centerport Harbor Civic Association, and Rob Schwartz, founder of Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, to discuss and address these concerns and other proposed developments including a 7-Eleven.

“I am really happy, happily surprised,” Schwartz said. “I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.”

On Feb. 1, Huntington’s building division received a new complaint forwarded from Suffolk County’s Department of Health Services alleging that asbestos runoff was entering the pond, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. The town told residents in the Feb. 8 meeting the county had tested the water then informed Steve Kiewra, the town’s building permits coordinator, in a phone conversation there was no evidence of asbestos runoff.

I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.

— Rob Schwartz

Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for Suffolk’s DHS, said Division of Environmental Quality employees did visit the site Feb. 1 to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks.

While county employees have been frequent contact with town staff in recent weeks, according to Kelly-McGovern, the results are still out as to whether or not Mill Pond has been contaminated from any source.

“Yes, our staff has been in touch with the town staff, but did not claim any testing results,” she said.

New York State DEC visited the site Feb. 5 and found the Water’s Edge in full compliance with state regulations.

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said his company, in full cooperation with state DEC guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond. 

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school administrators are cautiously aware of the district’s 2.57 percent tax cap in approaching their strategy to drafting the 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent James Polansky gave his first presentation on the district’s 2019-20 budget with a carefully thought out exposition of the district’s state-mandated tax cap allowing a 2.57 percent tax levy, or an increase of approximately $2.77 million over the current year’s budget.

“That number does not dictate the board will raise taxes by 2.57 percent, they could go above — I wouldn’t advise it — or they could go below,” Polansky said. “2.57 percent is the highest we could go without needing to secure a 60 percent supermajority.”

Huntington taxpayers approved a $129.8 million budget for the current 2018-19 school year, of which 84 percent is paid for by the tax levy on district homeowners and commercial businesses.

My request of having a librarian in each elementary school is of increasing importance.” 

—James Graber

For the upcoming 2019-20 year, the superintendent said the district’s overall tax levy number is higher than 2 percent primarily due to two factors: an assessed growth in the school district’s tax base, which increased the tax levy cap, and $475,611 carried over from last year.

“In basic terms, the carryover means we didn’t levy all we could have to the limit last year,” Polansky said.

In preparing the draft 2019-20 budget, the superintendent said initial estimates show two of the district’s major costs will decrease. The district’s state-mandated contribution rates to the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System are anticipated to drop.

The proposed 2019 Executive Budget of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)contains funding for a number of educational initiatives, but also calls for increasing foundation aid by 1.9 percent statewide. If approved by the state Legislature, Huntington stands to receive $49,615, or a 0.52 percent increase over the current year, which it will have the discretion on how to spend.

James Graber, president of Huntington’s teachers association, called balancing the budget an “unenviable task” but requested the board make several considerations.

“My request of having a librarian in each elementary school is of increasing importance,” he said. “As we are seeking to develop lifelong learners and a love of reading, these resuscitations are critical.”

Graber said currently elementary students only are scheduled for library time once every other week. He also requested more resources be made available to help meet the needs of English language learners and additional classes at secondary school level, where some classes have more than 30 students enrolled.

Polansky encouraged residents or groups with interests in the budget, or a particular interest in the 2019-20 budget, to reach out to his office as soon as possible.

“As the presentations go on into April and we get closer to adopting a budget, that’s sometimes when people start to offer ideas and give food for thought to the administration or the board,” he said. “That’s late in the process, it starts now.”

The district’s next budget presentation will be 7 p.m. Feb. 25 in the auditorium of Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. The official budget hearing is slated for May 13, prior to the May 21 budget and school board trustee vote.

Northport power plant. File photo

New York State and town officials are renewing their calls for changes to be made to Long Island Power Authority’s operations as the trial over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station is slated to begin Feb. 25.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) reintroduced legislation Jan. 31 that called for LIPA to be restructured so that eight of the utility company’s nine board members would be elected by public vote, among other changes.

“I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island,” he said. “I think it needs to be scrapped and replaced.”

““I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island.”

— Jim Gaughran

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has partnered with Gaughran to sponsor the bill in the state Assembly. The concept of the ratepayers protection act was first introduced in February 2017 by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Thiele, co-sponsored by a coalition that included state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport). Those early bills failed to ever make it the Legislature’s floor for a vote.

Currently, LIPA’s nine-member board of trustees consists of five individuals appointed by the governor, two selected by the president or majority leader of the state Senate, and two chosen by the speaker of the Assembly.

The proposed ratepayers protection act calls for the state Legislature to create eight districts roughly equal in population size based on the last U.S. Census by May 1, 2021. A resident of each district would be elected to LIPA’s board to serve a two-year term as trustee, with the first elections to be held in December 2021. Candidates on the ballot would not be chosen by the political parties, and those elected would not be paid but could be reimbursed from the state for their related expenses, according to the draft.

In addition, the proposed legislation would require LIPA to hold public hearings before making future rate changes, give residents 30 days advance notice of the hearing and hold the event in the county it affects — Suffolk or Nassau. It would prohibit the utility company from increasing its rates to offset any losses from energy conservation efforts.

“I promised the residents of his district once elected, I was going to hold one of my first town halls on this — a town hall in Northport to drill down and deal with the issues of LIPA,” Gaughran said.

He will hold a town hall-style forum 10 a.m. March 16 in Northport High School’s auditorium with town and school district officials present to answer questions and review various options moving forward with LIPA, including the ratepayers protection act.

“We are encouraged to hear this legislation is being reintroduced, as it will provide the oversight and transparency needed to restore residents’ confidence in LIPA — ensuring that the best interests of the ratepayers are served,” Huntington spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said.

Huntington’s town board also voted unanimously Jan. 29 to petition its elected officials to amend state law to allow the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district access to the state’s Electric Generating Facility Cessation Mitigation Program funding in case LIPA is successful in getting the Northport power plant’s annual taxes reduced, as well as to put more money into that state fund. This bill also failed to find sufficient support to pass the state Legislature last year.

We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case.”

— Nick Ciappetta

The tax certiorari case is slated to begin trial Feb. 25. While the town and Northport school district have entered nonbinding mediation with five sessions being held to date, according to Lembo, an agreement has not been struck.

In contrast, the Town of Brookhaven formally settled its lawsuit with LIPA over the Port Jefferson power plant Dec. 14 agreeing to decrease taxes on the plant 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years.

“We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case,” Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said. “The Brookhaven agreement has nothing to do with the Northport power plant.”

Ciappetta cited what he believes are several key differences between the Northport and Port Jeff stations: Northport’s output capacity is four times larger, it is a dual-fuel plant that is capable of operating on both natural gas and oil, and that its operation is vital to helping maintain the state’s power capacity requirements.

Gaughran said he is willing to review and support any state legislation which may aid Huntington and Northport in their ongoing legal battle with LIPA and National Grid.

“It’s clear that everyone has to continue to fight this,” he said. “We can’t be preparing to lose. Everyone must continue to fight — it’s too important.”

The site of the proposed community residence on Twixt Hills Road in St. James. Photo from Google Maps

A new property owner in St. James is already making waves with neighbors over plans to convert a single-family residence into an adult group home.

Life’s WORC, a private nonprofit organization that supports people who are developmentally disabled or have autism, notified the Town of Smithtown Jan. 15 it purchased a home on Twixt Hills Road with the intent of creating a community residence for six adults. Several members of the St. James community have raised concerns and are asking for a public information session about the home slated for Feb. 14 be pushed back as it falls on Valentine’s Day. 

“One of our major service goals is to establish homes that will enable persons with disabilities to reside in the community close to their families and friends while allowing them opportunities for normal life-enriching experiences,” reads the organization’s letter. 

Life’s WORC purchased a two-story colonial home that currently provides four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms on a 0.56-acre lot on Twixt Hills Road. The nonprofit closed on the home Jan. 9 at a price tag of $575,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island’s website. The residence offers 2,857 square feet of living space and has a two-car garage. 

“The town can accept it or reject it based on saturation, but you have to define saturation legally.”

— Nicole Garguilo

“The residence is located in a pleasant, safe, neighborhood of single-family homes and is accessible to desirable community amenities, which include shopping, public transportation, medical, recreational faculties, parks and houses of worship,” reads Life’s WORC’s Jan. 15 letter to the town. 

The organization’s notice states the home will be used to house six adults under a residential manager with on-site staffing 24 hours a day. The nonprofit organization, started in 1971, currently oversees residences for more than 140 individuals in Suffolk and Nassau counties. It also operates homes in Queens. Life’s WORC could not be reached for comment. 

Nicole Garguilo, spokeswoman for Town of Smithtown, said while the town is not obligated to host an information session slated for the Feb. 14 town board meeting, it has reached out to the organization on behalf of residents. Life’s WORC has offered to host a second meeting, after the initial session slated for Valentine’s Day, to discuss the St. James home with concerned community members, according to Garguilo. 

Under New York State Law, Smithtown town officials have 40 days to respond to Life’s WORC, or until approximately Feb. 24, and raise any objections to the planned Twixt Hills Road community residence. Its primary basis for objection would be citing a saturation of group homes in the area, according to Garguilo, which can be tricky. 

“The town can accept it or reject it based on saturation, but you have to define saturation legally,” she said. “It’s almost like a trick question, you can accept with conditions. Usually, it’s accepted with conditions.”  

The public informational session on the Twixt Hills home will be held 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Eugene Cannataro Senior Citizens Center, located at 420 Middle Country Road in Smithtown. 

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

More than a year into his first term in office, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) believes his administration has brought a renewed sense of energy and purpose to Town Hall. 

Wehrheim took over the reins from former Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) — a man who once held the title of New York’s longest active serving town supervisor after 40 years in office — in January 2018. The move came after Wehrheim narrowly beat Vecchio in a party primary that deeply divided Republicans in the township, before securing the office with 57 percent of the vote over two challengers. 

TBR News Media sat down with Wehrheim in an exclusive interview to review his performance on 2017 campaign promises and the status of the township.

“I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“I would give myself an A,” Wehrheim said. “I’ve gotten out to the Smithtown community and business community on what we are  doing and the feedback that I’ve gotten has been consistently positive.” 

One of the first challenges the new supervisor faced was how to unite a Republican town board and administration that had been split into opposing camps during the 2017 election process. 

“I did not come in and make a lot of changes, which I could have done,” Wehrheim said. “I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.” 

One of his pledges had been to create town government for Smithtown that was more transparent to its residents. Wehrheim appointed Nicole Garguilo as the town’s first spokeswoman within days of his swearing-in and has ensured live streaming of town board meetings. A mobile phone app was launched in August 2018 to keep residents up to the minute with the latest public safety notices, but a complex town meeting agenda
he once criticized as “75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that” he admits has changed little. 

“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency,” Wehrheim said. “Not many people outside it, and sometimes not even town council people, would know what was happening. We couldn’t fix it immediately.”

For 2019, the supervisor is focused on restructuring the town’s website and said an updated town agenda was available Jan. 24, with more to come in once the website revisions are made. 

Wehrheim made promises during the 2017 elections to revive “long dormant downtown
revitalization” projects including sewers for Kings Park and to bring apartments to Smithtown. He said the town’s Nov. 30, 2018, report found there have been 2.1 million square feet of commercial development that’s begun or is permitted and ready to begin construction. The supervisor has worked with Suffolk County to complete an engineering study for sewering downtown Kings Park, which has been stymied by the state Legislature’s unwillingness to vote on a home rule bill that would isolate a necessary piece of land needed to construct a pump station. 

“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency.”

— Ed Wehrheim

He said received assurances from state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) will be taking up the legislation, hopefully for a vote shortly.

Wehrheim had led the town in approving construction of Lofts at Maple & Main, which has all approvals needed to bring a mixed-used building containing 9,500 square feet of retail space and 72 apartments to Smithtown’s Main Street. He hopes this will help address “brain drain” on Long Island and be a move toward creating a walkable downtown environment. 

In St. James, the town has more than $8 million set aside for revitalization with sewers, water mains and improved streetscaping. He’s also brokered a promise with Gyrodyne LLC to expand the sewer treatment plant for proposed Flowerfield property development to accommodate the Lake Avenue business district. 

Large-scale commercial developments approved under Wehrheim’s tenure include CarMax taking over the Smithtown Concrete Plant on Route 25 and Tesla renovating the former 6th Avenue Electronics on Route 247 in Nesconset.

One thing Smithtown’s supervisor has yet to get around to is creating the business advisory council. Wehrheim has promised interviews for an executive board are underway as of January.

“There’s always room for improvement, there’s not a question about that,” he said. “At this particular time, it’s going well, and I’m sure down the road we will improve more.” 

Stormwater runoff coming from Route 25A headed toward Mill Pond after a heavy rainfall. Photo by Rob Schwartz

Two Centerport civic groups will join together this weekend to protest against proposed developments they fear could negatively impact the environment if left unchecked. 

Centerport Harbor Civic Association will join with members of the Bald Eagles of Centerport, NY Facebook group to rally at the intersection of Route 25A and Little Neck Road Saturday, Feb. 9, from 10 to 11 a.m., to draw attention to the potential environmental and traffic impacts of several developments in progress. 

“No one is looking at the overall picture of the area,” Rob Schwartz, of Centerport, said. “There’s a large amount of construction and it’s a concern for the community.” 

Schwartz, founder of the Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, said he’s seen firsthand stormwater runoff from Route 25A making its way into Mill Pond. He voiced concerns over whether the property owners of Water’s Edge, formerly The Thatched Cottage, are following all necessary precautions to ensure materials from the construction do not wind up in water. He fears if pollutants make their way into the harbor, it could cause extensive harm or death to native fish and wildlife. 

A gap in the silt fencing by the site of the former Thatched Cottage in January. Photo by Rob Schwartz

“They are not doing what they should be doing to protect the wetlands,” Schwartz said. “The pictures show that.” 

As a photographer, he’s posted numerous photos and videos via social media of rainbow-hued pools of water along Mill Pond’s banks alleging it’s a clear indicator of contamination. 

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said Centerport residents’ outcries of contamination are unfounded. 

“We have taken every safety precaution possible to not only safeguard the pond, but any impact our construction would have on the environment and its surrounding area,” he said. 

Scarda said his company, in full cooperation with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond.  

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe,” he said.

The concerns of Centerport’s residents of the harbor’s contamination have not fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office received a complaint Jan. 30 regarding Centerport Harbor, complaining of issues with ongoing construction at the former Thatched Cottage site, EPA spokesman David Kluesner said. Those complaints were forward to the Town of Huntington for further investigation. 

Lauren Lembo, spokeswoman for the Town of Huntington, said DEC staff and the harbormaster checked the site Jan. 24, shortly after a day-long downpour and found no signs of a spill. She said town employees later investigated the matter to find the silt curtain required along the bulkhead, while present, was improperly installed and immediate corrective action was taken. 

“Our building department has been made aware, and maritime services will continue to make routine inspections regarding stormwater control measures and any improper discharges into Mill Pond,” Lembo said. 

Suffolk County’s Division of Environmental Quality routinely tests the water quality of the pond, as part of the Huntington-Northport Harbor complex, on a bimonthly basis, according to spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern. 

Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he’s had several constituents reach out to him with concerns over the former Thatched Cottage property and runoff into Mill Pond, and has requested that the county takes additional water samples. 

“I want to make sure we are addressing true concerns and not getting into rumors,” Spencer said. “It’s near the water and there’s construction going on. Are there pollution concerns? It’s reasonable.” 

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe.”

— Enrico Scarda

Employees of Suffolk’s Division of Environmental Quality visited the site Feb. 1, Kelly-McGovern said, to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks. 

Kelly-McGovern said the “rainbow opalescence” seen by Centerport residents in the photos can be produced by microbes as a result of breaking down organic matter such as fish, leaves and plants. 

“It’s a relatively common wetland phenomenon,” she said. 

Schwartz said he and others would still like to see additional environmental protection measures, such as a floating boom to limit the spread of any possible debris or floating contaminates. 

In addition to the environmental concerns, Tom Knight of Centerport Harbor Civic Association said the rally will voice opposition to the proposed 7-Eleven he fears will create significantly more traffic on the corner of Route 25A and Little Neck Road. The intersection is a steep angle and prone to causing accidents, Knight said. 

The proposed 7-Eleven is currently in the process of a drafting an environmental impact statement, which has yet to be completed and submitted to the Town of Huntington. 

“I can’t stop progress, but I can ask them to make it safe,” Schwartz said. “I’ve lived here for 30 years, I love this town, and I don’t want to see it ruined.” 

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