Authors Posts by Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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Laurel Hill Road at Elwood Road in Northport. Photo from Google Maps

A traffic study of Laurel Hill Road conducted following a serious September accident found that drivers’ “poor behavior” makes roadway conditions significantly worse outside Northport High School, according to Town of Huntington officials.

The town’s Department of Transportation and Traffic Study conducted a study following the Sept. 4 accident involving 14-year-old Miles Lerner. Miles was an incoming freshman walking to cross-country practice at Northport High School when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound on Laurel Hill Road at 8:06 a.m., according to Suffolk County police. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University
Hospital with a traumatic brain injury.

Following the incident, Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), a citizen’s advocate and town employees met with members of the Northport-East Northport school district and Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct Sept. 14 to discuss the accident and pedestrian traffic in the area. As a result, the town decided to undertake a traffic study of Laurel Hill Road, which is in the town’s jurisdiction, the result of which was shared with school officials and police officers at a Nov. 27 meeting.

The next steps are to meet with the school district’s architect, Suffolk County and residents to discuss the town’s traffic study and plans for improvements along Laurel Hill Road and on the school property.”

— Scott Spittal

“Our Traffic Safety team has been carefully analyzing the data they collected from vehicular as well as pedestrian bicycle traffic to formulate a recommendation that will make our roads safer for student walkers, reduce driver frustration and achieve an overall traffic calming effect, especially during those critical pick-up and drop-off times,” Lupinacci said.

From Sept. 19 to 27, town employees placed traffic counting devices along Laurel Hill Road and the driveways that provide access to and from the high school to collect data on traffic volumes and speed. The data showed an average of 420 vehicles traveled eastbound and roughly 500 vehicles westbound on Laurel Hill Road during the peak morning hour of 7 to 8 a.m. weekdays, compared to an average of 40 to 50 cars on weekends. The 85 percentile of vehicles were clocked traveling at approximately 45 mph eastbound and 39 mph westbound, nearly twice the school speed zone restriction set at 20 mph. The average number of vehicles counted traveling on Laurel Hill Road during the peak 2 to 3 p.m. hour was between roughly 220 to 240 cars in each direction.

“Conditions are made worse due to poor driver behavior that was observed, including drivers speeding, dropping off students in the westbound Laurel Hill Road shoulder area and travel lane, and using the westbound Laurel Hill Road shoulder to bypass the queue of vehicles waiting to enter the school’s westernmost driveway along Laurel Hill Road,” read the town’s report.

In addition, Huntington transportation and traffic employees noted that buses and vehicles made “precarious” left turns out of the school’s easternmost driveway on Laurel Hill Road, close to the intersection with Elwood Road.

Based on these findings, the town had produced a concept plan that suggests adding an exclusive westbound left turn lane on Laurel Hill Road to reduce driver frustration for westbound motorists looking to travel through the area, which would be achieved by reducing the width of the existing shoulder areas on both sides of the roadway. This would have the added benefit of eliminating the ability of drivers to use the shoulder to bypass the travel line and drop off students in the westbound shoulder of Laurel Hill Road, according to the town’s report.

“The next steps are to meet with the school district’s architect, Suffolk County and residents to discuss the town’s traffic study and plans for improvements along Laurel Hill Road and on the school property,” said Scott Spittal, Huntington’s director of transportation and traffic safety.

One downside to the Town of Huntington’s proposed concept plan is it would eliminate on-street parking in the eastbound shoulder of Laurel Hill Road, or approximately 25 spaces.

“The superintendent is appreciative of the town’s efforts in conducting the traffic safety study, however, it is too early to render any reaction since the preliminary recommendations were just released Nov. 27,” Mike Ganci, spokesman for Northport school district said in a statement.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district trustees voted decisively 6-1 against arming its school guards with firearms after nearly nine months of intense debate.

More than 100 Northport parents, students and concerned residents attended the Nov. 28 board of education meeting at Northport High School where the community members were given one last opportunity to give their opinions on whether to hire armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February that killed 17 people. The majority of those who took to the mic to voice an opinion stood overwhelmingly against the proposition.

“The evidence is clear: If you put armed guards in our schools you are making the children in this community feel less safe, you will not deter crime, you are not avoiding a school shooting, and you will be escalating a dangerous situation not de-escalating it,” Greg Perles, of East Northport, said.

The evidence is clear: If you put armed guards in our schools you are making the children in this community feel less safe…”

— Greg Perles

Andrew Rapiejko, president of Northport-East Northport board of education, said district trustees have received an outpouring of emails from the community over the past several months, voicing their opinions on the issue of hiring armed security guards.

“I did note that some of the comments were kind of short and to the point, on quite a number of them I did note that people took a lot of time to write a number of paragraphs, not using a form letter but their feelings and describing their opinions, researching and looking at options one way or another,” he said. “I want to say I really appreciate that and thank you for that.”

David Stein, vice president of the school board, had put forth a proposal for the district to hire 10 armed security guards, one for each of the district’s buildings, for a trial period of 120 days with instruction to Superintendent Robert Banzer to provide an in-depth analysis of the program after 90 days for the board of education to review.

“That’s ridiculous, with all due respect,” trustee David Badanes said. “If there’s no incident in 120 days does it prove armed security guards work? We have many school districts that don’t have armed security guards and have not faced an issue. It proves nothing.”

That’s ridiculous, with all due respect.”

— David Badanes

Badanes said he was “touched” by emails a number of recent Northport graduates and students who, he said, spoke out unanimously against armed guards. He felt armed security personnel also negatively impact students of minority racial groups or low-income families and lead to an increased likelihood of arrests for low-level offenses such as disorderly conduct.

There are approximately five Suffolk County school districts, including neighboring Kings Park, that have moved forward with a decision to arm security personnel with firearms. Donna McNaughton, a Northport board member, said it was “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make” but opposed doing the same.

“I am not comfortable as a member of a school board that I could craft an RFP, or proposal, and sanction how you could arm someone properly to protect students,” she said. “I cannot in good conscious put a weapon in a school on a person I cannot be confident is trained properly.”

If the district had moved to hire 10 armed guards, trustee Lori McCue said it would have cost the district approximately $450,000 for one full school year.

“I cannot in good conscious put a weapon in a school on a person I cannot be confident is trained properly.”

—Donna McNaughton

“So many people will say we cannot put a price on the safety of our students, and I 100 percent agree with you in theory,” McCue said. “Unfortunately, we sit up here every year at budget time and have to put a price on every single thing we do for our students. That is a very large number for something we cannot predict the outcome of.”

Stein, who has law enforcement background and is a retired lieutenant from New York Police Department, was the sole vote in support of the district hiring armed guards. The board member said his decision was based, in part, on learning that Suffolk County Police Department reported an average response time of five minutes to an emergency at the district’s Oct. 11 security forum and had never conducted a full-scale drill in any of the district’s buildings. One notable exception he said is Ocean Avenue Elementary School, which often has a police officer on site or less than a minute away, who knows the building and has drilled on site.

“As a board and district, how do we address that disparity between how different schools are being protected? How do we reconcile it? I don’t know that we can,” he said. “We have to protect our schools in some fashion now while lobbying Suffolk County for additional programs and support.”

I am just completely relieved that they decided to follow through, and after consideration they decided to vote no on the armed guards.”

— James Connor

Several parents asked the board to move forward to improve security by constructing security vestibules at each school building, ensure all doors are closed and armed at all times, trim hedges and bushes away from windows and entryways, ensure staff members are trained in first aid and tourniquet use, and make sure both teachers and students take lockdown drills seriously. Several Northport High School students had said their peers often laugh, chat and text on their phones during drills.

James Connor, a sophomore at Northport High School who advocated against armed guards at several board meetings, said he was relieved by the school board members decision.

“I am just completely relieved that they decided to follow through, and after consideration they decided to vote no on the armed guards,” he said. “Regarding school security, there are a lot of steps left to take, but in my opinion armed guards are not one of them.”

His sentiments were also echoed by his  mother, Amy — relief at the board’s decision.

The Northport power plant. File photo

Town of Huntington officials made the decision Tuesday to take Long Island Power Authority’s proclaimed value of the Northport Power Station at $193 million as an invitation to investigate purchasing the facility.

Huntington town board approved a resolution offered by Councilman Gene Cook (I) to authorize the town attorney’s office to formally research into its legal options in utilizing eminent domain to take ownership of the Northport plant by a 4-1 vote.

“It’s for the people, to look out for the future of the Town of Huntington,” he said. “I have done a lot of research and I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

“It’s for the people, to look out for the future of the Town of Huntington.”

— Gene Cook

The councilman first raised the possibility of turning to eminent domain back in May, days after LIPA submitted documents to Suffolk County Supreme Court in its pending tax certiorari lawsuit against the town, which disputes the current annual tax-assessed value of the plant at about $80 million. The utility company has alleged the structure only has a fair market value of $193,680,000 as of July 1, 2013, based on a market value report from Tarrytown-based Tulis Wilkes Huff & Geiger.

“I looked at that appraisal not as a fair evaluation, but an invitation for the town to explore condemnation of the plant,” Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said. “The price is so ridiculously low that it would be negligent of us to not explore the possibility of acquiring the plant.”

Smyth said that he believes the Northport Power Station, which is actually owned by National Grid, is underutilized by LIPA, perhaps intentionally to devalue it given the ongoing tax certiorari lawsuit.

Cook had previously stated he believes the Northport facility is one of the largest power plants in the Northeast and will become more valuable with future improvements. He said his research shows the facility has the potential to operate and generate electric for another 15 to 30 years, up to a maximum of 40 years before closing down. Cook previously estimated the power station could produce as much as $5 billion in revenue per year for the town.

“The price is so ridiculously low that it would be negligent of us to not explore the possibility of acquiring the plant.”

— Ed Smyth

“What I like if the town buys it now at this rate is, when the plant is closed, we could shut it down and give the property back to the people for reaction or environmental uses,” he said.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the lone vote against an official resolution requesting the town attorney’s office to conduct research into the possibility of eminent domain. He called the legislation an unnecessary act of “grandstanding,” stating any board member could have simply verbally requested the town attorney to look into the matter.

“We are creating false hope this is a viable option, if it really were an option our lawyers would have suggested it a long time ago,” he said. “It is not a possibility to operate the LIPA plant as municipal power authority.”

The councilman also stated that under New York State General Municipal Law, if the town were to take over daily operation of the power station it would not pay any taxes to the Northport-East Northport School District — which currently receives approximately $56 million annually from the utility company.

If the town were to initiate the process of obtaining the power plan via eminent domain, it would not resolve the town’s lawsuit with LIPA. In addition to seeking a 90 percent reduction of taxes on the power plant, LIPA is asking for the town to reimburse it for alleged overpayment of taxes each year since it filed the claim in 2010 — totaling more than $500 million.

“We are creating false hope this is a viable option, if it really were an option our lawyers would have suggested it a long time ago.”

— Mark Cuthbertson

Sid Nathan, spokesman for LIPA, said the company had no comment as it is continuing negotiations at this time. 

Huntington, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid all agreed to sit down with neutral third-party mediator, Port Washington-based attorney Marty Scheinman, in nonbinding arbitration this July to see if all parties could reach a potential settlement agreement over the tax-assessed value of the Northport plant. The trial on the tax certiorari case is scheduled to continue in February 2019, according to Cook. 

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor for the Village of Northport, commended Cook and the town board for their decision to move forward with investigating the legal potential of utilizing eminent domain to take over the plant.

“Whether it ever gets to the point of the town acquiring it through eminent domain, it’s another piece of the puzzle that will put a little pressure on the utility and LIPA to come to an agreement that’s good for all of us,” Kehoe said.

Former legislative aide alleges then-state assemblyman forcibly touched him in Albany hotel rooms

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A former staff member of Chad Lupinacci, Huntington town supervisor, has filed a lawsuit alleging the then-state assemblyman of sexual assault and harassment during his employment.

Brian Finnegan, Lupinacci’s former legislative aide and chief of staff, filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Supreme Court Dec. 4 alleging that Lupinacci forced non-consensual sexual acts and inappropriate touching on him during overnight trips to Albany in December 2017.

“I was forced to forfeit my career in public service, something in which I took much pride in making our community a better place,” Finnegan said in a statement. “At the drop of the hat, my hard work was meaningless and I was unemployed, all because I was the target of a sexual predator. My life was shattered.”

“At the drop of the hat, my hard work was meaningless and I was unemployed, all because I was the target of a sexual predator. My life was shattered.”

— Brian Finnegan

Brian Griffin, a Garden City-based attorney with Foley Griffin LLP representing Lupinacci, said Finnegan’s allegations were “unequivocally false and completely without merit,” and an attempt at “an unjust and unwarranted financial payday.” The attorney said that despite the alleged incidents having occurred approximately a year ago, no complaint was ever filed with the New York State Assembly.

Finnegan worked as legislative aide for Lupinacci for three years while he represented the 10th state Assembly District and traveled with him to Albany at least once a month for work responsibilities. During that time, Manhattan-based attorney Imran Ansari, of Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins PC, said his client, Finnegan, was subjected to “a pattern of somewhat bizarre and inappropriate behavior” culminating in an alleged sexual assault.

“Mr. Finnegan was subjected to unlawful and unwanted sexual contact by Mr. Lupinacci that amounts to nothing less than assault,” the attorney said. “He endured harassment and abuse over his time working for Mr. Lupinacci and in order to escape this hostile work environment gave up a position in public service that was personally, professionally and financially rewarding. He’s suffered economic damages and pain and suffering, but most importantly, he seeks the justice.”

The lawsuit filed this month claims that Finnegan frequently was asked inappropriate questions about his personal life, including the women he was dating, from the then-assemblyman, and found evidence his employer went into his cellphone and computer without permission.

“Supervisor Lupinacci has spent over a decade educating our students, serving on the local school board, working in the [state] Assembly and as the supervisor of the Town of Huntington,” Griffin said in a statement. “Supervisor Lupinacci denies these claims and will continue to serve the people of the Town of Huntington in the same professional and dedicated manner that he has done throughout his career in public service. He will vigorously defend himself against these false allegations.”

On Dec. 5, 2017, Finnegan said he was sharing a hotel room at Hilton Albany with Lupinacci, who allegedly insisted it was for “budgetary reasons,” when between the hours of 2 to 5 a.m. he woke to finding his employer standing over him. The former aide alleges that he felt Lupinacci touching the zipper of his suit pants and attempted to bat him away, according to the lawsuit. He claims to have confronted Huntington’s supervisor-elect asking “What are you doing?” before falling back asleep, and a second time tried to confront him but Lupinacci allegedly jumped back into bed.

Supervisor Lupinacci denies these claims and will continue to serve the people of the Town of Huntington in the same professional and dedicated manner that he has done throughout his career in public service.”

— Brian Griffin

Finnegan claims he was reluctant to make a second overnight trip to Albany Dec. 12, 2017, and share a room with the then-state assemblyman at the Renaissance Albany Hotel. The ex-staffer said he awoke around 2:30 a.m. in the morning to find Lupinacci kneeling at the side of his bed. Lupinacci allegedly replied something about “checking to see if [Finnegan wanted food] and left,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges Finnegan’s boxers had been moved and manipulated to expose his genitals, and said he believes Lupinacci had inappropriate and nonconsensual sexual contact while he was asleep amounting to sexual assault.

“You’ve been touching me in my sleep and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Finnegan said confronting Lupinacci, according to the lawsuit. “This is done, this is over, I can’t work for you anymore.”

The ex-staffer said he left Renaissance Albany in the early hours of the night, purchased an Amtrak ticket home and waited as the politician allegedly attempted to repeatedly call his cellphone before driving around the city of Albany in an effort to find him.

“I was terrified and felt hunted,” Finnegan said.

The former staffer said he gave his resignation to Lupinacci days later and declined a position already offered to him as an executive assistant and senior adviser in the incoming Huntington administration.

The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation from the Huntington town supervisor for economic damages, in addition to pain and suffering, Ansari said. While a specific dollar amount was not cited, the attorney argued his client could have been earning considerably much more working for the town with better benefits. Finnegan is now employed by Todd Shapiro Associates Public Relations in Manhattan.

Family members of the late WWII veteran Michael Colamonico and elected officials stand together at the corner of McKay Road and Beau Lane in Huntington Station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington officials and veterans organizations gathered to give thanks for the lifelong work of a late Huntington Station World War II veteran for his commitment to the community.

McKay Road in Huntington Station was officially dedicated as “SSGT USAF Michael J. Colamonico Way” at its intersection with Beau Lane behind Huntington High School in a Nov. 24 ceremony. The signpost stands on the corner near where Colamonico lived with his wife, Lorraine, through his death in December 2013.

McKay Road was dedicated as USAF SSGT Michael J. Colamonico Way Nov. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Mr. Colamonico dedicated his life to his family and veterans affair issues for active military and veterans,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Colamonico was drafted to serve in the U.S. Air Force during World War II where he was assigned a position as a turret gunner on a B-17 bomber. On Dec. 31, 1943, Colamonico was on his first mission — a 13-hour bombing run — when his plane was shot down by a German fighter plane over southern France, according to his son, Michael Jr. He was held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Stalag 17 in Austria for 17 months before being liberated in 1945.

While a prisoner, he wrote poetry and drew illustrations in a bound book he titled, “A Wartime Log,” which his son said is now cherished as a family heirloom.

Upon returning to the U.S., Colamonico settled in Huntington and became a charter member of the town’s Veterans Advisory Board. Its current board members made the request that his home street be dedicated in his name, which was approved by a unanimous vote of the Town Board at its July 17 meeting.

He was always there for the people in the community, no one really realized the impact until he had passed,” his grandson Francis Fanzilli said. “We get so caught up in thinking of ourselves and the world, we forget the impact we can have on the people around us.”

Veterans gathered at the Nov. 24 dedication ceremony salute the flag during the national anthem. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Colamonico volunteered at the Northport VA Medical Center helping and attending to injured veterans. He also was an active member of St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington, according to Father Michael Bissex.

“Michael loved the community he helped build, literally and figuratively,” Bissex said prior to blessing the sign.

Colamonico also served as a mentor to Huntington’s youth, in particular helping U.S. Army Capt. Michelle Mudge navigate her way through joining the armed services to become a pilot.

“He was a true mentor, he was one of the ones who believed in me from the time I was 15 years old,” she said. “ He pushed me through some dark times.”

Midge said she keeps a picture of Colamonico and his plane’s crew — that he once gave to her — on the mantle of her fireplace as a reminder. The captain believed her mentor would have been thrilled by the turnout at the dedication ceremony, and his wife agreed.

“I’m very honored and I know he would be, too,” she said. “I’m very happy to see him honored in this way.”

His wife spoke with family and friends with her arm stayed looped around the signpost long after the ceremony was over, as if holding onto a piece of her husband.

GoFundMe page set up to help victim's family

The Preto family of Selden. Photo from GoFundMe

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a multicar crash on the Long Island Expressway near exit 49 in Melville over Thanksgiving weekend that killed a Selden man.

On Nov. 24, Dix Hills resident Madhava Reddy, 58, was driving a 2018 Mercedes Benz in the middle lane of the eastbound LIE near exit 49, when he was struck from behind by a 2016 Nissan driven by 31-year-old Eric Preto, of Selden. Preto’s pregnant wife, Gabriella, and his 2-year-old son were also in the vehicle.

Preto stepped out of his car to check the damage and speak with Reddy. As he was walking back to his vehicle, Preto was struck by a 2015 Subaru being driven by Jennifer Massaro, 38, of Smithtown. A 2017 Nissan being driven by Commack resident Stephen Raia, 24, then struck Preto’s vehicle.

Preto was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. Reddy, Massaro, Gabriella Preto, 29, of Selden, and her child were all transported to area hospitals for evaluation. Raia was evaluated at the scene.

Suffolk police impounded all four vehicles for safety checks.

“Late last night, the Preto family was involved in a terrible accident and Eric lost his precious life,” reads a GoFundMe page set up for Eric Preto’s family. This tragedy is absolutely devastating and we’re hoping this account can help with the future expenses of his young children.”

The page, www.gofundme.com/support-the-family-of-eric-preto, had raised more than half of its $100,000 goal as of this publication’s press time.

Any witnesses to the accident are asked to contact the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

Update: Due to weather forecasters calling for inclement weather, the event was postponed to Dec. 7.

There are more than 25,000 Christmas lights and roughly 600 figurines on the front lawn of an East Northport home, all in the spirit of charity.

James Tomeo, a board trustee for Elwood school district, has decked out his Mansfield Lane South residence — and dubbed it the East Northport Christmas House — to host his 4th annual Oh What Fun It Is fundraiser for Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

Tomeo invites the community Dec. 1, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. to join him for a holiday celebration. He said Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph will visit and take photos with children in his temporary workshop. Letters to Santa with a pre-addressed envelope will be sent to the North Pole.

There will be a raffle featuring baskets and gift certificates in Tomeo’s driveway, including a day in the life of various  local politicians, with hot cocoa and food donated by local businesses.

Those attending are asked to make a goodwill donation, as all proceeds will be given to the children’s hospital.

Boat mooring fee moves forward, new parks and recreational program fee increases to take effect Jan. 1

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington’s elected officials have adopted a $199.7 million operating budget for 2019 on a party-line vote at their Nov. 20 meeting, as Republicans and Democrats were split over town staffing changes and increases to fees.

The adopted 2019 budget raises $122.8 million through the tax levy, roughly $3 million more than the current year, representing a 2.53 percent increase. It falls under New York State’s mandated tax levy increase cap by approximately $80,0000, including $371,000 in rollover savings from 2018 and accounts for growth in the town’s tax base valued at roughly $400,000.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) amended the 2019 budget prior to approval to reinstate funding for four legislative secretaries — one for each town council member — which had been slashed from his first proposal. Lupinacci said a $200,000 federal grant received for the Huntington Youth Bureau’s drug and alcohol programs also helped free up funds.

I think it’s a good budget that will be very responsible to constituents that keeps within the tax cap…” 

— Chad Lupinacci

“I think it’s a good budget that will be very responsible to constituents that keeps within the tax cap, and it had good planning for the future in capital expenses and programs, so we can continue to hold our triple AAA credit rating that is very important,” he said.

Democratic council members Mark Cuthbertson and Joan Cergol voted against the supervisor’s 2019 operating budget, arguing it was too much for Huntington’s taxpayers.

“The supervisor is asking residents to accept a double whammy: increased taxes and high, in some cases, first-ever fees for services they rightly feel are already funded by their taxes,” Cergol said.

Cergol proposed a series of changes to the supervisor’s 2019 tentative budget Nov. 20, seeking to reduce the tax levy increase from 2.53 down to 1.85 percent. Her proposed changes would have eliminated 12 town jobs — three confidential secretaries, a chief of staff, three executive assistants and five deputy department directors — many of which were created in August. The councilwoman said slashing these positions would save the town approximately $800,000 in salaries, increasing to nearly $1 million when including the cost of health care insurance benefits.

The supervisor is asking residents to accept a double whammy: increased taxes and high, in some cases, first-ever fees for services they rightly feel are already funded by their taxes.”

— Joan Cergol

“Naturally, I would prefer to have no tax increase at all, but I well understand we have contractual obligation expenses and a 9 percent increase in health care insurance costs the town has no control over,” Cergol said. “For the sake of every taxpayer, we have an obligation to exercise control when it comes to the hiring of personnel, specifically jobs that are exempt from civil service, otherwise known as patronage jobs.”

She also sought to strike and remove the town’s plans to implement a boat mooring fee in Huntington Harbor. Cuthbertson voiced his support for Cergol’s proposed amendments.

“At a time when homeowner’s budgets are squeezed, and they have lost most of the state and local deduction on their income taxes, the Republican administration should not be asking for increases that serve no purpose other than doling out patronage,” the councilman said.

Despite his support, Cergol’s first proposal to slash $1 million from the budget failed by a 3-2 party-line vote. Her second proposal to eliminate $200,000 by cutting staff positions and the proposed boat mooring fee failed to find any support among the board members.

Lupinacci defended his staffing decisions, stating the Town of Huntington will have less full-time employees going forward next year, and changes were in line with his goals that include improving transparency and efficiency by cutting “red tape.”

New 2019 Park & Recreational Fees
Below are few of the new 2019 park and recreational fees
Adult Resident Recreational ID Card, 2 years      $40
(new) Adult Resident Recreational ID Card, 1 year     $25
Resident Recreational ID Card – Senior/Disabled      $15
Golf Card, valid for 1 year     $45
Golf Card, every 2 years        $60
Beach Resident Daily Permit      $30
Non-Resident Daily Permit         $75

“I think these are all worthwhile goals that we will continue to accomplish, and to meet these goals we need to have staffing changes,” he said.

The board also voted 3-2 to increase and add several additional park and recreational fees next year. Some changes in the legislation include increasing the cost of a two-year resident recreational card from $20 to $40, increasing the cost of a daily beach pass for Huntington residents from $25 to $30, and implementing new special event permit fees for John J. Walsh Memorial Park in East Northport, Peter A. Nelson Park in Huntington and picnic site fees for Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park in Elwood.

The registration costs for several town-run summer programs including Camp Bright Star, Teen Leadership and preschool camps were increased as well.

“We’re always looking at and reviewing fees every year as part of the budgeting process to ensure the fees actually cover associated program costs,” the supervisor said. “We revise rates for various programs and actions, to make sure taxpayers are not on the hook for programs they don’t use.”

Lupinacci said costs of the town’s recreational ID card fee, $20, had not been increased in more than a decade, and the new $40 fee more accurately reflects its “true value going forward.” The town will also be offering a new one-year recreational ID card for $20.

Cergol and Cuthbertson were against increasing recreational fees, which will take effect Jan. 1.

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

On Thanksgiving eve, as many prepared for the holiday fest, Town of Smithtown officials
and St. James community members came together to give thanks to a set of veterans who often feel forgotten.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) led the rededication and blessing of the Vietnam War memorial at St. James train station Nov. 21. The town’s parks department employees have recently completed cleaning up, adding features to and landscaping the Sherwood Brothers monument after its condition was brought up by Councilman Tom Lohmann (R).

Ed Springer, commander of American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1244 of St. James, speaks at the Nov. 21 ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re very appreciative for what Tom and the town did for us here, it will be remembered for a long time to come,” said Ed Springer, commander of the American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1152 in St. James.

The supervisor said the town engaged in conversation with the Long Island Rail Road over making improvements at the railroad station, like improving the landscaping and painting the trestles and underpasses as part of the Lake Avenue revitalization efforts. During a site visit, Lohmann said he rediscovered the overgrown monument.

“When I started talking to people about the memorial, they asked, ‘What memorial are you talking about?’” the councilman said. “That’s the point. You couldn’t see it. It was overgrown and in complete disrepair.”

When the town sent its park employees to begin taking out overgrown shrubs, Lohmann said he received a call from MTA police officers who showed up and threatened to arrest the men for allegedly for ripping apart the memorial. After a phone call, and the two public agencies reached an agreement moving forward.

The St. James Vietnam War memorial has been cleaned up and the landscaping redone, water and electrical lines run to ensure future maintenance, and a light installed to illuminate the American flag. The monument was first dedicated in memory of the two St. James Sherwood brothers, William and George, who died three weeks apart in France while serving in World War I.

The newly refurbished and cleaned up Vietnam War memorial at St. James LIRR train station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I’m sure everyone here has had someone in the military who has served our country,” Sal Riccobono, assistant vice commander of Sgt. John W. Cooke Post 395 of St. James. “We want you to remember all of them and appreciate all they did for us that brought us to this point today.”

Both Springer and Riccobono said that the membership of their veterans organizations are rapidly dwindling, and they both hope to bring newer and younger service members into the fold. Springer said the Sherwood Brothers post has seen 12 of its World War II veterans die in the past year.

“When I tell you from the bottom of my heart, the way to keep their stories alive is to constantly talk about them,” Richard Kitson, local chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “If you are in that post, what a tribute to the Sherwood brothers this is that you keep their memories alive.”

A former U.S. Marine, Kitson said both his brother, John, and a best friend died serving in Vietnam. He found comfort in the St. James rededication ceremony.

“This is really touching. It’s very, very touching — it’s touched my heart,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini announces charges related to illegal dumping scheme. Photo from DA's office

Long Island homeowners who thought they were getting free, clean fill for their properties off Craigslist may have learned if the offer seems too good to be true, that’s because it was.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a 130-charge indictment Nov. 26 against 22 individuals and nine corporations who allegedly cooperated in a massive conspiracy to illegally dispose of solid waste in 24 locations spanning Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: We will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county. We will do whatever it takes to uncover illegal dumping.”

Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio acted as “dirt broker” in the island-wide dumping scheme. Photo from DA’s office

The conspiracy was allegedly led by Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio, 53, also known as “Rock,” who acted as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of their solid waste and construction debris, according to Suffolk prosecutors.

An investigation dubbed Operation Pay Dirt, which involved the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department, launched in February 2018 revealed Grazio was allegedly posting ads on Craigslist and other websites offering “free, clean fill — free delivery,” in addition to stating it was “certified and approved for residential and commercial use.” Grazio allegedly worked with Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, to also post a sign on a tree outside a home on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip to advertise “free clean fill,” in February 2018, according to court documents.

When a Long Island homeowner or business expressed interest in fill for landscaping projects, Grazio and owners or operators of nine different trucking companies would discuss the potential of the site and the amount of material that could be dumped there from New York City construction and demolition sites, according to the district attorney.

“The bigger the property, the better for the defendants as this scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’ Grazio approved material being dumped at residential locations even when notified that the material smelled like diesel fuel or had pieces of wood, asphalt, concrete, large boulders or even glass contained in the material.”

Investigators claimed after dumping contaminated fill on a property, Grazio and his co-conspirators allegedly went as far as to provide the homeowners with false laboratory reports stating the material was clean or cover it with a layer of topsoil to ensure grass could grow. In other cases, the truck owners and operators were allegedly caught having phone discussions on how to cover up the hazardous materials being moved about to prevent detection of the illegal dumping.

Out of the 24 locations identified to be impacted by the scheme, the district attorney’s office said 19 were residential properties, four commercial and one school in Roslyn Heights.

“They did this to make money, they did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents,” Sini said.

Testing performed by the DEC found fill at six locations was positive for acutely hazardous substances, mainly pesticides, with 17 sites containing hazardous substances under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law. These hazardous substances included arsenic, lead, copper, nickel, mercury and other metals.

Map of all illegal dumping sites. Photo from DA’s office

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Among North Shore individuals charged alongside Grazio and Fragola for being involved in this alleged scheme were: Alix Aparaicio Gomez, 50, of Huntington; Anthony Grazio Jr., 19, of Smithtown; Michael Heinrichs, 48, of Port Jefferson Station; Robert Hirsch, 43, of Commack; Joseph Lamberta, 68, of Hauppauge; Steven Nunez Genao, 24, of Port Jefferson Station; Milan Parik, 46, of Centereach; James Perruzza, 18, of Northport; Frank Rotondo Jr., 47, of Miller Place; Thomas St. Clair, 51, of St. James; and Robert Walter, 31, of Nesconset.

The top count on the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, which is a Class D felony, and, if found guilty, carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

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