Authors Posts by Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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From left, Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation; Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy; and Rev. Bette Sohm, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church with the $35,000 check. Photo from St. Paul's United Methodist Church

A Northport congregation’s prayers for help to save its historic steeple have not fallen on deaf ears.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church received a $35,000 grant from New York Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program Dec. 4. The funds from the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to preserve and revitalize architecturally significant buildings, will be used to help restore the church’s historic steeple that towers over Northport village.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re absolutely thrilled to hear that we’ve earned this to fund the steeple work,” said Greg Polli, chairman of St. Paul’s board of trustees.

St. Paul’s church, originally built in 1873, is a red-brick late Greek Revival-style church designed by local architect and builder B.T. Robbins. Rising from the building is the iconic, white-painted wooden shutter board steeple capped with a copper dome.

“Long Island’s long history is reflected in its religious architecture,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “The conservancy is pleased to be able to help this remarkable building continue to serve [its] congregations and communities.”

The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites grants are supported by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, a Hampton Bays nonprofit that supports the study of New York State history.

The bell tower’s issues date back more than a decade. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, a member of the church for 26 years, said churchgoers noticed rainwater was leaking into the sanctuary, but determining the source of the issue took a lot of guess work. For nearly a decade, St. Paul’s churchgoers used a system of pots and pans to catch the water and even went as far as to replace the building’s roof without solving the issue.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” said Pastor Kristina Hansen, former religious leader of St. Paul’s. “The steeple was the culprit all along.”

The leak gradually limited the church’s activities, according to Edwards-Bourdrez, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performances of its bell choir during inclement weather. St. Paul’s launched a successful capital campaign in October 2017 that exceeded its original goal of raising $300,000, according to Polli, to make much-needed structural repairs that included the steeple, securing its aging stained-glass windows and upgrading its bathrooms to be handicapped accessible.

“Before we began the formal capital campaign, we communicated to our congregation what we wanted to do, asked what they wanted to do and what our priorities should be,” he said. “The steeple was the top priority.”

Polli said the church has received a preliminary estimate of $150,000 to repair the structure and hopes to start work in the early spring of 2019. Some interior projects, like the renovations of the womens bathroom, have already been completed.

An East Nothport house decked in more than 25,000 holiday lights hopes to raise funds for charity. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Each year as it gets close to Christmas, drivers slow down just a bit on residential streets as those who are young at heart enjoy the holiday light displays. Everyone knows the address or road of that one home whose lawn is decorated with more figures and lights than can be counted.

James Tomeo, 28, has spent weeks decorating his East Northport home with more than 25,000 Christmas lights and hundreds of figures in hopes of raising money for Cohen Children’s Medical Center. On the night of Dec. 7, his home was transformed into Santa’s workshop where children would take pictures and talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus while marveling at the display.

A sign at James Tomeo’s house indicate the holiday light display is in honor of his late mother, Jacki. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Every year the fundraiser has grown bigger and bigger,” he said. “And with that the display has continued to grow bigger and bigger.”

Tomeo said his massive holiday light display is inspired by his late mother, Jacki, who died when he was 8 years old. He recalls fondly that his mother’s favorite holiday was Christmas and remembers frequently stopping with her to admire a large light display in Deer Park near where he went for karate lessons as a child.

 

“I slowly started building up my display over time, and I wanted to have a huge display like his,” Tomeo said.

In 2015, the Elwood school district board of education trustee decided to put his light display up and host an event to raise money for the Leukemia Foundation in honor of his mom. Over the years, he’s transitioned to donating any funds raised to the Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

“A lot of people stop by each year for their kids,” Tomeo said. “So, we wanted to do something for the children.”

In order to create his holiday light display, the East Northport resident said he starts assembling his army of more than 600 lit and blow-up figurines featuring popular characters from Disney movies, Star Wars, Sesame Street, Looney Tunes and more by Halloween.

“Everyone comes on Halloween to see what I’ve started with on the roof,” he said. “It’s become a Halloween tradition.”

His neighbor Sarah Perinchief said it’s a community activity to watch the display come together each year.

A homemade light display in honor of Tomeo’s brother, a U.S. Marine, who is deploying overseas. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Last year, when he did it I saw it from The Best Market parking lot,” she said. “I was like, ‘Where is that house’ so I took a drive around in October, and I could see the lights.”

Among the more than 25,000 Christmas lights are a number of personal decorations that Tomeo has made throughout the years. For 2018, he custom built an American flag made up of more than 2,000 bulbs with the words “Peace on Earth” to hang above it. In front of the flag, a Santa Claus kneels over a pair of combat boots. Surrounding the American flag and Santa, are choirs of angels. The installation was designed to honor Tomeo’s brother-in-law, a U.S. Marine who will be deploying overseas for Christmas.

“It’s our Christmas present to him,” Tomeo said. “That’s our way of telling him that we wish him the best overseas and a safe return home.”

High school volunteers from Commack, Elwood and Northport school districts came dressed as elves Dec. 7 to help oversee a raffle of baskets and items donated by local business owners in an effort to help raise money for the children’s hospital. Among the prizes raffled off were a 55-inch television and spending a day in the life of New York State assemblymen Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

“It’s awesome,” Perinchief said. “It’s such a fun, nice family-friendly event for a good cause.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta confirmed he will throw his hat in the ring for county executive in 2019 — by launching a grassroots campaign, if necessary.

Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he wants to run against incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) next November in an effort to tackle a series of what he called wasteful spending decisions, illegal fees and poor contract negotiations that have negatively impacted Suffolk taxpayers.

“No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves,” Trotta said. “I think I could make a difference.”

No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves. I think I could make a difference.”

— Rob Trotta

The representative of Suffolk’s 13th District denounced several of the county’s 2018 capital projects as “wasteful spending.” He rattled off examples including the approved plans for construction of a new fingerprint lab in Yaphank, a study for a guardrail outside Rocky Point High School and a resolution to spend $150,000 for the design of a new K-9 headquarters and kennel for Suffolk County Police Department — which ultimately was voted down in July. Trotta said significant taxpayer money could have been saved if the design work, planning and studies for current and future capital projects were performed in-house rather than hired contractors.

“Do you think we have architects capable of designing a dog kennel? Of course we do,” he said. “That is what’s wrong with the county. That is why I want to run for county executive, because it would never happen.”

The legislator alleges the county’s financial woes are a direct result of Bellone’s negotiation of the 2012 police contract. The eight-year contract gave approximately 400 of Suffolk’s top ranking cops a 28.8 percent pay increase, according to Trotta, over the course of six years costing taxpayers from $55.4 million to $72.3 million. Negotiations between Suffolk County and Police Benevolent Association for the next contract will start in 2019, with the next county executive to expected to play a main role.

“The reality is we can’t afford to pay them what we’re paying them,” said Trotta, who retired as a Suffolk County detective in 2013. “If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

Since the 2012 contract, the Republican pointed out that Moody’s Investors Services has lowered the county’s bond rating by five ranks from March 2012 to this September. The county has borrowed $171.3 million from its sewer fund and $384.4 million from the state pension fund in order to keep paying its contractual salaries and pensions — mainly the Suffolk County Police Department, according to Trotta.

“It’s unsustainable,” he said.

Trotta has spoken out against a number of county fees including the red-light camera program, the alarm registration fee, mortgage recording fee and cremation fees, many of which he alleges generate money Suffolk needs to pay its cops. He’s filed legislation to limit the county’s fees in 2017 and 2018, which failed both times.

If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

— Rob Trotta

The county-executive hopeful said he plans to launch a grassroots fundraising effort by creating a website where supporters can donate to his campaign, with a suggested contribution of $80 because it’s the equivalent of a red-light camera ticket — a program he’s called for to be suspended, if not shut down. Trotta said he cannot morally accept funds from any public sector unions he’d be expected to negotiate contracts with, such as the Police Benevolent Association, although not prohibited by campaign finance laws.

“I might not get elected because of that,” he said. “I might not be able to get my message out.”

John Jay LaValle, chairman of Suffolk’s Republican Committee, confirmed Trotta is a possible candidate for county executive, but the party will not make any official decision until January. The legislator wasn’t concerned about vying for his party’s nomination.

“I think competition is good,” Trotta said. “I think hearing different people’s views are good. Ultimately, the party will come together and pick someone, whether it’s me, [county Comptroller] John Kennedy or whoever else.”

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A  Nesconset school that provides  educational opportunities for deaf children is pleading for the public’s help in funding a new playground for its students.

The yard outside Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset lies barren, as old split railroad ties square off desolate sections of rock devoid of any slides or swings. Jacqueline Simms, the school’s executive director, said the school was forced to remove its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds in May after an engineer determined they were “inappropriate” and did not meet New York State Department of Education’s safety requirements.

Since then, parents of its deaf students have launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $100,000 toward a playground.

These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground.”

— Nicole Abbene

“These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground,” Nicole Abbene, of Smithtown, said. “They already feel different in regard to their disability, so for them to have a playground would allow them to have the same opportunity as every other child.”

Abbene said her son, Liam, has attended Cleary since he was 3 months old in their Parent Infant Program, designed for children with profound hearing loss from birth through age 3, with their families. Now, at age 4, he’s in a full-day preschool program for children ages 3 to 7 that has approximately 50 enrolled students from 36 school districts across Suffolk County.

“We have a growing enrollment — a huge growing enrollment — that we are meeting with our [state] legislators to see if we can do something about,” Simms said.

The executive director said the state’s funding for the school has not increased proportionally to the influx of students, leaving it tight on funds for capital improvements and the latest technology needed to assist its hearing-impaired children. Simms said she has applied to several grant programs but has yet to be awarded any money.

I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek. There was no place to hide.”

— Katie Kerzner

“We’ve been trying to do everything to accommodate our population and help with the struggle of not having a playground,” she said.

The school’s staff has set up a small portable jungle gym, a few sand tables and set out tricycles and foot-powered minicars for the children to play on the blacktop. It has created a small play loft in its library, but Principal Katie Kerzner said these don’t fully fill the gap with the opportunities the children would have with an outdoor playground.

“I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek,” she said. “There was no place to hide.”

Kerzner said teaching her preschool children games has been difficult without a playground. In addition, the principal said students’ interaction on playground equipment can provide vital life lessons.

“For children with hearing loss, they need opportunities to practice having those language experiences,” she said. “For our kids it’s all about language. They need more typical, realistic situations to practice their skills.”

We are all aching to have something for the spring.”

— Katie Kerzner

The GoFundMe campaign launched by Abbene has raised more than $6,000, as of press time, for an age-appropriate playground for children ages 3 to 7. Cleary’s executive director said the school once had three playgrounds divided by age group: birth to age 3, ages 3 to 7, and a third for older school-aged children in its full-time summer programs. The school has received an estimate of $150,000 to replace one playground, according to Simms, and would require significantly more funds to purchase new age-appropriate, handicapped-accessible equipment for all its students.

“We are all aching to have something for the spring,” the principal said. “Our goal is when the kids open that door, after the snow melts, there’s something out there that will facilitate their play.”

In recent weeks, the GoFundMe campaign has captured the attention of some local businesses, who have stepped forward offering aid, and community residents. Simms said one generous individual stepped into the school to donate $150 in person, not sure how to give via the website. While she is “extremely grateful,” Cleary still needs to raise significant funds.

“The playground presents itself as a must,” Kerzner said. “It’s not something on a wish list. It’s a have-to-have.”

Sully sits by former President George H.W. Bush. Photo from Instagram @sullyhwbush

A service dog raised in Smithtown won the hearts of thousands across the nation by demonstrating, perhaps, why dogs may truly be man’s best friend till the very end.

An Instagram photo of Sully, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, laying besides the flag-draped coffin of the late President George H.W. Bush posted by his spokesman Jim McGraff with a simple caption of “Mission complete” from Houston Dec. 2 went viral, quickly receiving more than 270,000 likes. The dog’s trainers at America’s VetDogs in Smithtown could only watch from a distance with mixed feelings.

“It hit us all very emotionally,” Brad Hibbard, chief program officer for America’s VetDogs said. “It was very sad for him, for George H.W. Bush’s family and Sully. Sully had quite a bond with the president, he slept in his room every night. It was so emotional, very sad but also with pride.”

President George H.W. Bush with President Bill Clinton and Bush’s guide dog Sully

Sully, named after the former airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who safely landed a damaged jet on the Hudson River in 2009, was trained by America’s VetDogs earlier this year for Bush. The sister nonprofit organization to the Guide Dog Foundation trains and places guide dogs for veterans and first responders who are blind, have impaired vision or have lost their hearing. In addition, they train service dogs for those who suffer physical disabilities or have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hibbard said starting with Bush’s very first phone call to VetDogs about receiving a service dog, the 41st president expressed his concerns what would happen to the dog should something happen to him. After a lengthy discussion, the former president expressed that he wanted Sully to serve at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he had first learned about the nonprofit organization.

“There was no doubt in our minds what the president’s wishes were,” Hibbard said.

Sully will go to work alongside two fellow VetDogs graduate canines, Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman, at Walter Reed medical center next year, according to Hibbard, to help assist thousands of servicemen and women who pass through the facility while undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

“Sully will be able to have a huge impact there,” Hibbard said.

Sully lies at the foot of President George H.W. Bush’s coffin.

After the late president’s funeral, the 2-year-old service dog was brought back to the VetDogs’ Smithtown campus, located on East Jericho Turnpike, for some well-deserved rest and decompression during the holidays before making his next transition. Hibbard said the nonprofit is currently in communication with Walter Reed about the facility’s needs, and Sully will undergo any necessary additional training, possibly in the area of assisting with occupational training, before heading back to work early in 2019.

Once in Maryland, Sully will officially join the U.S. Navy — the same branch George H.W. Bush served in — and be given an honorary military rank as per tradition according to Hibbard. Sully’s fans may be happy to know his trainers are seeing if it’s possible to keep his Instagram account, @sullyhwbush, running.

To learn more about America’s VetDogs, donate or volunteer, visit www.vetdogs.org or call 631-930-9000.

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.

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