Government

A call for legislative action on eve of boating safety week

Local safe boating advocates don’t want proposed state and federal laws improving safety on the water to lose steam. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Huntington boating safety advocates are calling for new wind in the sails of languishing state and federal measures aimed at making recreational boating safer.

Jackie Martin, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht & Boating Clubs, said she wants to see some action on two proposed laws, one state and one federal, that would attack the issue of boating safety from multiple fronts, including increasing boating safety education state and nationwide; and mandating that boat manufacturers create and affix plates publicizing the maximum passenger capacities for vessels shorter than 45 feet and greater than 20 feet.

“Nothing’s been done on this,” Martin said in a phone interview on Friday. “I can also say I’m disappointed.”

The commodore voiced her frustrations just a few days before the launch of the third annual Huntington Safe Boating Week, an event filled with programs highlighting the significance of taking safety precautions and behaving sensibly on the water. The week is a partnership between GHCYBC, town, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Neptune Sail and Power Squadron, which provides boating education classes and seminars.

It’s been a year since either of the bills made any waves. The bills have been referred to committees, according to their latest status updates in the State Assembly and the Library of Congress online databases.

The laws were prompted in part by the deaths of three children in Oyster Bay almost three years ago: Victoria Gaines, 7, Harlie Treanor, 11, and David Aureliano, 12, died when the boat they were on capsized on its way back to shore after a July 4 fireworks show. The 34-foot cabin cruiser was carrying 27 people at the time.

If approved, the New York State legislation would require all boaters in the state’s tidewaters to obtain boating certification issued by either the commissioner, the U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, phasing in the requirements for various age groups by 2020. It would prohibit individuals under the age of 14 to operate a boating vessel, and would eliminate the use of online classes to obtain boating certification, “due to the ineffective educational requirements of said classes,” according to the legislation.

Stephanie Quarles, vice commodore of GHCYBC, said a swift requirement for older boaters to conform to the proposed boating certification standards is key, because many accidents involve older boaters.

“Once you’re a boater, there’s so much to it and it can be dangerous if you’re not careful,” she said. “And it can be an awful lot of fun if you’re in a safe environment.”

Asked why there’s been no movement on the state bill, Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport), a co-sponsor, called the situation “frustrating,” and said that Albany can be “a slow process.” Raia added that there’s been some talk within the state’s parks department about the difficulty of enforcing the proposed law, as it would create two separate boating certification requirements — one for tidewater and another for freshwater.

He also said the bill doesn’t have a New York State Senate sponsor.

“Things don’t necessarily move until there is a Senate sponsor,” he said.

However, the bill has not been forgotten, Raia reassured.

“It’s not dead,” he said. “It’s something that we are talking about – particularly now that the boating season is upon us. The basic problem is nothing in Albany is moving as fast as things should be, even though it makes perfectly clear sense.”

Over on the federal level, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) unveiled legislation last year called the Boating Occupancy and Teaching Safety Act. As of May 20, 2014, the law was in a subcommittee.

Under the bill, states would be required to spend a share of federal funding it already receives under the recreational boating safety program.

Israel’s bill would also require boat manufacturers — as of January 2016 — install a “capacity plate” on boats between 20 and 45 feet in length that list the maximum number of passengers and maximum gross weight it can carry. Federal law already requires this information for boats shorter than 20 feet long, so the bill would expand the regulation.

Caitlin Girouard, communications director for Israel, said the House of Representatives speaker never brought the legislation to the floor for a vote in the last Congress, “but the congressman will be reintroducing the legislation and once again pushing for its passage.” According to the Library of Congress’s database, the bill has no co-sponsors.

Huntington Safe Boating Week starts this Saturday and runs to Friday, May 22. For more information on events go to www.huntingtonsafeboatingweek.com.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, pitches the pieces of legislation that would employ GPS technology to keep offenders away from domestic violence victims in Suffolk County. Photo from Kara Hahn

The county’s proactive push to empower victims of domestic violence reached another milestone on Tuesday when the Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program that would slap ankle bracelets on offenders under an order of protection.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) ignited the domestic violence discussion last month when the county approved her legislation providing law enforcement and victims with danger assessment tools that identify high-risk offenders. Her efforts turned another corner with Tuesday’s approval of legislation that she called a multi-faceted approach to making Suffolk’s domestic violence policy stronger than it’s ever been.

The latest pieces of legislation make Global Positioning System technology available to electronically monitor those in the family and criminal court systems who are subject to a “stay away” order of protection — which is more restrictive than a “refrain from” order — and pose a continuing threat to the safety of a victim or their children, Hahn said.

“This has been something I’ve wanted to work on since getting here,” said Hahn, whose personal experience as a victim of domestic violence brings the issue to the top of her list of priorities. “One of the things that was important to me was dealing with orders of protection. I had an order of protection and it’s very frightening — and I’ve heard over and over again over the years — that it’s just a piece of paper with no ability to truly protect the victim. That’s what I’m trying to fix.”

Both bills were virtually replicas of one another, but were specific to criminal and family courts respectively.

The county’s district attorney would acquire the GPS units and the offenders would have to cover the cost of monitoring, she said.

Tom Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney, threw his support behind Hahn’s initiative.

“I have every confidence this pilot program will be successful in effectively protecting victims of domestic violence,” he said in a statement.

In 2013 alone, the state division of criminal justice reported that there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in the county. That statistic, coupled with the fact that domestic violence accounted for 21 percent of all violent victimizations nationwide from 2003 to 2012, was what spurred Hahn to bulk up her agenda, she said.

“In my experience as a federal prosecutor, GPS devices serve as a real deterrent,” said Tim Sini, assistant deputy Suffolk County executive. “In the moment of passion, an offender often thinks twice before reoffending when he knows he is being monitored by law enforcement.”

The pilot program would provide the county with 30 new GPS devices to be used when judges assign offenders to an order of protection. The technology could be used in one of two ways — either tracking offenders so they stay away from victims’ homes or jobs, or acting as proximity detectors and letting victims know if an offender is near them. The latter form of tracking would be optional for victims.

“Having been someone who had an order of protection and was afraid that the offender would come, it gives you peace of mind as a victim knowing you could be alerted,” Hahn said. “If a victim doesn’t like it, they don’t have to [wear] it.”

Construction could start in September

Stephen Normandin, of The RBA Group, answers residents’ questions at the Sound Beach Civic Association meeting on Monday. Photo by Erika Karp

Echo Avenue in Sound Beach is getting a makeover.

Brookhaven Town officials presented plans for a revitalization project along the busy street at the Sound Beach Civic Association meeting on Monday. Handicap-accessible sidewalks, new curbs, decorative lighting and ornamental trees are set to line the approximate .3-mile stretch between New York Avenue and North Country Road in the near future, as leaders seek to beautify and make the area safer for pedestrians.

Steve Tricarico, deputy highway superintendent, said the project will “bring that downtown feel like you may have seen the highway department do in Rocky Point.”

Late last year, the department completed a similar project along Broadway in Rocky Point.

In 2013, the town adopted a four-phase plan to revitalize Echo Avenue and received a Community Development Block Grant for the first phase. Last year, officials applied for more CDBG funding, but found out the hamlet no longer qualified for the grant.

Tricarico said the highway department went out to bid for new contracts and was able to get a better deal and was therefore able to match the 2013 grant and fund the project in its entirety — a total cost of about $240,000.

According to Stephen Normandin, director of design and planning for The RBA Group, the engineering group selected to oversee the project, starting at the intersection of New York Avenue, a four-foot-wide sidewalk will be constructed on the east side of Echo Avenue that connects all the way up to Handy Pantry. Then, a crosswalk will be created, by Devon Road and Caramia Pizzeria, that crosses over Echo Avenue and links up to another sidewalk on the west side of the street, ending at North Country Road. In addition, the triangle by Handy Pantry, which houses the civic’s “Welcome to Sound Beach” sign, will be extended in an attempt to slow traffic at the Shinnecock Drive and Echo Avenue intersection.

Normandin said the project does come with its challenges, as there are hills and existing guardrails and trees, and limited space within the public right-of-way.

“We are sensitive to the [private] properties,” he added.

If all goes according to plan, the project will commence in late August or early September and wrap up before the winter season. The road will be paved once the sidewalk and concrete work is complete.

A few residents, including Bea Ruberto, civic president and the driving force behind the project, requested some additional lighting by New York Avenue and Mesquite Tex Mex Grill. Currently, the plans don’t include new sidewalks and lighting on that side of Echo, but Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said her office would look in to it. However, an easement agreement between the town and property owner might be needed, which could delay the project.

“None of this is set in stone; the dollar amount kind of is, so wherever we can … cut from one area and add to another, we are certainly willing to do that,” Bonner said.

East Northport lawmaker says responsibility of new role to include rebuilding public trust

John Flanagan and former state education commissioner John King at a Common Core forum. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Suffolk County’s own state Sen. John Flanagan has been elected to serve as temporary president and state Senate majority leader after former head Dean G. Skelos resigned from the post on Monday.

The Republican-led chamber appointed Flanagan (R-East Northport) as its new leader amid the arrest of Sen. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) last week on federal corruption charges. The change in leadership comes after several Senate members pressured Skelos, a Long Islander who touts a more than 30-year tenure, to resign from his position.

Flanagan has been appointed the temporary position of president and State Senate majority leader for the remainder of the 2015-16 term, according to a video from his swearing-in.

“I am proud and humbled to have been chosen as temporary president and majority leader of the New York State Senate,” Flanagan said in a statement. “I thank my colleagues for the confidence they have placed in me. With this job comes a responsibility to lead and to listen, and to rebuild the public’s trust.”

Flanagan, 54, has held the position of senator since 2002. Prior to joining the Senate, he was a member of the New York State Assembly for 15 years.

State Sen. John A. DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who was vying for the majority position, spoke to Flanagan’s appointment on Monday and said there were no hard feelings.

“I know he is not only a great senator, he’s a great man and I’m proud to move his nomination,” DeFrancisco said.

Flanagan’s colleague, State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also lauded the move.

“It gives me great joy, great pride to second the nomination of John Flanagan as our temporary president,” LaValle said. “John Flanagan has great intellect, great energy and he has a wonderful, wonderful demeanor that brings people together.”

Many of Flanagan’s colleagues spoke highly of the new majority leader prior to his swearing-in ceremony that took place in Albany following the 32 ayes he received out of 63 senators present.

“The Senate made the right decision by voting Sen. John Flanagan as the newest majority leader,” Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Melville) said in a statement. “Flanagan has a track record for getting things done in the Senate and working with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.”

After his swearing in, Flanagan thanked Skelos for his decades of service and accomplishing the enactment of Megan’s Law, a law that publicizes the whereabouts of sex offenders.

“I have now had the good fortune of being in the Legislature for 29 years and I am proud to be in public service,” Flanagan said in a video from his swearing-in ceremony. “I spent 16 years in the Assembly in the minority, I’m now in my 13th year in the Senate, two of which [were] in the minority and I learned a lot being in both venues.”

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Town Board changes decision-making process when granting contracts based on ‘best value’

Town Board members mull over the proposal to add a chapter to the town code changing the ways contracts are bidded out at a previous public hearing. Photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown’s Town Board unanimously green-lighted the adding of a chapter to the town code that awards bids based on best value rather than simply giving contracts to the lowest bidder.

The change came pursuant to a state general municipal law that allowed towns to authorize the awarding of certain purchase contracts, including contracts for services exceeding $20,000, based on best value, which Assistant Town Attorney Janice Hansen described as more cost efficient in the long term, as opposed to the cheapest option in the short term.

“The best value option may be used if, for example, it is more cost efficient over time to award the good or service to other than the lowest bidder or offerer, if factors such as lower cost of maintenance, durability, higher quality and longer product life can be documented,” she said at an April 7 public hearing on the matter.

Contracts for public works projects, however, were not included under the new chapter, Hansen said.
The state law described the standards for best value as projects that “optimize quality, cost and efficiency among responsive and responsible bidders or offerers.”

But Charlie Gardner, director of government affairs for the Long Island chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, spoke on behalf of his group’s 47 different electrical contractors in Nassau and Suffolk counties in saying there were concerns over the wording of the measure. By awarding contracts based on best value and not just price, Gardner said he was worried about the level of subjectivity that might arise in the decision-making process and was simply looking for reassurance from the board.

“If you read the standards for best value, it does cite where possible determinants should be based on objective and quantifiable analysis of clearly described and documented criteria, which is fine,” he said. “But why does it say, ‘Where possible?’ Shouldn’t it always be the determination based on that? We’re not quibbling with the intent of the law and we certainly have faith in the current Town Board, but down the road, when subjectivity enters into it, that’s the concern of my members.”

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said the board would take Gardner’s concerns into consideration in making future decisions on contracts and also ensure any awards are justified as they are rolled out.

The state law requires that entities must document their reasoning for awarding a contract based on best value instead of to the lowest responsible bidder.

Smithtown’s Town Board voted 5-0 in support of the measure at its April 23 meeting, making the new chapter supersede any inconsistent provisions of the town’s procurement policy enacted before the unanimous vote.

Port Jefferson is fighting to keep property tax revenue flowing from the power plant and to prevent restrictions from being lifted on peaker unit output. File photo by Lee Lutz

A clerical item on the Brookhaven Town Board’s agenda regarding Caithness Long Island II, a proposed Yaphank power plant, caused a stir among some Port Jefferson residents on Thursday, as they questioned what exactly the board was voting on.

Earlier in the week, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) predicted the issue at a Monday work session meeting. The item — accepting documentation about covenants and restrictions at the project site — was included under the board’s Communication Consensus agenda. Romaine said the town received correspondence that the information was filed with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, and the board had to vote to accept it. He added that the Town Board was not trying to sneak anything by residents.

“We have to list correspondence that we receive,” he said Monday.

Last July, the Town Board granted Caithness Long Island II a special permit for its proposed 752-megawatt power plant. Romaine and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) remained in the minority and voted against the permit.

Some Port Jefferson residents adamantly oppose the project, as they fear it could negatively impact the chances of the Port Jefferson power plant being upgraded. Critics allege the Caithness project’s environmental impact statement was flawed and didn’t adequately address impacts on the surrounding communities and species living near the property, which is adjacent to an existing 350-megawatt Caithness power plant.

At Thursday’s meeting, standing together in the minority as they did on the special permit vote, Cartright and Romaine voted against accepting the Caithness communication. Cartright said the project should be re-evaluated, as PSEG Long Island has stated there will be sufficient local energy capacity until about 2020, and thus there is no need for Caithness II.

“In light of that fact, it appears to me that the [environmental review] process was based on an erroneous premise, as the original … findings for this project were in part based on an additional need of power,” she said.

During public comment, Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bruce Miller expressed his frustration with the Town Board granting the special use permit and with how backup documents, which officials said are available at the town and county clerk’s offices, weren’t provided with Thursday’s agenda.

Miller said he sympathized with Medford residents, some of whom attended the same meeting to advocate against a proposed casino in their neighborhood.

“Only two people on this board are voted for by the people from Port Jefferson,” he said, referring to the supervisor and the councilwoman, “and yet the rest of the board members can vote with impunity against us and against our interests.”

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson sponsored the resolution to schedule a public hearing. File photo

A new iteration of a proposal to build a senior assisted living facility near a wooded Huntington neighborhood will be the subject of a town board public hearing next month.

The board scheduled the hearing on Tuesday to consider changing the zone on the six-acre property to allow the Massachusetts-based Benchmark Senior Living to proceed with the project, which would be located on the corner of East Main Street and Washington Drive. Benchmark is looking to rezone the property from C-3 Special Business and R-10 Residential to R-HS Residential Health Services District to make way for the facility.

The project has gone through several versions. The proposed number of units has been brought down from 87 to 69 units. Also, the building will be two stories instead of three, and the proposed on-site sewage treatment plant has been moved to the northwest corner of the lot, adjacent to commercial property.

A 40-foot wide natural buffer along Old Northport Road will be built, and the gross floor area would be slightly reduced from 70,567 square feet to 66,995.

Some residents who live near the property have opposed the plan, citing size, traffic and noise concerns. A group of residents, who call themselves United Homeowners of Huntington, has formed to oppose the plan.

Jane Carter, a resident who belongs to the group, asked the town board at the meeting on Tuesday to keep the zoning on the property in tact. She said the project “hasn’t changed enough.”

William Bonesso, a Uniondale attorney representing Benchmark for the project, also attended the Tuesday meeting. In an interview last year, he spoke of a need for the project.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, we’re living on an island that’s aging,” he said.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) sponsored the resolution to schedule a public hearing. He said in an interview with reporters after the meeting that the public hearing was a chance to evaluate whether the public’s concerns about the project are addressed

“It’s been kicking around,” he said. “They came up with what they believed was a different plan so let’s put it before public hearing, decide whether it should go forward.”

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Smithtown Councilman Bob Creighton. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Councilman Bob Creighton (R) is reaching out to Suffolk County as he continues to push a plan that would reform the town’s government setup.

It has been nearly two months since the town board last discussed the government restructure proposal, which Creighton and Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) advocated for at a work session in March. Officials renewed discussion Tuesday morning when Creighton said he would be asking Suffolk County Personnel Director Alan Schneider to attend an upcoming work session and offer insight on how other municipalities endured a similar reform.

Under the plan, Smithtown would restructure its government services by placing a commissioner at the head of various departments, similar to operations in neighboring municipalities. For example, there would be one commissioner per department heading up areas like public safety, public works, planning and development and of human services, overseeing all levels of the town’s government.

“This is a very desirable place to live and we could improve on the way we run government,” Creighton reiterated at Tuesday morning’s work session. “I do think this would be an improvement because we would have far more accountability.”

Creighton said neighboring municipalities, including Brookhaven, already had similar makeups, differing greatly from Smithtown’s current structure of appointing councilmembers as liaisons to check in on various department heads.

“We do have liaison relationships with these various departments, but liaison is liaison,” Creighton said. “Direct control is something else.”

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), however, remained unimpressed by the proposal, as he was when it was discussed two months ago. While he said he was open to the prospect of Schneider coming to the board to discuss the restructuring, he did not feel it would sway him in favor of doing it.

Vecchio said in March he was worried that such a reform would bring about more political obstructionism in Smithtown, saying he felt the town already runs efficiently and that there is risk of losing sight of that by changing power.

“I have no problem with the town board. I really don’t,” Vecchio said. “I think we run very well. I’m not convinced this will make the town run any better. I just don’t see the need.”

When the plan was discussed in March, Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) called for a financial analysis on such a proposal so as not to cost Smithtown taxpayers any additional dollars. Creighton brought that concern to the table Tuesday morning, suggesting that if commissioners were chosen out of the pool of current town employees, no additional costs would be accrued.

“We can use people from within and it will not cost the taxpayer anything,” Creighton said. “It’s a more reasonable span of control.”

The next work session is scheduled for June 2 at town hall.

Work will add parking spots, greenery near historic area

The parking lot east of Mariners Way will get a makeover. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Village officials have lined up a construction company to redo the parking lot behind the Fifth Season restaurant, recently dubbed the Baker’s Alley lot, as part of a larger project that aims to restore a downtown historical area.

The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees hired East Moriches-based Rosemar Construction, the lower of two bidders on the work, at its meeting on Monday night. At the municipal lot by Mariners Way, the work includes repaving and striping, putting in a pedestrian walkway and adding landscaping.

In addition to the parking field east of Mariners Way, the lot includes 14 spaces in a strip on the road’s western side.

Restriping will make room for seven to eight more parking spots, Mayor Margot Garant said at the meeting.

It will also eliminate a dead end in the middle of the parking lot, improving access for public works employees when they remove snow from the village’s lots in the winter.

East Coast-based engineering firm VHB — the group that put together the construction drawings and plans for redoing the metered parking lot based on designs by Port Jefferson’s Campani and Schwarting Architects — still has to review Rosemar’s bid, which came in close to $350,000 and will be funded by village parking meter revenue.

“I’m told that this is quite a good price,” Trustee Larry LaPointe said. “VHB expected it to come in significantly higher.”

Officials are now calling the area the Baker’s Alley parking lot, making it the namesake of a nearby path the village is working to restore. Baker’s Alley was, in turn, named as a nod to Port Jefferson’s so-called bakery wars that took place there in the early 1900s, in which William West’s New England Bakery famously competed with another local shop. The feud fully erupted in 1916, when both owners changed the establishments’ names to Port Jefferson Bakery.

The now-overgrown and often overlooked dirt path starts at East Main Street, heads down to the parking lot and turns north toward East Broadway. Village officials are looking to turn the alley into a brick walkway, with classic lighting and native plants along the way. After turning north, it would run along a short stone wall as it passes between the parking lot and adjacent businesses, then connect with the small Founders Park at East Broadway.

The village has not yet received bids on the alley portion of the project, LaPointe said, but officials want to get moving on the parking lot work.

“We need to get started as quickly as possible so we don’t interfere any more than necessary with the use of that lot in the high season.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn file photo

A North Shore lawmaker is calling on Suffolk County to give green a chance.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is pushing a pilot program that, if enacted, would inject green roof construction principles into roof repair or replacement plans for one county-owned building on a trial basis.

A “green roof” uses a garden or plantings to increase energy efficiency by insulating the building in the winter and reducing solar absorption in the summer, to decrease the need for heating and air conditioning, according to the not-for-profit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities organization. Green roofs can also attract various pollinating insect species, which would serve as an environmental benefit to the surrounding region.

“Structures that employ green roof concepts report increased energy efficiency,” Hahn said. “In the municipalities that have already installed these roofs, officials have discovered that being green is saving green.”

If enacted in Suffolk County, the pilot project would take root atop one county-owned building, Hahn spokesman Seth Squicciarino said. The county’s Department of Public Works would monitor the green roof to measure the benefits.

If successful, similar roof renovations could sprout up throughout the county.

Hahn said the DPW would select which building in Suffolk should get the roof repair or replacement project, select a vendor for the work and provide periodic reports on its progress as the seasons pass.

The plan was first put onto the table March 3 and the county Legislature’s Public Works, Transportation and Energy Committee mulled over the proposal at its April 20 meeting.

Hahn said municipalities throughout the country were already looking into similar projects and, in some cases, requiring new construction projects to include green roof principles. As for Long Island, green roofs are already in full bloom on the SUNY Old Westbury campus and on the East End’s southern fork.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized green roof projects as an effective management practice that, if implemented on a large scale, would reduce the volume of stormwater entering local waterways and lower water temperatures to enhance water quality. New York City has already enacted a $5.23 rebate for each square foot of many green roof projects, and the city of Syracuse has allocated nearly $4 million toward 37 different green roof projects to date.

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