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Donates food to St. James' nonprofit after servicemen and women were displaced from Northport VA home

St. James residents William Mountzouros, Robert Cornicelli and Allan Fajardo, members of nonprofit Veterans for a More Responsive Government, deliver donated food to residents on the day of Super Bowl LII. Photo from Robert Cornicelli

On the day of the big game, Tommy O’Grady was the real patriot.

The owner of Miller Place’s Tuscany Gourmet Market donated food for 107 local veterans to make sure the servicemen and women could enjoy Super Bowl LII. Original plans had been to prepare a feast for 40 veterans at the VA Northport Beacon House Homeless Shelter through Veterans for a More Responsive Government, a nonprofit working to increase the public’s awareness of harassment and mistreatment of disabled U.S. veterans. Pipes burst at the Beacon House, and the veterans were split up and moved to nine different homes after making plans to watch the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots duke it out. When O’Grady was approached with the change of plans, he didn’t hesitate to alter his.

Tommy O’Grady, owner of Tuscany Gourmet Market in Miller Place, donated feasts for local veterans in need. File photo

“I have a gifted life, I’m doing well right now, and to see people who put their lives on the line and did their time in need, it’s not right,” O’Grady said. “For me, to give this to them, it’s the only way to say, ‘Thank you.’”

O’Grady had been connected with Robert Cornicelli, founder of Veterans for a More Responsive Government, through his childhood friend and Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle. The two grew up in Centereach together, and when LaValle was approached by Cornicelli asking first for help stretching his $540 into food for 40, he knew who to call.

“Tommy is the type of guy I’m almost afraid to talk in front of because God forbid you mention somebody is in need, he jumps right on it in two seconds,” the chairman said. “I was so embarrassed to call him back and tell him there’d been a change of plans, but when Robert went in to sit with him after the vet relocations he still said ‘I’ve got everything.’ They were stunned — they literally had tears in their eyes. They couldn’t believe how generous he was going to be. That’s a hell of a donation.”

Cornicelli, who served in the United States Army from 1986 to 1994 and retuned as a captain until his retirement in November 2017, has provided meals for veterans around the holidays for some time, but officially founded his nonprofit this year. A disabled veteran himself, he’s undergone four back surgeries, knee surgery and foot surgery, and said while his mission this time around was to make the party happen despite the setback, he said he hopes a mindfulness for the needs of veterans emerges.

“If everyone did what Tommy did, there’d be a lot fewer problems in this world, that’s for sure — certainly there wouldn’t be any world hunger.”

— John Jay LaValle

“The conditions at the Beacon House are horrible,” he said. “I took photos of moldy walls, ceilings, it’s disguising.”

O’Grady said he wanted to donate the not-so-standard London broil and balsamic chicken heroes, wings, salads and cookie trays so that the money Cornicelli had raised, matched with a donation from LaValle’s Republican National Committee funds, could go toward repairs.

“Robert is passionate about this, and I’m just backing him,” the Tuscany Market owner said. “We’re making it all happen for him. We want to raise awareness, so people can come together to get this home fixed.”

Cornicelli teamed up with fellow St. James residents William Mountzouros, a volunteer, and Allan Fajardo, a veteran, to drop off the food at the various veteran homes. Fajardo said he has been directly affected by Cornicelli. The Honduras native served in the Army from 1994 to 2016, and enlisted Cornicelli. He returned to the states a homeless veteran, and his friend opened his home to him, providing food and shelter. With the help of LaValle and former Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Fajardo earned part-time jobs within Smithtown and Brookhaven towns, eventually becoming an investigator for the Town of Islip.

“It’s thanks to those guys that I’m here,” Fajardo said. “When I saw the work [Cornicelli] was doing I immediately hopped on board. It’s a great feeling helping out brothers and sisters in need.”

Forty veterans were displaced after pipes burst at the VA Northport Beacon House Homeless Shelter. File photo

LaValle said seeing the groups of “good guys” come together has been mental therapy for him.

“It’s a tough world right now,” he said. “It’s a very hostile world at times. This is something that’s been really rewarding because you learn you may think you have it bad, and you may be whining about something, but it’s very true that there’s always someone out there who has it worse. Now I want to do more to help out.”

He pointed to Cornicelli and O’Grady as prime examples of model citizens.

“If everyone did what Tommy did, there’d be a lot fewer problems in this world, that’s for sure — certainly there wouldn’t be any world hunger,” he said, laughing. “And what Robert is doing is absolutely wonderful, he deserves a lot of credit.”

But on the day of the Super Bowl, Cornicelli called O’Grady the real hero, who donated much more than just heroes.

“I never met the guy in my life, and he tells me he’s taking care of the whole thing. It’s unbelievable,” Cornicelli said. “He broke everything down to the exact amount needed to feed the veterans at each location, and it’s an amazing feeling when these guys’ eyes are wide open, saying, “This is what we’re getting?” rather than bagged lunches. It’s refreshing to see guys helping out. Tommy, he’s one of the greatest patriots I’ve ever met.”

Dan Cignoli, of Coram, found the event invigorating. Photo by Rita J. Egan

While pregnant and riding the subway in New York City, attorney Marjorie Mesidor was grabbed from behind. Despite describing herself as typically abrasive, or as she put it, “the literal bull in the china shop,” in that moment, she froze.

“I became so fearful and so frozen because I wanted to protect my child,” Mesidor said, noting that it was also around the time frequent slashings were being reported in Manhattan. “I’ve thought about that instance more during these #MeToo discussions, and it’s given me a taste of what it feels like to be caught off guard in a moment, and your immediate reaction means everything.”

“There are so many moves made without permission, and it puts us in murky waters and we continue to extend and extend consent.”

— Marjorie Mesidor

The fear that Mesidor — a partner at Phillips & Associates, a law firm that specializes in workplace sexual harassment cases — described is unfortunately common. Women across the world show up for work or ride public transportation or otherwise exist in public knowing their own #MeToo story could unfold at any moment. But like many moved by the worldwide shift in perception created by the movement, the promotion of self-reflection and empowerment in the hopes of amending the culture of objectification is fully underway in the eyes of Mesidor and many other women, especially those elected to serve by the public.

Government officials have shared personal encounters that at times resulted in little to no justice. While noting women’s rights have come a long way in the last century, the women echoed the need for long-term remedies to truly change the culture.

“We are evolving as a society, but it’s going to take leaders to make sure that the attitudes are changing to where they need to be,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who noted the importance of educating the next generation of boys and girls about proper conduct around the opposite sex. “We need to make sure people are held accountable for their actions and behavior, and label what is wrong and what is right — we need educational components available for school districts.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she is hoping from the movement to see observers of inappropriate sexual conduct empowered to speak out when they see someone being victimized, eliminating the acceptance of things like “locker room talk.” Hahn shared an emotional memory, recalling when a boy grabbed her breasts when she was in fifth grade. She said other students witnessed the incident, but she decided not to speak to a parent or teacher.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) pointed out a bigger problem with Hahn’s story, which included admitting the boy talked about her breasts for months after the incident.

Cindi DeSimone, of Farmingville, aims to teach her twins that both of them are of value. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“She may not say anything, but everyone else around her is watching and not saying anything,” Cartright said. “And then she goes home and says to herself, ‘Well, I guess I’m supposed to let that happen, because everyone else says it happened and no one said anything.’ Are we doing what we need to do to make sure women feel there’s a continued safe space? Because retaliation is very real.”

Mesidor said she thinks a culture fitted around the idea of “going with the flow” when it comes to sexual encounters has contributed to the toxicity.

“When we soften it up and we make it flowery and pretty, we raise boys who don’t know how to recognize consent, who do not ask before leaning in for a kiss,” she said. “There are so many moves made without permission, and it puts us in murky waters and we continue to extend and extend consent. Girls are brought up thinking you should be flirty instead of frigid, not requiring permission for someone to touch or interact with your body. I’m not promoting extremism, that’s certainly not what I’m saying, but we need to recognize the totality of the issue, not only with our laws but with the way we raise our children and what we deem acceptable.”

County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) advocated for teaching self-esteem, especially to young girls. She said being brought up to stick up for herself worked to her benefit when handling her own incidents of sexual harassment. Kennedy said she was in third grade the first time she was forced to experience inappropriate sexual behavior. While riding her bike in Commack, a man wearing an overcoat in the middle of the summer disrobed to unveil his naked body to her. Kennedy said she raced home to tell her mother, who called the police. Then, years later, while working at a supermarket at age 17, the owner grabbed her breasts.

“We need to make sure people are held accountable for their actions and behavior, and label what is wrong and what is right.”

— Sarah Anker

“Even though I’d lose the perfect hours to help me work around school and sports, I called the guy a pervert and I left,” she said. “We need to teach self-esteem. I think it’s because of my personality, or maybe because I went to Catholic school, we were taught everyone’s body is a temple. By not sticking up for yourself, or by posting promiscuous pictures, you’re saying, ‘Please disrespect me.’”

While some may not want to rock the boat or come off as overly sensitive, Mesidor said women need to look within to help progress the cultural shift currently underway, working as allies for other women.

“Everyone should be self-reflecting and ask themselves, ‘How am I potentially contributing to these types of cultures? What am I seeing that I may not be speaking out on? What am I experiencing that I may not be responding to?’” she said. “And we can’t be letting a man think it’s OK to say something offensive to the next person.”

Kennedy is a proponent of making men aware of the things they say, even if a supposed “joke” might be funny to a woman.

“We should be making teachable moments,” she said. “If you find the joke funny, you laugh, but then you make a comment saying many other women would not find that funny.”

Huntington Town Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) recalled stories her mother told about her days as a stewardess, hearing how she needed to maintain a certain weight to be able to fly, have her legs checked for stubble and nose for powder, and docks to her pay for failures to comply. A common practice associated with bartenders and waitresses, they also were discouraged to wear wedding rings, ensuring to keep alive an air of availability for male customers.

“It all starts with stories — our own personal stories we can look at and say, ‘Yes, that’s what #MeToo is.’ We’ve come very far, but yet we haven’t.”

— Joan Cergol

At 30 years old, Cergol, then working in a law firm, was called into her boss’s office after hours. According to the councilwoman, he asked her to close the door because he had a personal question. Instead of taking a seat in front of him, she sat in a chair closest to the door, and listened to his question about her and her husband’s preferred birth control method, explaining that the intrauterine device his wife was using was resulting in painful sex for him.

“This was my career, this was a boss who could make or break me, but I told him I wasn’t going to have this conversation, I got up and left, and ultimately took it to the managing partner only to find out this man was doing this to many women,” she said. “It all starts with stories — our own personal stories we can look at and say, ‘Yes, that’s what #MeToo is.’ We’ve come very far, but yet we haven’t.”

By opening up and sharing personal stories and working on new legislation, education and training models, Stony Brook resident Cindy Morris, founder of The Benson Agency, which works to expand on the effectiveness and interests of the nonprofit sector, said she hopes women can stay ahead of the news cycle and seize the powerful moment in time.

“This movement is consciousness raising,” she said. “We need to stand up while this is the topic of the day, and to stay standing up when the next news cycle comes around so it doesn’t go away. The whole goal of this is to draw people in, because this moment in history gives us an opportunity. What we do with it is up to us.”

Local government officials at all levels are pushing for the Shoreham woods adjacent to the Pine Barrens be spared from development. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put plans in his preliminary budget despite vetoing a bill to save the trees. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County elected officials learned last week that with perseverance comes preservation.

In a surprising move, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled in his 2018-19 executive budget Jan. 16 that roughly 840 acres in Shoreham would be preserved as part of an expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens. This proposal — which, if the budget is passed, would make the scenic stretch of property surrounding the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off limits to developers — came less than a month after Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) calling for that very action.

A proposal was made to cut down a majority of the more than 800 acres in favor of a solar farm. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We saw that he did a cut and paste of our bill,” Englebright said. “It left in all of the language from our bill for the Shoreham site and now that’s in the proposed executive budget. That is really significant because, with this initiative as an amendment to the Pine Barrens, this will really have a dramatic long-term impact on helping to stabilize the land use of the eastern half of Long Island. The governor could do something weird, but as far as Shoreham goes, it is likely he will hold his words, which are our words.”

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June but was axed by the governor Dec. 18, aimed to protect both the Shoreham property and a 100-acre parcel of Mastic woods from being dismantled and developed into solar farms.

Both Englebright and LaValle, as well as Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), pushed that while they provide an important renewable energy, solar panels should not be installed on pristine ecosystems. They even worked right up until the veto was issued to provide a list of alternative, town-owned sites for solar installation “that did not require the removal of a single tree,” according to Romaine.

In Cuomo’s veto, he wrote, “to sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.” Englebright said he and his colleagues planned to re-introduce the legislation a week or two after the veto was issued and was actively working on it when the proposed budget was released.

The legislation’s Mastic portion, however, was not part of the budget — an exclusion Englebright said he wasn’t surprised by.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, despite Shoreham not being in his coverage area, has been pushing to save the virgin Shoreham property from development. File photo

“During negotiations leading up to the bill’s veto, the governor’s representatives put forward that we let Mastic go and just do Shoreham — we rejected that,” he said. “We didn’t want to set that precedent of one site against the other. So he vetoed the bill. But his ego was already tied into it.”

The 100 acres on the Mastic property — at the headwaters of the Forge River — is owned by Jerry Rosengarten, who hired a lobbyist for Cuomo to veto the bill. He is expected to move ahead with plans for the Middle Island Solar Farm, a 67,000-panel green energy development on the property. But Englebright said he hasn’t given up on Mastic.

“We’re standing still in the direction of preservation for both sites,” he said. “My hope is that some of the ideas I was advocating for during those negotiations leading up to the veto will be considered.”

Romaine said he is on Englebright’s side.

“While I support the governor’s initiative and anything that preserves land and adds to the Pine Barrens, obviously my preference would be for Steve Englebright’s bill to go forward,” Romaine said. “There are areas where developments should take place, but those two particular sites are not where development should take place.”

Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who has been vocal against the veto and proposals for solar on both sites, said Cuomo is moving in the right direction with this decision.

“It’s clear that the governor wants to avoid a false choice such as cutting down Pine Barrens to construct solar,” Amper said. “I think he wants land and water protected on the one hand and solar and wind developed on the other hand. I believe we can have all of these by directing solar to rooftops, parking lots and previously cleared land.”

Crews looking for Nikola Tesla’s famed "death ray" come up empty

Crews working with Discovery Channel dig under the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham in search of underground tunnels. Photo from Discovery Channel

After detecting something under the surface of the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham using ground-penetrating radar, a duo of explorers asked permission to dig a 16-foot-deep hole on the property.

It was October 2017 and segments of a new Discovery Channel program “Tesla’s Death Ray: A Murder Declassified” were being filmed at the fire station, located just five minutes away from Wardenclyffe —
Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

With the go-ahead granted by Rocky Point Fire District Secretary Edwin Brooks, and then the rest of the district’s board, an excavation crew dug out the hole in hopes of finding the remnants of tunnels Tesla was rumored to have built under the grounds of his laboratory that connected to surrounding areas in the early 1900s.

Filming and research was also conducted on the property of the Tesla Science Center
at Wardenclyffe, but digging there was prohibited due to contamination on the site from previous tenants.

Hosts Rob Nelson and Stefan Burns of Science Channel’s Secrets of the Underground look over some findings. Photo from Science Channel

“We were definitely interested in what’s going on, and if there were some tunnels here, we’d like to know about it,” said Brooks, who was also interviewed for the show.

The multi-episode docuseries, which premiered Jan. 2 with new episodes every Tuesday,  follows military investigator Jack Murphy and Tesla historian Cameron Prince on their quest to decode some of the mysteries and urban myths surrounding the Serbian-American inventor. The two aim to track down Tesla’s innovations and research that may have gone missing from his safe after he died in a hotel room in 1943 — including a supposed formula for a particle beam, or “death ray.” Murphy and Prince theorize that designing the fatal weapon could have caused someone to murder Tesla.

“I think that’s really far-fetched, and I don’t believe that’s the case — it’s all very speculative,” said Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, who, along with other board members, allowed the crew to shoot on their premises last September. “But it’s been an interesting experience.”

Alcorn said the site receives many requests a year from film and television companies, as well as documentarians from all over. In addition to Discovery Channel’s show, the Science Channel also recently shot and aired a two-part episode for its “Secrets of the Underground” show with the subtitle “Tesla’s
Final Secrets,” which similarly tested the ground beneath the laboratory in search of clues for the death ray invention.

Before filming began, Alcorn said both companies had to fill out an application, which the Tesla Science Center board reviewed to ensure its shows met their requirements for science-based content. As the programs featured testing on the grounds using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, they were allowed to proceed.

“We can’t control what they do with their footage or what they find, but since they’re using this equipment, if they were to find anything, it was important that it is based on science and data,” Alcorn said. “Both shows were very cooperative and we had no problem with them. We had them on-site for a couple days — they would come in the morning, do their filming and testing, and then they would leave. They were also all excellent in terms of hiring good companies, with bonafide technicians that look for voids in the ground as a means to discover whether or not there’s something underground — not just for film projects but mining companies, too.”

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

As for Alcorn’s verdict of the shows themselves: Neither program led to any concrete discoveries, she noted, and both had the air of reality shows with repetitive material and cliffhangers before commercial breaks, which  she “wasn’t crazy about.” But she said she and other board members are grateful that expensive testing was conducted and paid for by an outside company as they themselves had long been curious about what, if anything, was under the site’s surface. Now there’s a body of data that the board can examine if it wishes, she said.

“It was an opportunity for us to save some money and get some information,” Alcorn said.

Response to the shows has been mixed among residents. Some were happy to see Shoreham and its famous scientist represented, while others dismissed the shows as sensationalized and inaccurate.

“It’s great for people to learn who [Tesla] is and bring some knowledge of Wardenclyffe to the public so we can have it turned into a proper museum and erase some of the eyesore that is there,” Wading River resident Erich Kielburger said in a closed Shoreham-Wading River community group page on Facebook.

Amanda Celikors said her 7-year-old son watched the Discovery Channel show and was fascinated by it.

“He’s learned so much about Tesla and his impact on science,” she said. “We joked that the tunnels could lead to our house. I think it’s great.”

But Rob Firriolo was less than impressed.

“Typical reality TV trash,” he wrote on the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Facebook page. “Contrived and melodramatic, with annoying camera work and even more annoying music trying to gin up tension where there obviously is none. … We will get hours of fluff, hype and speculation with a payoff at the end as rewarding as Geraldo [Rivera] in Al Capone’s vault.”

Shoreham resident Nick Renna said in an interview he watched the Science Channel program, and enjoyed it as it shed some light on the historical value of the Wardenclyffe property.

“I thought it was really cool to see our own neighborhood on television,” Renna said. “Exposure is huge for that property. When most people hear Tesla, they think about the car, but in reality, without him, there would be no electricity, remote controls, radio waves — the guy was a historymaker. And that property is an incredible asset that we’re able to call home, to some degree.”

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

Not seeing the forest for the trees is one thing, but a recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to not preserve the forest or trees for the sake of solar installation is causing a major stir among Suffolk County elected officials.

On Dec. 18, Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that called for the expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens to include more than 1,000 acres in Shoreham and Mastic Woods — “museum quality” stretches of open space that should never be developed by private owners, according to the sponsors. Their legislation aimed to pull the plug on solar plans for the sites.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish,” Englebright said. “And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone. I am the legislator that sponsored and spearheaded solar more than 20 years ago — these are not good sites for solar.”

A solar farm is still being proposed near the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Currently, there are plans near the Pine Barrens in Mastic for a solar installation. Photo by Kevin Redding

A large chunk of the Shoreham property — made up of approximately 820 acres of undeveloped vegetable land, coastal forest, rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife on the shoreline of Long Island Sound — was almost demolished last year under a proposal by the site’s owners, National Grid, and private developers to knock down trees, level ridges and scarify the property to build a solar farm in the footprint. This “replace green with green” plan garnered much community opposition and was ultimately scrapped by Long Island Power Authority, leading civic association and environmental group members to join Englebright in proposing to preserve the parcel by turning it into a state park. The assemblyman also pledged that while there is a great need to install solar panels as a renewable energy source, there are ways to do so without tampering with primeval forest.

In Cuomo’s veto of the proposed bipartisan legislation to preserve these properties, which had been worked on over the past year and passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June, he said that it “unnecessarily pits land preservation against renewable energy.” The governor voiced his support of developing solar energy projects on the sites and said the legislation as written prevented environmental growth.

“I am committed to making New York State a national leader in clean energy,” Cuomo said in his veto message. “New York’s Clean Energy Standard mandates 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, to be aggressively phased in over the next several years. … Siting renewable energy projects can be challenging. But it would set a poor precedent to invoke laws meant for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land in order to block projects that should be addressed by local communities or through established state siting or environmental review processes. To sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.”

Among some of the veto’s supporters were the League of Conservation Voters and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Jerry Rosengarten, the Mastic site’s owner and managing member of the Middle Island Solar Farm, a proposed 67,000-panel green energy development on a 100-acre parcel in Mastic which would cut down woods near the headwaters of the Forge River, voiced his support of Cuomo’s decision in a statement.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish. And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone.”

— Steve Englebright

“Gov. Cuomo’s bold leadership today is hope that we will be able to effectively fight Trump-era climate denial and the ‘not in my backyard’ shortsightedness that would otherwise prevent crucial environmental progress at the most critical time,” said Rosengarten, an environmentalist who has been working for six years to place a solar farm on the site, making numerous applications to Long Island Power Authority to obtain power purchase agreements. “We look forward to working with the Town of Brookhaven on the next steps toward realizing a solar farm that we can take great pride in together.”

Englebright took issue with the not-in-my-backyard claims, which were also made by the League of Conservation Voters.

“I find that most unfortunate because it’s a falsehood,” he said. “I don’t represent Shoreham. I live in Setauket, and these sites are nowhere near my district. But, on merit, the properties deserve preservation. To have my sponsorship characterized as NIMBY is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting.”

Those who are against the veto have been championing preservation on both sites, including Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Andrea Spilka, president of Southampton Town Civic Coalition.

“The land is so valuable, environmentally, that it should be preserved,” Amper said of the Shoreham site in the spring when the legislation was first being pushed.

He added that solar is an important renewable energy in combating global warming, but that panels should be installed on roofs and parking lots rather than ecosystems.

“The reality is that once taken, these forest lands will never be recovered,” LaValle said in a statement outlining his disappointment over the veto. “These lands are particularly critical for the ecology of the Forge River. Destroying the forest and the trees to install solar power just does not make sense at either the Mastic Woods or Shoreham Old Growth Coastal Forest properties. … Currently, over 30 percent of New York state’s solar power is generated on Long Island, the majority of which is produced in my senate district. We can continue to expand the green energies where they will benefit Long Island without damaging the environment as we proceed. Destroying the environment is never the direction I wish to take.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on manufacturers to keep harmful chemicals out of child products sold in New York. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a career advocate for the environment who worked tooth and nail alongside Englebright and LaValle to preserve these sites, said vetoing the bill “was the wrong thing to do.”

“[It’s] the reason why Brookhaven Town adopted a solar code that allows for both the preservation of our open space and the development of solar energy,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town was committed to preserving these lands, and worked right up to the hours before this veto was issued to provide the developer with up to 60 acres of alternative, town-owned sites that did not require the removal of a single tree.”

Some of these alternative solar sites, Englebright later explained, were the paved parking lot of the State Office Building in Hauppauge and the nearby H. Lee Dennison Building, each of the Brookhaven Highway Department yards and the roofs of numerous local schools. Englebright successfully pushed for solar panels to be placed on the roof of Comsewogue’s elementary school.

“Regrettably, the developer did not respond to these offers, and the governor did not take these alternative sites into account when issuing the veto.” Romaine said. “I thank the sponsors, Sen. Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and their colleagues for their hard work to preserve these ecologically important woodlands, and urge them to re-submit legislation for this in the coming session of the state Legislature.”

Englebright said he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

“We are going to revisit this, and I hope that the governor keeps an open mind going forward,” he said. “It just requires a little bit of thought to realize that we have a vast amount of the Island where you can place solar panels without cutting down forest. By contrast, there are very few opportunities for preservation on the scale of these two properties. This is a source of some frustration.”

A large nor’easter took form off the coast of Florida and rode up the east coast. Photo from Legislator Kara Hahn's Office

Winter Storm Grayson was touted as a powerful blizzard featuring substantial snowfall and hurricane-force winds, and it has delivered.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for the area beginning 1 a.m. Jan. 4 through 12 a.m. Friday, Jan. 5. The advisory is associated with a large and powerful nor’easter, which took form off the coast of Florida and rode up the east coast.

While the greatest snowfall amounts are expected to be northeast of Long Island, meteorologists expect that we may see as much as 14 inches of snow combined with high winds exceeding 60 MPH that will cause near blizzard conditions.  This storm poses a risk of coastal flooding in the Western Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has issued a State of Emergency for all of downstate New York. Cuomo also issued a travel advisory from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.

“It is a combination of snow and wind and frigid temperatures,” Cuomo said. “That is a bad mix. I have been driving around myself this morning looking at the conditions — they are terrible, and only going to deteriorate further throughout the day. The wind is going to pick up, and there’s no doubt there is delays on mass transit, and the roads are going to be in poor condition. They’re forecasting three to six inches in the city, up to 12 inches on long Island and six to nine in Westchester. The roads in Westchester are bad. Roads on the Island are bad, and it’s only going to get worse. So schools are closed. If you don’t have to be on the roads, you really shouldn’t be, because it is going to be ugly.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has also issued a State of Emergency in the Town of Brookhaven effective Jan. 4 at 8 a.m. Vehicles that are parked in the street must be moved to driveways or be subject to towing at the owner’s expense. Any abandoned vehicles obstructing access for snowplows and emergency vehicles may also be removed by the town. All residents are urged to stay off the roads unless there is an emergency or if it is absolutely essential to travel.

“Driving is expected to be extremely hazardous due to heavy snow and wind conditions,” Romaine said. “Town snow removal crews will be working throughout the day and night to clear the roads until all are safe and passable.”

As a result of the predictions, many school districts closed school ahead of time.

There are closings at the following schools:

Alternatives For Children – East Setauket

Alternatives for Children Daycare – East Setauket

B.E.S.T. Learning Center – Smithtown

Building Blocks Developmental Preschool – Commack

Calling All Kids, Too – Huntington

Catholic Charities Outpatient Clinic – Commack

Children of America – Smithtown

Children of America – Port Jefferson Station

Church of St. Gerard Majella – Port Jefferson Station

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Commack School District

Comsewogue Public Library

Comsewogue School District

Coram Child Care

DDI Adult Day Programs – All Locations

DDI Early Childhood Learning Center – Huntington

DDI School Age Program – Huntington

DDI School Age Program – Smithtown

Day Haven Adult Day Services Program – Port Jefferson

East Northport Jewish Center Religious School

Elwood School District

Elwood’s Little Einsteins

Emma S. Clark Library – Setauket

First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Centereach

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Huntington

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Rocky Point

Gold Medal Gymnastics Centers Smithtown

Grace Lane Kindergarten – Coram

Happy Time Preschool – Smithtown

Harbor Country Day School – St. James

Harborfields Central School District

Hauppauge Public Library

Hauppauge Public Library

Holy Family Regional School – Commack

Humpty Dumpty Day Nursery – Greenlawn

Huntington Montessori

Huntington Public Library

Huntington School District

Infant Jesus R.C. Church Religious Ed – Port Jefferson

Ivy League School – Smithtown

JKL Montessori School – Commack

Kiddie Academy – East Setauket

Kiddie Academy – Greenlawn

Kiddie Academy of Miller Place

Kiddie Care Early Learning Center – Commack

Kids of Miller Place

Kids of Mount Sinai

Kings Park School District

LI School for the Gifted – Huntington Station

Little Flower Union Free School District – Wading River

Little Rascals Child Care – Miller Place

Long Island Bone & Joint – Port Jefferson

Love of Learning Montessori School – Centerport

Magic Circle Nursery School – East Northport

Marion Kenney Day Care Center – Wading River

Martin C. Barell School- Commack

Messiah Preschool & Day Care – Setauket

Middle Country School District

Miller Place School District

Miss Barbara’s Preschool – Centereach

Miss Dawn’s Child Care Center – Huntington

Miss Mella’s Footsteps to Learning – Coram

NSSA – Adult Services – Commack

Noah’s Ark Day Care Center – Port Jefferson

North Shore Jewish Center – Port Jefferson Station

North Shore Montessori School – Stony Brook

Northport – East Northport Public Library

Northport / East Northport School District

Options for Community Living Inc. – Smithtown

Our Lady of Wisdom Regional – Port Jefferson

Our Savior New American School – Centereach

Planet Kids – Coram

Port Jefferson Free Library

Port Jefferson School District

Primarily 2’s and 3’s – Mount Sinai

Prime Time Preschool – Kings Park

Pumpkin Patch Day Nursery – Commack

Rainbow Chimes – Huntington

Reach for the Stars Pre – School – Ridge

Rocky Point School District

STEP Preschool – Smithtown

Saf-T-Swim – Commack

Saf-T-Swim – Coram

Sappo School – Commack

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown Christian Early Learning Center

Smithtown Christian School

Smithtown Special Library District

South Huntington School District

St. Anselm’s Episcopal Nursery School – Shoreham

St. Anthony of Padua Religious Ed – East Northport

St. Anthony’s High School – South Huntington

St. Frances Cabrini Religious Ed – Coram

St. James Lutheran Preschool – St. James

St. James Religious Ed – Setauket

St. Joseph’s Religious Ed – Kings Park

St. Louis de Monfort Religious Education – Sound Beach

St. Louis de Montfort Preschool – Sound Beach

St. Margaret of Scotland Church – Selden

St. Mark’s Religious Formation Program – Shoreham

St. Patrick School – Smithtown

St. Philip Neri Religious Ed – Northport

Step by Step Montessori – Miller Place

Stony Brook Child Care Services

Stony Brook Gynecology & Obstetrics – Rocky Point

Stony Brook Gynecology & Obstetrics – Setauket

Stony Brook Kidney Center – East Setauket

Stony Brook University – Psychological Ctr / Psych B Bldg. – Stony Brook

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook Urology – East Setauket & Commack

Sts. Philip and James Religious Education – St. James

Sts. Philip and James School – St. James

Suffolk County Community College – Selden

Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center – Commack

Sunshine Alternative Education & Prevention Center – Port Jefferson

Temple Beth El Religious School – Huntington

Temple Isaiah Religious School – Stony Brook

Tender Hearts Preschool – Mount Sinai

The Childrens Community HEAD START Program – Port Jefferson

The Day Care Center at Ivy League – Smithtown

The Knox School – St. James

The Laurel Hill School – East Setuket

The Learning Center – Huntington

The Learning Experience – Centereach

The Learning Experience – Mount Sinai

The Learning Experience – Northport

The Learning Experience -Rocky Point

The Learning Experience – Stony Brook

The Village Preschool – Northport

Three Village Church – East Setauket

Three Village Schools – Stony Brook

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church – Rocky Point

Trinity Regional School – East Northport

Tutor Time of Nesconset – Smithtown

UCP – Suffolk – Hauppauge

UCP Suffolk – The Children’s Center – Commack

United Methodist Nursery School – Huntington

Wesleyan School – Smithtown

West Hills Montessori – Huntington

Wisdom Tree Preschool – Miller Place

Work of Heart Preschool – South Huntington

Please monitor local media coverage or the National Weather Service for up-to-date weather forecasts and notifications. For your safety and the safety of emergency responders, please adhere to all travel restrictions and advisories that may be issued.

For you convenience, listed are some important emergency and not-emergency contact numbers to help you get through the storm should you need assistance:

PSEGLI Outages – 800-490-0075

Police Emergency – 911*

Police Non-emergency – (631) 852-2677, (631-852-COPS)

Town of Brookhaven Highway Department – (631) 451-9200**

Suffolk County Department of Public Works – (631) 852-4070***

*Please do not call 911 or other emergency telephone lines unless you are in need of assistance with an immediate physical or medical emergency.

**Responsible for all roads in the district (outside of incorporated villages) except County Road 97 and New York State Routes 112, 25A and 347.

***For emergency issues on county roads such as Nicolls Road (CR 97) only.

Additional information, notifications and details may be posted by Suffolk County’s Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services as the storm develops and impacts the area.  Click here to visit the department’s information page.

Stock photo

Suffolk County shoppers, get your nickels ready.

In an effort to encourage residents to shop with reusable bags instead of plastic and paper “carryout” bags that harm the environment, the Suffolk County Legislature is rolling out a 5 cent fee on all disposable bags at a variety of retail establishments, from supermarkets to department stores beginning Jan. 1.

The new law, which was officially passed by the Legislature in September 2016, applies only to the single-use plastic or paper bags provided by cashiers at the end of a sale and used to carry goods from the store. There won’t be a fee, however, on bags found in produce sections for fruits and vegetables, frozen foods or on bags by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, according to the law.

Cashiers are required to add the total fees to a customer’s receipt based on how many bags are used. Residents can avoid the fee by either buying a reusable bag — ones made of cloth or canvas, which are available in many retail stores — or shopping with a bag from home.

“Hopefully people will say ‘I’m not paying 5 cents’ and go with the other options,” said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who wrote the legislation to reduce the influx of plastic bag waste that gets trapped in trees, blocks storm drains and causes significant damage to water supplies and wildlife. “We’re hoping to change behaviors. While we won’t change everyone’s, this will change a lot of people’s and that can make a big difference. I think once people start to not use the plastic bags, they’re not going to really miss them.”

Spencer’s bill began in March 2016 as a ban on all single-use plastic bags, piggybacking off an initiative adopted by the Town of Southampton, but it didn’t receive enough support. This revised bill was co-sponsored and pushed by five legislators, including Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), and 140 out of 150 residents who weighed in on the initiative during a public hearing testimony.

As of Jan. 1, shoppers will be paying for paper and plastic bags at most retail stores, encouraging others to use reusable bags. Stock photo

The legislators also worked alongside a Suffolk County plastic bag working group, which consists of local scientists, educators, environmentalists, business people and government employees.

“We have to curtail the use of plastic bags,” Krupski said. “They’re everywhere. I would encourage people not to pay the fee. It’s all just a matter of changing your habits and keeping a shopping bag in your vehicle to have it at the ready. It’ll take time for people to get used to that, but like anything else, people will get used to it.”

A 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags was adopted in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and the accumulated nickels have contributed a total $10 million to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, as of 2015.

As mandated by New York State, however, the fees collected in this bill will be retained by the stores. Not being able to apply the collection to an environmental cause convinced a Democratic legislator not to support the law.

“That 5 cent charge should go back into the environment,” said Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who voted “No.” “Instead, the fees are going back into the pockets of the stores. The legislation needed work.”

Anker also said she received outcry from constituents over the concept of fees.

“A lot of the community, especially the senior population, did not want to pay extra for the plastic bags,” she said. “But I will say, plastic is a really harsh environmental pollutant.”

Spencer said he plans to revisit the legislation after a year to evaluate the financial impact it’s having and ask the state to allow funds to be used for environmental purposes.

“It would be great to do that, but only the state has that ability,” Spencer said. “The state may make that decision.”

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations at Food Industry Alliance, which represents 800 state supermarket chains, convenience stores and wholesalers, including Stop & Shop and King Kullen, which will be charging the fees, said it’s a current law where everybody wins.

“It will help the environment and it will help the stores,” he said. “It’s a thoughtful, productive law and is the only way to both reduce plastic bag distribution while incentivizing people to increase their use of reusable bags.”

He added that the fees may be used to help pay for higher minimum wages expected to be put in place in the coming year, but store owners are still weighing the options.


Survey: Shoppers still prefer plastic
By Desirée Keegan

A local survey conducted shows that just 5 percent of shoppers bring reusable bags.

The finding, coming ahead of a 2018 Suffolk County law banning the free use of plastic and paper bags at a vast majority of retail stores, was concluded after students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip and North Babylon, with member of St. Joseph’s College, surveyed 11,395 shoppers in November and December, in front of grocery stores, convenience stores and a pharmacies.

New Suffolk County environmental law prohibits plastic and paper bags in favor of eco-friendly reusable ones. Stock photo

The polling, organized by a county-created task force to help educate the public about the bill, found 71 percent of individuals use plastic bags, while the balance use paper, a combination, or no bag.

The survey will be repeated next year to analyze the effect of the law on consumer behavior, according to
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said she hopes between 60 and 70 percent of residents are bringing reusable bags by next year.

“Reducing litter, marine pollution and saving our oceans are worth changing our habits,” Esposito said.

While plastic bags drew the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers, the law also requires stores to charge for paper bags, as well as thicker “reusable” plastic bags, to prevent stores from circumventing the law, Spencer said.

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s primary sponsor, said county residents should contact his office at 631-854-4500 for a reusable bag, especially if you cannot afford one.

“If you need a reusable bag, come see me,” Spencer said, adding he bought 1,000 reusable bags to give away.

Katlyn Lindahl, above left, and Jillian Dinowitz, above right, were honored for saving the life of Ryan Magill, at center, who was critically injured when he fell off a boat while giving sailing lessons. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

A senior at Shoreham-Wading River High School was recently recognized as a hero for helping to save the life of her best friend over the summer.

Jillian Dinowitz snapped into action when she heard Ryan Magill screaming.

It was Aug. 9 and Dinowitz, 17, was in a powerboat on Moriches Bay giving sailing lessons to kids, ages 8 to 12, as an instructor at the Moriches Yacht Club. Her lifelong friend Magill, 17, who was instructing kids in another boat, had fallen overboard and was wailing and thrashing in red water. His left arm and pectoral region had been severely cut by the boat’s propeller.

Jillian Dinowitz, on left with Ryan Magill, are best friends and avid boaters since age 7. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

Dinowitz, joined by another friend and instructor, rushed over to Magill, pulled him out of the water by his life jacket and got to work. As the boat sped back to shore and emergency services were called,  Dinowitz focused on keeping her friend calm and awake while Katlyn Lindahl, 18, made a tourniquet out of a towel and T-shirt. Dinowitz and Lindahl pressed it tightly against his blood-soaked arm.

“I honestly don’t know how I did it — it’s kind of a blur,” said Dinowitz, who admitted to feeling queasy at the sight of blood. “I would’ve done this for anybody in the water but just seeing that it was somebody so close to me, I kind of held myself together and just tried to stay strong for him. He’s the one that needed help at the time.”

Lindahl said while the two of them have had first aid training, their actions were entirely based on instinct.

“This was definitely a fight or flight thing,” she said. “There was no time at all really to think about what to do.”

Once back on land, Magill, a senior at Center Moriches High School, was emergency airlifted off the property to Stony Brook University Hospital. There, he underwent major surgeries. The doctors had to take a nerve out of his leg and transplant it into the damaged part of his shoulder.

They told him that if the girls hadn’t acted as quickly and effectively as they did, there was a good chance he could’ve died from blood loss or, at best, lost his arm.

“The difference they made was the difference between me being here and me not being here,” said Magill, who has since been slowly but steadily on the road to recovery. While he has trouble with menial tasks like tying his shoes and must wear a brace, he said he’s regained 50 percent of movement back in his arm and shoulder. “I’m doing very well, actually, and it’s thanks to Jillian and Katlyn. They literally saved my life and I’m in debt to them forever.”

His mother, Heather Magill, said her son has been incredibly positive throughout the entire experience and can be seen smiling every day no matter how tough things are.

“We’re in awe of him,” she said.

“After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

— Heather Magill

Magill’s and Dinowitz’s mothers, who have been best friends since high school, said the two teens have been inseparable since they were born. They joined the yacht club together when they were 7.

“I know in my heart there’s not a thing [Jillian] wouldn’t do for him in this whole world,”Heather Magill said. “It’s a testament to their friendship. We love her like family. After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

But for Jillian Dinowitz, it’s all about Ryan Magill getting back to his old self.

“When I visited him the day after the accident, it really hit me that something really serious happened, but it turned out okay and things are going to be better from there,” she said. “It’s amazing that he’s never gotten down about himself through all of this and has always been positive and willing to work hard to be where he was before the accident. It’s so inspiring.”

Nearly four months after the incident, on Nov. 28, the Shoreham-Wading River board of education honored Dinowitz, an Advanced Placement student and member of the school’s varsity tennis team, for her heroism, dedication and courage. As it happened in Center Moriches, Dinowitz said nobody at the school really knew about the incident, but it felt good to be recognized.

“Our true character often shines the brightest when we’re thrust into challenging circumstances,” high school Principal Frank Pugliese said of Dinowitz. “When that happened to Jillian this past summer, she rose to the occasion and helped to save a young man’s life. The entire Shoreham-Wading River community is so incredibly proud of her for her quick thinking and brave actions.”

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

A technological upgrade in Port Jefferson almost four decades in the making got a jolt of life this month.

The Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road line was electrified as far east as Huntington in 1970, and despite calls ever since, electrification of the line further east to Port Jeff has yet to take place. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) met with Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mitchell Pally during November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff. Trains used on the line east of Huntington currently run on diesel fuel.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said of electrification during a phone interview. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

The feasibility study would be conducted by the LIRR and MTA, according to LaValle, and he said he’s not sure what the study would cost.

“Conducting a feasibility study makes a great deal of sense,” LIRR spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement. “Additional electrification has long been part of the discussion for future improvements. We look forward to working with Senator LaValle about the possibility of obtaining funding for such a study.”

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

Stadler said in an email he considered the feasibility study “a big step forward,” and said he’s optimistic it could get the ball rolling. However, he added the discussion has heated and cooled in the past as well.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a Nov. 20 board of trustees meeting she and Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe recently met with LaValle, and the topic of electrification of the Port Jeff line came up as well.

“It would be critical to electrify the North Shore line,” Garant said during the meeting. The village is in the process of examining transportation improvements that could among other benefits, increase LIRR ridership and better coordinate the schedules of the railroad, Suffolk County buses and the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry.

LaValle said the process of obtaining money to actually complete the electrification work wouldn’t be done prior to the feasibility study, though he said he believes funding could be attainable.

“We want to move people as quickly as possible east to west and build the same rate of success as Ronkonkoma is enjoying in terms of availability of trains into not only New York City, but west,” he said. “Before we do that we need to know with specificity — communities need to know what it means for their community.”

The state senator also mentioned discussions with the MTA concerning the possible usage of Lawrence Aviation Industries Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station as a possible LIRR rail yard.

Both LaValle and Donovan declined to share specifics about the timetable of a feasibility study.

North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce is was in charge of the historic train car on the corner of Route 347 and Route 112. The Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce will take over responsibility of it. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Desirée Keegan

Plans for the future of businesses formerly joined under the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce are coming into focus in the wake of the organization’s dissolution.

The North Brookhaven chamber is disbanding, leaving behind smaller chambers for area communities, an idea that already existed before the formation of the now dissolved chamber. Wading River, Shoreham, Rocky Point, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson Station and Terryville originally had businesses forming smaller chambers before the lack of membership forced the groups to consolidate.

Many point to Port Jefferson Station business owner Jennifer Dzvonar as the reason the nine year North Brookhaven chamber has remained afloat. Dzvonar will head up the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce.

“We were losing membership because we were too spread out and some of our members were concerned,” said Carol Genua of Coach Realtors in Mount Sinai. “What Jen did is phenomenal and for her to do it that long I can’t even comprehend how much time she had to put in, and her husband and kids were even helping out.”

Barbara Ransome, president of Brookhaven Chambers of Commerce Coalition, which represents almost 20 town chambers who is also director of operations for the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce in the village, said she thinks the group made the right decision to reorganize its efforts.

“We all sat around the table saying, ‘OK, what’s the next move?’” she said. “There was a strong consensus that there needed to be some level of consolidation. I’m very happy that Jen is not dropping out. She’s trying her very best, she’s the glue that’s keeping it together right now.”

Ransome said smaller membership will mean less money, so the chambers will have to be frugal in their operating budgets.

“People will volunteer when it is beneficial to them and their business, which, often times, will be within their direct surrounding area town,” Dzvonar said in an email. “Many are just too busy trying to keep their local business alive. Chain stores, big box stores, online shopping and outsourcing are what is killing local businesses. However, the small local businesses are the ones supporting the communities and donating to the fundraisers in the schools and other local organizations, with minimal loyalty from the consumers.”

Some are concerned the same issues may arise with the new arrangement as the ones that plagued the larger chamber.

“What happens is a lot of merchants join, but don’t take part in the work that needs to be done — people don’t realize it,” said Millie Thomas, of Landmark Realty in Wading River, who used to belong to the Rocky Point chamber when she owned a business there before joining the Wading River-Shoreham Chamber of Commerce prior to it combining with the North Brookhaven chamber. “What happens is a lot of people want to join the chamber, they pay their dues and they get their name out on the brochures, but when it comes time to do all the work it seems the same specific people do it every year and it gets overwhelming, because we’re all running businesses and trying to do all of these things too.”

Thomas used the example of Wading River’s Duck Pond Day to make her point.

The realtor said putting together the event, which started as a wetlands coastline cleanup effort at the pond and has grown into a picnic following the cleanup with vendors, a parade and a 5K walk/run, takes a lot of time. She has to go to the town and fill out paperwork and pay fees for permits when needed, contact two different police departments to close off the roads, gather vendors, organize everyone involved in the parade and get sponsors whose names go on T-shirts.

“Someone needs to get involved to make all of these things happen — they don’t happen by themselves,” Thomas said.

Genua, who will be working with Donna Boeckel of Awsomotive Car Care to start up the Mount Sinai chamber, which may include Miller Place businesses, agreed that part of the problem was trying to support everything from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River. She’s hoping the step back in time will help regrow a better base of home businesses in hopes of recharging that community connection.

Genua is currently working on creating a list of all of the businesses in the area to make contact with, and already has reached out to local fish markets, restaurants, cleaners and the new Heritage Pharmacy drug store to generate more interest and enrollment. She said she is hoping to bring in local parent teacher organizations and even Heritage Park to create a chamber more entrenched in the community.

“We want to try a new way to get businesses involved,” she said. “We all still have to support each other. My husband had his own business for a while and it’s hard to compete with the big box companies. We want to keep our money local instead of it going out of state. We’re also neighbors. The people who live here, work here, or a lot of them.”

Marie Stewart of Brooklyn Bagels will be pushing forward with her already in existence Rocky Point local business owners group and is welcoming chamber members from Rocky Point and Sound Beach. Dzvonar will lead the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville chamber with help from Sheila Wieber of Bethpage Federal Credit Union and Diane Jensen of Teachers Federal Credit Union. Thomas will be reforming the Shoreham-Wading River chamber once again. All of which will take place in the new year.

“If you have the heart of a volunteer, it’s well worth it,” Thomas said. “Helping to adopt a family and provide relief to a single mom with four kids, or to see children and their families getting excited when Santa is coming down the street on the fire truck, it’s very rewarding. It is a lot of work, but sometimes people get caught up with their daily routine and don’t want to volunteer, and that’s the problem.”

Alex Petroski contributed reporting

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