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Miller Place and Rocky Point will host indoor forums, Shoreham-Wading River is undecided

Mount Sinai High School students will be able to leave the building for 17 minutes and head to the athletic field to reflect on the Florida school shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting, students across the nation are planning to rise up and walk out — a movement that is being handled very differently across local school districts.

On March 14, exactly one month after gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead, students plan to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. — both in honor of the Parkland victims and as a call for legislative action to help put an end to deadly shootings. The nationwide protest, the seeds of which have spread across social media with the hashtag #ENOUGH, was launched by the activist group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, whose members are demanding Congress do more than “tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence” and that “students and staff have the right to teach in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms,” according to the group’s website.

The movement was initiated by Parkland survivors, whose outcry against guns following the shooting has reverberated throughout each and every state. An impassioned speech given by senior Emma González Feb. 17 went viral by stating that she and her fellow classmates would change the law in the country so that her high school would be the location of America’s last mass shooting.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating. There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions.”

— Keri Rooney

Across the North Shore, school districts have begun addressing how they will handle the localized version of the movement, with Miller Place and Rocky Point firmly opposed to letting their students leave the building — echoing widely shared concerns over safety. Mount Sinai is on board with letting students participate in the national movement, while Shoreham-Wading River is still weighing the situation.

Miller Place

During a board of education meeting Feb. 28, where Superintendent Marianne Cartisano outlined for parents the district’s enhanced security measures, including the newly assigned four armed guards for its four buildings, she addressed the walkout.

“We are looking to see how we’re going to manage it here to allow students to have a voice, but I can tell you right now — there is no way that I’m going to have students walk outside at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Cartisano said to applause in the room. “The reason is that if everybody knows that children are walking outside at 10 o’clock in the morning, then who are the obvious victims? And that may or may not happen in our nation — and I pray every night that it doesn’t — but what I can tell you is that’s not going to happen here.”

She explained to residents that she and other administrators want students to have a voice, but in a way that doesn’t create a health and safety issue, or turn into “a political movement.”

“Our students’ voices do have to be heard about ending school violence and returning schools to the safe havens that they once were,” the superintendent said. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking about student demonstrations and how we can provide students with a voice against school violence while also recognizing those who have lost their lives.”

She said students will be able to participate in a safer alternative inside the building March 14. Senior Jake Angelo, student representative on the board, later suggested the indoor event could involve an anti-bullying sentiment and a flower sale to raise money for those in Parkland.

Students in Miller Place will host in-school reflections during the national walkout March 14. Photo by Kevin Redding

Amanda Cohen-Stein, a parent in the district, said later in a community Facebook post that while she originally supported the walkout, she changed her mind following Cartisano’s comments.

“It is best they not leave school grounds,” Cohen-Stein said.

Keri Rooney, a Sound Beach resident with ties to Miller Place, said she didn’t feel comfortable about the walkout.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating,” Rooney said. “There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions. Walking out of school is not the answer and leaves them as an easy target.”

Rocky Point

Michael Ring, superintendent of the Rocky Point district, recently sent a letter to parents in which he said that organized, student-run walkouts “are not a viable option for our schools,” and that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school, will be “subject to administrative action.” He did not specify what the specific consequence would be.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote. “Any student found to have left school without appropriate permission on any school day during the year will be subject to administrative action in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”

He made it clear that this decision was based on heightened attention to school safety and security, and that, despite not being allowed to leave the grounds, students wishing to participate in the movement March 14 can do so through districtwide activities planned for the day by administration and staff.

“Many in our schools have expressed interest in engaging in activities aimed at not only honoring the lives lost in this national tragedy, but also giving voice to the hope that a similar event does not happen again,” Ring said.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises.”

—Michael Ring

For high school students, these include a moment of silence and the viewing of a tribute to the 17 lives lost in Parkland; a discussion led by teachers encouraging students to participate in 17 acts of kindness during the day in order to “increase positive interactions within the school community”; and opportunities
during social studies classes to voice their opinions on ways to better enhance safety and security in the school; and write letters either to elected officials or the survivors and family members of victims in Parkland.

Although this is considered a high school initiative, Ring said that there will be similar activities, including the letter writing, in the middle school and a moment of silence and kindness-geared activities in both Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School.

Mount Sinai

After Principal Robert Grable met with 20 members of the student government last Friday to gauge student’s perspectives on the walkout, it was decided — in correspondence with Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board of education — that Mount Sinai students who wish to participate can do so March 14.

The students will stand outside on the high school’s athletic field for 17 minutes, school officials said, during which time the campus is expected to be shut down with tightened security by the entrances on the North Country Road and 25A sides of the property, which will be closed and locked.

Grable said in speaking with student leaders he made it clear that he wanted the walkout to be structured, safe and well supervised.

“I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that.”

— Rob Grable

“It’s a very hot topic right now,” Grable said. “I think everybody is emotional about it, including the student body, and I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that. I don’t think it will be that major of a distraction and it will accommodate both parties — the administration as well as the students who wish to demonstrate their support of this initiative.”

Student Council President Joe Kelly, a senior, said he and his peers believe the event should be focused on reflection.

“I talked to a lot of students and we think the walkout should be more for remembering the 17 lives lost with a moment of silence rather than bringing up anything political,” he said. “I talked to many people, all of whom have differing political opinions, and they all wanted it to not be political. They only wanted to do the walk if it was in respect for those in Florida.”

Available teachers, administrators, aides and the district’s school resource officer will be asked to monitor the students. While Brosdal said currently there is the potential for all 800 students to be out there, he predicts there will be many who wish not to be involved. Those students will be able to remain in their classrooms with their teachers.

The superintendent said he supports the students’ rights to take part in this national movement if they choose to.

“I guess we’re getting to the point where enough is enough, not just in terms of the horror of the shootings and the kinds of people that come in, but how unsafe schools are now,” Brosdal said. “I believe truly, in a student’s heart, if they want to experience this and reflect and commemorate this tragic event, they should be permitted to do it. I don’t anticipate misbehavior. I believe in our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River

“The district is currently discussing this matter, and once a decision is made it will be communicated with our parents and students,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email March 6.

“It will make the students walking targets.”

— Chris Albinski Simion

On a closed Shoreham-Wading River community Facebook page, parent opinions on the walkout ranged from adamant support to heated opposition.

“Definitely against it,” Chris Albinski Simione wrote. “It will make the students walking targets. Every wacko in the country will know when and what time these kids will be outside the schools.”

Another resident, Linda Kelly, asked, “And a walkout will accomplish what exactly? No need to do this on school time.”

But Judy Shaffer Noonan said it will, and always will, be young people who make the biggest changes in society.

“The adults failed,” she said. “Historically, the young have impacted change. The young are the future. I don’t think these kids are doing this out of a sense of entitlement … I’m very proud of the Parkland students who are standing up and demanding change.”

Tyler Holmes, a district graduate, said it will be a historic day.

“I’ll do my part to engage in any positive and well-represented protest instead of sitting home,” he said.

Retired NYPD officers with pistols are stationed outside district schools following the Parkland, Florida school shooting

Miller Place School District parents and students gathered inside the high school library Feb. 28 to voice concerns and support for allowing armed guards outside schools in the district. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Coming back from mid-Winter recess, one armed guard stood outside each of the four schools in the Miller Place district, sparking controversy Monday.

The decision to station retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, Andrew Muller Primary School, North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School was made Sunday evening, and an email about the decision was sent out around 9 p.m. stating temporary “increased security measures” would be in place.

Miller Place parent Amber Buscemi is concerned about allowing armed guards to be stationed outside schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

Some residents praised the district for taking quick, drastic action in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 students and faculty members dead Feb. 14. Others raised concerns that the school’s decision was unnecessary and dangerous, sharing their feelings at a board of education meeting Feb. 28.

“Adding armed guards to our schools is not a solution to the problem of school shootings,” said Nina Thompson, the parent of a fifth-grader and a kindergarten student in the district who pleaded with the board not to make this a permanent implementation. “The school in Florida had one, but it didn’t prevent or minimize devastation. Kids should not have to grow up with guns in school. Period.”

But Lou Gallo, a retired teacher in Longwood, said in the immediate sense, armed security is crucial.

“We have to get rid of this notion that our lovely little schools are fuzzy, wuzzy wonderlands, because they’re not anymore — we have to raise our consciousness to the extent that our school is now a potential killing ground,” he told the board. “The criminal mind preys on defenselessness, weakness and vulnerability.”

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano explained to residents during the meeting that the board’s assignment of armed security was done so urgently to ensure that all precautionary measures were being taken.

“You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation.”

— Marianne Cartisano

“I just don’t want it to be me,” an emotional Cartisano told the residents packed inside the high school library. “I am responsible for 2,800 children and nearly 500 staff members every single day, and you, as parents, have reasonable expectations of me. You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation. And I can’t tell you how much that nauseates me, saddens me and frightens me.”

The Florida shooting occurred just days before the school district closed for its mid-winter recess, and Cartisano said she and other board of education members spent the break in constant communication. They ultimately met in person at central offices at 4 p.m. Sunday to gather information accumulated in the past week, evaluate the concerns coming from students and faculty members and weigh their options. After meticulously reviewing the pros and cons of each security suggestion, from installing metal detectors in each building to enforcing strict bans on parent drop-offs and pickups, the conversation ultimately led to armed guards.

“We know that we fit the perfect active shooter profile as an upper-middle-class, basically white-community that doesn’t think it’s going to happen here — that makes us a target,” Cartisano said. “Questions kept coming up — are we doing enough? There was a real community fear that we were feeling.”

Cartisano said, in total this week, the guards cost the district $5,750, and, moving forward with enhanced security, the new hires will not financially affect any athletic or extracurricular program, educational course or faculty and custodial staff members.

“The purpose of this was to reduce crisis response time and open up the conversation with law enforcement,” the supervisor said.

Roughly a dozen residents made their voices heard at the meeting.

Lou Gallo talks at the board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“There is no evidence that an armed guard with a handgun will, or even can stop a shooter with an AR-15,” said Miller Place mother Amber Buscemi, referring to the style of assault rifle that has become the weapon of choice of mass shooters, including the suspect in Parkland’s massacre. “It is illogical. And, now, you have hired an armed officer to be suspicious of all students who attend our schools as they look for potential shooters. … It’s an unnecessary risk.”

Sound Beach resident and Miller Place graduate Patrick O’Hanlon said he doesn’t believe the armed guards would be effective against an active shooter.

“I don’t believe any of you should allow someone with a gun in here,” he said. “They’re not going to protect your children with a pistol in the lobby.”

Despite admitting he was not a gun advocate, Pete Conelli said he was in support of the armed guards. For him, he explained, the Parkland tragedy wasn’t just a story in the news. His wife’s closest friend lives in the Florida town, and her son is a freshman at the high school where the shooting occurred.

“He’s going to live with the mental scar for the rest of his life,” Conelli said, recounting the student sending his parents “I love you” texts from underneath a desk in a classroom while the shooter was in the hallway. “I’ve read a lot of school shooting statistics and one I read reported that 18 percent of shooters are shot by police … and I’ll give my kid the extra 18 percent any day of the year.”

Wins 138-pound Division II state championship in sudden victory

Mount Sinai 138-pounder Mike Zarif leaps into head coach Matt Armstrong's arms after winning his state championship finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

Mike Zarif treated his final appearance on a high school mat like he would any other. He completed his pre-match ritual of splashing cold water on his face and praying before stepping out under the state championship finals lights. He was confident in his abilities, and didn’t need a saving grace.

“I told myself, whatever happens, happens, but I knew I was ready,” the Mount Sinai wrestler said. “All the work I’ve put in was going to pay off.”

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif stands atop the Division II 138-pound championship podium. Photo from Matt Armstrong

The fifth seed at 138 pounds in Division II, Zarif won his first state title in dazzling sudden victory fashion, 6-4, when he used a Merkle, or a side headlock, to get takedown points against No. 3-seeded Riley Gerber of Camden. The maneuver was completed with seconds left in overtime inside Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. The referee blew the whistle, and after a long pause, raised two fingers up in the air to signal the back points the senior earned, and ultimately, the win.

Realizing he had just become his coaches’ first state champion, he rushed over to Matt Armstrong and Kurt Wagner, embracing them with open arms.

“Mike lost it,” said Armstrong, the head coach. “We were all so excited for him — so incredibly proud — because we know how hard he’s worked and how in the past year alone his skills have really sharpened. New York boasts top-notch wrestling, and his title was well deserved. He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning. He wasn’t just happy enough with making it to the finals, he took it to an extreme at a very competitive weight class.”

The senior has come a long way in a short time. Zarif started on the varsity team as a sophomore, and said back then, he never thought this day would come.

“He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning.”

— Matt Armstrong

“If you told me as a sophomore I was going to be a state champ my senior year, I would’ve laughed and said ‘I wish,’” Zarif said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started this journey, and this shows that with hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

He said he took wrestling seriously from the moment he joined the team, dedicating himself to the sport by competing in the offseason, heading to extra practices at Ascend Wrestling Club three days a week after team ones, and entered major tournaments against the cream of the crop.

“He put everything out there and proved it’s not when you start, it’s how you finish,” Zarif’s mother Nissy said. “He wrote in his college essay back in September that he was going to win counties and states. I told him, ‘Wait, don’t write that yet. Don’t’ jump the gun.’ But I’m so glad he did because he made his goals and dreams come true.”

The 138-pounder also learned from his mistakes, noticing the bad positions he’d put himself in that led to giving away points or getting pinned. Knowing this, Zarif was able to take advantage of a mistake in a critical point in the state tournament. Down 3-0 in the quarterfinal against Section I’s Jack Wrobel, the Prawling High School athlete grabbed Zarif’s leg while he was riding him on top, and the Mount Sinai senior worked it to his advantage. He cross-faced Wrobel to his back and pinned him with three second left in the second period.

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif with his Mustangs coaches after winning his state finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

“While losing, I looked over at coach Wagner and he told me the kid was getting tired, and to keep shooting,” said Zarif, who wins most matches by a technical fall, scoring 15 more points than his opponents. “That’s exactly what I did. I just stayed calm — knew that no one in the state can go a full six minutes with me — kept pushing the pace and working for my takedowns. No one in my bracket was unbeatable, and my coaches kept telling me this was my title.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, the No. 3 seed at 126 pounds, was taken down twice early and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title. Division I Rocky Point’s 120-pounder Anthony Sciotto, the No. 1 seed, fell in the finals in a 9-6 decision to No. 6 Zach Redding of Eastport-South Manor. Sciotto’s teammate Corey Connolly lost 10-4 in the semifinals to top-ranked Jacori Teemer of Long Beach, who made history by becoming the first New York wrestler to win five straight state titles. Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano lost a close bout, 9-6, in the semifinals at 132 pounds to the eventual state champion, and Smithtown West’s Tim Nagosky lost 6-0 in the 285-pound semis to state champion Deonte Wilson from Amityville. Section XI dominated Division I with 245 points and came in fourth in Division II with 158.5.

Zarif completes his wrestling career with Mount Sinai after the team won the county and first state dual meet team title. He becomes the district’s second ever state champion.

“Mike has helped open the doors — he had a chance to show the kids what can happen when you work hard and dedicate yourself,” Armstrong said. “I can’t say enough good things about the kid. He’s someone we can point to in the future. Nothing comes easy, you must work for everything that you get. You have to make sacrifices — that’s been our motto this year and on all our gear — and that’s a kid that’s sacrificed so much. That’s what it takes to be a champion.”

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron and county Executive Steve Bellone hold a press conference with new police commissioner nominee Geraldine Hart..Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is looking to continue the year of firsts for law enforcement.

Bellone announced 21-year FBI veteran Geraldine Hart as his nomination to be the next police commissioner in Suffolk at a press conference Feb. 22. If confirmed by the county Legislature, Hart would be the first female police commissioner in Suffolk’s history.

“I am honored for the opportunity to serve the residents of Suffolk County and privileged to serve with the brave, hardworking men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” she said. “I am extremely optimistic about the future of the Suffolk County Police Department and what we can accomplish together.”

Hart was most recently the Senior Supervisory Resident Agent in charge of the FBI’s Long Island office, a position she held for four years. Hart received a bachelor of arts from St. Francis College in Brooklyn and juris doctor from St. John’s University School of Law in Queens.

“Geraldine possesses the integrity, competence and excellence that we are looking for in someone to lead the Suffolk County Police Department,” Bellone said.

In addition to her work combatting gang violence, Hart oversees complex investigations that include public corruption, white-collar crime, terrorism, counter-intelligence, child exploitation and cyber crimes. Hart is also actively engaged in liaison activities, such as providing active shooter training opportunities for county school superintendents, houses of worship, and the first FBI teen academies in Central Islip and Brentwood.

Her leadership abilities were recognized at the highest levels as the recipient of the 2015 Director’s High Impact Leadership Award, which is given to a select number of individuals in the bureau based on an anonymous survey among their peers who rank them for superior leadership abilities.

Hart began her career as an FBI special agent focused on transnational organized crime, where she helped lead and execute complex investigations and enforcement actions to dismantle violent organized crime enterprises, such as the Lucchese crime family. In 1999, Hart was assigned to the Lucchese organized crime squad, working on an investigation that led to the conviction of fugitive Frank Federico, who was responsible for the murders of garbage-industry haulers and informants Robert M. Kubecka, of Greenlawn, and Donald Barstow, of Stony Brook (United States v. Federico). That same year, Hart was awarded the Office of Inspector General’s Integrity Award.

As an FBI case agent, Hart, in 2005, worked closely with the SCPD to investigate two former NYPD detectives who secretly worked as mafia associates on behalf of the Lucchese crime family.  The investigation led to the indictments of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were ultimately convicted of committing murder and disclosing sensitive law enforcement information to mob bosses. The investigation also led to the discovery of a body in Brooklyn in connection with the criminal actions of these two individuals (United States v. Eppolito). For her performance on the case, Hart received the United States Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, the highest award given out in the FBI.

In 2012, Hart was promoted to supervisory special agent to supervise a task force comprised of FBI special agents and NYPD detectives investigating the Genovese, Colombo and Bonanno crime families. In January 2014, these investigations resulted in the takedown of five organized crime members for murder, one tied to the Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy Airport, along with a body that was identified and dug up dating to the 1970s.

“As our next Police Commissioner, she will bring a fresh perspective and build on the progress that we have made over the last two years,” Bellone said.

Hart joins recently inaugurated Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. in a year of firsts for the county, as he became Long Island’s first African American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position earlier this year. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said in a phone interview she was happy to hear of Hart’s nomination because of her integrity and experience, and also noted the significance of a woman holding the position for the first time.

This post was updated with new photos and to include videos Feb. 22.

Check back soon for more information on Hart’s nomination.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini during his inauguration. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Kyle Barr

Amid escalating gang activity in Suffolk County, District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the creation of a gang task force to combat the rise, specifically of MS-13, the group linked to six Suffolk killings in 2017.

The gang unit, which has already begun operations, exists inside the new Enhanced Prosecution Bureau within the district attorney’s office. Sini said during a press conference Feb. 7 that the unit will focus specifically on prosecuting gang members, even lower-level ones or members who commit non-gang-related crimes. Just before the event a meeting took place, which is said to be the first of many bi-weekly meetings, co-led by the DA’s office and Suffolk County Police Department.

“This is an enormous shift in paradigm — this will bring the fight to a whole new level.”

— Tim Sini

“Previously, when a gang member committed an offense, that prosecution issue was handled by any number of different bureaus within the district attorney’s office,” Sini said. “It created a system where gang members could fall through the cracks or be treated like any other individual. That is no longer going to be the case. We will be strategic in our prosecution against gang members.”

Though overall crime rates in Suffolk County have gone down, there has been persistent MS-13 activity, including the double homicide of young Brentwood residents Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, and the murder of four young Latino men in 2016. More than a dozen alleged gang members were arrested in 2017 and charged with their murders. Many more murders, attempted kidnappings and drug sales have also been linked to the gang.

The new focus on gang activity has become internalized in other law enforcement agencies, such as Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Department, which plans to revamp its gang unit inside the office and expand its data analytics and predictive models relating to gang crime.

“Part of it is going to be a learning curve, because my staff is going to have to learn my ideals and how I want to look at things, and it will require more resources,” Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “The Suffolk County PD is assisting us with some technology that will allow us to look at these patterns differently, and not only patterns, but individuals as well.”

Sini said that with this change the county will be more effective in deciding whether a crime should be processed locally or federally.

The Suffolk County PD is assisting us with some technology that will allow us to look at these patterns differently, and not only patterns, but individuals as well.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“This is an enormous shift in paradigm — this will bring the fight to a whole new level,” Sini said. “In some instances, it may make sense to start a case in the state system where we’re able to develop probable cause in an efficient manner while it may take longer to build that federal case.”

The 14-member gang unit includes eight assistant district attorneys and six special investigators. The gang unit will be led by deputy bureau chief Kate Wagner, and the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau will be led by veteran prosecutor Christiana McSloy, who has previously worked on gang cases in Nassau County’s District Attorney’s office.

The assistant district attorneys assigned to the gang unit will be on call on a rotating basis. and available around the clock for when police need assistance or advice. One of the prosecutors speaks Spanish.

The district attorney’s office also announced a partnership with Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, which will still allow community members to send in tips on gang activity that, if leads to an arrest, offers cash rewards up to $5,000.

The new program was announced just over a week after President Donald Trump (R) made mention of MS-13 in his State of the Union address. He cited the rash of gang killings as reason for America to change its immigration laws. MS-13 activity in Suffolk also inspired the president to visit the Brentwood Suffolk Police Department Academy campus during summer 2017 in which he addressed a crowd of officers.

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.”

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