Port Times Record

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Giving back and paying it forward. That is what Comsewogue High School teacher Andrew Harris wants his students to get out of the second annual Joe’s Day of Service. Students and staff participated in this year’s event on May 29 and throughout the day engaged in acts of kindness throughout the community.

Harris said the idea of a full day of community service projects came about last year, when students in his classes made pitches on how the student body could spend the day. 

Two students, Julia Ratkiewicz and Rachel Plunkett, proposed the idea of visiting Calverton National Cemetery, where members of the United States armed forces are laid to rest, to spend the day cleaning gravestones and straightening flags. 

Harris immediately took to the idea, and for the second straight year nearly 200 Comsewogue High School students journeyed to Calverton cemetery. 

Joe’s Day of Service was named after Superintendent Joe Rella, who Harris said showcased a belief that students and community members can improve their lives and the lives of others by working together. 

“I wanted the students to know that what they do can impact and benefit so many people,” he said. “Also, I think it’s important to get involved and step up to the plate.”

While the high school students were at Calverton, other Comsewogue kids throughout the district were doing their part. Middle schoolers participated in a beach clean-up at Cedar Beach, elementary school kids at Norwood Elementary School sang songs to senior citizens and others painted rocks as part of the Kindness Rocks Project, an initiative which calls on people to paint inspiring messages on rocks and leave them in places where they will be found by someone in need of an emotional boost.

Students and staff honored Dashan Briggs, a member of the National Air Guard 106th from Port Jefferson Station, who died last year in a helicopter crash in Iraq, along with several members of his unit. The high school chorus serenaded Briggs’ wife Rebecca Briggs and his children, Ava and Jayden, who will be attending district schools next year. Comsewogue student Ava Pearl presented the family with a portrait she painted of the late Briggs, which will be placed in the district schools. 

“We wanted them to feel part of our family,” Harris said. 

The students joined the Briggs family and others at the Calverton National Cemetery to visit Dashan’s gravesite. Once there, they gave the family flowers and painted socks with encouraging messages. Also, this year, students straightened and put flags on gravesites throughout the cemetery. Students took the time to escort family members of veterans as well, who were coming from around the New York metro area, to visit the graves of their fallen family member. 

“It is so nice to see how many kids were able to come out and help,” John Quartararo, a senior at Comsewogue High School, said. “For them to give up a day of school to come out and do this just shows how much a community that Comsewogue really is.”

For the high schooler, to be able to honor Dashan Briggs’ memory in front of his wife and children meant a lot to him personally. 

“I lost my father when I was younger, and just knowing that we are making an impact and showing that we are always there for them means a lot,” he said. “The motto for us has always been to help someone out — ‘once a warrior, always a warrior’ and I feel like that resonated on this whole day.” 

Along with the cemetery visit, teachers and students participated in a track walk to fundraise for a fellow student battling leukemia and whose family is having financial distress due to the treatment costs.

Harris praised the students for what they did on this day.

“I just want you guys to know that you have made a huge impact to the community and the Briggs family. You should be proud of yourselves,” he said.

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For close to a month, Tom Butera, a mason in Port Jefferson village, laid the bricks down for the new Armed Forces Tribute in front of the Port Jeff High School. Though he had been laying bricks for over 40 years, bending over, picking them up, planting them in the ground, to him, every brick represented a family and a sacrifice.

“These we’re the heaviest bricks I ever laid,” he said.

On May 30, veterans cut the ribbon on the new tribute surrounded by well more than 100 local residents. The center of the memorial is a large stone with a plaque on it surrounded by bricks donated by local residents with notes of names of family members who were involved in the armed services. By the end, the memorial looks remarkably like the sketch by high school student Jillian Lawler produced in January, when the brick drive was first announced.

While many donated $100 for each brick, others in the community came out to support the new memorial. Gabe Zoda, 17, a senior at the high school and a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 45, donated benches to the project, each emblazoned with the fleur-de-lis of the Boy Scouts. Zoda expects to move on to Hofstra University after graduation where he will study broadcast journalism.

The idea for the project spawned from local Vietnam veteran Jim Henke, who had originally approached the district several years ago about building the memorial. It would take years, but the district helped form an Armed Forces Tribute committee in 2017, with local veterans and residents as members, who helped get the project rolling at the beginning of this year.

“Most of these veterans I knew myself from the Vietnam era,” Henke said. “We played ball together, we had a good time in the 60s, and we lost so many of those lives that I thought this was just fitting.”

Though it took time for the project to take root, he said it was the efforts of the school administration and Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“I want to thank the entire Port Jefferson School District community that raised enough brick sales to support the project without any assistance from the school district,” Henke said.

Local residents stooped down to take pictures of bricks donated by friends and family, and the Port Jefferson art staff was on call if people looked to get a rubbing of their bricks.

“I would like to say thank you for the names of the men and women engraved on the walkway,” said high school Principal Christine Austen. “My hope is that this tribute stands as a reminder to all the youth that Port Jefferson veterans are heroes that will always be close to our hearts.”

Butera feels a deep connection to the new veterans tribute. It’s his father’s name, Technical Sergeant Tony Butera of the U.S. Army Air Corps, that is inscribed in one of the bricks. His father was shot down during WWII over Hamburg, Germany, flying in a B17 bomber. His plane landed on a field of sheep, what they called a “fleece-lined landing,” and he and his compatriots were held at gunpoint on their knees by several disgruntled farmers. He became a prisoner of war on Jan. 17, 1945, and he was held for 134 days in a POW camp before it was liberated by troops led by Gen. George Patton. It was with his father that Butera picked up and laid his first brick.

While he looks fondly back on the stories of his father, he sees the different side of war with the record of his son, Greg, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. There was a time where Butera had no communication with his son for three months, though now Greg is home, and has a wife and a daughter.

“When it got hard to work, I told myself ‘shut up — these people were in a much harder spot,’” Butera said. “It was such an honor to do it.”

Jim Henke’s name was changed May 31 to correct the spelling of his last name.

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Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct officers are trying to identify and locate two people who allegedly entered a marina illegally and untied boats in Port Jefferson back in April.

Two women allegedly climbed over the fence at Port Jefferson Marina on West Broadway and untied two boats sometime between April 25 at 6 p.m. and April 26 at 7 a.m.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 800-220-TIPS (8477) or texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637). All calls and text messages will be kept confidential.

Seniors Annalisa Welinder, left, and Ava Schully, valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Photo from PJSD

Two young women, Annalisa Welinder and Ava Schully, have, respectively, attained the title of valedictorian and salutatorian for the Port Jefferson Class of 2019. 

Welinder has an impressive and diversified high school résumé, including taking eight honors and 12 Advanced Placement courses and one college-level class. She is an Advanced Placement Scholar, a Presidential Scholars Program nominee and a National Latin Exam four-time gold medalist. She serves as president of the Latin Club, is a member of Mathletes and member of the school’s Academic Team. Welinder is also a member of both the track team and tennis team.

A violinist, Welinder is a member of the prestigious National Youth Orchestra, where she served as a concertmaster in 2017, with which she traveled to numerous concert halls, including Carnegie Hall. She and her brother have run a summer music camp — Sound Strings Long Island — for all age levels and she is a frequent award winner for various violin competitions. Welinder is also interested in creative writing endeavors.

Asked for some words of wisdom to share with future graduates of the school, Welinder had an uncomplicated response. “Everything seems easier and more doable if you enjoy it,” she said.

Welinder is excited to enter the freshman class at Stanford University in September.

Schully, as salutatorian, commended her family, peers and teachers who have helped her succeed in school and other aspects of her life. 

Schully’s list of achievements is comprehensive and includes taking 10 AP courses, four honors courses and two college-level courses. She was on the school’s soccer team in ninth grade and has run on both the school’s track team and cross-country team. She is a member of the Peer Leadership, Interact, Drama and Latin clubs as well as a member of Tri-M Honor Society and Sources of Strength.

Schully took a service trip to Peru to help build a clean water system for local people, attended a six-week intensive study of classical music at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, took part in the Philadelphia International Music Festival and recently performed on cello in the National Association for Music Education All-Eastern music conference in Pittsburgh. Her extracurricular activities include being a member of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York and Stony Brook University Young Artists Program. She has received numerous school awards and is active in the local community.

Schully’s plans after high school include exploring how music can promote community partnerships and cross-cultural relations. She has committed to Brown University where she plans to create her own major that focuses on a mixture of topics including ethnomusicology, human development, international relations, education and nonprofit organizations in an interdisciplinary context.

“Challenge yourself in classes you’re actually interested in and take part in extracurricular activities that you love,” she said. “Don’t worry about doing what you think a college admissions office might want to do and just pursue your passions. The rest will follow.”

RIBBON CUTTING

On May 24, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting for the main Law Office of Heather N. Kaplan, Esq., located at 84 Nesconset Hwy., Suite 2, in Port Jefferson Station. A second office is located in Garden City.

Pictured above, Heather Kaplan, center, with husband Joshua and their three children Julia, Lily and Charlotte cut the ribbon under the business’ sign surrounded by family member Andrea Freundlinger; Chamber President Joy Pipe of East End Shirt Co.; chamber members Tess Son of Digital Marketing Consultant and Nancy Bradley of People’s United Bank; and law firm staff members Brittany Garavelli, Diane Ferrette, Ali Kaplan and Amanda Caponi.

Specializing in New York State worker’s compensations claims, Kaplan is an accomplished litigator and has achieved excellent results at the Workers’ Compensation Board, New York Supreme Court and at the Appellate Courts.

For more information, call 631-574-2624 or visit www.nyinjuredworker.com.

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. addresses the crowd at Stony Brook University’s 2019 commencement May 24. Photo by Greg Catalano

Less than a week after Stony Brook University’s commencement ceremony, the school’s president will also be moving on.

On May 28, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees announced that SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. will take on the role of president at MSU at a special meeting. Trustees chair Dianne Byrum said the goal was “to identify the best person possible to lead Michigan Student University.”

Melanie Foster, co-chair of MSU’s 18-member search committee, commented on the
announcement at the May 28 meeting.

“I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution.”

— Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

“Today represents a pivotal moment in MSU’s 164-year history as we begin what I am confident will be an engaged and exciting future under the leadership of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.,” she said.

Stanley was in East Lansing for the announcement along with his wife and three of his four children.

“MSU is one of the world’s leading research universities, and I am grateful to the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee that so ably represented the entire MSU community for giving me the opportunity to serve this great institution,” Stanley said in a statement on the school’s website. “MSU’s core strength is its amazing students, superb faculty, dedicated staff and proud alumni, and I cannot wait to get to campus to meet with you and learn from you.”

Previous MSU president Lou Anna Simon resigned from the position in January 2018 after being criticized for how she handled allegations that the university’s doctor Larry Nassar molested female gymnasts and athletes. Since the resignation, the school has been led by interim presidents.

In his statement, Stanley commented on the scandal.

“I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution,” he said. “We will meet these challenges together, and we will build on the important work that has already been done to create a campus culture of diversity, inclusion, equity, accountability and safety that supports all of our endeavors.”

State University of New York Chancellor Kristina Johnson will work with the SUNY board of trustees to appoint an interim president, according to a press release from SUNY. A campus search committee also will be assembled to conduct a national search for a permanent president.

“Under Dr. Stanley’s leadership, Stony Brook University has become a vibrant center of research and one of the most highly regarded universities in the nation,” Johnson said. “His commitment to advancing technologies and research in environmental protection and renewable energy has been among many of Dr. Stanley’s most notable accomplishments. On behalf of the entire SUNY family, we celebrate his achievements.”

Stanley will be Michigan State University’s 21st president and will begin his term at
MSU Aug. 1. 

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The Port Jefferson School District Armed Forces tribute. Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District will unveil its new Armed Forces tribute at a dedication ceremony with students May 30, at 10 a.m., at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. 

The tribute, created to express gratitude to those former students and staff members who have served in the armed forces, will salute military personnel with welcoming remarks from student leaders and school and local government officials. The Port Jefferson Middle School band will perform and students from Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will share poetry written especially for the occasion. 

“More than two dozen school staff and community members came together to form this committee with enthusiasm and camaraderie to honor those who served,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. “The culmination of months of planning, fundraising and fellowship has resulted in a tribute of which our school community will be very proud.”

For those who cannot attend the event, a public recognition will be held Saturday, June 22, at
9:30 a.m.

Democrat challenger Jim Gaughran upset incumbent Carl Marcellino by winning the race for New York state's 5th Senate District. Photo by Alex Petroski

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and the Senate Democratic majority passed a package of legislation that will expand veterans’ benefits and ease transition back to civilian life. These bills propose to provide veterans with a toll-free hotline on services and benefits, broaden property tax exemptions, make voting more accessible for military voters and implement additional employment benefits and academic credits. Passage of these bills comes in honor of the annual Fort Drum Day, which welcomes service members to the state Senate chamber. 

 “These bills affirm our commitment to providing military service members full resources and opportunities that they have earned,” Gaughran said. “It is our duty to support our active duty personnel during their time of service, and continue to support our veterans when they return home and transition back to civilian life.” 

The legislation advanced by the Senate Majority includes: 

● Active Duty Property Tax Exemptions: This bill, S.2930A, sponsored by the chair of the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa), will provide qualified active duty personnel a property tax exemption. 

● Expanding Licensed Veterans Employment: This bill, S.2113, sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica), will permit veterans who are licensed to practice a profession in another jurisdiction to practice their profession in New York State while their application to practice their profession in New York State is being processed. 

● Veterans Help and Crisis Line: This bill, S.2283A, sponsored by Sen. Sanders, will provide a toll-free telephone number for use as a help and crisis line to assist veterans. 

● Increase of Real Property Tax Exemption for Dual Veteran Households: This bill, S.2570, introduced by Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), will increase the Alternative Veterans Real Property tax exemption when two qualifying veterans reside in the same household. 

● Veteran Academic Credit: This bill, S.2741A, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), will allow full-time undergraduate students enrolled at state-operated institutions to receive academic credit for their military service or training.       

● Expanding Veteran Credits on Civil Service Appointments: This bill, S.3647, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge), will amend Section 6 of Article 5 of the New York State constitution to eliminate the requirement that a veteran must have served in time of war, and allow for all individuals who have served in the armed forces to receive credits for civil service appointments and promotions.

● Military Voters in School District Elections: This bill, S.5184, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Port Chester), will provide military voters the opportunity to vote in school district elections by allowing them to return their absentee ballot by postal mail.

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Members and compatriots of the American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson Station hosted their annual Memorial Day commemoration at Veterans Memorial Park right in front of Port Jefferson Harbor.

After a presentation of the colors and the wreath laying, veterans moved the flags to half-mast. The group moved onto the Three Village area, where they participated in the unveiling of a newly rejuvenated veterans memorials in Stony Brook Village and the Setauket Village Green. The work is being done with the efforts of Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and several local veteran groups and has been funded through outside donations. This first phase of the project was completed by Memorial Day, and the second phase is expected to revitalize the Setauket Veterans Memorial Park and the Port Jefferson Veterans Memorial Park by Veterans Day this fall.

Stock Photo

Birds chirping, kids playing, barbecues firing up are just the typical sounds of summer in suburbia. 

Though with summer season close by, many residents living along the North Shore will once again have to contend with increased helicopter traffic and noise due to a known helicopter route that flies directly over the heads of many residential communities.

Despite the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 signed into law by President Donald Trump six months ago, which would require the Federal Aviation Administration to reassess the North Shore Helicopter Route, many residents and elected officials feel that the FAA hasn’t taken enough action on the issue and argue that the public workshops held in November 2018 on Long Island were inadequate. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) sent a letter to the acting regional director of the FAA, Maria Stanco, on May 10 stating the agency should take immediate action to address the aircraft noise on the North Fork. This is Zeldin’s second letter to the FAA calling for them to comply with the legislation’s requirement to hold real public hearings in the communities impacted by the North Shore route. 

“The ‘workshops’ held on Long Island last year did not meet the clear mandates of the law and insulted my constituents,” Zeldin stated in the letter. “The use of the questionable, insufficient format not only silenced the voices of the public but was perceived as a clear attempt by the FAA to diminish the serious impact of the NSR and the negative quality of life impacts that resulted to the North Fork.” 

In preparation of the workshops held in November, the FAA accepted public comments from residents, where 337 people responded. 

John Cullen of Riverhead left a comment in February asking what the FAA thinks of the 336 comments and will there ever be a public hearing held by them.  

“Not a single aircraft lands on the North Shore, yet the commercial helicopters need to fly over 18 miles above homes which includes northeast Queens and northwest Nassau County,” he said.

Tim Sinclair said the current practice of helicopter traffic across the Southold area is terrible. 

“An all-water route that avoids crossing Southold and the bay that separates the North and South Forks is needed,” he said in a comment online. “Helicopter traffic is constant and especially noted on Fridays en route to the South Shore and then again on Sunday leaving the South Shore headed north. In between there is constant traffic and low-flying helicopters as well as private jets.”

“The use of the questionable, insufficient format not only silenced the voices of the public but was perceived as a clear attempt by the FAA to diminish the serious impact of the NSR and the negative quality of life impacts that resulted to the North Fork.”

— Lee Zeldin

Sinclair has complained many times about the helicopters but said the FAA requires tail number identification “which is nearly impossible for most civilians to observe and record,” he said in a comment. “Moreover, aircraft comes through at low altitudes below 500 feet creating a terrible noise upsetting people, animal and wildlife in the area. This disregard for quality of life and the peaceful enjoyment of the residents of Southold is a crime. An alternate all-water route is needed for both peace and quiet as well as public safety.” 

The North Shore Helicopter Route was created in 2012 and originally had a two-year duration set to end in August 2014. It was again extended for another two years, and in the summer of 2016,  it was extended for four years. Zeldin said the FAA used questionable “emergency authority” to extend the timeline of the route. The latest extension is set to expire on August 6, 2020. 

Zeldin’s office said the congressman has requested other U.S. representatives assist in addressing the issue. He has maintained the FAA needs to consider an all-water route over the Atlantic Ocean, and has not yet received a response from the federal agency.

Jim Peters, FAA spokesperson, said in a statement that they will review Zeldin’s letter, which they received on May 14, and then respond to him directly. 

Earlier this month, the FAA extended the use of alternative noise relief routes that shifted traffic away from neighborhoods in northeast Queens. Zeldin said this is great news for suffering residents in those areas but a slap in the face to the North Fork, which has sought similar relief for years. 

“Actions by your agency to provide relief to select communities impacted by the deeply flawed North Shore Route while ignoring the pleas of others is unfair and inequitable,” the congressman said in his letter. “The residents of the North Fork do not live near any helipads or airports and receive only the negative impact of noise and none of the economic benefits associated with the air traffic that greatly increases over their homes during the summer high season. If the FAA is willing and able to provide noise relief to New York City communities suffering from the NSR through regulatory action, it must swiftly and immediately take the same action for North Fork residents.”

Similarly, on Long Island, there are plans for a new luxury helicopter shuttle to the Hamptons where residents on the East End have also been trying to reduce helicopter noise in the area. 

Wheels Up, a membership-based private aviation company, announced earlier this month that the summer shuttles will run from mid-June through August.

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