Port Times Record

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2018 Regents exam results for Comsewogue students in problem-based learning classes versus traditional ones. Click to enlarge. Graphic by TBR News Media

“Teaching to the test” is a concept that no longer computes in Comsewogue School District.

Administration and faculty in Comsewogue, for the last two school years, have experimented with a problem-based learning curriculum for small groups of interested ninth- and 10th-graders, an alternative to the traditional educational strategy of focusing assignments and assessments toward the goal of performing well on state-mandated standardized tests at the end of the year. Now, Superintendent Joe Rella has data to back up his notorious aversion to one-size-fits-all education and assessment.

In all subjects, Comsewogue students in PBL classes passed 2018 Regents exams, scoring 65 or better, at a higher rate than those in traditional classrooms, according to data released by the district. On chemistry, geometry, algebra II, global history and English 11 exams, PBL students achieved mastery level, scoring 85 or better, at significantly higher rates than their non-PBL classmates.

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs.”

— Joe Rella

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs,” Rella said of how he interpreted the data, meaning students taught by alternative methods still displayed an aptitude on the state’s required tests.

Though Rella and the district have taken steps to try to have PBL assessments replace Regents exams, no avenue to do so has been greenlighted by the New York State Department of Education to this point for Comsewogue. Emails requesting comment on the significance of Comsewogue’s test results sent to the education department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) press office were not returned.

During the 2017-18 school year, about half of Comsewogue’s ninth- and 10th-graders, roughly 300 students, took part voluntarily in PBL classes, which emphasize hands-on learning and real-world application of concepts as assessments — similar to a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation — as opposed to the traditional “Regents model.” The students were still required by the state to take the Regents exams as all students are, and their performance has inspired the district in year three of the pilot to expand its PBL curriculum offerings on a voluntary basis for 2018-19 to its entire student body — kindergarten through 12th grade.

The superintendent said the impetus for the district to experiment with PBL started three years ago, when he and about 20 Comsewogue teachers spent a day at the New York Performance Standards Consortium in Manhattan. The organization was founded on the belief that there was a better way to assess student learning than dependence upon standardized testing, according to its website.

“In traditional settings, the teacher did most of the work, we listened, we copied notes and then we were tested on it,” Rella said. “The way the structure was, you spent a year learning stuff. At the end of the year, you took a test to see what you knew.”

In PBL classrooms, regardless of subject, Rella explained that a problem is initially presented, and students learn skills that are meant to help them practically find an answer to the problem. One group of PBL students during the 2017-18 school year decided to approach opioid addiction as a subject matter. Rella said chemistry students and English students worked on parallel tracks addressing that problem, with the science classes researching and presenting on the science behind addiction and the brain, and the English classes creating a public service announcement on the topic. The students presented and defended their findings and approach to the Suffolk County Legislature, with two students eventually being asked to join the county’s commission on substance addiction, according to Rella.

“It’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

— Joe Rella

“You have to acquire knowledge in order to solve the problem, so there is traditional teaching going on,” he said. “But right from the beginning, it’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

Rella credited District Administrator for Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Polychronakos as the driving force behind professional development and empowering district faculty to embrace the district’s new approach.

“We’ve so far created about 20 units of study districtwide that are ready to go for next year and we’ve piloted some of them and worked out some of the kinks,” Polychronakos said. “We’re going to continue to really just take the standards that we have from the state and make them into more of a project-based, or problem-based, learning type of experience for the kids.”

The family of the late artist Michael Kutzing was in attendance July 16 to present three prints of his paintings to Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A local artist’s work will live on in the community, even after his death.

Michael Kutzing, who lived in Port Jefferson for 45 years and died in 2015, enjoyed painting nearby landscapes and still lifes, especially scenes in the Setauket area. On July 16, Denise Kutzing and her family donated three prints of her late husband’s paintings to the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library.

Michael Kutzing’s wife, Denise, stands in front of her favorite “The West Meadow Gamecock House.” Photo by Rita J. Egan

The three pieces the family donated to the library are titled “The Melville Barn,” “Setauket Grist Mill” and “The West Meadow Gamecock House.” The barn and grist mill can be found at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket while the Gamecock house is among the remaining cottages at West Meadow Beach.

Kutzing said her husband, who was a project manager for a land development company, collected maritime art for many years and took up painting, primarily with oil, after his retirement in 2006. He was a self-taught artist who, for more than a year, owned MRK Gallery in Port Jefferson. He was a member of a number of art organizations including The Art League of Long Island and Smithtown Township Arts Council.

When Kutzing saw her husband’s prints at the library, she said she was pleased with how they looked. The Setauket Frame Shop completed the paintings with earth-tone colored matting and wood frames.

“They bring about the essence of the community, and my husband would have been so honored,” Kutzing said.

She said family friend Everett Waters came up with the idea to donate a few prints to the library. Ted Gutmann, library director, said when Kutzing and Waters came to him with the idea he wasn’t familiar with the artist’s work, but after looking at his portfolio he was impressed, especially since many were local, recognizable scenes. He brought the idea to the library board of trustees, and everyone worked together to choose which prints to display.

“They bring about the essence of the community, and my husband would have been so honored.”

— Denise Kutzing

“It’s a good location for it,” Gutmann said. “They look like they belong there, and I think they’re going to attract a lot of attention.”

Waters, a Strong’s Neck resident and former psychology professor at Stony Brook University, said he met the painter when he owned the gallery in Port Jefferson. Waters said he would be amazed that while talking to him, the artist would continue painting, even when creating a detailed piece.

“The level of detail, the colors, the perfection was amazing,” he said.

Waters said Kutzing loved the area, and while he painted other subjects, a lot of the locations were right near the library.

“I thought there should be some way to note the fact that someone had enjoyed the place and seen it in such a way,” Waters said. “Because if you see that someone sees through certain eyes, then maybe you see it more. ‘I should pause. I should go see that barn. When I go to the beach I should see the Gamecock Cottage.’”

The artwork is now displayed outside the Vincent R. O’Leary Community Room on the library’s lower level. Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is located at 120 Main St., Setauket.

Hurdles remain for project, which could have environmental and economic implications

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

They’ve got the power.

Brookhaven Town voted 6-0 with one abstention in favor of lifting a restrictive covenant on an application by Caithness Energy LLC to construct a new, 600-megawatt energy generation plant in Yaphank at a July 12 meeting. When the board approved the independent power producer’s initial 2014 application, when it sought to construct a 750-megawatt facility, it imposed strict regulations aimed at preventing Caithness from making any changes to its plans, or face starting over from square one getting approvals. The power company asked town officials to lift the covenant for its present-day plans that feature newly available technology — which is what required the second vote, preceded by a June 26 public hearing.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) abstained from the July 12 vote after voting against the application in 2014, which passed 5-2. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted “no” in 2014, but approved the lifting of the restrictive covenant this time around.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright voted against Caithness’ application in 2014, and abstained from the vote to remove a restrictive covenant on the application July 12. File photo by Erika Karp

“In requiring such covenant proposed in 2015, the town board did not intend to require the applicant return for covenant amendments when technology changes or improves, or to construct a less impactful energy generating facility,” Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto read from her office’s findings on the matter. “In fact, the town board finds that in consideration of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the town, the town shall not regulate or restrict the technology that may be used by the applicant.”

Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement the company was pleased to hear the town had repealed the restriction.

“We now look forward to consideration and approval of the site plan filed with the Planning Board for what will be the region’s cleanest, most fuel-efficient, and most water-conserving power plant,” Ain said.

Cartright explained she was abstaining from the vote to repeal the restrictive covenant because she thought a vote to either approve or disapprove of Caithness’ entire application would be more appropriate. She also raised a concern about the special use permit issued to Caithness in 2014, which according to her interpretation of town law, expired July 15, 2018.

“That’s under consideration,” Eaderesto said of Cartright’s concern in a phone interview.
The town attorney said she expected the Planning Board to decide if Caithness will be required to reapply for the special use permit for the Yaphank site this week.

Don Miller, a spokesman for Caithness Energy, did not respond to a question raised by email regarding Cartright’s suggestion the company’s special use permit expired Sunday.

Caitness’ renewed request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with Long Island Power Authority over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on the decreasing energy demand. The settlement would smooth the impact of a potential substantial loss of revenue for the village, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and Port Jefferson Fire Department based on a reduced assessment of the plant. It would also prevent the village from being held liable for years of back pay should it have chosen to play out the legal battle in court and lost rather than settling the case. The village has argued a way to make good with LIPA over its decreasingly needed plant could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Ain, as of June 26 LIPA has made no commitment to purchase power from the company should a second facility be constructed in Yaphank. It does purchase power from the first Caithness plant.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff.”

— Margot Garant

The June 26 public hearing drew comments from those in favor of the proposal, many of whom being Longwood school district residents who would likely see a reduction in property taxes, similar to what Port Jeff residents enjoy currently for housing the Port Jefferson Power Station. Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down June 26.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff at the end of the proposed period of gradual reductions, while leaving us to deal with an enormous, closed, unusable industrial site which will need serious environmental remediation,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright. The mayor said she has sent a similar inquiry to the town board as was raised by Cartright regarding the life of the applicant’s special use permit, though has yet to hear back from Brookhaven.

A representative from Sierra Club Long Island, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, spoke out against Caithness II during the June 26 hearing.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempt to construct a new gas plant on Long Island, and we oppose the Caithness II proposal regardless of the technology involved,” said Shay O’Reilly, an organizer for the nonprofit. “It is absurd to argue that building more fracked gas infrastructure will allow us to meet our clean energy and pollution reduction goals.”

This post was updated July 17 to include comment from Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant.

The failing jetties have been cited as a contributor to erosion at Port Jefferson Village's East Beach

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Officials believe one of the few things that stands in the way of further erosion of Port Jefferson Village’s East Beach, which sits on the Long Island Sound at the end of Village Beach Road, are jetties, or rock pilings meant to protect the shoreline, at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor, just east of the Port Jeff beach. With the two town-owned structures in need of restoration, Brookhaven is looking for some additional funding.

The Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously at a July 12 meeting to submit grant applications to the New York State Green Innovations Grant Program and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for additional money to work on the jetty reconstruction project.

The $8.6 million jetty project has been in the works for several years, but only truly got underway in 2016. The town is seeking reimbursement of about $1.3 million through the grants. The resulting $7.3 million net cost would be financed through an existing $3 million Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally provided through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and $4.3 million from a previous town bond resolution.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the old east and west jetties have holes from rocks collapsing, which allows sand to stream through. Age has not been kind to either structure, and the seaward sides of both jetties remain submerged at high tide. Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy caused further damage to the jetties over subsequent years.

With the money the town already has along with these new grant bids, Bonner said she is optimistic reconstruction of the jetties will start some time in 2019.

“Those holes create a current at high tide that allows sand to get through,” Bonner said. “We are completely committed to taking all the necessary steps to make sure this gets done right.”

Brookhaven is the only Long Island municipality in charge of jetties, as the Army Corps of Engineers maintains all others, according to Bonner.

Brookhaven has also hired Melville-based Nelson & Pope Engineers & Land Surveyor, PLLC to at a cost of $151,800 for help in the Mount Sinai Harbor dredging project. The dredging will widen the inlet and relieve the pressure of the water hitting the jetties at high tide, according to Bonner. Widening the inlet will help flush out Mount Sinai Harbor, which would lead to cleaner water for both fish living in the harbor and the town’s shellfish at its mariculture facility.

The failing jetties have had an impact on the shoreline of Port Jeff Village. The bottom 15 feet of the bluff along East Beach had fallen 260 feet west of the rock revetment, according to a 2016 letter from Stony Brook-based GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by the village, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion. GEI also stated that repairs to the jetties should be the first step in alleviating erosion issues.

Bonner said some of the preliminary work already done has helped relieve the flow of water coming into the inlet and through the jetties, but until the real reconstruction starts the erosion of the local beach remains a problem.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Mount Sinai Harbor contributes millions of dollars to community through tourism.

“It’s a very special harbor,” Anker said. “Repairing the channel should be a primary concern.”

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By Anthony Petriello

Comsewogue High School will be rockin’ for a good cause July 19 with John Elefante, former lead singer of the American classic rock group Kansas.

A concert — called A Night of Hope — is being presented by the Warriors of Faith Christian Club, a group of Comsewogue students who organized the event to benefit the family of Brian McGuire, a district resident, former NYPD detective and 9/11 first responder who died suddenly April 30, leaving behind three children and his wife Karin, according to a GoFundMe page set up on behalf of the family. The event is meant to raise money for the family and for attendees to gather for prayer and discussion, according to a flyer promoting the concert.

Joining Elefante will be Kevin Chalfant, former lead singer for the Alan Parsons Live Project and former member of the world-renowned 1980s rock group Journey.

A benefit concert is being held at Comsewogue High School July 19 at 7 p.m. to benefit the family of a late community member.

Chalfant said he is eager to perform and was dedicated once he was informed about the circumstances surrounding the benefit.

“When John Elefante asked me to join him on Long Island for this wonderful family get together I was very happy,” Chalfant said. “I never knew the officer but when I heard that he was a first responder on 9/11, that’s all it took for me to be committed to this wonderful event.”

The money donated through ticket sales and a silent auction will go toward paying for college educations for the McGuire’s three kids. Their oldest son, Thomas, graduated from Comsewogue June 21, and will be attending Suffolk County Community College in the fall. Their son Michael will be entering 11th grade this upcoming school year, and their daughter, Danielle, will be heading to eighth grade.

Local businesses including Chick-Fil-A, School of Rock, and Wahlburgers, among others, as well as clergy from Axis Church of Medford, Harbor Church of Patchogue, Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, and the Christian Cultural Center in Smithtown are working together to promote and organize the event along with the Comsewogue students. All of the funds raised will be directed to the McGuire family.

Pastor Anthony Pelella of Axis Church is one of those coordinating the event, and said he wanted to be involved just to help a family in need.

“We just wanted to give them something to make them smile,” he said.

Pelella will be delivering a message of hope prior to the concert. He said he believes in the notion that the Port Jefferson community is an extremely interconnected and faith driven place to reside.

“I believe that the Port Jefferson community hurts together,” He said. “When one person hurts we all hurt together, and when one person smiles we all smile together.”

Comsewogue school board President John Swenning also said he is looking forward to the event and raising funds for the cause. While Swenning is not the main coordinator of the concert, he said he is putting his full effort behind it and working to maximize the aid the concert generates for the McGuire family.

“It is humbling to see a community come together to help a neighbor in their time of need,” Swenning said. “There is no place I would want to raise a family other than the Comsewogue community.”

The silent auction will consist of gift baskets and guitars autographed by Elefante and Chalfant.

Assigned seat tickets can be purchased at www.comsewoguehs.seatyourself.biz. Special tickets are also for sale for a meet and greet and dinner with the band, with food provided by Wahlburgers. Tickets for the meet and greet dinner are being sold by Axis Church, which can be reached by emailing info@axisny.org. The event begins at 7 p.m. at Comsewogue High School. Standard admission tickets will also be sold at the door.

School board President John Swenning honors Nicolas Robinson, Tyler Jensen, Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield and Bernadette Reyes during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Anthony Petriello

Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.

Nicholas Robinson waves to the crowd during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

The applause rained down from the packed bleachers on the varsity football field for all of the graduates, but for a select few there was a bit more meaning behind the cheers. Five graduates were honored for their brave decision to enter various branches of the U.S. armed forces rather than attending a traditional two- or four-year college. Twins Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield, Bernadette Reyes, Tyler Jensen and Nicolas Robinson are the Warriors preparing to serve their country.

Comsewogue High School Principal Joseph Coniglione summed up his feelings watching the five students accept their diplomas and prepare to move on to their next steps in life.

“These students worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They have made a commitment to this country and, without any doubt, made this community and this school very proud.”

Three out of the five students recognized will be enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, including the Whitfield twins. They are following what they called their dream, but also a dream their mother, Keira Whitfield, said she had always had but was not able to fulfill.

“They are living out my dream of joining the Air Force,” she said. “In doing so they will become independent, productive citizens of the United States and that’s all I ever wanted for them.”

Originally from Queens, and with a family background in both the Air Force and the Navy, the Whitfields are looking to brighten their futures.

“I hope to become a more disciplined person,” Jarrett said.

During graduation, the five students were called up to the stage to be honored and recognized individually. District administration knew the special ceremony was coming, but left it a surprise for the students.

Bernadette Reyes receives a certificate from school board President John Swenning during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I was very surprised to be honored,” Jaeden said. “It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream … having my recruiter there helped me feel more comfortable.”

Tyler Jensen is the third student who enlisted in the Air Force. He is following his grandfather’s path to the Air Police, which is an arm of the Air Force Security Forces along with the Military Police and the Security Police. As a member of the Air Police, Jensen will be working to protect the assets of the Air Force, as well as securing Air Force installations and other facilities operated by the military branch.

Jensen attributed his desire to serve his country not just to honoring his grandfather but also out of a sense of civic duty.

“I am also joining because not enough people in my generation are enlisting and there is not enough help,” he said.

Comsewogue school board president John Swenning, who led the way honoring the students during graduation, also beamed with pride referencing the graduates-turned-armed forces members.

“On behalf of the Comsewogue board of education I would like to publically thank these young men and women who have decided to serve in a branch of the United States military,” he said in a statement. “It is their selfless commitment to protect our freedom and liberty that allows the rest of us the opportunity to chase our dreams.”

Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He said he has had a desire to join the Marines since 2005, when he was only 5 years old after his brother had enlisted.

“He is my role model,” Robinson said of his brother.

Whitfield twins Jarrett and Jaeden look at a certificate with classmate Tyler Jensen during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

Robinson said he often thinks about the day his brother graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.

“When I saw my brother graduate from Parris Island, it gave me chills,” he said.

He is proud to have enlisted in the Marines and isn’t worried about the life change he is about to encounter.

“It’s like any other job,” he said.

Reyes is headed to the U.S. Army, also following a family trend, as her father is an Army veteran. She said she was unsure of her path after high school, but after meeting with an Army recruiter at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, she made the decision to pursue a career in the military.

Reyes said she was ecstatic to have been honored at the graduation ceremony.

“It was a great feeling to be introduced in front of the students, parents, administration and the board of education,” she said.

Reyes plans to complete basic training and continue her education through the Army.

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Aug. 9, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre presents the world premiere of “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon.” With book by Jeffrey Sanzel and music by Douglas J. Quattrock, the show combines magic, music, dance and a clever script to create an original fairy tale that is simply delightful.

It’s Princess Abigail’s 21st birthday, and her mother, the absent minded Queen Marjorie, has sent out birthday party invitations to everyone in the kingdom (including all eligible bachelors) — everyone except a wicked witch named Wicked Faery. 

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

When the witch realizes she’s been left out of the festivities, she feels slighted and, after calling 1-800-Dragon, summons a fire-breathing serpent to wreak havoc on the land. The queen decrees that whoever slays the dragon may marry the princess. Will a brave knight come forth to save the day?

Directed by Sanzel, the seven-member cast does a wonderful job portraying the story, all the while emphasizing the importance of “just be who you are.” Michaela Catapano (Princess Abigail) gives us a modern version of a warrior princess, confident and brave and not in a rush to get married. Ginger Dalton (Queen Marjorie) is terrific as her forgetful mother, Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast as the Wicked Faery and Steven Uihlein draws the most laughs in the role of the scaly dragon who has a penchant for flowers. (“I’m a gardener, not a fighter.”) 

Andrew Lenahan as Knight Night, the dragon slayer, and Matt Hoffman as his squire, Julius Pleasant, make a great tag team; and jack-of-all-trades Aria Saltini plays over seven supporting roles throughout the show with ease.

Accompanied on piano by Quattrock and choreographed by Bianco, the song and dance numbers are fresh and exciting, especially Lenahan and Hoffman’s duet “The Night Knight Night Came to Be,” Catapano and Uihlein’s duet,“To Be Me” and the fun hip-hop/rap “Spell to Raise a Dragon” by Bianco.

From left, Nicole Bianco and Michaela Catapano in a scene from the show.

Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John hit their mark, from Princess     Abigail’s armor and sword to a shimmering dragon outfit to a purple and black witch costume complete with an impressive set of horns.

Now putting a twist on well-known fairy tales is Sanzel’s forte, but this particular “princess and dragon” scenario is so topsy-turvy that nothing is what it seems and hilarity ensues. Although the tale involves a witch and big flying reptile and is told with the use of stage smoke and flashing lights, there is nothing scary about it.

During last Friday’s opening performance, the children in the audience embraced the new show as giggles and laughter filled the theater. When the dragon, aka Scales, appeared at the end of the first act, the excited youngsters pointed and yelled, “I see it! I see it!” And when the cast made its way up the aisles to the lobby for photos after the show, they were greeted with high fives and hugs, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon” on July 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 and Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 3 at 1:30 p.m. Children’s theater continues with “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11 and “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Every Fourth of July, if only for a few hours, Long Islanders create their own stars in the night sky.

If one drives down the side streets and residential neighborhoods late at night on America’s birthday, one can hear a chorus of whistles and pops from every direction. People in local neighborhoods sit in lawn chairs with their necks craned to the night sky to watch the lights flash high over their own roofs. All those involved know that, without a license, it’s illegal to own, sell and, especially, to light any fireworks in New York state, but this is Independence Day, and the date demands ceremony.

On one street in Port Jefferson Station, where locals hosted their own fireworks show, the air was suffused with a burning smoke that smelled like brimstone and burning paper. Fireworks enthusiast Louie, who agreed to comment if his last name would be withheld, along with his brother and their friends, laid out rows of mortars stretching more than 10 yards down the street. For close to two hours nonstop the fireworks illuminated the sky and onlookers cheered.

“Jones Beach does it, Bald Hill does it … why can’t we do it?” Louie said.

Louie said he has helped set off his block’s firework display for four years, and each July Fourth his group sets off more than $2,000 worth of fireworks.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) warned residents ahead of the holiday in a YouTube video that the county would be enacting a zero-tolerance policy for the possession, use and sale of illegal fireworks.

“We are here today to talk about the Fourth of July and how we all love to get together and celebrate,” Bellone said in the video. “We always hear about these incidents happening and they are unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Officials asked Suffolk residents to attend licensed firework shows going on all across the Island, rather than creating their own events. There were shows at Bald Hill, in Wading River, at Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead, on East Beach in Port Jefferson, on Shelter Island and at the Long Island Ducks stadium in Bethpage, to name a few.

Suffolk County is stricter on fireworks than other parts of the state. While New York passed a law in January that made owning sparklers legal, in Suffolk owning a sparkler remains a misdemeanor. Owning certain fireworks, like the M-80s, which were originally designed by the United States military to simulate gunfire, or the mortar-type of fireworks, is a Class E felony subject to up to four years in prison.

Several individuals were arrested this year and charged with crimes of possessing and selling fireworks. In June, a Medford man was arrested for having $100,000 worth of fireworks in a storage facility. Later that same month, an Oakdale man was arrested for bringing $2,000 worth of fireworks home from Pennsylvania and selling them online.

“We take it very seriously,” 4th Precinct Capt. Kevin Williams said at the June 1 Smithtown Town board meeting. “All fireworks are illegal, and that includes sparklers. Some of the larger fireworks that we see today, the M-80 fireworks or the mortars that people shoot up, those are designated as explosives under New York State Labor Law.”

The danger presented by misusing fireworks is real. Nationally, fireworks were identified in 12,900 hospital visits and eight deaths in 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released in June this year.

Suffolk police reported that a man from Gordon Heights lost three of his fingers
after a firework exploded in his hand this year. Another woman, a Florida resident who was visiting her family in Mastic, was injured after she tossed a lit cigarette in an ashtray which caused a firework that had been placed there to explode. The detonation severed the tip of one finger and injured other fingers on her right hand. Both were sent to Stony Brook University Hospital for their injuries.

Dr. Steven Sandoval, medical director of Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the last weeks of June and the first two weeks of July are the peak in terms of burn center patients. On average his unit receives five to 10 patients every Fourth of July season, and that’s not including those who arrive to the hospital with other, non-burn related injuries. By July 5 this year, the burn center received four patients who had injuries related to fireworks, but Sandoval said they would not know the total number of injuries until a month has passed.

“Every other year there’s a fatal or near-fatal event that occurs from fireworks,” Sandoval said. “This is a vulnerable population, who might already be intoxicated, inebriated or have been standing out in the sun all day … people should leave fireworks to the professionals.”

Those people setting off the pyrotechnic display in Port Jeff Station said they understood the hazard that fireworks presented.

“We’re all organized, not drunk, professional and we have order,” Louie said. “We have communication, and communication is key.”

Still, there is always danger when it comes to explosives. The street in Port Jeff Station was bordered by power lines and trees that an off-course rocket could potentially strike. One neighbor put large towels and cardboard boxes on her fence to mitigate any potential burn damage. After the grand finale, where the group let off their last rockets and mortars, they started to throw loud firecrackers into the street. One of them bounced into a neighbor’s yard right next to a fence. The firework exploded and dug a small hole an inch deep into the dirt.

Despite it all, the neighbors laughed and cheered anyway.

Caithness Long Island approaches town about building new 600-megawatt plant

Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski 

Another player has emerged to complicate the legal battle with Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village in one corner and the Long Island Power Authority in the other.

Representatives from Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer with a Yaphank plant, went before Brookhaven’s board June 26 requesting permission to construct a 600-megawatt plant, which would be called Caithness Long Island II. This is not the first time, as the power company originally approached the town with plans for a power station in 2014.

“Caithness is seeking an amendment to the covenant and restrictions so it can utilize cleaner, more efficient equipment that recently became available,” said Michael Murphy during the June 26 hearing, an attorney representing Caithness.

“The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources.”

— Michael Murphy

In 2014, Caithness Energy had plans approved by the Brookhaven Town to construct a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank powered by two gas-powered turbines and a steam generator. Both Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) voted against the 2014 proposal, though it passed 5-2.

The project has been on hold ever since as energy demands on Long Island are projected to decrease, according to recent annual reports from PSEG Long Island. Then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated in August 2016 that 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs come from renewable energy sources by the year 2030.

The 600-megawatt power plant would be constructed on 81 acres of vacant land zoned for the use based on the 2014 approval. The proposal has several differences from the 2014 plans in addition to the reduced energy output including a reduction from two exhaust stacks to one; use of newer, more efficient technology; and a reduction from two steam turbines to one.

“It creates a platform for renewable energy,” Murphy said. “The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources. So, this facility will not compete, in essence, with solar and wind.”

The request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on its decreasing energy demand. The settlement would smooth the impact of a potential substantial loss of revenue for the village, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and Port Jefferson Fire Department based on a reduced assessment of the plant. It would also prevent the village from being held liable for years of back pay should it have chosen to play out the legal battle in court and lost rather than settling the case. The village has argued a way to make good with LIPA over its decreasingly needed plant could be to increase its output capacity. If approved, the Caithness II plant would theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Caithness President Ross Ain, LIPA has made no commitment to purchase power from the company should a second facility be constructed in Yaphank. It does purchase power from the first Caithness plant, with a 350-megawatt natural gas fire power generating facility operating in Yaphank since 2009.

The public hearing drew comments from those in favor of the proposal, many of whom being Longwood school district residents who would likely see a reduction in property taxes, similar to what Port Jeff residents enjoy currently for housing the Port Jefferson Power Station.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community.”

— Margot Garant

Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down. Garant has taken to social media to urge Port Jeff residents to submit written comments to the town on the proposal.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright, referencing the impending LIPA settlement. “But at the end of these reductions, our community would still be left with an operating power plant which could produce a significant amount in tax revenues.”

The village mayor painted a dark picture for Port Jeff should the proposal earn board approval.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff at the end of the proposed period of gradual reductions, while leaving us to deal with an enormous, closed, unusable industrial site which will need serious environmental remediation,” she said.

A representative from Sierra Club Long Island, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, spoke out against Caithness II during the hearing.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempt to construct a new gas plant on Long Island, and we oppose the Caithness II proposal regardless of the technology involved,” said Shay O’Reilly, an organizer for the nonprofit. “It is absurd to argue that building more fracked gas infrastructure will allow us to meet our clean energy and pollution reduction goals.”

Jack Kreiger, a spokesperson for the town, said he did not know when the board would vote on the proposal.

By Susan Perretti

In the end, my visit to the campaign kickoff for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in Smithtown June 28 was more about the words I never got to say than the few I did utter before I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the premises at once.

Zeldin was not yet on the stage when a man in a suit told me I had to go. “Why?” I asked. He leaned in and spoke into my ear: “If you don’t go now you will be arrested.” Why? I asked again. Trespassing. Trespassing? Zeldin, my congressman, invited me, and I had registered. After finding my name on a list, a man had waved me into the Elks Lodge. Three like-minded friends didn’t even get in.

Susan Perretti

I went because there were some things I wanted to say to Zeldin. Not in a mean, accusing way. I try not to enter conversations them versus us, Republicans versus Democrats, right versus left. It doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

As a reporter for a Long Island weekly, I often covered election campaigns. I’ve heard folks on both sides of the aisle verbally abuse their opponents. But at the Zeldin soirée, there was more vitriol and hate rhetoric than I’d ever encountered, on the job or as a private citizen. It got to me. I felt sick over it.

A monsignor was asking God to bless Zeldin, and he mentioned justice and welcoming the stranger. For a moment, I didn’t feel quite so alone. Compassion, unity, working for peace. As a Christian, I’d grown up hearing those words, and I’m still a believer. But when Sebastian Gorka took to the stage, there were rousing, Trump rally-like chants of “Build the Wall! Build the Wall!” And this was less than 20 miles from my home. I looked around the room, but the monsignor had cut out. I was on my own.

Gorka had the crowd in a near frenzy when I found myself shouting: “But we are all Americans.” To my surprise, a few people nodded in agreement. It was during Sean Spicer’s speech that I lost it. “Enough of the hate.” I yelled. “Enough is enough.” I went on in that vein for maybe a minute. Nearby Zeldin supporters told me to shut up. For a moment, remembering the way Trump had handled protesters, I worried I would be toppled. Then the man in the suit tapped me and said I had to get out. Pleading for an end to the demonizing would not be tolerated.

I never got to see Zeldin and ask him the questions I had come with. Questions about crying children being snatched from the arms of asylum-seeking parents. Another case of gun violence that day at a Maryland newspaper and our nation’s grotesquely lenient gun laws. I wanted to ask what will become of the poor, elderly and disabled, like my 90-year-old, Medicaid-dependent mother, if more social services programs get axed — or our water and air if the Environmental Protection Agency continues to be dismantled. But mostly I wanted to urge him to follow his heart, even if that means casting votes that might anger the president, the NRA and his other big-money donors.

I was going to say, “Mr. Zeldin, it’s not too late to be your own man,” but I didn’t have the chance.

One of the five men who escorted me out asked why I didn’t just go to Zeldin’s office. I told him I had, but that I was met by two police officers and a gruff aide who directed me to write my concerns on a prepared form. And, I told my escort, Zeldin doesn’t hold town hall meetings like his predecessors did. Questions are accepted ahead of time only and are carefully screened. They’ve never picked mine. More words I meant to say.

Congressman Zeldin’s campaign has been invited to write a reply.

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