Suffolk County

At the Jan. 1 fundraiser, Patti Kozlowski, left with tie-dye shirt, Danielle Warsaw, Kate HIggins, Tara HIggins, flanked by Warsaw’s four daughters. The HIggins said the family showed real strength after the tragedy of their father passing. Photo from Kozlowski

On New Year’s Day, Tara Inn in Port Jefferson was flooded with people, from young children to adults, people from Port Jefferson to people in Brentwood, all to support a family who lost their father from cancer.

Locals and attendees helped raise close to $20,000 for the Warsaw family of Manor Park. Wayne Warsaw, a teacher and football coach in the Brentwood school district, died Dec 8. at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He had only received news of his diagnosis of neuroendocrine cancer 30 days before he passed.

His family, which includes his wife Danielle and four young girls, all attended the fundraiser. One of the children had also battled and fought off cancer at a young age.

Tara and Kate Higgins, whose family owns Tara Inn, said well over 100 people came to the event. Funds were raised through raffles and T-shirt sales. On those shirts there was a quote from Wayne Warsaw saying, “Life’s too short, do what you love and do it with all your heart.”

The Higgins normally provide the food and drink for the fundraiser, absorbing the cost to the business themselves. Bartenders also donate their time and tips. The place was packed “wall-to-wall,” said Kate Higgins, who helps run the restaurant full time.

“It was great to see Port Jeff and the businesses go out for this.”

Kathleen Barber Mercante

Other businesses in the community also donated their time and efforts to the event. Just a few examples include Terryville’s Port Jeff Sports, which donated shirts, Butcher Boy in Mount Sinai donated food and Joe DeNicola, the owner of Ruvo in Port Jeff and Del Fuego in St. James, donated gift cards for the raffles.

Brentwood’s South Middle School Assistant Principal Kathleen Barber Mercante, a Port Jefferson resident, also thanked all the people who donated their time for the event.

“It was great to see Port Jeff and the businesses go out for this,” she said at a Jan. 6 village meeting. 

Patti Kozlowski, who runs the grassroots community organization North Shore Neighbors Helping Hands, learned about the family through their GoFundMe, which as of now has raised over $19,000 for the family. Her group normally helps local families fight cancer, and so she reached out to the person organizing the GoFundMe and brought it to Higgins’ attention.

She said that once Danielle Warsaw learned about her husband’s diagnosis “all bets were off.”

The night of the fundraiser was filled with both Tara Inn regulars, who often support the restaurant’s fundraisers, and of many friends, family and community members of the Manor Park family.

“It was a complete cross section of the community,” Kozlowski said. “It warms my heart to bring so many aspects of their community together.”

The Higgins family has had generations now of providing such fundraisers. Joseph Higgins was honored by TBR News Media in 2017 for his help in getting over $15,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief, along with years of other fundraisers including for the employees of Billie’s 1890 Saloon after a devastating fire. Previous fundraisers held at Tara Inn also helped the Port Jefferson School District with over $7,000 to construct their veterans memorial outside the high school.

“We try to do it for an individual or family rather than a major organization — they get all the funds,” Tara Higgins said.

Her sister agreed that it was less of a generally nice thing to do, but more of an obligation.

“I almost feel like it’s our responsibility, that the community has supported this business for over 40 years, it’s just a small way we can pay back,” Kate Higgins said. 

 

Mariano Rivera made an appearance at Brookhaven Town Hall Jan. 16 in support of his proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by David Luces

Yankees National Baseball Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was known throughout his professional career for his knack of nailing down tough victories. On Jan. 16, baseball’s all-time career saves leader added another victory to his business career when he won approval of a zoning change from the Brookhaven Town Board for a proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station.

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station, we’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.” 

– Mariano Rivera

The dealership on Route 112, dubbed Mariano Rivera Honda, could open later this year if the town Planning Board approves a site plan. The Town Board voted 7-0 to rezone parts of the 8.1-acre property to allow expansion of an existing building and construction of a new one. The Planning Board has yet to set a date to hear Rivera’s plan. 

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station,” Rivera said after the vote. “We’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.”

Don King, the Kings Park-based lawyer representing Rivera, said the business will be a good fit in the community 

“They love him, the excitement is there — I had one guy tell me he wants to buy a car in [Yankee] pinstripes,” he said. 

The Hall of Fame pitcher met with the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last May to discuss the project. While the civic submitted a letter to the town with no complaints, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said there were a few suggestions that would help the site fit better into the area. 

“The [sales and service] building was originally 55,000 square feet and we reduced down to 35,000,” King said. “The neighbors asked if we could do something smaller and we would if we got permission from Honda — and we did.”

Rivera’s plan also calls for expanding an existing 6,425-square-foot auxiliary building by more than 30 percent and increasing the parking lot’s capacity to hold over 350 vehicles. The dealership would be built at an existing car dealer site at 1435 Route 112, between Jefferson and Washington avenues.

King said they don’t have a date yet of when the dealership could open but said it comes down to a number of things like designs tweaks and how soon the Planning Board can review the site plans. Once these are approved and necessary permits are obtained, construction will start. 

After the hearing, Rivera interacted with Yankees fans and residents who came out to Town Hall in Farmingville. He posed for pictures and signed autographs for a number of Brookhaven officials. 

“This man has the golden touch,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said after the hearing concluded. 

 

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie visit local schools to offer therapy dog services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie are magnetic, or at least it seems that way to watch people come forward, asking gingerly if they can pet the dog, her tail waving frantically.

Coming into the TBR News Media offices, Kallie was the star of the show, and Lynch just let her work her magic. She doesn’t make a sound, instead just walking toward people asking to be petted. 

Lynch, a 73-year-old Mount Sinai resident, has been volunteering his time working with therapy dog services for the past several years. He’s owned Kallie, a keeshond, since she was a puppy, and they have been a team for five years. Though he works part time as a risk management consultant, he finds his biggest joy nowadays is taking Kallie where she’s needed most, on a voluntary basis, through the local chapter of Love on a Leash, which provides these services free of charge.

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that.”

– Bob Lynch

Kallie has been to nursing homes, veterans homes and hospitals, but where she’s been that her breed might be best at is at schools. 

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that,” he said. “The work in itself is fulfilling, you walk into a room and see the smiles, and see the demeanor of the people change very quickly.”

Lynch will soon be at the Port Jefferson high and middle schools often as part of a new pilot program in the district that they say will relieve stress among students.

Christine Austen, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said she was contacted by Lynch last year and submitted it to the curriculum committee as a pilot, which they approved. The pilot program will run twice a month for four months starting in February and ending in May. A mailer and email will be sent to parents asking them whether they would like to opt out of such visits with the dog, whether it’s from allergies or a fear of animals. Austen said the decision of whether the dog is allowed in certain classes would be treated like allergies.

When presented at the Jan. 14 board meeting, some trustees expressed concerns about safety. Austen said the dog trainer would not be allowed alone with a student at any time and would always have a faculty member present.

Tara Sladek-Maharg, who teaches social studies and psychology in both the middle and high schools, originally brought in a therapy dog for her AP psychology class last year. She had become enthused about the idea of a therapy dog in the classroom after witnessing firsthand what a demonstrably positive effect it had on her own father, when trainer Linda Christian and her dog Murphy, also of Love on a Leash, came to Stony Brook University Hospital and showed him love and compassion after he had a seizure and was going through rehabilitation.

“He goes into rehab and he just sits and goes to each individual person and just lays his head down on them — petting the dog is just so calming,” she said. 

Bringing Murphy into the classroom so that the students could review classical conditioning was a transformative experience, Sladek-Maharg said. She has done more research into just why these dogs have such a positive impact on so many. The research shows that being around such dogs has a significant effect on a person’s neurotransmitters and hormones and significantly reduces fear and stress.

Studies have also shown such animals have a positive effect on elementary school students, especially in helping them speak up in public or in class.

“Today our students are very stressed — our staff is very stressed, so having the presence of a dog is just a wonderful outlet,” she said. “They don’t discriminate, especially if they are trained therapy animals. They don’t have any reason to make somebody feel self-conscious, and they have a calming effect on us.”

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love.”

– Catherine Lynch 

Other school districts that have experimented with therapy dogs in classrooms have come away talking of success. Lynch has been a regular at events hosted in the Longwood school district, Miller Place School District and Ward Melville in the Three Village district. 

Miller Place High School Library Media Specialist Catherine Lynch brings in therapy dogs once a year during testing to help students relax during such a stressful time. One thing she has noticed is students regularly put away their phones when interacting with the dogs, instead talking and petting the dogs or speaking with each other.

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love,” she said, adding she would like to see the program expanded to multiple times throughout the school year.

In the Comsewogue school district, special education teacher Tom King has been taking his therapy-trained labradoodle to his classes for years. Last June, during exam season, the district brought in multiple dogs into the school cafeteria to interact with students. 

Love on a Leash is a national organization that started in San Diego in the 1980s as a volunteer organization for therapy dogs. The organization has expanded to include chapters across the U.S. and several thousand members. The Long Island chapter was founded about a decade ago and includes over 150 members and just around 25 “active” participants covering Suffolk, Nassau and parts of Queens.

Theresa Schwartz, the chapter president, said schools have been expanding such programs with therapy dogs. When she started about three years ago, schools would ask her to come in during testing times, but that has expanded into doing reading programs in elementary schools, after-school wildlife clubs, SEPTA events and even offering support services during emotionally fraught times, such as when a teacher or a student passes away.

The fact that Love on a Leash is a nonprofit volunteer organization makes the program unique, Lynch said. From the start, people who train the dogs and take them around are also their owners, living with them 24/7, and they have personally seen the ways a dog has helped bring people who are truly suffering a little bit of joy.

“I think I can speak for most of our volunteers doing this kind of thing, [it] makes the team, the dog and the handler, feel better, and makes other people feel better,” she said. “You see what joy your dog can bring to other people.”

Young people in an environment like school, Austen said, respond especially to animals. It has even had a positive impact on faculty.

“It just seems to take down the level of anxiety,” she said. “There are so many instigators of that, whether it’s cellphone use or social media — all of that constant stimulation. Then there are the academics at the high school, and the push to perform.”

If successful, which she expects the program will be, she wants to expand it to the elementary school, where studies have shown therapy dogs have a positive impact on helping people speak up in class.

 

Local officials and health professional are urging residents to get this year's flu shot. Stock photo

State, county and area hospitals are bracing for this year’s flu season following reports of a sharp increase in recent weeks in the number of flu cases in New York state.

About 11,000 confirmed cases of influenza were reported by the New York State Department of Health for the week ending Jan. 11. That’s an increase of 10 percent over the previous week, according to the New York State Flu Tracker. There were 641 new cases in Suffolk County. The statewide total this season stands at almost 44,000. 

Similarly, “widespread”’ flu activity was reported by health departments in 46 states as of the last week of December, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and professor of Pediatrics, said currently the hospital is in the midst of handling an influx of influenza cases.

“We are dealing with the children’s hospital being quite full,” she said. “We have a number of infants with the flu, and we are concerned about it.” 

“Community protection is everyone’s job.”

– Sharon Nachman

The hospital hopes to see an improvement in the next couple of weeks.

Nachman points to a number of reasons why we have been seeing more flu cases in the state: People unwilling to get vaccinated; individuals believing that they are safe from getting sick if they haven’t in the past; a belief that cold and flu medications are better than the shot, among other things.

“I ask patients, ‘Is there a legitimate reason why you don’t want to be vaccinated?’” Nachman said. “You have to think of who is also living in your household, like young people and the elderly. Community protection is everyone’s job.”

The division chief said if everyone got their flu vaccine there would be less people to treat.

“You are 100 percent at risk without the vaccine,” Nachman said. “The vaccine will not prevent someone from getting the flu, but it can lessen the severity of it and shorten its duration.”

She said despite some misconceptions, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine as it does not contain a live virus. If you happen to get sick after getting a flu shot, it’s a coincidence as there are a lot of viruses and illnesses circulating during the winter months.

In an effort to curb flu cases in Suffolk County, officials announced recently that the county would be offering free influenza immunization to residents 6 months of age and older who are uninsured or whose health insurance does not cover flu immunization.

“The health and wellness of our residents is of utmost importance,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “The flu has been on the rise, and we want residents to know it is not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones from what can turn into a debilitating disease by getting immunized as soon as possible.”

The county’s health department has been providing flu immunizations at a number of locations including Suffolk County Department of Health Services at Great River in the Town of Islip and at Riverhead Free Library.

Nachman said it is important to constantly wash your hands and if you are sick, stay home to avoid exposing others to the illness.

Flu shots are also available at local pharmacies, pediatrician and health care provider offices, as well at county-affiliated health centers.

People who are having difficulty finding flu shots or community groups serving those who are in need of flu shots are advised to contact the county Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at 631-854-0333.

 

John Feal, president and founder of the FealGood Foundation, has been a long-time advocate for first responders. Photo by Kyle Barr

Families, first responders, survivors, and the families of anyone who died in the past 18 years due to 9/11 related illness now will have more time to re-apply and file a claim after the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund extended its deadline for another year.

Individuals will have until July 29, 2021 to file a claim.

The new rule change gives the families of all 9/11 first responders or downtown workers, residents and students who died more than two years ago, from 2002 until the present, the chance to receive an award from the VCF. The VCF is also reviewing past submitted wrongful death claims and will make awards to the families whose wrongful death claims were denied due to missing the old two-year deadline.

Previously, the VCF required that the families of people who died from a 9/11-related illness to register their claim within two years from the date of death. The harsh old “two years from the date of death” deadline caused the denial of many VCF wrongful death claims for not meeting the two-year deadline. According to Ronkonkoma-based Turley Hansen & Rosasco, LLP, a 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Specialty Law Firm, only 2 percent of eligible families have filed for this benefit.

“We have many clients that missed this deadline, because they did not know that a cancer (or other death causing disease) was 9/11 related, did not know that the VCF applies to non-first responders or were wholly unaware of the VCF program until the recent news — when it was too late,” said attorney Daniel Hansen, of the firm.

According to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), about 410,000 people were exposed to the 9/11 related toxic dust released into the air in lower Manhattan in the area surrounding the World Trade Center site. An estimated 67,000 of those 410,000 exposed people have died since 2001.

Out of the 67,000 exposed people who have died in that time, only 1,173 families have filed wrongful death claims.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by David Luces

Residents of both Brookhaven and Smithtown spoke during a Jan. 8 public hearing about the impact of the proposed development of the 75-acre Flowerfield/Gyrodyne site on Route 25A in St. James. While opinions varied, one thing was certain: The project will be the largest development the area has seen in quite some time. 

The proposal seeks to subdivide the land into nine lots, keeping existing businesses and a catering hall while adding a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

During the hearing, Gyrodyne representatives said they are taking a sustainable approach and have come up with multiple alternatives to the original plan that balance out potential impacts to the surrounding communities. 

Kevin McAndrew, a partner at Cameron Engineering, a Woodbury-based firm hired by Gyrodyne, discussed the potential benefits of the project. 

“The project would bring in significant economic benefits — generate over $3.5 million dollars, bring in high quality jobs and no increase to [area] school enrollment,” he said. 

McAndrew said the firm has acknowledged traffic concerns in the area. The proposed plans, he said, such as the assisted living center, would contribute minimal traffic congestion during peak commute hours. The developer pointed out the inclusion of walking trails, bike lanes, green infrastructure and a potential sewage treatment plant at the site, which representatives said could be used for sewering for downtown St. James. 

Despite what they heard from the presentation, many speakers and civic leaders said they were not convinced, including officials from Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation.”

– Ed Romaine  

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven supervisor, said the project would impact the communities of Brookhaven in a devastating way. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation,” Romaine said. 

Romaine and others complained that Brookhaven is being left out of the planning process and their concerns are not being addressed. As the site is just outside their borders, it would impact their roads, particularly Stony Brook Road. 

“I submitted extensive comments on the scope of the project, to this date I haven’t been contacted about any of these concerns,” the supervisor said. “25A is over carry capacity and we are going to add more? I have concerns about Setauket Harbor and water quality as well as this sewage treatment plant.” 

Maria Hoffman, press secretary read a statement from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket):

“Shortcomings of this DEIS include the project’s impact on Stony Brook Harbor, will the onsite [treatment] plant become a regional sewer district? What type of sewer system will be purchased and installed, and will it remove nitrate? These meaningful unanswered questions need to be answered and resolved before the project is allowed [to move forward].”

Stony Brook resident Curt Croley said he’s worried about the project’s impact on property values. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal is opportunistic based on available land,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder if there’s been enough diligence about the sewage treatment plant, the runoff and all the potential impacts that are so close to all these municipalities.”

Joy Cirigliano, chapter president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the nearby harbor and other waterways.

“We already have water quality issues in Stony Brook Harbor and Smithtown Bay with Ecoli and hypoxia, adding more nitrogen to the harbor is significant,” she said. The applicant must analyze these impacts and the repercussions before proceeding with the plan.”

Artists, such as Kevin McEvoy, who had a thriving studio on the Flowerfield site, have already left. The atelier now has limited operations at Gyrodyne. 

 “The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

– Natalie Weinstein

Some Smithtown residents welcomed the project, because the St. James business district on Lake Avenue could tap into the project’s proposed sewage treatment plant. 

Natalie Weinstein of Celebrate St. James stressed the importance of the potential project and how it would finally allow for the revitalization of Lake Avenue as a cultural art district. 

“The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

Following the public hearing and end of the public comment input later this month, the Smithtown Planning Board will await submission of a final environmental impact statement in preparation for a vote on the Gyrodyne applications. 

TBR News Media has previously reported that Smithtown has already received $3.9 million from Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), so it can connect the Lake Avenue business district in St. James to the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant. 

 

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psych Center. Photo by Donna Deddy

A piece of legislation that would have begun the process of creating a master plan for the Nissequogue River State Park was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 1, putting the future development of the park up in the air. 

“The park described in this bill is the subject  of  recent  litigation against  the  park’s office  and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Cuomo stated. “In light of the fact  that  the  litigation  addresses  an environmental review conducted by the State related to uses in this very park, it would be inappropriate to sign this legislation.”

The park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and accessing the local waterways via its marina. But many of the site’s derelict buildings prevent the place from being truly enjoyable. Many people find the old institution creepy. 

New York State lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in June sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would have required state parks officials to begin a master plan for the park. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

– John McQuaid

The introduction of a master plan would have included input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolition of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said he was disappointed to hear of the governor’s decision. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

McQuaid admitted that he believes the veto may have been political, stemming from the foundation’s decision to sue the state park’s office and Department of Environmental Conservation over the siting of a DEC Division of Marines Resources building in the park. 

Smithtown, state and local officials including County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended a rally Dec. 20 in support of the proposed project.  

According to Smithtown and county officials, the state project is expected to be an economic boost that would bring  in approximately 500 construction jobs, 100 permanent positions, plus the added year-round police presence in the state park. 

“We have never been against a DEC building on the property,” McQuaid said. “But we were against the location of the building, if we had the master plan process we could avoid this, everyone would have their say and input.”

The proposed site of the building would be in close proximity to the park’s marina. McQuaid deemed the location “inappropriate.”  

State officials who helped sponsor the master plan legislation were left confused about Cuomo’s decision.  

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan. It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

– Steve Englebright

“I am both shocked and disappointed by this action and feel like our community deserves better,” Flanagan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to veto this legislation instead of joining us in protecting our community, our environment and our way of life.”

Since 2006, Flanagan said his office worked with former Gov. George Pataki (R) to ensure the land is protected by halting the sale of land to developers, adding additional land to the park system. In addition, they secured over $31 million in state funding and worked with local leaders to ensure continued efforts to preserve and remediate the property.

Flanagan said he stands ready to work with all interested parties to see if they can reach an agreeable compromise on this important issue. 

“I continue to be optimistic that we can work out a solution, and will return to Albany in January ready to work to find an amicable solution that protects the residents of Kings Park,” he said. 

Englebright offered similar sentiments and was hopeful lawmakers would revisit this issue. 

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan,” he said. “It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

McQuaid echoed the state officials’ thoughts saying the foundation is anxious to sit down with the parks office and state officials so they come to some type of agreement. 

Previously, there had been discussions about repurposing park land for a sports field, a concert area and a community center.

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) would regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and assist local communities in cleaning up water contamination. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Water quality has been an important issue on Long Island as new containments continue to emerge. A piece of legislation passed Jan. 10 by the House would help mitigate a group of man-made chemical substances. 

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) would regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and assist local communities in cleaning up water contamination. 

“When it comes to our communities’ drinking water, there is no room for error,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, in a statement. “With Long Island identified as the area with the most amount of emerging contaminants in our drinking water compared to the rest of New York State, all levels of government must act with urgency to help protect local families’ drinking supplies. “

The bill would also direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate the chemicals as a hazardous substance to prevent further environmental contamination and require cleanup of contaminated sites, set air emission limits for the hazardous substances, prohibit unsafe incineration of PFAS, limit the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into commerce, identify health risks by requiring comprehensive health testing and monitoring for PFAS in drinking water, require a drinking water standard for at least PFOA and PFOS that protects public health and provide funding through the PFAS Infrastructure Grant Program to assist local communities with impacted water systems.

Peter Scully, deputy Suffolk County executive and water czar, said the legislation is vital. 

“The new law is important in that it recognizes the urgency of the need for EPA to act quickly to address the potential health risks associated with these emerging contaminants, while at the same time acknowledging the cost impact of more stringent regulation on public water suppliers and, by extension, on people they supply water to,” he said. 

Scully added the law addresses the cause of the problem by requiring manufacturers to submit reports about how much PFAS they produced and by requiring the EPA to add pots, pans and cooking utensils that do not contain PFAS to its Safer Choice Program. 

“The bill could be a huge step forward in the effort to get ahead of his problem if it is fully implemented,” Scully said. 

 

Clothing items and other miscellaneous items left near the Port Jefferson train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

At 7 in the morning, the Port Jefferson Train Station is largely deserted. At such an early hour, the morning frost glistened as the sun peaked over the horizon. It’s 39 degrees outside. By 7:30 a.m., the few commuters who travel on the morning’s last scheduled peak train simply stuck their hands in their pockets and waited outside. They were not drawn to the warmth and seats found in the nearby station office.

Port Jeff resident Gordon Keefer arrived at around 7:25 with his small dog, a maltese, carried in the bag beside him. He walks to the station from his home and takes the train from Port Jeff to Penn Station several days a week, but he can’t even remember a time when there were benches outside of the station or on the platform. He said the ticket building gets crowded when the temperature drops low enough, but he’s never seen it be too much of a problem.

“There’s a pro and a con to that,” he said about the prospect of benches. “Otherwise you would have some of the ‘regulars’ coming by.”

Many of those who stood outside waiting for the train did not feel too concerned about the lack of seating, but many understood “why” they weren’t there. As Port Jefferson village, Brookhaven town and Suffolk County continue to look for means to help the homeless population in Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station, village officials said there wouldn’t be any outdoor seating until they can get more support from the state and MTA.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities.”

Michael Mart

At the last Port Jefferson village meeting Jan. 6, one resident’s call for benches at the local train station led to a heated argument between him and local officials.

Michael Mart, a local firebrand, asked why the station lacked outdoor seating compared to other stations on the line. He said the lack of benches was very unfair to the elderly or infirm who want to use the station.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities,” Mart said. 

According to an MTA spokesperson, the LIRR coordinated with the mayor and other local residents to not include the benches when the train station was remodeled “as they were attracting homeless and others who could compromise the safety of customers and cleanliness of the station.”

There are 12 benches in the station’s ticket office, which is open from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily except Thursday when open until 7:15 p.m. 

Mayor Margot Garant said that although the current master plan does not eliminate seating at the train station, she does not support benches that would facilitate the homeless loitering or sleeping on them. Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force held a public meeting in December to discuss what’s currently being done, but members described the need for further legislation at every level of government that could better get the homeless population off the streets and into shelters. 

“I have been doing this for 11 years, every concern [with which] people have come to me I have addressed and done everything I can do about it,” the mayor said. “But I will not tolerate the people panhandling, making beds … We have a task force of 40 people around the table, we have been working on this every other week.”

She added there have been multiple calls about homeless in the area, from those sleeping under the tracks, in planters, or in the area surrounding the parking lot. Remnants of clothes and other discarded items are evident in the gravel lot behind what was once known as the Bada Bing restaurant. 

Pax Christi, a temporary homeless shelter located just feet from the station for men aged 16 and up, has come up in conversation during meetings multiple times recently. It’s one of the few shelters in the area that provides lodging for those who need it, but it can only contain people for a short time, as per state law. Residents have complained about people going outside into Pax Christi’s backyard through an unlocked security door, where they say they have harassed and heckled those standing on the platform.

The village has moved to create a higher fence between the platform and the Pax Christi building. The shelter’s director, Stephen Brazeau, told TBR News Media he has no problem with such a fence.

Part of the issue, the mayor said, is due to a lack of MTA police presence at the station, adding there are only a handful on the entire length of the northern rail lines. The MTA has said more officers will be deployed along the LIRR, but no number has yet been specified, the spokesperson said.

Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and member of the town task force, said the problem is perhaps even more prevalent on his side of the tracks.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of complaints about benches at the train station, we don’t need them,” he said. “The task force physically told the MTA don’t put benches back there.”

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that.” 

Barbara Sabatino

Barbara Sabatino, who along with her husband once owned the Port Jeff Army Navy surplus store before it closed in 2018, said homeless who used to occupy those nearby benches across from her shop at the station negatively impacted her business.

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that,” she said.

Members of Suffolk County Department of Social Services have said one of the hardest tasks of trying to help the homeless is to build trust, and to convince homeless individuals to be taken to a county shelter. It takes time, patience and having the right person there at the right time. 

Mart said part of the issue is too many people have the attitude they don’t wish to deal with or interact with the homeless. 

“If we feel uncomfortable dealing with people that are different, then that’s another issue, and that’s what I’ve seen most up there and heard everywhere else,” he said. “To deprive everyone else of an opportunity to use the train station comfortably is unfair.”

 

Lisa Harris inside her business Prohibition Kitchen in Port Jefferson. Photo by Lisa Harris

By Leah Chiappino

Port Jefferson resident Lisa Harris is on her way to becoming a household name in the village. 

Having first opened the popular “Instagrammable” donut shop, East Main and Main, in June 2017, she has since launched three more businesses in 2019, starting with the eclectic Prohibition Kitchen in April, followed by the pie shop Torte Jeff in October and the southern, family-style restaurant, Fork and Fiddle, in December.

Harris’ experience in the service industry goes back 20 years. She became the second owner of Caffe Portofino in Northport in 2007 and quickly grew “concerned” by the fact that her customers were ordering high-carb, unhealthy foods every day. Looking for a healthier option, she began to develop a breakfast cookie. Eventually, she signed a contract with a supplier and expanded the Morning Sunshine Breakfast Cookie to 200 stores before selling it to health snack company Lesserevil. Struggling to find consistent foot traffic, she eventually sold Caffe Portofino as well.

A Miller Place native, Harris moved to Port Jefferson three years ago with her husband, working part-time in food consulting. 

“She believes in her community and I’m so fortunate that she’s investing here.”

Margot Garant

“I thought I had reached my tenure in the food business,” she said. 

One day she began talking with a friend about the businesses missing in the village. They realized Port Jeff was missing a donut shop. Harris and her husband agreed they would open one if the space became available. Sure enough, the right spot appeared, and they sold out every day for the first week after opening East Main and Main.

With the business doing so well, a friend mentioned to the landlord of the building that houses Prohibition Kitchen that they were looking to expand. “I’m not sure where they got the idea but that was the rumor,” Harris said with a laugh. When the landlord approached her to sign a lease, Harris confirmed she was happy with the current location, but realized she could use donuts “to create something fun, creative and electric for the area.”

Described as “illegally good food,” the restaurant serves items such as the Dirty Mother Clucker, a chicken sandwich on a donut and a donut grilled cheese. They also offer other eccentric items such as PJ Wings and mashed potato egg rolls.

Months later, the space for Fork and Fiddle became available and Harris once again jumped on it.  

“I dislike the idea of seeing great space remain vacant too long,” she said. 

She traveled to Nashville with her business partner, Thomas Fazio, where they got the idea of a southern tasting experience. The larger space gives them room to have private parties, live music and seat more people than Prohibition. 

“We’re really trying to create a Sunday dinner, southern family-style atmosphere,” she said. 

They offer a 14-course tasting menu and Sunday brunch, as well as smaller tasting experience and a traditional menu with items like lobster and grits, pork loin and deep-fried apple pie.

Harris one again fell in love with a vacant space and opened the pop-up pie shop just in time for Thanksgiving. 

“Port Jefferson is trying to rebrand as a more progressive village in doing things like pop-up shops,” she said. “I thought a pie shop was a great idea, but I didn’t know if it would work year-round, but after the holidays I decided to continue the business year-round and expand to dinner pies for the winter.”Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant offered tremendous praise for Harris’ impact on the village. 

“She believes in her community and I’m so fortunate that she’s investing here,” she said “What sets her apart from the rest is the way she treats her staff with special respect and esteem. We are very proud to have Lisa Harris and all her esteemed businesses.”

Harris has become involved with the Business Improvement District (BID) and has coordinated the Mac & Cheese crawl as part of the upcoming Ice Festival. 

“Lisa Harris has been a great asset to the village of Port Jefferson, as well as the Business Improvement District,” James Luciano, the secretary for the BID said. “Her passion has revived abandoned locations in the village and the pride she puts into each business is exceptional.”

Harris admitted she is pondering opening even more locations and hopes to bring in more partners to help her expansion. 

 “I always say I’m not looking to expand, but deep down I know that’s not true,” she said. 

She attributes the success of her businesses to “a tremendous amount of goodwill from the community, that comes from a creative, high-quality product with professional service … The response from the community with one business enabled me to start a second, third and fourth business in the same town.”

She claims that while the rents in the village are important to negotiate properly with landlords, adding they are “not disproportionate to another village district such as Northport or Huntington.” 

“If you build a destination, the customer will come anywhere,” Harris said.

This article was amended Jan. 16 to correct Harris’ ownership of Portofino, who her cookie company was purchased by, and the name of her business partner.