Times of Huntington-Northport

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces

As the federal government under the current presidential administration has scaled back environmental measures — and at points denied the science behind climate change —members in the New York State Legislature are trying to go about it without the leadership of Uncle Sam.

That is, if it can pass before the end of legislative session.

“New York has to help lead the way, because we’re not getting any leadership at the federal level,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). 

“You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright, the chair of the environmental conservation committee, is sponsoring the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would establish a New York State Climate Action Council. It would contain 25 members made up of state agencies, scientists and those in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The council would be able to make recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to limit greenhouse gases. It would also be asked to report on barriers to and opportunities for community ownership of services and commodities in certain communities, particularly for renewable energy.

“An advisory committee that will have meaningful powers to make recommendations as we go forward — the stakes are so high on this issue,” Englebright said.

In addition, the bill would require the DEC to establish greenhouse gas reporting requirements and limits on emissions.

The bill was passed in the environmental committee and was referred to the ways and means committee in February.

The idea of an advisory committee is not new. A similar advisory panel was suggested in the New York State 2019-20 budget, but it was removed in the final version because some legislators disagreed with the number of people on the board and who would sit on it.

“Instead of 25, [Cuomo] had nine appointees; six of them are his cabinet members,” Englebright said.

In January during the process for crafting the budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) incited a “Green New Deal,” which would have been “comprised of the heads of relevant state agencies and other workforce, environmental justice and clean energy experts,” according to a January press release. The governor has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York State by 80 percent below the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2050.

A spokesperson from the governors office said the governor is continuing to collaborate with the legislature on climate policy proposals.

Cuomo appeared on city radio WNYC’s show hosted by Brian Lehrer June 3. When the new climate change legislation was brought up, he said he was looking to attack the issue while not pretending change will happen all at once.

“I believe this is the most pressing issue of our time, but I don’t want to play politics with it and I don’t want to tell people we can move to a carbon free economy in a period of time that I know that we can’t.”

The end of this legislative session is June 19, and Englebright said he is crossing his fingers the bill can pass both assembly and senate before time runs out. 

He said the bill is especially important with the current administration in Washington. The New York Times reported June 3 that 84 environmental rules and regulations are being phased out by Trump and his appointees.

“We are seeing the effects of increased carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere on a daily basis,” he said. “You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

The fate of the cats at Huntington’s animal shelter is still unknown as the facility reaches capacity. To adopt animals contact the shelter at 631-368-8770. Photo by Little Shelter Animal Rescue

On May 22 the people at Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center rescued more than 20 abandoned cats living in squalor in an unidentified Centerport home. Neighbors and the new property owner called the shelter after the previous residents were evicted. 

David Ceely, executive director of Little Shelter, which manages the Huntington shelter, said the situation was initially too much for its responder to handle.  

“This is not a daily occurrence,” he said. “We typically get calls about a couple of animals abandoned not usually something this large.”

After Ceely entered the house with trappers, the cats scattered. Authorities identified extreme living conditions, while trying to catch the animals. They found rooms fouled with old, soiled newspaper in litter boxes and empty food and water bowls. The cats were forced to escape through a broken basement window in search of food and water. 

The state of the house when Ceely entered it. Photo by Little Shelter Animal Rescue

Ceely also noticed that a stove top burner had been left on. 

“Cats love to move around and jump on things, that gas burner had to have been running for weeks, not only is that danger but this could have ended a lot worse than it did,” he said. 

The captured cats will be vaccinated, spayed or neutered and fit with a microchip. 

Ceely said some of the cats were put up for adoption last weekend. The rest need to be evaluated to make sure they are ready for a new home. 

“The biggest way to help us is to adopt and donate to help offset the medical cost,” Ceely said. 

The executive director said the facility has too many cats that need homes. They hope people adopt the animals, since the facility is maxed out on its capacity. 

For more information on the shelter, call 631-368-8770 or visit www.littleshelter.com.

Photo from National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration.

A Northport man was struck by lightning in front of his home at 10:48 p.m. June 2 during a heavy thunderstorm.

Northport fire department officials said Jonathan Borriello, 29, went out to his front porch to get a better view of the thunderstorm and realized the U.S. flag was still being displayed. He took the flag down and placed it on the porch. He remained on the porch and a moment later, a tree about 11 feet away, was struck by a bolt of lightning. The bolt ricocheted and struck him on the left shoulder and arm, and he was thrown about twenty feet.

The Northport Police and Fire Departments responded to the scene. Police on the scene observed burn marks to the victim’s hands and he complained of tingling in his legs. According to Northport Fire Department Chief John Jacobsen, the victim was transported to Huntington Hospital via Northport Fire Rescue with non-life threating injuries. He was treated and released from the hospital.

Jonathan later stated that at the moment the bolt struck, there was an incredible white light and crashing sound, and then he was on the ground. He also reported that there are embers on the porch where he was standing.

The Northport Police would like to remind everyone that thunderstorms can be very dangerous and that you should remain inside a secure structure until the storm has passed.

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the appointment of Dr. Antonio Sanchez as the new director of the Northport VA Medical Center. He is taking over for interim director Dr. Cathy Cruise. Sanchez will oversee delivery of health care to more than 31,000
veterans.  

“We are excited to bring Dr. Sanchez on board as the new director of the Northport VA Medical Center,” said Dr. Joan E. McInerney, director of Veterans Integrated Service Network. “His sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for the facility, the employees and volunteers, and most importantly, for the veterans we are honored to serve. We anticipate he will arrive at the medical center within the next 45 to 60 days to begin his appointment.”

Sanchez joined the VA more than 18 years ago and has held positions at the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most recently, he has been serving as the acting medical center director in Puerto Rico, operating 230 hospital beds, 30 psychiatric beds, a 122-bed Community Living Center, among others for a total of 382 operating beds. He has overall responsibility for 3,700 full-time equivalent employees and a $600 million budget.

Sanchez is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and has a board certification as a fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives. He received both his doctor of medicine degree and master’s in healthcare services administration from the University of Puerto Rico Medical Science Campus.  

The VA hospital has been without a full director since Scott Guermonprez left the position in July of last year after only one year at the helm.

The Northport VA has been plagued with staff shortages in recent years, including a federal investigation last year showing a chronic nursing shortage.

A marijuana pipe. Stock photo

A Town of Huntington councilman is planning a town hall to share how the town can be prepared if marijuana is legalized in New York.

On June 4, 7 p.m. at Huntington Town Hall, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) will preside over a discussion titled “The New York State legalization of marijuana: How would it affect us in the Town of Huntington? How can we best be prepared?”

Panelists include professionals from law enforcement, treatment and recovery; health care and prevention specialists; drug counselors; the American Automobile Association; human resource professionals and public policy makers. Panelists are expected to start the conversation on what the impact on Huntington would be if marijuana is legalized, followed by a question and answer section.

“The passing of such an impactful law at the state level requires leadership and commitment from local government policy makers,” Cuthbertson said. “We want to make sure that the Town of Huntington is prepared if this law is passed.”

For more information on the seminar people can call Cuthbertson’s office at 631-351-3171.

The Huntington Town board will consider at its June 18 meeting a plan to convert its Old Town Hall into an expanded hotel. The board previously approved the project, but will be reconsider a revised plan, which entails enlarging the size of the hotel from 55 rooms to  80 rooms. The proposal includes a three-story addition onto the rear of Old Town Hall, where the rooms would be located. The Old Town Hall building would contain the lobby, offices and common areas, as previously proposed. 

The site is located in the Historic Overlay District, a designation that gives owners of historic properties and large residential estates flexibility for use. The expansion means that the board must consider applying that special status to an additional parcel east of Old Town Hall, which the applicant acquired for the expansion.

“It’s important we bring renewed life to this historic landmark, preserving Huntington’s history and boosting our downtown economy,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Huntington village has always been a destination and the idea of a boutique hotel that pays homage to the building’s past life as the former Town Hall will achieve those goals, while bringing added convenience and comfort of an overnight stay.”

The project is being developed by Huntington Village Hotel Partners with George Tsunis one of the affiliated associates. Tsunis, a former partner in Rivkin Radler LLP, a law firm that represents both private clients and municipalities has served the Town of Huntington as special counsel.

Tsunis did not respond to telephone messages. Huntington Hotel Partners, as listed in the the state’s corporate file, uses the law firm Buzzell, Blanda and Visconti as its registered agent. The firm did not respond to telephone messages before going to press.

The plan to convert Old Town Hall into a hotel dates back to at least 2013, when Old Town Hall Operating Co. developed and submitted plans for a $10 million renovation to the town’s planning board. 

Old Town Hall was built in 1910 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It last served as Huntington’s Town Hall in 1979.

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. 

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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The recently refurbished and cleaned up Vietnam War memorial at St. James LIRR train station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to aid the Navy’s Agent Orange victims in a bill that also expands U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs home loan opportunities for veterans.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the Flexible VA Loan Guarantee Act  as part of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (H.R. 299). He’s urging the Senate for support. 

“This is the second time that the House has taken action to pass this legislation,” said Zeldin in a statement. “It is incredibly important for the Senate to do their part to help make this actually become law. I’m looking forward to that bill signing, and it is decades overdue.”

Suffolk County, according to Zeldin, is home to New York State’s largest veteran population. 

He expects the Flexible VA Loan Guarantee Act, if adopted, to eliminate the loan limit or “maximum guarantee amount” of a loan that the VA can guarantee for a veteran, providing the VA with the flexibility to determine the appropriate limit for individual veteran loans and expand access to home ownership in areas like Long Island where real estate values are higher.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act expands treatment coverage for those affected by Agent Orange from not only those who served on the ground, as currently stands, but to those service members who were affected while serving at sea.

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Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s homeless shelter closed their doors for repairs 18 months ago and never reopened.

Congressional leaders from all four Long Island districts want to know why and are demanding that the 50-bed facility, which they say is ready for inhabitants, welcome homeless veterans once again. 

“The closure of Northport’s on-site homeless shelter has forced veterans to find accommodations far from the medical services they need — the services that oftentimes help mitigate the root causes of homelessness,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in a prepared joint statement.

The veterans who stayed at the VA’s shelter suffered mainly from traumatic brain injury, post- traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to Frank Amalfitano, president and CEO of Beacon House, the non-profit entity that managed the facility before it closed.

“It would be a tragedy if the place didn’t reopen, because so many people need the convenience of the services offered in one location,” he said. 

Northport’s  shelter closed in January 2018 for renovations to the heating system. Its closure was prolonged because the contractor hired by VA failed to update the building in accordance with current fire codes, according to information provided by Long Island’s congressional leaders. 

“As it has been presented to us, Building 11 has now been brought up to code and is ready to be inhabited,”  they said in a press release. “However, due to VA’s decision to terminate the on-site contract with Building 11’s vendor, with neither a communicated reason nor a viable replacement, we now find ourselves sixteen months later with a renovated building and no vendor in place to provide this vital service to our community’s veterans.”

Levi Spellman, press officer for the Northport VA Medical Center, said the contracting requirements are changing for the shelter, so that it can potentially be awarded to a for-profit, veteran-owned business. “We are actively expediting this process and anticipate resuming on-site services before the end of the year,” he said. Spellman also stated that Beacon has done a great job for the VA. “Although housing moved off-site, the same vendor is managing those shelters and the care we provide our veterans has not changed.”

Amalfitano said his contract for the Northport shelter was supposed to last until 2020. He’s been encouraged to reapply, but his organization may no longer qualify.

Beacon House manages 42 residential programs in Nassau and Suffolk counties for veterans. The mission of the 25-year-old, non-profit, which is funded by United Way, is to “help veterans regain their self-worth and empower them with the tools necessary to rejoin their communities as independent and productive citizens.”

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