Town of Brookhaven

The LIPA plant as seen from Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

A New York State Supreme Court judge approved the Town of Brookhaven’s settlement with the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station’s tax assessment. 

In the agreement signed Dec. 14, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant will be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year.

It’s a not-so-final finale to what has become years upon years of grinding legal battles and anxiety over what will happen to local taxes should LIPA, which claimed its power plant has been overassessed by hundreds of millions of dollars for nearly a decade. LIPA’s lawsuit wanted its assessments reduced by
approximately 90 percent.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement the settlement will benefit Brookhaven in the form of lower electric bills.

“This deal puts an end to the uncertainty of this plant over the course of nine years and gives finality to this issue,” Romaine said. “I have always believed that all property assessments should be fairly based on property value.”

Brookhaven officials said that without a settlement, taxpayers faced the potential of being liable for $225 million to LIPA, and the power authority has said LIPA customers will save a total of $662 million by 2027.

“It was a reasonable settlement, one we can justify to our 1.1 million customers,” LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said.

While this settlement promises savings for Brookhaven residents, the agreement has made Port Jefferson residents, especially those living close to the two red-and-white smokestacks, question what their taxes will look like in the near future. In October the Port Jefferson School District released a series of slides showing they annually received a $17 million payment through LIPA’s tax payments, but this would be reduced to $13.8 million by 2027. While Superintendent Paul Casciano said he and his staff are still reviewing the impact of the settlement, he sees the outcome could be even worse. He expects school programs will have to be cut in the next few years, with tax increases for residents.

“It’s going to affect the tax base,” the superintendent said. “Even if our budget was voted down, there’s a high likelihood that residents will see a
double-digit increase in their tax rate.”

The settlement will also require the district to amend their plans for the 2019-20 budget next year.

Falcone said the school district already enjoys lower annual school taxes at $6,273 compared to neighboring districts calculated at little more than $10,000 based on 2015 tax data.

“It means they will go from a ‘great deal’ to a ‘good deal,’” Falcone said. “They’re still going to have the lowest taxes of their neighborhood.”

The CEO added that it was unfair for the rest of LIPA customers to have to subsidize the Port Jeff school district through their higher bills.

“I think at some point you have to say what’s fair for those 1.1 million other customers because they pay their school taxes, too,” he said.

The Port Jeff superintendent said the village has been conciliatory about letting a power plant operate within its boundaries, whereas other places in Brookhaven would have barred the plant from existing in the first place.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it,” Casciano said. 

In April Port Jefferson Village board passed its 2018-19 budget of $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from last year’s budget. The new budget included $107,000 in reserve funds in anticipation of the glide path agreement with LIPA resulting in reduced payments.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she agrees with the settlement, and it could lead to more use of the plant. In 2017 the facility was only powered on for 41 days, or 11 percent of the year, according to LIPA officials.

Falcone said the Port Jeff power plant operates based on the electricity needs of residents.

“This is an important step we made today to stabilize our tax base moving forward and the viability of any opportunity to repower our power plant,” Garant said in a press release.

The settlement also comes after big wins for LIPA in the courts against the towns of Huntington and Brookhaven, and Port Jeff Village, allowing LIPA to move ahead with its effort to challenge its assessments. Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has publicly asked New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to enact legislation that would protect residents taxes should LIPA get its way in court.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it.”
— Paul Casino

PSEG Long Island customers pay power plant taxes through monthly surcharges on their electric bills, but LIPA owns the electric grid and has agreements with National Grid for the power plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport. In 2009 LIPA challenged both the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington saying it had been overassessed for years, especially since the Port Jeff plant runs for so little time.

The Port Jefferson School District along with the Northport-East Northport school district and Huntington Town filed a lawsuit saying LIPA had made past promises not to challenge the taxes levied on their power plants, but they were dealt a blow in September when a state Supreme Court judge ruled LIPA “made no promises” about challenging the taxes levied. 

Garant and other Port Jeff Village officials have expressed past desires to renovate the power plant once the tax assessment issue was settled.
In September the village board advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its base-load plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

This is despite Cuomo setting a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources
by 2030.

Falcone said they do not currently have any plans to run the plant more or do any renovations to plant that has been there since the 1940s. 

Through being used so little and with the push for more green energy, residents have questioned how long LIPA will keep the plant running. The LIPA CEO said the plant will continue to operate for the next seven years, but in the future could be upgraded or transformed into some other space used by the power authority, such as a storage facility or a new, modernized facility.

EarthCam showing live footage of Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo courtesy of Earthcam

While local residents only have to drive a few minutes to see Port Jefferson Harbor’s quaint waterside sights, now people across the world can watch kids play in Harborfront Park and watch the ferries ship out from the historic dock, all in high definition.

Port Jefferson Village has joined EarthCam, a New Jersey-based company that allows locations from all over the world to showcase live 24/7 broadcasts of locations. The camera is located on the side of the Village Center facing toward the harbor and has been running since the end of November.

“Now, [Port Jefferson] residents, visitors and the world can share in the beauty of our stunning harborfront village,” Mayor Margot Garant said in a statement. “Being a four-season village, we are excited about the many changes of scenery that everyone will be able to see live from any place around the world.”

The village joins other famous sites like Montauk on the East End and Times Square in Manhattan. Kevin Wood, the village’s parking and security camera administrator, said he has been impressed with EarthCam for several years, and while there are other security cameras around the village, this one will be used specifically to promote Port Jefferson.

“It’s for the benefit of everybody worldwide to see the beauty of our harbor,” he said. “Many people, even on Long Island, don’t know what the harbor looks like.”

Wood added that the camera, which cost approximately $1,800, will have the capacity to broadcast sound as well as video starting in 2019.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. File photo by Erika Karp

Mount Sinai School District’s $25 million bond failed to pass Dec. 11 with a vote of 664-428.

Members of the school board walked dejectedly through the halls of the elementary school Monday night after learning of the results.

“There was so much misinformation on Facebook,” board Trustee Edward Law said immediately after the votes were tallied. “I feel like we had an open and transparent process.”

Some residents in community Facebook groups said they were concerned about rising taxes in the Mount Sinai area. Others criticized the district’s use of its finances in the past, specifically the June New York State comptroller’s audit which said the district had amassed millions of dollars in its unrestricted fund balance, higher than the legal maximum of 4 percent of the district’s overall budget. 

“I feel like we had an open and transparent process.”

— Trustee Ed Law

District officials said they have made efforts to create a rainy-day fund that could support them in the case of an emergency, but they have said they would be establishing a capital reserve of $750,000 to reduce that fund balance, which could go toward additional capital projects in the future. 

In May, residents voted 787-176 to use $5 million of the district’s capital reserve funds for a project that renovated the high school’s turf football field and track, replaced a portion of the high school’s ailing roof and created new fencing around the perimeter of the school campus.

This new bond would have borrowed $2.1 million to finish repairs for the high school’s roof, which teachers and district officials said was causing water damage in rooms throughout the building. 

“The board has to decide their next step,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

Trustees said they were unsure if they could propose another, smaller bond.

“This was a bare bones bond,” Law said. “Though this wasn’t a lesser bond, I don’t think we could go any tighter.”

Trustee Peter Van Middelem said while many of the board member’s children are in school, the actual application of the bond would have gone to supporting both the longevity of the school buildings and the children just entering elementary school.

“The irony is this wasn’t about our own kids but the kids in kindergarten,” Middelem said.

Mount Sinai’s next board meeting is Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Middle School Auditorium.

A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

On a cold evening in the fall of 2003 a few people got together in Port Jefferson to form a flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Fifteen years later, Flotilla 14-22-06, the Port Jefferson Flotilla, is still among the most active auxiliary groups in the country. Thousands of Americans volunteer as U.S. Coast Guard auxiliarists, many of whom are still actively engaged in various professions. Their common motives for joining are love of the water and wanting to participate in an activity that has great regional and national importance.

The Port Jefferson USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, 1st Southern District 14, Division 22, Flotilla 06, was founded in 2003 and now has 33 members. Since its founding, the flotilla has been active in boater education and in patrols within the Long Island Sound and in the Port Jefferson Harbor and Mount Sinai areas. Additionally, in this era of deep concern about terrorism, the flotilla engages in a program to inspect the marine-related facilities and the Port Jefferson Harbor infrastructure in order to discover and to report to the Coast Guard any vulnerability in the marine area. The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry is of particular interest to the Coast Guard and to the auxiliary.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, created by an act of Congress in 1939, is an all-volunteer civilian branch of the Coast Guard, acting as a “force multiplier,” where auxiliary members, both men and women, frequently aid the Coast Guard in wide-ranging activities. At Coast Guard stations around the country, auxiliary members carry out watch standing, that is, they will engage in communication management for a Coast Guard station. Frequently, they work in the stations’ kitchens, helping in food preparation and service. Many auxiliary members are talented craftspeople and will frequently work to support and improve Coast Guard station facilities.

Some 28,000 auxiliary members contribute over 4.5 million hours of service each year and complete nearly 500,000 boating safety patrol missions to support the Coast Guard. Every year auxiliarists help to save some 500 lives, assist 15,000 distressed boaters, and provide boater safety instruction to over 500,000 students, adults and children alike. In total, the Coast Guard Auxiliary saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Auxiliary members commonly conduct safety patrols on local waterways, assist in search and rescue, teach boating safety classes, conduct free vessel safety checks for the public, as well as many other activities related to recreational boating safety. Appropriate training of our members is key to a dynamic and effective organization. Training enables auxiliary members to become valuable partners with the Coast Guard, helping them meet mission objectives. Also, we meet our commitment to be of service not only to the maritime community but the community as a whole.

In particular, the Vessel Examination Program is a major part of the Port Jefferson Flotilla activity. Nationally, the auxiliary annually performs over 150,000 safety inspections of recreational vessels. This program provides a free vessel safety check (VSC) service to boaters to educate them on boating safety and on the equipment they are required to carry in order to be compliant with federal, state and local regulations.

The auxiliary is prevented by statute from direct participation in the Coast Guard’s military or law enforcement activities. Other than that, the auxiliary has most of the positions of the active duty Coast Guard and trains for them using essentially the same materials and standards. There are some jobs that a new auxiliarist can begin after a few weeks while there are others, such as auxiliary boat crew, that will take a year or so to gather the training and experience to pass a qualification exam. During that time a new member can be out on active auxiliary boat patrols.

The Port Jefferson Flotilla, as well as the other six flotillas in Division 22 on Long Island, is actively recruiting men and women of all ages who want to serve their community and country in this unique way. Interested parties are invited to attend our meetings, which are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club on Surf Road at Port Jefferson Harbor. Doors open at 7 p.m. and call to order is at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the activities of the Port Jefferson Flotilla visit www.cgapj.org, email info@cgapj.org or call  631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

Civic leaders Charlie McAteer, Edward Garboski and Sal Pitti discuss local developments. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Station and Terryville residents may be willing to give a proposed apartment complex a tentative thumbs up, but a new potential fast food restaurant is having its feet put to the fire.

Members of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association listened to the developers of several prospective businesses and apartment complexes at a Nov. 27 meeting, one the once-maligned Concern for Independent Living apartment complex off Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station.

The 77-unit complex, slated for north of East Grove Street and south of Washington Avenue across from the Sagamore Hills Condominiums, originally came under fire from residents when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced May 10 that New York State was setting aside $8.1 million for the project to promote affordable homes, particularly for the homeless.

Sal Pitti, the president of the civic, said after talking with representatives of the apartment’s developers he realized there was much misinformation about the project. “It was a culmination of nonsense,” Pitti said.

The civic leader said Ralph Fasano, the executive director for Concern for Independent Living, has also been extremely forthcoming and attentive to addressing the community’s concerns.

Fasano said 75 units in the complex will be single bedroom, and only two are two-bedroom, one of which is reserved for the apartment manager. Veterans would get preference when applying for these apartments, and the remainder will be available for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income, which is about $40,000 to $60,000 a year according to U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

A majority of the civic voted to write a letter of conditional support to the Town of Brookhaven, with specific requests for the town to compel the developer to work to obtain a traffic light on Route 112, provide as much fencing as possible between adjacent housing, provide a landscaping screen for the adjacent property and preserve open space.

“They seem to be trying to address [those concerns],” Charlie McAteer, the civic’s corresponding secretary, said.

While the apartment complex received support, a potential Popeyes, to be located on property east of the TD Bank on Nesconset Highway at the corner of Old Town Road, garnered the opposite reaction. The proposal was spurred by residents angry over the amount of existing fast-food restaurants on Route 347 and fears of an increase in traffic.

While the land has not yet been sold,  Jim Tsunis, the CEO of Hauppauge-based The Northwind Group, said preliminary designs  call for a 2,400-square-foot restaurant with access from Route 347. Tsunis said they are seeking a change of zoning application to allow for the restaurant use.

Residents were especially concerned about traffic on a road that has already seen its share of accidents. Tsunis said that he doesn’t expect the project to put any more cars on the road, but rather some drivers would decide to pull into the Popeyes rather than visit other existing restaurants further down the highway.

“It’s a balance, not a give and take,” Tsunis said.

Craig Fazio, a lifelong Port Jeff Station resident, said he disagreed with others about the Popeyes, especially since Tsunis still owned the property. Fazio said Tsunis could push to build a 14,000-square-foot medical office complex in that same spot, which he believes would be even worse for traffic.

“If you put health care there, how many doctors will see patients every 15 minutes versus a much smaller restaurant?” Fazio asked.

Tsunis said that he has considered building medical offices and the property is zoned for a two-story office building. 

“I hope we can work together in the future to mitigate some of these points,” he said.

Jennifer Dzvonar, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, asked why  Popeyes wasn’t considering building on Route 112, other vacant land or existing empty retail space.

McAteer said he didn’t believe the civic was totally against Popeyes, but it needs to be located on a better and safer site. “We were not saying, ‘We just hate your restaurant, we just want you out.’ Just put it in an area that could use a little boost,” he said.

The civic’s next meeting will be held at Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.

A sign in front of The Gift Corner on North Country Road at Mount Sinai invites those passing by to shop Nov. 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

A sign on North Country Road in front of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai during the Black Friday weekend could be easy to miss. Cars passing by had only seconds to read the words “Small Store Saturday — If you haven’t been here, today is the day!” as they drove on the winding road.

Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner, was busy on Small Business Saturday and the entire Black Friday weekend, marked on the calendar by shop owners and customers alike as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season. The small space, packed with small decorations and knickknacks, had customers squeezing past each other as they picked out their holiday gifts. Despite the bump in business Bernholz saw over the weekend, she wondered why relatively few people have even heard of Small Business Saturday.

“How long has this been going on, eight to 10 years?” the gift shop owner said. “It still cracks me up we have people coming in on Saturday and, holy Christmas, they say, ‘What is small store Saturday?’”

Small Business Saturday originally started in 2010, sponsored by American Express, as a way to incentivize people to shop local during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

American Express reported the weekend after Thanksgiving was quite a busy time for small businesses across the nation. Consumers spent approximately $17.8 billion nationally while shopping local, according to data released Nov. 26 from the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from American Express and the nonprofit National Federation of Independent Business. The survey noted 42 percent of those surveyed reported shopping at local retailers and restaurants, just 1 percent down from last year. Still, 41 percent reported also shopping online that same day.

Those small business owners surveyed in the report said they expect an average of 29 percent of their total yearly sales to come through the holiday season, yet the owners of local small stores on the North Shore know they have a disadvantage compared to big box stores and the online retail giant Amazon and the like.

“People should understand how hard it is to run a small business,” Maria Williams, the owner of Sweets N Scoops in Shoreham said. “A small business’ costs are necessarily greater because we can’t buy in bulk like [large businesses] can.”

Business owners across the North Shore reported a range of outcomes from the busy shopping weekend.

Port Jefferson

Outside Ecolin Jewlers in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ecolin Jewelers, 14 E. Broadway, Port Jefferson

Linda Baker, co-owner of Ecolin Jewelers, said while most of her sales come in the last two weeks before Christmas, and not the Black Friday weekend, the year overall has been very good for her business.

“This whole year has been better,” Baker said. “This is probably the best in maybe eight years.”

She said she she’s experienced more people coming in toward the end of the year, with the phones constantly ringing off the hook with people’s orders, adding she’s feeling good about her numbers for the season.

“I’m glad to see that people are happy, walking around and coming into stores,” she said.

Outside East End Shirt Co. in Port Jefferson. Photo Courtesy of Google Maps

The East End Shirt Company, 3 Mill Creek Road, Port Jefferson

Owner of The East End Shirt Company, Mary Joy Pipe, said her business participated in the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Holiday Shopping Crawl, offering a free hoodie valued at $20 for those spending $50 in store. She added turnout on Small Business Saturday was comparable to last year, and that has always had to do with the foot traffic and the weather.

“Our Santa Parade brings a lot of people down into the village, and more folks are around for the extended holiday after Thanksgiving,” she said. “We need feet on the ground and nice weather, and we got that on Saturday.”

Pipe’s business has changed with the times. East End Shirt has both a website and brick-and-mortar storefront, but her online component is a comparatively small percentage of her sales compared to her shop, which has existed in Port Jeff for close to four decades, she said.

“Is Cyber Monday or Cyber Week having an effect? — yeah it is,” she said. “People are not coming out, but anything that has a shipping component I know the potential for retail is still there if they can’t get it shipped in time.”

Outside Red Shirt Comics in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Red Shirt Comics, 322 Main St., Port Jefferson

Joshua Darbee, the owner of Red Shirt Comics, said he had multiple sales going on, including buy-one-get-one-free on new comics, 25 percent off back issue comics, and 20 percent off on most of the toys and graphic novels in the shop. As a store that only opened in 2017, Darbee has been working to build a loyal customer base.

“If people are going to buy on Amazon, they’re going to buy on Amazon,” he said. “There’s really no competing with them.”

The comic industry relies on periodicals, driving customers back monthly for the next issue in an ongoing series, and Darbee said without return customers there is no way his business can thrive. He saw a steady stream of traffic come into his shop during Black Friday weekend — a better turnout than last year — and he hopes those sales, along with his card game and tabletop role-playing events hosted at the shop, will bring in return customers.

“The hope is that people will see the long-term damage [Amazon and other online retailers] can do to the local economy,” he said. “You just have to try to engage with people, be friendly and be part of that community. It’s been awesome to see people go out on weekends like this and support small businesses.”

Shoreham to Mount Sinai

Game On, 465 Route 25A, Miller Place

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of video game shop Game On in Miller Place said his business did well the days after Thanksgiving, this year seeing a 30 percent increase in customers compared to last year. He attracted customers with select sales of up to 60 percent off specific products, which incentivized people to come in and spend time on the few video game consoles he set up around the shop.

“It’s making sure the customer knows that we’re there to give them a good shopping experience,” Whitworth said. “I always try to keep it so that it’s not about customers rushing in to make a sale. People were there for an hour or two even though it was Black Friday.”

Whitworth said he knows there is a huge market for used video games online, but he always tries to make his business about the customer service.

“You can get every single thing we sell online, so it’s really about having the experience of going to the shop and buying stuff, talk to the guy who owns it about what game you should buy or try out,” he said. “That’s what you need.”

Sweets & Scoops in Shoreham. Photo courtesy of Sweets & Scoops Facebook page

Sweets & Scoops, 99 Route 25A, Shoreham

While Maria Williams, owner of dessert haven Sweets & Scoops, said most of her business occurs just before holidays, rather than afterward, but she was pleased with the sales she had for people ordering custom chocolate arrangements and other party favors.

She said she sees the importance of local business as a means of giving vitality to an area.

“People need to stop shopping on Amazon,” Williams said. “If they stay local and shop local in small business we do well, and we can hire more people.”

The sweets shop owner said the best product she and other small businesses can offer people is something unique. She said she tries her best to make items customized for the individual, products that one cannot get anywhere else.

“It’s eight years now that I’ve been in business and thank god it became a success because of its uniqueness,” Williams said. “[Large corporations] don’t have that extra touch, and everything is so commercial with them. Here no two things are ever alike.”

Outside The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Gift Corner, 157 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai

Bernholz said last year’s Black Friday weekend was one of the busiest in years, with lines going out the door of her small North Country Road gift shop. This year was also good for her business.

“We did well on Friday, but Saturday was awesome,” Bernholz said. “It was very packed all day, and so many people came in that are my regulars — really showing their loyalty.”

Bernholz business has been around for close to 30 years, but she said she is not very active on the internet, nor is she proficient with technology in general. She still relies on her dedicated customers, some of whom bought holiday gifts from her as kids and continue to buy them as adults.

Her dedicated customers even advertise for her. The Gift Corner has signs along Route 25A promoting her shop, but it was one put up for free, without even originally letting Bernholz know they were there.

“I don’t advertise, I have never advertised,” she said. “A customer does that on their own … It’s unbelievable.”

Erase Racism is holding events across Long Island. Photo from Erase Racism website

A Syosset nonprofit and a Stony Brook University department are teaming up to open up a public dialogue pertaining to one of Long Island and America’s oldest societal problems.

ERASE Racism, a regional organization founded in 2001 that advocates for public policy to promote racial equality in housing, education and more, and SBU’s Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, a department founded in 2017 that provides a forum for the promotion of various forms of student and faculty engagement on the same issues, will co-host the first of a series of forums meant to jump start a community conversation on racial inequality.

The series of forums, entitled How Do We Build a Just Long Island? will kick off at the Hilton Garden Inn on the SBU campus Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

“This whole thing is premised on the fact that everybody can educate themselves,” ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said in an interview. “It’s not about anyone calling anyone a racist. It’s not a blame and shame kind of thing. Let’s make sure we have all the facts, let’s make sure we understand the context.”

Gross said so far about 400 people have registered to attend the event. She said from the organization’s inception its goal has been to identify institutional and structural racism and seek to educate the public about the history that has led to places like Long Island being so racially segregated today.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” she said.

Christopher Sellers, SBU history professor and director of the center, said part of the thinking behind the forums is to frame the conversation in a way for people not exposed to racial inequality or injustice on a daily basis to see barriers and exclusions they may not have viewed as such. He said the goal is to ultimately expand the discussion from the confines of the campus and into the community. He called Long Island the perfect place to begin this dialogue.

“Demographic change causes people to get more defensive and fall back on these racializing tool kits they may have picked up from their own past,” he said, adding that data suggests Long Island has become more racially diverse during recent decades, specifically seeing an increase in those of Hispanic descent.

Sellers said he feels a sense of urgency to begin a wide discussion on racial intolerance despite the perception from many that in the decades since the civil rights movement society has made sufficient progress in creating a just America for all. In “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017” released Nov. 13, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in incidents identified as hate crimes from 2016 to 2017, with nearly 60 percent of those incidents being motivated by racial or ethnic bias. From 2015 to 2016 there was a roughly 5 percent increase in these incidents. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes went up by about 7 percent.

“We need as a university to do something, we as academics can no longer sit on our hands,” Sellers said. “This is maybe a more urgent matter than we’ve considered before.”

Gross said the aim of the events is education.

“We didn’t plan to be doing this at a time when the country is so divided and there’s so much overtly biased comments, racist comments being said at the highest levels,” Gross said. “We planned this because we felt that even though with all of the work that we’ve done, we felt that was really needed was a regional public discussion and understanding of how things are connected.”

To register for the event and to get more information on the remainder of the forums — slated for Riverhead, Hempstead, Melville and Hauppauge — visit www.eraseracismny.org.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini announces charges related to illegal dumping scheme. Photo from DA's office

Long Island homeowners who thought they were getting free, clean fill for their properties off Craigslist may have learned if the offer seems too good to be true, that’s because it was.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a 130-charge indictment Nov. 26 against 22 individuals and nine corporations who allegedly cooperated in a massive conspiracy to illegally dispose of solid waste in 24 locations spanning Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: We will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county. We will do whatever it takes to uncover illegal dumping.”

Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio acted as “dirt broker” in the island-wide dumping scheme. Photo from DA’s office

The conspiracy was allegedly led by Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio, 53, also known as “Rock,” who acted as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of their solid waste and construction debris, according to Suffolk prosecutors.

An investigation dubbed Operation Pay Dirt, which involved the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department, launched in February 2018 revealed Grazio was allegedly posting ads on Craigslist and other websites offering “free, clean fill — free delivery,” in addition to stating it was “certified and approved for residential and commercial use.” Grazio allegedly worked with Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, to also post a sign on a tree outside a home on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip to advertise “free clean fill,” in February 2018, according to court documents.

When a Long Island homeowner or business expressed interest in fill for landscaping projects, Grazio and owners or operators of nine different trucking companies would discuss the potential of the site and the amount of material that could be dumped there from New York City construction and demolition sites, according to the district attorney.

“The bigger the property, the better for the defendants as this scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’ Grazio approved material being dumped at residential locations even when notified that the material smelled like diesel fuel or had pieces of wood, asphalt, concrete, large boulders or even glass contained in the material.”

Investigators claimed after dumping contaminated fill on a property, Grazio and his co-conspirators allegedly went as far as to provide the homeowners with false laboratory reports stating the material was clean or cover it with a layer of topsoil to ensure grass could grow. In other cases, the truck owners and operators were allegedly caught having phone discussions on how to cover up the hazardous materials being moved about to prevent detection of the illegal dumping.

Out of the 24 locations identified to be impacted by the scheme, the district attorney’s office said 19 were residential properties, four commercial and one school in Roslyn Heights.

“They did this to make money, they did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents,” Sini said.

Testing performed by the DEC found fill at six locations was positive for acutely hazardous substances, mainly pesticides, with 17 sites containing hazardous substances under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law. These hazardous substances included arsenic, lead, copper, nickel, mercury and other metals.

Map of all illegal dumping sites. Photo from DA’s office

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Among North Shore individuals charged alongside Grazio and Fragola for being involved in this alleged scheme were: Alix Aparaicio Gomez, 50, of Huntington; Anthony Grazio Jr., 19, of Smithtown; Michael Heinrichs, 48, of Port Jefferson Station; Robert Hirsch, 43, of Commack; Joseph Lamberta, 68, of Hauppauge; Steven Nunez Genao, 24, of Port Jefferson Station; Milan Parik, 46, of Centereach; James Perruzza, 18, of Northport; Frank Rotondo Jr., 47, of Miller Place; Thomas St. Clair, 51, of St. James; and Robert Walter, 31, of Nesconset.

The top count on the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, which is a Class D felony, and, if found guilty, carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Thousands packed Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for the Town of Brookhaven’s ninth Polar Plunge, an annual event in which brave souls dive into icy waters to raise money for the Special Olympics. All funds raised by the event go toward sports training and competition, health and inclusion programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities looking to compete.

Voters heading to the polls Nov. 6 who live in the Town of Brookhaven will find this proposition on the back of their ballots.

Brookhaven Town residents will have to flip over their ballots Nov. 6 to respond to a referendum pertaining to councilmembers’ terms in office, but they’d have to do backflips in the voting booth to be able to respond to the two-part question which allows for a single “yes” or “no” answer.

After a public hearing featuring speakers mostly in opposition in August, Brookhaven’s board unanimously moved to proceed with establishing a referendum on the back of this year’s ballot, an off year for Brookhaven’s representatives.

“Should the town code of the Town of Brookhaven be amended to establish term limits of three (3) four-year terms for elected officials, and amend the length of term of office from two (2) years to four (4) years for all elected officials commencing January 1, 2020?” the referendum will read verbatim.

Despite there being two components to the question, voters can only respond “yes” or “no.” The wording of the referendum was written by the town’s Law Department, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto.

When asked why they wanted to expand terms from two to four years councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in interviews and during the hearing offered similar, admittedly understandable explanations for the change. Having to campaign and fundraise for elections every two years is laborious, and makes getting things done difficult once in office, they said — both the Republicans and the board’s lone Democrat. While we can see how this would be a problem, we’d prefer to see adjustments to campaign finance law, requiring less fundraising and allowing more time for actual legislative work, before going with a solution that results in voters having less frequent opportunities to express their opinions.

Issues could be raised and conspiracy theories crafted for the motivation of the Town Board to advance a referendum like this during an otherwise ordinary August meeting based on the fact more than one member of the current board is nearing 12 years in office. If passed, based on the wording, term limits would begin to be instituted on councilmembers beginning in 2020, meaning years already served will not have started their clocks. Fair or unfair, the process did nothing to squash those theories. And even without those issues, there is still no way to reconcile that putting a referendum with perplexing verbiage before town voters will somehow yield the will of the people.

This is not to mention an additional element — that in 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials in Brookhaven thanks to a referendum, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the August hearing. That interpretation has been questioned by many and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit if the referendum passes.

Add it all up and the answer became clear to our editorial staff: We’ll be voting “no” on Proposal One.

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