Town of Huntington

Town of Huntington Department of Maritime Services bay constables clean up the harbor, remove derelict boats and hardware from Huntington waterways on July 24, 2019. Photo from the Town of Huntington

The Town of Huntington Harbormaster’s Office will start mooring permit enforcement on Friday, August 16. Boaters are urged to submit a mooring permit application by August 15. Unpermitted boats will be fined $250 starting August 16.

The Huntington Town Board approved a major boating safety and water quality protection measure at the June 18 meeting to help prevent irresponsible boat ownership and irresponsible boating, after the town spent $50,000 to remove derelict and abandoned boats in 2018.

The new system establishes a $40 per season resident permit fee, with all funds deposited into the Board of Trustees account.  Non-residents already paid $200 per season for the same permit.

The move aims to place liability for removing, storing and disposing of unseaworthy and wrecked vessels on the owner or person responsible for the vessel.  The funds will also be used for pollution mitigation and remediation of other navigational safety hazards.

 Revenue from the permit fee will help the harbormaster’s office build a database to help the town identify owners of boats abandoned in Huntington’s waterways and hold violators responsible for creating hazardous boating safety conditions. 

The approved measure also established and increased required insurance limits for vessel wreck removal and pollution mitigation.

The new regulations also lowered the cost, from $200 to $40, for transient commercial mooring permits for commercial entities leasing or owning land in Huntington, to help boost the town’s maritime economy.

 The mooring permit application can be found on the town website at: http://www.huntingtonny.gov/mooring-permits. 

Mooring permit applications may be submitted, with the proper paperwork and payment by check (or by credit card in the office), in person or by mail, to: Huntington Board of Trustees, Harbormaster’s Office, 53 North New York Avenue, Halesite, NY 11743. Documents may also be faxed to 631-351-3373 or emailed to tshannon@huntingtonny.gov.

 The Harbormaster’s Office is open Monday through Friday 8:30 AM-4:30 PM. For application assistance, call 631-351-3255 or email Trudy Shannon at tshannon@huntingtonny.gov.

The town is allowing commercial baymen who operate in Huntington’s waterways to have their mooring permit included with the issuance or renewal of their commercial license.

compiled by Donna Deedy

Jo-Ann Raia at home in her garden. Photo by Donna Deedy

Jo-Ann Raia took a job 39 years ago, and the Town of Huntington hasn’t been the same since. Elected town clerk for 10 consecutive terms, she’s served office under six town supervisors. As she prepares to retire at the end of this year, her own legacy, some might say, overshadows them all. 

Jo-Ann Raia begins to sort through records in the Town of Huntington’s basement in 1984. Photo by Donna Deedy

“Huntington’s longest-serving town clerk, Jo-Ann Raia is an institution. Her handiwork is woven into almost every one of our major life milestones, from the beginning of life to marriage and the end for generations of Huntingtonians over the past four decades,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “She has set a very high standard for her successor to live up to.”

Town clerks are responsible for keeping records, charged with documenting every birth, death and marriage in the town’s boundaries, and safely handling and processing all other information, such as commuter parking and shellfishing permits. Her natural instincts and attention to detail have served the town well. 

“I’m somewhat of a hoarder,” she said jokingly. “I have a hard time throwing things out.”  

New York State now dictates the retention rules for certain records. That was not the case in 1984 when Raia first stepped foot into Town Hall as an elected official at age 41. She learned all she could about organizing and archiving documents, joined an international organization of town clerks and then developed a record system. What she has created, and will leave behind when she retires at the age of 79, is a record center and archives containing museum-worthy artifacts that may have otherwise been lost or damaged. 

Under Raia’s leadership, the town archives have preserved historical documents that include the original deeds, showing the town’s first purchase of property in 1653 from Native Americans. Other records include Revolutionary War artifacts, a slave registry and a docket showing the names and other information about residents who signed up for military service during the Civil War. 

Currency from 1779 stamped with a stein and the words Platt’s Tavern. Photo by Donna Deedy

The Revolutionary artifacts include coins from 1779 and a book of war claims, essentially a ledger full of IOUs from British government. Each page shows in detail how British soldiers in an effort to defend the colonies took whatever they needed from town residents:  ox, horses, saddles, etc. Because the British lost the war, residents were never compensated for the items taken, said Antonia Mattheou, the town’s archivist, who has worked alongside Raia for 26 years.

One of the town’s prized possessions is a 2 ½-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, a schoolmaster and spy for the Continental Army, who was captured in New York City and hung by the British at the age of 19. The sculpture was carved by Frederick MacMonnies, the same man whose 8-foot bronze Nathan Hale statue stands in front of City Hall in New York City. “Artists used to carve smaller versions of their work to earn income,” Raia explained. “Only three exist.”  

The statue used to be on permanent display in a prominent vestibule at Old Town Hall, which the town vacated in 1979.   MacMonnies’ widow Alice bequeathed the statue to the Town of Huntington in 1919. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. own the two other statues.

The preservation quest 

When Raia first took office, she noticed important documents were subjected to extreme moisture and heat, with some record books browning from being stacked over ventilation grates.  

The conditions prompted her to seek funding to renovate what was once a basement gymnasium.

“What is she doing down there?” she recalled people saying. Previous town clerks, she said, must have been overwhelmed or saw little value in organizing it all. 

Raia began securing grants to establish and grow a record center and archive her first year in office, when some of the town’s most important and valuable records were scattered.  

Over the years, Raia has become notorious for record-keeping and archiving. A long list of organizations and government entities have honored her for putting in place respectable record-keeping practices. People from the state’s police commission, for instance, have visited the town’s records center striving to duplicate her  model. 

Exhibits

Raia regularly curates exhibitions with the town’s archivist.

British war claims indicating items that British soldiers borrowed from Huntington residents during the Revolutionary War. Photo by Donna Deedy

Currently, Raia’s office is pulling together a tribute to Huntington’s shellfish culture. Its showcases include an old map of the bay floor depicting gridded parcels, where residents once staked claim to the sea floor, a commodity that shellfishermen passed on from generation to generation. 

The shellfish exhibit also includes a chart of the annual oyster harvests from 1880 to 1972 for the states of New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The chart that Raia has preserved and is now exhibiting shows dramatic declines in the bounty of New England oysters over time. 

“Jo-Ann Raia is the best town clerk ever,” said George Doll, a shellfisherman and former Northport mayor. “If you need something from Jo-Ann, you got it.”

He said that he’s going to miss her after she retires at the end of the year. 

Dedication and inspiration

“The town clerk needs to be available 24/7,” Raia said. Over the years, the phone would ring at all hours, sometimes from local funeral directors who needed deaths recorded so they could arrange for a burial. That aspect of the job sometimes entailed big black hearses with body bags pulling into her driveway at night. 

“I just wonder what the neighbors thought,” she said. “People didn’t have SUVs years ago.” 

The decision to not run for office again, Raia said, required serious consideration. 

Jo-Ann Raia today, 39 years into her job as town clerk. Photo by Donna Deedy

“My son said to me, ‘Mom, it’s time for you’,” she said. Her eyes welled up as she contemplates retiring in December.  

“My sister died at age 84,” she said. “If I run for another term, I’ll be her age.”  

Raia is an avid gardener and people tell her that her own property resembles an arboretum. She may help other people with landscaping in her retirement years and she may write a book. But she will remain living with her daughter Diane in Huntington. 

Raia’s son Andrew has been a state legislator representing Northport for the last 17 years. In November,  his name will be on the ballot for town clerk. 

“As much as I love being an assemblyman — I’d do it for another 17 years —you might say that I’ve been in training for the town clerk job since I was in 8th grade,” Andrew Raia said. “I can honestly say that I know this job backwards and forwards.”  

The job is purely a public service position, he said. 

“My mother has been so dedicated,” he said.  “She’s been the clearinghouse for problems.”

Raia’s staff members show similar devotion and are quick to agree that she runs a tight ship. 

“They stay because they like me,” Raia said.  

Her comment drew enthusiastic agreement from her office staff, during a recent interview. 

“Whoever  takes over the town clerk job better be good,” Raia said. “And I hope their initials are A.R.”

Northport power plant. File photo

The Town of Huntington presented closing arguments July 30 in LIPA’s tax certiorari case, but the post-trial proceedings are expected to continue into early 2020.

“Even as trial comes to an end, LIPA continues to offer the Town of Huntington the fair settlement accepted by the Town of Brookhaven last year,” LIPA spokesman Michael Deering said in an email. “The offer keeps school tax rates low for the Northport community while lowering energy costs for LIPA’s 1.1 million customers.”

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said in a telephone interview after leaving the Riverhead courtroom that the town had a good day in court.

“LIPA has the burden of proof,” he said. “I think we did a good job showing that their valuation estimates are unjustifiable and off base.”

Unlike jury trials that render a decision after closing arguments, the LIPA case is a bench trial. Decisions are rendered by a judge after post-trial deliberations.

Both LIPA and the Town of Huntington are expected to continue to file post-trial briefs to state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hazlitt Emerson, which can take months, Ciappetta said. After that phase concludes, the judge can also take months to render a verdict.

LIPA states that National Grid’s taxes, which are passed along to Long Island ratepayers, should be 90 percent less than the $84 million that it currently pays to the Town of Huntington for the Northport power plant. LIPA estimates the plant’s tax valuation at $200 to $500 million, while Huntington’s assessed value on the tax code for the site is $3.4 billion.

“I think we did a good job showing that their valuation estimates are unjustifiable and off base.”

— Nick Chiappetta

As a general rule, the presumption is that the town’s tax assessment is accurate, according to the town’s outside attorney Patrick Seely, as stated in the July 30 court transcript.

LIPA’s public campaign on the Northport plant’s assessment relies largely on
comparisons.

“The trial is proceeding as expected, demonstrating that the aging Northport power plant is the highest taxed property in America, more than Disneyland and the Empire State Building combined and is significantly overassessed,” Deering said.

The Disneyland comparison, Ciappetta said, is comparing apples to oranges, since school taxation is calculated differently in different places. 

The case was originally filed in 2011 and the trial pertains only to 2014. Each other year from 2011 to the present is heard separately, Ciappetta said.

If the town loses, it could owe hundreds of millions in tax refunds to LIPA and
National Grid.

LIPA’s legal expenses to challenge the taxes on the Northport plant have cost, from December 2018 to June 2019, a total of $1.2 million. 

The Town of Huntington has so far paid more than $3.4 million, mainly in legal fees, defending the tax certiorari cases and pursuing a third-party beneficiary case against National Grid and LIPA, as reported by town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in April.

National Grid is a for-profit, shareholder-owned entity based in the United Kingdom. LIPA is a nonprofit state entity.

The Town of Huntington will host boating safety courses for residents. File photo by TBR News Media

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) is encouraging all residents who venture out on Huntington’s waterways to register for the advanced boating safety training course Emergencies on Board, presented by Neptune Sail and Power Squadron in coordination with the Town of Huntington, at Huntington Town Hall on Monday, Aug. 12.

“I am pleased to announce that the town is expanding the boating safety training provided under the Victoria Gaines Boating Safety Program to now include advanced boating safety courses presented by Neptune Sail and Power Squadron, which address planning for and troubleshooting boating emergencies — information that can save lives,” said Lupinacci. Victoria Gaines was a 7-year-old who was killed in a boating accident in 2012.

The Town of Huntington offers free basic boating safety certification training in the spring season leading into the summer boating months. Those who register attend a full 8-hour course, and when they pass the test receive a NYS Boating Safety Credential issued by NYS Parks.

The courses now offered by Neptune Sail and Power Squadron at Town Hall provide advanced boating safety training, which complements the basic training course offered by the town. However, completing the basic boating safety course is not required to attend the advanced training presented by Neptune Sail.

Philip Quarles, education commander for the squadron, stated: “The Neptune Sail and Power Squadron was founded in 1938 and has been serving Town of Huntington for 83 years teaching boating safety and advanced boating courses. We are honored to be partnering with the Town of Huntington offering classes to residents. Emergencies on Board will be offered on Aug. 12. You can learn more by visiting www.neptuneboatingclub.com.”

“I want to continue to thank all that devote their time to ensuring the water safety of the boating community. I appreciate the unending support to my advocacy. One never thinks this could happen to them and it absolutely can! My hope is that boaters of all ages and experience levels continue to educate themselves. I believe this coupled with the new laws on the horizon will ultimately save lives,” said Lisa Gaines, Victoria’s mother.

The first presentation of Emergencies on Board at Huntington Town Hall will be on Monday, Aug. 12 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The course cost is $20.00, made payable on the evening of the event by check to: Neptune Sail and Power Squadron. Space is limited to the first 50 students. Attendees may register at neptune11743@gmail.com or by calling 631-824-7128.

The town held a presentation of Suddenly in Command, another advanced boating safety course presented by Neptune Sail and Power Squadron on Monday, June 24 at Town Hall.

Both Suddenly in Command and Emergencies on Board courses will be offered at Town Hall periodically throughout the year.

Learn more about the Town of Huntington Victoria Gaines Boating Safety Program or register for courses: http://huntingtonny.gov/boating-safety.

 

 

Stacy Colamussi creates her own impressive fertilizer from kitchen scraps with the aid of red wigglers. Photos from Stacy Colamussi and the Town of Huntington

On a sunny Wednesday morning in June, Town of Huntington Deputy Clerk Stacy Colamussi presented her vermicomposting “worm fertilizer” demonstration to over 60 residents at the town’s Senior Center.

Stacy Colamussi creates her own impressive fertilizer from kitchen scraps with the aid of red wigglers. Photos from Stacy Colamussi and the Town of Huntington

As an avid gardener, Colamussi has always composted, but over the past several years she has started vermicomposting: raising special composting worms that eat all her kitchen scraps, newspapers and junk mail. Colamussi then uses their waste, or castings, to fertilize and protect her plants.

“Worm fertilizer is a great way to go green – imagine if everyone practiced vermicomposting,” Colamussi, who wholeheartedly attests to the process and its success, and has now devoted her time to educating others on its benefits, seeking to make everyone’s backyard a little greener. “We can dramatically reduce waste sent to waste management facilities, while reaping the benefits of vigorous and healthy flowers, plants, shrubs and lawns, not to mention vegetables! Worm castings can be used on anything, not only in the garden.”

During her presentation, Colamussi demonstrated the vermicomposting process, explained how to get started and answered various questions about using worm castings in the garden before giving away bags of her homemade worm fertilizer as souvenirs for attendees.

Upon receiving an interested and enthusiastic response from those present, Colamussi announced she would be presenting her vermicomposting demonstration at several local libraries during the summer and fall.

For gardeners eager to immediately launch their own vermicomposting project, Colamussi explains the process:  

To begin, you should weigh your food scraps for one week to see how many pounds of scraps you accumulate. Then, buy the number of worms you need to consume your scraps. One pound of worms, which is about 1,000 of them, will eat ½ to 1 pound per day. You can buy red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) worms online.

The bin 

You can make a homemade bin or buy a commercial one in which to keep worms. It’s very simple. I started with a homemade bin, using two Can-O-Worms and a Worm Factory that a friend gave me. I have now migrated to commercial bins. I actually have three. They can be kept inside or outside, but temperatures have to be 55 to 80 degrees year-round. Therefore, I keep mine in the house. There are many YouTube videos and articles online to show you how to make a bin.

Setup 

To set it up you need bedding. Shredded cardboard and /or paper is what I use. No plastic or glossy mail. For the initial setup, soak the cardboard and paper and wring it out so that it’s like a wrung-out sponge in terms of moisture. Place the bedding in the bin and add the worms. Leave them for a few days so that they can acclimate. Then, add a small amount of chopped up food. Check in a few days to see if they finished it. Start out with small amounts and don’t add anymore until its mostly gone. Over a few weeks, you’ll learn how much to give them. I rotated spots where I deposited the scraps for about a year, for example: top left, then top right, then bottom left and then bottom right. Each time I feed them, I add some dry shredded paper to absorb moisture from the food. It will take three to six months in the beginning to get a good amount of castings (aka: poop). Now I harvest castings weekly. Castings are miracle food for plants!

“Worm fertilizer is a great way to go green – imagine if everyone practiced vermicomposting.”

— Stacy Colamussi

Currently, I feed the worms once a week. I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer and every day I just throw my scraps (banana peels, avocado skins, pineapple, asparagus, pepper scraps, etc.) in the bags. At the end of the week, I defrost the scraps and chop them up and give it to the worms. No citrus, onions, garlic or hot peppers. Other than that, anything you would normally compost you can give the worms. Coffee grounds, eggshells and so forth. You don’t have to chop the scraps, but it will take much longer for them to eat if you don’t. I put mine in the food processor, because I want tons of castings all the time.

The garden 

I have raised beds and practice square-foot gardening. My soil is ⅓ castings, ⅓ peat moss and ⅓ vermiculite. I brew worm tea weekly and apply as a fertilizer and pesticide. I also side dress my plants, vegetables and flowers every couple of weeks with the castings. I have been gardening for 40 years and have learned new things every single year. I am now completely organic, and I stopped all chemical fertilizers and pesticides. So far, the castings seem to be providing the soil amendment I need, and the plants are super healthy and growing vigorously. The use of worm castings is supposed to increase yield by 20 to 25 percent. I am seeing that this year. I grew zucchini and cucumber plants from seed one month ago. At three weeks, 5-inch high plants had six to eight flowers on each. I’ve not experienced anything like that in the past!

Worm castings are GOLD and you get to save the environment!

From left, Tom Kehoe with Reggie Tuthill, owner of Oysterponds Shellfish in Orient. Kehoe will serve as trade adviser after establishing an international market for oysters and shellfish. Photo from Tom Kehoe

Local businessman and Village of Northport trustee Tom Kehoe has been appointed an adviser to the Trump administration on international trade in the seafood industry.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appointed Kehoe to serve on the USDA’s Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products. The group consists of 140 private-sector members, who will offer input on negotiating and enforcing new and existing trade agreements. Kehoe is the only individual representing the seafood industry. 

Kehoe said that he is honored and humbled that the Department of Agriculture has selected him to serve.

“The sustainability and success of the seafood and agriculture industries is vital to the health and safety of all Americans,” Kehoe said. “I look forward to sharing my expertise in international trade and insight on where American trade policy needs to go in order for American businesses to thrive in international markets.”

Congress established the advisory committee system in 1974 to ensure that U.S. agricultural trade policy objectives reflect U.S. public- and private-sector commercial and economic interests. Perdue and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer jointly manage the committee.

Kehoe, a native New Yorker, initially got into the seafood business in 1975 in Maine with lobsters. He worked on a daily basis from 1975 to 2017 with fish and fishermen, but now deals largely with importing and exporting seafood. In 1992, Kehoe and business partner Roger Boccio opened K & B Seafood, an East Northport fish market. In 2008, they established Seaflight Logistics, a fish wholesaler that transported food both nationally and internationally. The fishmongers expanded their operation after attending an international fish market and finding a growing market for oysters and shellfish in China and Moscow. Kehoe is currently the CEO of Kingsbridge Strategies Inc., an import/export firm experienced in public policy and business consulting. The international seafood trade remains an important aspect of his operation.

“Working with small businesses, large businesses, and eventually growing my own company into an international business, I have a unique understanding of the needs of Long Island and New York’s businesses — as well as businesses nationwide who rely on international trade — and I look forward to representing these interests on this committee,” Kehoe said.

One of Kehoe’s biggest customers for 25 years has been the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. Sandy Ingber is the executive chef there and part owner of the restaurant. He said that Kehoe’s appointment will help him. In the summer, Ingber said the Oyster Bar offers 20 different types of oysters and each day serves as many 4,000 oysters on the half shell.  

“Tom is an honest man and knowledgeable about the seafood industry,” he said. “I’m excited about getting European oysters here in America.” 

Kehoe is also a representative on the U.S. Department of Commerce, New York District Export Council. He formerly served as the president, vice president and director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. Kehoe is a former Northport police commissioner and deputy mayor. Kehoe currently serves as the village’s commissioner of commerce, his third stint at the post. Kehoe’s term with the USDA will expire in 2023.

Children enjoy the grand opening of Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park in Elwood. Photo by Kyle Barr

With weekend heat expected to reach the high 90’s plus humidity that could make it feel like well over 100 degrees, towns across the North Shore are offering ways for residents to help beat the heat.

Brookhaven

Brookhaven town is offering extended hours for pools and beaches for the weekend of July 20 through 21.

The Centereach and Holtsville town pools will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Meanwhile all beaches including:

  • Cedar Beach – Harbor Beach Road, Mount Sinai
  • Corey Beach – Corey Avenue,, Blue Point
  • Shirley Beach – Grandview Avenue., Shirley (spray park)
  • Shoreham Beach – North Country Road, Shoreham
  • West Meadow Beach – 100 Trustees Road, Stony Brook (spray park)
  • Webby’s Beach – Laura Lee Drive, Center Moriches

Will be open until 7 p.m. both days.

More information can be found at: https://www.brookhavenny.gov/216/Parks-Recreation

Smithtown

On Friday,  July 19,  the Smithtown Senior Center will operate as a cooling station until 5 p.m. The Public Safety with support staff from the Smithtown Senior Citizens Department and Senior Transportation to operate the Senior Citizens Center as a cooling center, for seniors without air conditioning over the weekend. 

All residents are advised to take extra precautions for themselves, elderly family members, children and pets for the duration of the heat watch. 

“It’s  going to be dangerously hot over the weekend,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim said in a release. “ We want to ensure the health and quality of life for our elderly residents… It is with this in mind, that our Public Safety Department has made special arrangements to make sure our seniors have a cool place to enjoy the weekend.” 

Seniors can make arrangements ahead of time by contacting the Senior Citizens Department today or tomorrow at (631) 360-7616. After 5 p.m. Friday, arrangements to use the senior center should be made so by calling Public Safety at 631-360-7553. If a senior citizen does not have transportation, the public safety department said it will make travel arrangements at the time of the call. Residents are asked to check on elderly neighbors and pass along this information ahead of the weekend. 

Huntington

The Town of Huntington is offering extended hours at its Elwood spray park and Dix Hills pool.

Extended hours at the Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park at Elwood Park on Cuba Hill Road are as follows, with weather-permitting: 

  • Friday, July 19: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (usual hours due to camp programming at the park)
  • Saturday, July 20: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, July 21: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The park will be waiving the Recreation Photo ID Card requirement for Town residents only for the weekend heat wave, though residents must show another form photo ID proving residence to enter the spray pad.

Otherwise, the Dix Hills Park Pool, located at 575 Vanderbilt Parkway, are now:

  • Friday, July 19: 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. (usual hours due to scheduled swimming lessons at the pool)
  • Saturday, July 20: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, July 21: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Non-residents accompanied by a town resident may use the pool by paying the daily Non-ID Card holder fee.

 Pool Admission Fees with Recreation Photo ID Card, are children (under 13) – $5; teens (13 – 17) – $6; adults (18 and older) – $7; sr. citizen / disabled – $4.50.

Pool Admission Fee (without Recreation Photo ID Card): $15 per person.

Pool Membership: Family Membership – $250/season; Individual Membership – $100/season; Sr. Citizen/Disabled – $50/season.

Otherwise, all Town Beaches will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (usual hours) during the weekend heatwave. These include:

  • Asharoken Beach, Eaton’s Neck Road, Northport
  • Centerport Beach, Little Neck Road, Centerport
  • Crab Meadow Beach, Waterside Avenue, Northport
  • Crescent Beach, Crescent Beach Drive, Huntington Bay
  • Fleets Cove Beach, Fleets Cove Road, Centerport
  • Gold Star Battalion Beach, West Shore Road, Huntington
  • Hobart Beach, Eaton’s Neck Road, Eaton’s Neck
  • Quentin Sammis/West Neck Beach, West Neck Road, Lloyd Harbor
  • Geissler’s Beach, (fishing only), Makamah Road, Northport

Lights for Liberty Vigil

By Leah Chiappino

“I’m hungry here at Clint all the time … I’m too scared to ask the officials for any more food,” a 12-year-old boy stated in testimony read at the Lights for Liberty candlelight vigil, held July 12 in Huntington Village. It was one of more than a thousand vigils held both nationally and internationally in protest of family separations and the conditions at the United States-Mexico border, where children are being held in cages.  

Lights for LIberty Vigil

Local pediatrician Dr. Eve Krief helped coordinate the event as founder of Long Island Communities Against Hate in a joint effort with multiple other organizations and churches that include the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntington and St. John’s Episcopal Church. 

“My mother taught me silence is complicity and if we don’t speak out, we are all responsible,” she said. “If we let the inhumanity go on, we lose our own humanity.”

Krief’s own mother was a Holocaust survivor who lost both parents and two sisters during Hitler’s reign.

During Friday’s rally, the names of children who died in detention facilities were recited, as folk musicians performed. 

Local teenagers read the written testimonies of immigrant children. A 17-year-old pregnant mother described guards taking blankets and mattresses from detainees at 3 a.m., leaving babies as young as two months old sleeping on a concrete floor. 

“I think guards act this way to punish us,” she stated.

The testimonies read also included the experience of a 16-year-old mother, who described sleeping on floor mats with aluminum blankets, and not being offered a shower for days. “They took our baby’s diapers, formula and all of our belongings,” she stated. “There is no soap and our clothes are dirty.” 

A 17-year-old boy’s testimony described conditions at the Ursula detention center were a toilet sits out in the open inside the “cage” where he was being held.  He lacked not only privacy but also access to soap, paper towels, a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Families seeking asylum at Border detention center on July 13 in McAllen, Texas

Another mother stated that when her baby became sick, the guard told her to “just deal with it.” She asked for help two more times, then broke down in tears before officers took the child to a doctor. Other testimonies that were read also contained reports of sick children being denied care, with another guard saying, “She doesn’t have the face of a sick baby. She doesn’t need to see a doctor,” after a mother reported her baby was vomiting and had diarrhea. 

Some children described children being separated from their parents. Children as young as two years old were left alone and crying, only to be mocked and ignored by the guards.

At least seven children have died in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in the past year, according to government officials, compared to zero in the last decade. 

“We want our country to once again represent the words inscripted on the Statue of Liberty that welcomes the tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We want our country to welcome those legally seeking asylum in our country as they escape danger and violence,” Krief said. “Instead, however, we are seeing children and families held in inhumane and overcrowded conditions and we are seeing ongoing family separation.”

The groups participating in Lights for Liberty demand that changes be made at the border, which include improving children’s living conditions at both border and detention centers, and releasing the 13,000 children living in detention facilities who don’t know when they will be released.

Krief said many have family members who willing to take them in but are not permitted to. 

Protesters are also demanding that the administration return to the policies of the Flores Settlement Agreement, a 1997 provision that detailed the procedure for unaccompanied minors entering the United States. The policy was reversed by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, a crackdown on illegal immigration that ultimately led to family separation. 

Flores, according to Krief, limited the time children spend in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody to 72 hours, compared to the current status of children who stay in custody for weeks. The Flores agreement also states that children should not be kept in detention facilities for more than 20 days, according to the law, but minors have reported staying for upwards of nine months. Lights for Liberty also demands Customs and Border Patrol allow congressional visits to detention facilities in order to increase oversight. Final demands include access to pediatric care and other necessities, not separating children from their parents unless a welfare agency deems them unfit, and the accountability of people who carried out secret separations, even before the zero-tolerance program, which has led to separated children who may never be reunited with their parents.

“My hope in all of these events is to increase public awareness and to get people to understand this should not be about politics, but humanity,” she said. “The conditions these children are kept in borders on child abuse. Looking back, this will be a dark stain on our country’s history because we are traumatizing children and families who are only legally seeking asylum in our country after escaping dangerous conditions in their own countries.”

However, in response to backlash against people like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx), who referred to the detention centers as concentration camps, she feels the situation is too dire to play politics and worry about labels. 

“There’s been a lot of questions from people about us referring to these detention centers as concentration camps, which they do meet the definition for, but I feel if we wait for perfect analogies then it will be too late.”

Krief, who sits on the executive committee of the Long Island Queens and Brooklyn chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, added that the health effects of the conditions in detention facilities are detrimental and potentially irreversible. 

“As a pediatrician I am appalled and horrified at the conditions that we’re keeping children in,” she said. “We’re emotionally traumatizing them, and we’re physically traumatizing them.” 

Children are experiencing Toxic Stress Syndrome, she said, as a result of extreme stress, which changes the architecture of the brain and affects children the rest of their lives.

Congress has attempted to remedy conditions at the border, according to a New York Times report, having passed a bill granting $4.5 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to the border, which included improvements to hygiene, medical care and training for workers along with limiting a detention center stay of a child to 90 days unless no other facilities are available. 

Krief feels this is not enough. 

“There’s no oversight to where the funds are going,” she said. “It doesn’t increase the transparency in these facilities.”

Krief encourages the public to call their representatives in order to protest the conditions, a notion that was advocated at the vigil.

“This is an emergent human rights violation,” she said. “Unless they hear from all of their constituents on both sides of the aisle, every single day, demanding they address the inhumanity, they won’t do anything, which is unacceptable and shameful.”

Photos from Steven Zaitz and Rep. Tom Suozzi’s Office (detention center)

 

Correction:  The printed version of this story erroneously referred to toxic stress syndrome as toxic shock syndrome.

Local authors will read from their new publications and answer questions at an event organized by Councilwoman Joan Cergol. Photos from Councilwoman Cergol’s office

Town of Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol is inviting residents to join her July 18 as she places the spotlight on three published authors at a special “Readings Under the Tent” event at Melville’s Arboretum Park.

The three Huntington authors will join Cergol under a tent at the park, read from their recently published works and answer questions. The event begins at 7 p.m., is open to the public and is free.

“This is just another wonderful way to enjoy our parks and spend a summer evening. I look forward to hearing the stories behind the works of our highlighted authors, and hearing them read excerpts from their published works,” Cergol said. “Huntington has a rich literary history, dating back to Walt Whitman. The writers who will be speaking continue that tradition and represent different genres of literature, which should make it very interesting.”

The authors are:

Michael Bobelian, an award-winning author, lawyer and journalist whose works have covered issues ranging from legal affairs to corporate wrongdoing to human rights.  As a contributing writer at Forbes.com, Michael currently covers the Supreme Court, Wall Street reform, white collar crime, regulatory agencies, human rights and high-profile trials. His current book, “Battle for the Marble Palace: Abe Fortas, Earl Warren, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Forging of the Modern Supreme Court”,  is a narrative account of the politicization of the court during the 1950s and 1960s and the revolution it sparked in the confirmation process. He lives in Cold Spring Harbor. 

Amy Giles, an award-winning copywriter and young adult author of “Now Is Everything” (a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2017) and “That Night” (a Junior Library Guild selection). Published in October 2018, “That Night” explores how two teens, who each lost a brother in a mass shooting, slowly become friends and then something more, learning to heal and move forward together. Amy lives in Huntington with her husband, two daughters and rescue dog.

Jeannie Moon, a USA Today bestselling author of romance and women’s fiction. A lifelong Long Island resident, Jeannie sets her stories in the coastal towns and hamlets that influenced the story of her life. Additionally, Jeannie is a school librarian and an English teacher with more than 30 years of experience in public and private schools. The author of 16 contemporary romances for Tule Publishing and Penguin Random House, her latest novel “All of Me” — the third installment in her Compass Cove series — is  scheduled for August 28 publication. Jeannie is married to her high school sweetheart, and has three grown kids and three lovable dogs.

Cergol is already working on a second session, to be held in August, at a different town park and with a different lineup of authors. “This is a wonderful opportunity for residents of all ages and literary tastes to experience some of the hidden jewels of our town park network and appreciate first-hand why Huntington has been a magnet for authors dating back more than 100 years,” the councilwoman said.

Arboretum Park, home of the town’s Anne Frank Memorial Garden, is on Wilmington Drive, off Bagatelle Road in Melville. For more information, call Cergol’s office at  631-351-3173 or email her at  jcergol@huntingtonny.gov. 

Huntington town board listens to residents complaints at a March 5 meeting. Photo by David Luces

Many Huntington residents rely on income from accessory apartments to help offset high property taxes. The Town of Huntington has proposed legislation that would change rental rules. In some cases, the new rules are more lenient, making it easier for people to rent space in their home.  But the proposals also include a ban on basement apartments, unless a valid dwelling unit permit already exists. 

The fate of these accessory apartments has proved to be a contentious issue and residents have been debating the pros and cons of such a change in May and June at two town board meetings. 

“This could create cramped and unsafe living conditions.”

— Hector Gavilla

At a May 30 public hearing, a change in local zoning law was discussed and would reduce the lot size requirement for accessory apartments from 7,500 square feet to 5,000. The frontage requirement for an apartment would change from 75 feet to 50 feet. 

Hector Gavilla, a real estate broker in the town for the past 16 years, spoke at the hearing and sent a letter stating that high property taxes are the real problem that needs to be addressed. He also said it is a false narrative to tell people that these changes in the law will lower the rates for apartment rentals. He argued that the changes in law could harm more people than it would help. 

“[The proposal] this will allow too many people to occupy much smaller dwellings,” he said. “This could create cramped and unsafe living conditions.” 

Town records show that the town unanimously approved a resolution to ban basement apartments without a valid permit.

At a June town board meeting, a proposal to ban all basement and cellar apartments, unless a valid permit already exists or is pending with an already-filed application, was put on the table as well as changes to short-term rental rules.  Some residents argued that the ban would negatively impact lower-income homeowners. Others said basement apartments are a safety concern and potentially hazardous, because the space is prone to mold and carbon monoxide leaks. 

Huntington resident Dale Gifford said she is in favor of the ban on basement apartments in the town. 

“Expert environmentalists have come from out of town to lend their voices to educate the public and the board on the damages caused by overdevelopment and overcrowding,” she said. “Nitrate seeps through the soil from stressed cesspools and gets picked up by the heavy rain.” 

John Esposito had similar sentiments on the legislation, stating that it is a no-brainer. Accessory apartments, he said, can be especially hazardous to EMT and emergency response workers due to possible carbon monoxide issues that can occur in basements. 

“This a step in the right direction. Myself and others object to the overdevelopment, zoning of multiple apartment units and the apartments behind Stop and Shop,” he said. “This will give us a better quality of life [in the town].”

Conrad Ege, a Huntington resident, opposed the legislation, saying it was too much of a financial burden. 

“It would make it harder for them to pay some lines of credit, to pay taxes, to pay for other improvements that are necessary on their home and it would just make it more difficult for them to live here,” he said. 

Despite being opposed to the accessory apartment ban, Ege said he supports the legislation that would put limitations on short-term rentals in the town. 

Roger Weaving Jr., president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, stated he is in favor of the bill, but asked the board to clarify what they meant by accessory dwelling units. Certain style homes, such as high ranches, could cause some confusion.  He stressed that high ranches should be able to continue to have accessory dwellings.

We are here with concerns and the town is simply putting Band-aids on our problems. The change to 90 days is a start, but we really have a way to go.”

— Justine Aaronson

With the popularity of Airbnb, residents have complained that these short-term rentals have negatively impacted their quality of life. In April, the town board voted to reduce the number of days that a homeowner can engage in short-term rental agreements from 120 days a year to 90 days. Some residents said that the limit is not enough. Justine Aaronson, a Dix Hills resident, complained that accessory apartments affect quality of life. She told the town board of an incident where a stranger’s car with out-of-state plates was parked on their driveway around midnight. Concerned, she called the police and later found out that the individual was staying in a neighbor’s rental unit. 

“I want the Town of Huntington to protect the quality of life in residential communities,” she said. “We are here with concerns and the town is simply putting Band-aids on our problems. The change to 90 days is a start, but we really have a way to go.”

“We’re talking about a win-win-win situation with these amendments as they will make it possible for our older residents to age in place, allow our younger residents to attain the dream of homeownership, all while giving the town a means by which to directly regulate, in many cases, previously illegal rental housing,” said Councilwoman Joan Cergol. “My prior sixteen years in Huntington Town government specializing in economic and community development have deeply sensitized me to the very real financial challenges and housing needs our residents face every day. I’m so gratified to be in a position to answer this call.”

The next public hearing is scheduled for July 16 at 2 p.m.