Town of Huntington

Sen. Gaughran, Assemblyman Stern and Highway Supervisor Orelli stand in front of debris cleared from June 30 storm that ravaged the town.

Following passage of two major bills to support local roadways, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) joined the Town of Huntington Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli at the Huntington Highway Department to emphasize the importance of improving conditions for Huntington’s highways and drivers. 

The first set of bills, S.4363 and A.6547, raises the limits on capital expenditures used for the repair and improvement of highways in the town from $400,000 to $1,000,000, bringing it in line with neighboring municipalities. The second set, S.5422 and A.1235, protects drivers by expanding the state’s liability for damages suffered by individuals due to defects in state highways.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but I have no money.”

— Kevin Orelli

Orelli stressed the fact that the capital expenditure bill is not about getting more money from the state, adding it instead addresses an archaic rule that prevents the Highway Department from spending more than $400,000 in one year on equipment spending. The town, he said in a telephone interview, has fallen behind and is badly in need of new equipment, which is funded by the town and taxpayers. 

“I thank the legislators for their work,” Orelli said. “It’s a step in the right direction, but I have no money.” The town allocated no monies for equipment in this year’s budget, he said.

“We don’t have the money we need to do the job properly. We can’t do what we need to do,” he said.

The department recently retired around five snowplows and has been using antiquated equipment to repair potholes, It lacks basic machinery such as a chip truck, pay loader and a brine truck. A new super sucker, which the town needs to clean out storm drains, the highway superintendent said, costs $408,000.  

The Highway Department, he said, has been the department that gets budget cuts. Over time, it’s gradually fallen behind. The department once employed 300 people, but now operates with a staff of 150, Orelli said. The highway building itself, he said, is old and has too low of a clearance for some trucks to park inside for repair work.

State lawmakers said that they understand the situation has been decades in the making. 

“These bills are important protections to allow safe and swift repair of our local roadways and to our motorists,” Gaughran said. “S.4363 modernizes an arcane statute and allows the town to respond quickly and appropriately during an emergency.” 

Stern agrees.

“The bill helps ensure that the Huntington highway superintendent has the resources necessary to maintain the quality and safety of our roadways by updating an arcane section of the law that had not been changed in more than 40 years,” Stern said in an email response.

The proposed budget increase brings Huntington in line with neighboring towns including Smithtown, which has a $800,000 limit and a sizably smaller population. Huntington’s population as of the 2010 census was 203,264 population. Smithtown’s as of 2010 was 117,801.

Once the governor signs the capital expenditure bill, the town will need to decide how to pay for upgrades. 

“It is encouraging to hear that the state passed the legislation, which the Town Board urged them to pass earlier this year, to support increased funding for highway equipment.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“It is my intention to meet with each town board member and ask for a substantial increase in the highway tax,” Orelli said. “As you are probably aware, it is difficult from a political perspective to raise taxes. Keeping this in mind, I am asking the Town Board to put this issue up for a voter referendum and let the taxpayers decide whether or not they want to increase their investment in our infrastructure.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said that he supports improvements. 

“It is encouraging to hear that the state passed the legislation, which the Town Board urged them to pass earlier this year, to support increased funding for highway equipment,” he said in an email request for comment. “I have always supported measures funding road rehabilitation and equipment funding for highway and road maintenance. The Town Board failed to approve equipment funding at our March meeting, but I sponsored the resolution funding the purchase of up to $400,000 in new highway equipment, and I sponsored and voted for up to $4,750,000 in road and traffic safety rehabilitation measures for 2019, which passed at the same meeting.”

Of those funds $3 million were used for paving, $1 million for drainage with the rest going toward sidewalks, pavement markings and traffic signal and traffic calming improvements.

State liability 

State roads are maintained separately and unrelated to the Town of Huntington’s roadway situation. The second set of legislator’s bills address the state-imposed liability limits for damages caused by poor state road conditions. 

Currently, motorists who suffer damages due to defects on local roads may pursue damages against the locality at any time during the year if the municipality had advance notice of the defect, according to Gaughran’s office. Yet, motorists who suffered damages due to defects in state roads can pursue damages against the state only if the incident occurred between May 1 and Nov. 15. If the incident occurs between Nov. 16 and April 30, motorists are out of luck. 

“S.5422 protects local motorists on state roadways, because drivers should not be stuck paying out-of-pocket for damages caused by a defect in a state highway that should have been repaired.”

The state has developed several systems to combat pothole problems. Motorists are encouraged to call 1-800-POTHOLE to report a pothole on Long Island’s state roads. The state reports that it receives hundreds of pothole reports through these phone calls, and through letters, emails and social media. New York uses 5,000 tons of asphalt for road repair on Long Island, according to New York DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri.

“The NY State Department of Transportation aggressively fills potholes throughout the year on more than 4,000 lane miles of state highways on Long Island,” Canzoneri said. “In the winter, we enlist additional crews, who work days, nights, and weekends.” 

But, the current arrangement lets the state off the hook during crucial months.

“The bill [A.1235] would provide a more effective way to hold New York State accountable to motorists with claims for unsafe road conditions that cause damage or injury,” Stern said. “It will help provide efficiency, responsiveness and accountability. These measures together will certainly help to protect our suburban quality of life.”

The governor’s office did not respond to repeated request for comment on the two bills. 

Adele Gordon poses with her cakes to celebrate a milestone occassion. Photo from Gaughran’s office

Huntington resident Adele Gordon celebrated her 100th birthday Aug. 23. Gordon was surrounded by friends and family as she blew out the candles on three extraordinary cakes to celebrate. NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) presented her with a Senate Proclamation on behalf of the Senate in recognition of the milestone occasion.

“Adele Gordon has been an active, exceptional community member in the Huntington community for decades,” Gaughran said. “It was my honor to join her for a celebration of 100 years of life and present her with a Proclamation in recognition of this milestone. Happy Birthday Adele!”

Public Works Committee to vote on extending the program Aug. 29

Suffolk County's Public Works Committee will vote Aug. 29 to decide the future of red-light camera program. TBR News Media file photo

The future of red-light cameras in Suffolk County remains up in the air. 

Legislators took issue with a report on the county’s red-light camera program in a meeting Aug. 26. It left some with more questions than answers regarding the divisive program as they prepare for a vote that could extend the program’s lifespan this Thursday, Aug. 29.

The countywide report carried out by Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates found that the number of total crashes at 100 intersections with red-light cameras increased by nearly 60 percent from 2015 through 2017, compared to the time period (2007-09) before the cameras were installed beginning in 2010. The study found that at red-light intersections the number of crashes exceeded projections by 42 percent in total. 

Also, it found that a total of 17 fatal crashes occurred at red-light intersections for the duration of the report. Crashes that resulted in injuries decreased by nearly 11 percent, while the number of rear-end crashes increased by 46 percent. 

Officials from the consulting firm presented the report, which cost the county $250,000, to the county Legislature’s Public Works Committee Aug. 26 and disclosed they estimated the red-light program had generated more than $5 million in savings by reducing serious accidents. 

Despite those findings, legislators on the committee took issue with the results and said it left them with more questions than answers. 

One criticism levied was the way the consultants collected their data and how they determined if an accident was linked to an intersection with a red-light camera.

Raymond DiBiase, president and chief executive of L.K. McLean Associates, said they based their parameters from the New York State Department of Transportation. 

“The DOT in their crash data analysis and summaries identify an intersection crash as one that occurs within 10 meters or 33 feet from the center of the intersection,” he said. 

The consultants for the report expanded the crash area to within 200 feet of the center of the intersection, but some legislators questioned that decision and argued it could have captured crashes that fall in line with the definition of an intersection crash.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she was deeply disappointed in the report’s findings and criticized the firm with not looking at the link between distracted driving and crashes at red-light intersections. 

“What has not been mentioned at all during your report is distracted driving,” she said. “I have a traffic safety issue in my district; I have two of the most dangerous roads on Long Island —[routes] 25 and 25A.”

DiBiase responded by saying it is difficult to prove what exactly caused a crash from the data. Their goal was to make the study objective as possible and said distracted driving falls in a gray area as it is difficult to prove due to factors like lack of witnesses or evidence. 

“Distracted driving is why a lot of these accidents are happening,” Anker said. “We are here to try and understand how to make this program better. We know it’s saving lives, but we also know it’s also creating problems.”

The red-light program has generated more than $20 million in revenue annually for the county.

Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has long been a severe critic of red-light cameras, said the program is a money grab and a tax on the taxpayers. He also criticized the consultants for only mentioning that fatal accidents at red-light camera intersections were lower than projected, and not also including data on fatal crashes that occurred at intersections without red-light cameras. 

“You can take these reports and throw them in the garbage can, it’s a joke — literally embarrassing,” Trotta said. “Everything here is jaded to make this program look good, it is a $32 million sham on the people of this county.”

Despite the lukewarm response to its report, the firm recommended continuing the red-light program, pointing to a decrease in crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities as well as a reduction in left-turn crashes.

The Public Works Committee is expected to vote Thursday, Aug. 29, on whether it will extend the countywide red-light camera program for another five years. If it were to pass it will go to the Legislature for a vote that could take place as soon as next Wednesday, Sept. 4.

 

Officials train residents on how to avoid being taken

Phone scams are on the rise, and officials say these and other scams are targeting the senior population.

Local government representatives emphasize that the elderly need to be better informed about what to look out for and how to avoid them.

On Aug. 20, at the Huntington Senior Center, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport),Town of Huntington Receiver of Taxes Jillian Guthman and state attorney general representative T.J. Hatter held a Smart Seniors event. Together they cautioned seniors against handing over large sums of money through phone, email, letter and internet scams. 

“These scammers will use fear if they think that will work, they will use kindness and they will use intimidation,” Hatter said. “The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.” 

One of the most common scams targeting the senior population includes the sweepstakes scam, which requests the “winner” to send a check or wire money to cover taxes for their prize. Another one is where the scammer will act as a relative, such as a grandchild, and claim to be in danger. Sometimes, the scammer acts as a lawyer or police officer. In each case, they ask for money immediately. 

“There are two approaches to dealing with these types of scams,” Hatter said. “Ask for the person’s name and a call-back number.” He also recommends answering the phone only if you recognize the number as a friend or a loved one. “Let everyone else leave you a message,” he said. 

“The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.”

— T.J Hatter

Hatter said the scammers are often out-of-the country and can’t be traced. 

“These scammers are using something called routing technology,” he said. “The idea is to make the number they are calling from have a ‘631’ or ‘516’ area code to make it look more local and make it more likely someone will answer.”

According to Suffolk County officials, in 2018, there were 68 phone scam incidents reported, targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly, as reported in a January 2019 TBR News Media article. Between 2017 and 2018, the largest amount of money taken in once incident was $800,000, according to Suffolk County police. 

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulently gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion. 

One of the latest scams to target seniors urges them to purchase gift cards to help a relative in trouble. 

“We are finding that [scammers] are asking for those prepaid gift cards and then they will ask you to scratch off the back and read them the numbers,” he said. “That’s the most common one we are finding right now.” 

Home improvement scams are also common and often offer “free inspections.” The inspections will almost always find a problem that requires an expensive solution.

“Someone will knock on your door and say they are a repair person and ask if something is wrong with your home,” Hatter said. “They will say they can fix it and even offer you a discounted rate. Do not pay this person.” 

Hatter said ultimately you hold the power so if you are not sure that you recognize the caller, you are not forced to answer the phone. 

The Office of the Attorney General urges people to use strong passwords and avoid using birth dates, Social Security numbers and mother’s maiden names in them.

If you shop online, be sure the sites you use are secure. A secure site will start with https:// and most use a padlock icon, which will tell you the name of the owner. Also, use only credit card rather than debit or check cards.

“Debit cards, even those with a credit card name and logo, do not carry the same protections,” the Smart Seniors program states. If credit card information is stolen, you are only liable for $50 in fraudulent charges. If your debit card information is stolen and the thief wipes out your bank account, the money is gone. 

It’s also important to remember that email scammers often masquerade as a familiar and trustworthy company, such as your bank, online store or credit card company. Sometimes they pretend to be a government agency. These scammers are “phishing” for personal data and often claim that there’s a problem with your account. Do not click on a link no matter who they claim to be. You may be directed to a bogus, look-alike website that spoofs a real company. 

“The key to the phishing scams is that they ask you to provide personal information, such as your Social Security number or password, so they can “confirm your identity,” the program warns. 

“If you get a call, text or email from a company claiming there’s a problem do not respond,” the Attorney General’s Office states. Instead delete the message or hang up, and contact the company yourself. It’s important to protect your personal information. Papers should be shredded before you throw them away. 

New Yorkers donate more than $10 billion to charitable organizations each year, with older New Yorkers being the most generous, the Attorney General’s Office states. It is suggested that you confirm that a charity is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, as required by law and find out if the funds will be used for programs, administrative costs and fundraising. Avoid charities that will not answer questions about its programs and finances. 

Residents can greatly reduce the number of unsolicited calls, mailings and internet offerings they receive. The National Do Not Call Registry can be reached at 800-382-1222. You can place your landline and your mobile number on the Do Not Call List. Registration never expires. Political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors are still permitted. 

Patricia Wagner, a Huntington resident who attended the session, said she was grateful. 

“This was really informative and I’m going to share this information with my friends [who are not here],” she said. “We are getting older … we need an event like this every year.” 

A crowd gathers at the birthplace of Walt Whitman, where Whitman’s legacy was discussed from Aug. 9 to 11. Photos from Cynthia Shor

‘O Captain, My Captain’

By Walt Whitman

Whitman’s poem “O Captain, My Captain” is an elegy written to honor Abraham Lincoln in his work for the country in keeping it unified, said Cynthia Shor, executive director of Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. 

Like all poems, the tribute contains a turning point that reveals an overarching meaning. See if you can find Whitman’s message in this poem, written in 1865, the year of Lincoln’s death. 

O Captain! My Captain!

our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack,
the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear,
the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel,
the vessel grim and daring:

      But O heart! heart! heart!

       O the bleeding drops of red,

         Where on the deck my Captain lies,

          Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain!

rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

       Here captain! dear father!

         This arm beneath your head;

           It is some dream that on the deck,

            You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer,
his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm,
he has no pulse nor will;

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound,
its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

       Exult, O shores, and ring O bells!

        But I with mournful tread,

         Walk the deck my Captain lies,

           Fallen cold and dead.

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association hosted its first three-day international conference in honor of Whitman’s legacy. The event was held at Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site at 246 Old Walt Whitman Road in Huntington Station.

“All the presentations opened new roads into interpreting Whitman, whose words are still relevant today in his Bicentennial 200th birthday year,” Executive Director Cynthia Shor said. “Plans are being made for a follow-up conference in 2021.” 

About 50 guests each day from both the local community and other parts of New York, such as Queens, attended to see 25 international presenters share their research about Whitman’s impact on cultural, social, historical, literary and gender issues from his lifetime to our lifetime. 

Presenters traveled from six countries and 10 states to discuss topics such as translating Whitman’s poems into other languages, the use of his poems in contemporary advertising and the influence of mesmerism and Darwinism in his writing. Creative expressions were also included through poetry readings and open mic, films and music celebrating Whitman. There were nine panels in total, moderated by the association’s board members. Local Walt Whitman “personator” Darrel Blaine Ford dressed as Whitman and posed for pictures with attendees.

The keynote speaker was Professor Ed Folsom, the Roy J. Carver Professor of English at The University of Iowa. His panel discussion was titled “Whitman Growing Old” and he spoke about how Whitman confronted death in his poetry and how he still speaks to poets today, long after his death. 

“There has been a gradual, almost imperceptible, shift in our view of Whitman and his work recently, as if we have been searching for the Whitman who can address and respond to a growing cultural despair instead of (or maybe in addition to) the Whitman who spurs on an endless optimism,” Folsom said. “Americans are, after all, at a far different period of the nation’s history than that which he experienced, a point where some of the democratic payoff that Whitman promised should be far more apparent than it is, a point where many of us begin to feel a need for a different Whitman, one more tempered in his outlook, older, pointing not the way to a fully achieved democratic future but rather one who can guide us about how to live in a diminished present on an earth of diminishing resources, in a society where the same old problems — of racial injustice, of grotesquely unfair wealth distribution, of continuing gender discrimination — just keep resurfacing, as virulent as ever.” 

Folsom is the editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, co-director of the Whitman Archive and editor of the Whitman Series at The University of Iowa Press. He is the author or editor of numerous books and essays on Whitman and other American writers. 

The association wishes hearty congratulations to all who took part and is delighted to have hosted an event shedding light on Whitman’s tremendous body of work and his charismatic personality.

This program was made possible with funds from Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation, New York State Parks, Suffolk County, Town of Huntington, New York State Council on the Arts and Huntington Arts Council. The association offers special thanks and appreciation to these organizations for their continued support. 

Whitman’s birthplace museum is open to the public seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. After Labor Day, the site is open Wednesday to Friday, 1 to 4 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. The site is located at 246 Old Walt Whitman Road in Huntington Station. For more information call 631-427-5240 or visit www.waltwhitman.org.

The Lewis Oliver Farm Sanctuary,  one of Northport’s favorite destinations, has been in the neighborhood since the mid-1800’s, when it was a working farm. Now a not-for-profit sanctuary for rescued farm animals, the farm relies on the community for support. One hundred percent of animal care expenses, including hay, feed, bedding and veterinarian care is covered by private donations .

On Saturday, September 21, a herd of kind-hearted athletes will be taking on The Great Cow Harbor 10k Run to benefit Annabelle the cow and the rest of the animals at the Lewis Oliver Farm Sanctuary in Northport.

All registered participants of The Great Cow Harbor 10kRun- including those taking part in the family-friendly, 1-Mile Fun Run- are welcome and encouraged to join Team Annabelle & Friends. As a team member, participants will be given the opportunity to set up your own personal Team Annabelle & Friends page, where supporters can let their friends and family know that they’ll be MOO-ving with love on behalf of Annabelle the cow and the rest of the beautiful animals at the Lewis Oliver Farm Sanctuary.  Sponsors can support runners on these web pages. Each team member will be given the chance to earn a FREE Team Annabelle & Friends t-shirt AND a chance to win some prizes. The top three fundraisers will be presented with medals and a prize package at the post-race awards ceremony!

This is the third year running for Team Annabelle and one of the most rewarding parts of the event, according to event organizers ,will be knowing that because of supporters efforts, Annabelle and her friends will have full bellies, clean , fluffy beds, and veterinarian care when needed.  Support also means that everyone can continue to enjoy visiting the farm, one of Northport’s most treasured spots.

All proceeds go to Friends of the Farm, Northport Inc. – the volunteer-based , 501(c)(3) responsible for the day-to-day animal care, and upkeep of the barns and property and will be used to cover the animals’ feed, hay, bedding, veterinarian care, and other related expenses. Since all  of animal care-related expenses are fully reliant on private donations , the farm needs as many people as possible to put their feet to the street and to join team Annabelle & Friends, or sponsor a team member by making a tax-deductible donation. The website for registration and sponsorships is www.teamannabelle.com.

Photo from Lorene Eriksen

Northport power plant. File photo

At the Long Island Power Authority’s July 24 board meeting, Larry Kelly, a trial attorney, described at a public comment session how LIPA in 2006 and 2007 instituted what he called “the largest tax fraud” he’s seen in his 35 years as a lawyer, according to Huntington Town councilman, Eugene Cook (R).

Cook has independently asked New York State’s Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes in a letter dated Aug. 6 to review and “forcibly address” the issues. 

According to Cook, Kelly alleged that LIPA used the tax system to extend tax exemptions and reductions to Caithness power plant, which was awarded a contract to build a new 350-megawatt power plant in Yaphank, and then used those low taxes to argue in court that National Grid’s four aging power plants on Long Island were overassessed.

“I also request the PSC review LIPA’s ‘unclean hands’ in the Northport filings, and the impact that should have on LIPA’s continued operations,” Cook’s four-page letter concluded. The letter was sent on a town letterhead, but was not signed by other town board members, the supervisor or the town attorney.  

Councilman Eugene Cook

The term “unclean hands” is a legal defense which essentially references a legal doctrine that states a plaintiff is unable to pursue tax equity through the courts if the plaintiff has acted unethically in relation to the subject of its complaint. 

The allegations are surfacing just weeks after closing arguments were presented July 30 in LIPA’s tax certiorari case with the Town of Huntington for the year 2014. It is unclear how the allegation could potentially impact the outcome of the case as post-trial deliberations continue. The unclean hands defense was not part of the town’s defense, according to the Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta, who offered no public comment on the allegations.  

Kelly, a Bayport resident who ran for a New York State Supreme Court judgeship in the 2018 election, is unaffiliated with Huntington’s case, but said his obligation as a trial lawyer is to act as a steward of the law. 

LIPA did not respond to email requests for comment on the public allegations. 

A LIPA press release dated Jan. 25, 2006, stated that the Caithness plant in Yaphank would include a $139 million payment in lieu of taxes agreement with $100 million over 20 years going to Bellport’s South Country school district. 

LIPA’s 2019 Property Tax Reduction pamphlet, which is publicly available and published on its website, highlights the value of Caithness plant in contrast to the Port Jefferson, Northport and three other plants. On page 14 of the report, LIPA stated that in 2016 Caithness paid $9.7 million annually in taxes, while the Northport plant paid “eight times” as much in taxes, or $81 million, and Port Jefferson paid “three times” as much in taxes, or $33 million.  

The report also stated on page 14 that LIPA reimburses National Grid under its contract more than it earns in power revenue, a sum that factors in property taxes. 

“Those losses, the amount by which costs exceed the value of power, are paid by all 1.1 million electric customers,” the report said. It indicated that LIPA’s goal for filing tax challenges in 2010 against Nassau County, the Town of Huntington, the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “in an attempt to obtain a fair tax assessment on the four legacy plants.” 

In a telephone interview, Kelly referred to a Feb. 15, 2012 meeting with the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which recorded a Caithness representative explaining that “LIPA pays the PILOT to Caithness who then makes the PILOT payment to the IDA, and then they get a check back from New York State which is then returned to LIPA.” 

The minutes further stated, “This is the only power plant on Long Island that the ratepayers are not paying any real property taxes net out of pocket for the first 10 years, resulting in a saving of $80 million.” 

Kelly and Cook, in presenting the allegations publicly and to the commission, claimed that Bellport’s school district, South Country, which Cook said in his letter is comprised of 40 percent minority populations, were shortchanged tax revenue that could have funded school programs. Representatives from the South Country school district did not respond to email and telephone inquiries about their tax revenue from Caithness. 

The Public Service Commission has said that it has received and is reviewing the letter from Cook. It offered no other response to questions related to its potential response.

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.