Tags Posts tagged with "Alex Petroski"

Alex Petroski

Lee Koppelman, right is presented with a replica of the sign that will mark a nature preserve dedicated in his honor, by Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo by Alex Petroski

A public servant with more than four decades of planning experience now has a nature preserve with his name on it to honor his life’s work.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) hosted a ceremony at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket April 13 to dedicate a 46-acre parcel of woodlands in Stony Brook in honor of Lee Koppelman, who served as the first Suffolk County planner, a position he held for 28 years. He also served as regional planner for Suffolk and Nassau counties for 41 years.

“When you come to talk about preserving land; when you come to talk about planning communities; when you come to talk about vision; when you come to talk about master planners and you put that with Suffolk County, only one name comes up,” Romaine said of Koppelman. “When I look at the picture of the woods that will be named for Dr. Koppelman I can think of no better tribute to this man … Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of this man’s vision, our master planner.”

Romaine lauded Koppelman for his dedication to preserving nature, including shoreline, wooded areas, wetlands and more. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who served on the Suffolk County Legislature along with Romaine in the 1980s when Koppelman was also working for the county, repeatedly used the word “bold” in thanking Koppelman for his dedication.

“Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of [Lee Koppelman’s] vision, our master planner.”

— Ed Romaine

“We had a master planner with a vision for this county that was daring and bold and unprecedented for any county in the United States,” Englebright said. “To set aside parkland — not like little pieces of confetti, but as whole sections of ecosystems and landscape segments — bold ideas. Not only was Dr. Koppleman the master planner, he was a master administrator. He hired extraordinary planners, talented people to serve with him.”

According to a press release from the town, Koppelman is regarded as the father of sustainability on Long Island, calling him the first of the “power players” to conceptualize the idea of preserving space in the interest of health and future generations. The Lee Koppelman Preserve is a heavily wooded parcel with a variety of deciduous tree and shrub species, or foliage that sheds its leaves annually. The town has owned the Stony Brook property just east of Nicolls Road and south of Stony Brook University, for about 45 years, using it as passive open space.

Cartright said she was honored to be a part of the dedication to such a prominent figure who had an impact on her district.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to work with Dr. Koppleman as it relates to land use and planning, but it is clear to me he has left an indelible mark here within our community,” she said.

Koppelman joked that he wished the ceremony didn’t sound so much like a eulogy, though he said he was honored to be recognized by people he had considered friends for so long.

“Having that from them is a particular pleasure,” he said.

His wife Connie Koppelman was also in attendance and joked she had heard her husband honored so many times it was getting old, but called it very pleasing to hear once again how much his work was appreciated by those around him.

Koppelman currently heads the Center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University.

District hoping for details on Brookhaven, LIPA settlement before finalizing 2018-19 spending plan

Superintendent Paul Casciano and board president, Kathleen Brennan, listen to members of the public during an April 10 board of education meeting. Photos by Alex Petroski

An announcement by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) April 3 was supposed to provide clarity, but it has done anything but.

Romaine announced during his State of the Town address Brookhaven had reached a settlement with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. While in the midst of preparing its 2018-19 budget, Port Jefferson School District officials said in a statement they were caught off guard by the announcement and, as a result, the board of education moved to delay
adopting its proposed budget during a meeting April 10. The board will hold a special meeting April 18, when the budget will be presented before a vote to adopt. School budgets must be submitted to New York State no later than April 20.

“We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement.”

— Paul Casciano

“When you plan to make reductions, you need to know how much to reduce,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “That is the problem with what the town announced, because essentially what the town announced was that they reached a tentative deal. We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement. That’s what we have learned. There are a lot of things that have been talked about at the town level. We have been spending a lot of time trying to find out what the details are.”

Town spokesman Kevin Molloy refuted Casciano’s claim that a deal is not in place.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed,” he said in a phone interview. “The town has sought state aid as part of this agreement. This state aid was not included in the recently adopted budget. We are continuing to work with LIPA for a settlement to this case that is fair for our residents and uses any funds from this settlement to reduce electrical charges to ratepayers.”

The town has not shared details about the agreement in principle publicly.

Casciano was asked by resident Rene Tidwell during the April 10 meeting if the district had long-range plans to address the likelihood it will be losing a chunk of the annual revenue the district receives as a result of the power plant’s presence within the district.

“I’m deeply concerned that this potentially devastating issue has not been more proactively addressed in the years since it was first initiated,” Tidwell said during the public comment period of the meeting.

Casciano strongly pushed back against the idea the issue hasn’t been a top priority for the board and administration.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed.”

— Kevin Molloy

“The plan is very simple — you cut staff, which results in cutting programs,” he said, though he also put the onus on residents to prepare for possible future tax increases. “There comes a time where it’s not all going to be the school district
cutting programs and cutting staff. At some point, taxpayers — and it may be this year — are going to see an increase in their taxes. We don’t assess. The town assesses. The village assesses.”

Board president, Kathleen Brennan, also disagreed with the idea the board has not been prepared to deal with the LIPA situation.

“I’ve been a board member for eight years,” she said. “Going back those eight years on that board and every subsequent board, this board has addressed the issue head on and has done things that you haven’t read about on our website.”

Board member Vincent Ruggiero first motioned to remove budget adoption from the BOE agenda.

“Given the uncertainty and the fact we don’t have a clear answer from Brookhaven, we have a week that we can adopt this budget, I’m just proposing that we wait as long as we can for some type of response, although we probably won’t get one, and hold the vote next week,” he said.

The public portion of the special April 18 meeting of the BOE will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The Comsewogue library budget passed April 10. File photo

Port Jefferson-area residents have weighed in on how their public libraries spend money.

The public voted to pass operating budgets for the 2018-19 fiscal year for Port Jefferson Free Library and Comsewogue Public Library April 10. Port Jefferson School District residents passed the PJFL budget with 139 voting in favor and 17 opposed. Comsewogue district taxpayers approved their library’s 2018-19 spending plan 98-12.

Port Jefferson Free Library

PJFL voters approved a spending plan with modest increases from the 2017-18 fiscal year. The total budget for the upcoming year will be $4,419,062, up less than $200,000 compared to the current year. According to the library’s informational newsletter on the budget sent to residents’ homes, the increase will cost taxpayers roughly 87 cents more per month on average compared to this year. About $60,000 additional dollars for operating expenses will come from property taxes, bringing the total tax levy to $3,099,391.

“Once again, we are honored to have such support from our community,” PJFL Director Tom Donlon said in an email.

The Port Jefferson Free Library is at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. File photo

The library is currently in the process of purchasing Kanopy, a streaming video service featuring documentaries, classic films, “blockbuster movies” and more, according to the newsletter, in addition to ongoing renovation plans.

Comsewogue Public Library

CPL needs about $165,000 more in 2018-19 to cover operating expenses compared to this fiscal year. The total budget is $5,720,785, with taxpayers being asked to contribute about $7 more on average annually on top of their existing tax bill.

“We work hard all year to earn the public’s approval and support,” CPL Director Debbie Engelhardt said in an email. “We’re constantly collecting, discussing and putting into play comments and ideas from library members of all ages. Feedback from the community helps us continually move the library’s service program forward. The public’s steadfast support of the operating budget means we can keep learning and growing together. We can introduce new collections and services while maintaining popular, more traditional ones. This operating budget assures we can continue to give people what they want from their public library.”

Kevin Spence, CPL’s incumbent president on the board of trustees, was elected to a new five-year term. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board about three years ago, according to thelibrary’s website. The 56-year Port Jefferson Station resident ran unopposed.

The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is temporarily operating with a significantly scaled down schedule. File photo

Ferry riders beware.

Frequent passengers of the Bridgeport-to-Port Jefferson ferry have fewer travel options for the time being.

The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company currently has just one of its typical three-ship fleet available, according to Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the ferry company located in Port Jefferson Village on the New York side of the Long Island Sound.

One of the ships, the PT Barnum, is out of service due to a bent propeller wheel, and The Park City is also unavailable because of needed repairs. Hall said the wheel of the PT Barnum was bent last week when the underside of the vessel hit an underwater piling. The Grand Republic is the only ship left standing.

Temporary ferry schedule April 9 through 12

Port Jeff departures:

6 a.m.

9 a.m.

12:15 p.m.

3:15 p.m.

7 p.m.

Bridgeport departures:

7:30 a.m.

10:45 a.m.

1:45 p.m.

5 p.m.

8:30 p.m.

“We wish we could offer a little more convenient schedule, but we only have one boat operating,” Hall said in a phone interview.

The company alerted riders of the pared down temporary schedule in a Facebook post April 7.

“The ferry company regrets that we must reduce our schedule for the foreseeable future and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience,” the post said.

Hall said the plan is to get the PT Barnum to a shipyard for repairs later this week — either April 12 or 13 he said — and that he expected the propeller replacement should not be more than a one-day job, and a two-boat schedule would be reinstated in short order. There is no current timetable for The Park City’s return.

Service was impacted last weekend, with only two trips departing from Port Jefferson April 7 — one at 5 p.m. and one at 8:15 p.m. Typically 11 ferries rides would leave from Port Jeff on a Saturday or Sunday. Five trips were made Sunday, April 8. Just prior to the start of the work week, the company announced again via its Facebook that fewer rides would be offered at least through April 12. Ships will be departing Port Jeff at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 3:15 p.m. and 7 p.m. through April 12, compared to a usual 10-ride weekday schedule. Only five return trips from Bridgeport, Connecticut are currently offered for the duration of the shortened service as well, with the earliest being 7:30 a.m. and the latest 8:30 p.m.

Several Facebook users commented on the two posts expressing frustration with the inconvenience.

“One boat = mismanagement, where does all the money go?” poster Kristine Sawdey said.

More than one commenter said they hoped the shortened service would be over soon.

The PT Barnum has been part of the company’s fleet since 1998. The 300-foot vessel has the capacity to hold up to 120 vehicles and 1,000 passengers, according to the ferry’s website.

A slumping bluff is raising eyebrows in Port Jefferson Village.

Bids are being accepted, and will continue to be through April 16, for a project that village officials hope will stave off erosion at Port Jefferson East Beach Area and Pavilion that is endangering a tennis court.

Port Jeff has been trying to figure out how to deal with its shrinking beach and slumping bluff at least as far back as early 2016. The new plan of action is to build a wall — it’s yet to be determined whether it will be built out of steel or a revetment of rocks — at the base of the bluff. Overhead images of the beach accessed via Google Earth show the shoreline nestled between the Long Island Sound and a bluff that leads to the grounds of the Port Jefferson Country Club clearly shrinking over the years. Officials are concerned about tennis court No. 4 at the country club, which has inched closer to the edge of the bluff as the beach has eroded.

Erosion of East Beach in Port Jefferson is causing trees to slump down an adjacent bluff. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Village of Port Jefferson’s shoreline suffered significant structural damage, resulting from multiple state-of-emergency storm events,” said a Jan. 17, 2017, letter from GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by Port Jeff, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion.

After the East Coast was hit with four storms classified as Nor’easters by the National Weather Service in March, a walkway and pavilion on the eastern end of the parking lot at the end of Village Beach Road was severely damaged, and many trees can be seen uprooted and horizontal at the bottom west of the road.

“That whole area East Beach is just a disaster,” Trustee Stan Loucks said during a March board meeting after taking a look at the area.

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo called it “scary” to see how badly the beach is eroding.

In an article entitled “Forgotten North Shore vulnerable to sea level rise” published by TBR News Media in January, R. Lawrence Swanson, the interim dean and associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said staving off erosion of bluffs is a complicated problem on the North Shore that will require more research from New York state.

Several strong March storms caused damage at East Beach in Port Jefferson. Photo by Alex Petroski

“What can be done in the way of resiliency to preserve the character of the North Shore and yet also protect individual properties on the Sound — both those on the cliffs and those on the barrier spits?” he wrote. “Is hardening the bluffs and beaches at great expense the answer? Do we let nature take its course? Do residents on the barrier beaches have rights to the sediment of eroding cliffs in much the same way that downstream California claims rights to Colorado River water? If hardening of bluffs is allowed, will there be enough sediment at the toe to maintain a beach to reduce wave run-up? New York State needs to examine this issue and develop guidance that works for all.”

He warned that construction of sea walls can hinder the natural process of erosion from the base of North Shore bluffs, reducing the materials available to maintain barrier spits, or formations caused by the lateral movement of water along a shoreline, subjecting bluffs to “over washing.”

“Beaches fronting the bluffs will disappear so that waves will be beating directly on the seawalls,” he said. “This is a regional issue that cannot be solved property by property or even on a town-by-town basis. With the state of development on the North Shore, some form of intervention or adaptation is probably required; nature cannot be left totally unchecked, given the grim climate projections for this coming century.”

Taking the lead of demonstrations started by people barely old enough to drive during the days of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, North Shore students marched Saturday. Their messages were clear in their rhetoric delivered over a sound system from the bed of a pickup truck and on homemade signs: lives lost to gun violence are no longer acceptable, especially in schools, and politicians who do not agree are going to have organized and audible opposition.

A local incarnation of the March for Our Lives, a movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, took place at the intersection of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station March 24. While thousands stomped through Washington, D.C., and countless other areas across the globe, several hundred gathered locally, thanks to the organizing efforts of students from Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Ward Melville and other area high schools, to call on politicians to take action to prevent gun violence in schools and communities. Activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven assisted the high schoolers in setting up the demonstration.

Calls for legislative action in speeches and on signs ranged from all-encompassing bans of “assault style” weapons seen abroad, like in Australia; to the more incremental policy changes being discussed in state houses and on the federal level, such as raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21; to bans on modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons; stronger background checks; and longer waiting periods for purchases.

“We are infused with a passion for change — change that we hope will drain the stagnant pool of corruption in our nation,” Miller Place High School student Jake Angelo said to the crowd. “We are the hope for our country’s future — the generation of awareness, the generation of calling ‘B.S.’ and the generation of change.”

Nearly all of the student speakers directed their remarks at U.S. 1st Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm whose political contributions are often criticized as the deterrent to advancing gun legislation by those who lean to the political left. Zeldin received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA during his reelection campaign in 2016, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

“Change does not happen when the leaders deem it so,” Ward Melville High School student Scott Egnor said. “Change happens when every day folks say that enough is enough. Change happens when every day folks draw the line. Change happens when we vote Lee Zeldin out. We will take this movement, by Americans, for Americans, and we will bring it to the doors of the capital. We will not stop until Congress is more afraid of our voice than the NRA checkbooks.”

A spokeswoman for Zeldin Katie Vincentz said in an email the Congressman has and will continue to meet with those on both sides of the gun control debate, when asked if he planned to meet with any of the NY-1 students behind the Port Jeff Station march. She said Zeldin supports banning bump stocks, fixing the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and “ensuring lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none,” among other changes widely regarded as incremental gun control steps. She did not say whether or not he would support a ban on assault-style weapons when asked.

“The more people of all ages participating the better,” Vincentz said when asked how Zeldin viewed the activism of students in his district and beyond.

A speaker who identified herself as Ariana, a sophomore at Longwood High School, also invoked Zeldin during her remarks.

“Why should 15 year olds have to discuss the possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter?” she said. “Why should we be discussing dying in school, a place where we’re supposed to be safe and protected? And what can we expect from politicians like Lee Zeldin? Apparently only prayers and condolences. Congress is not taking the necessary steps to keep students like me and my friends safe — or the 5 year olds in kindergarten, or the 11 year olds in middle school. That’s why we are here. We cannot wait for the adults in Congress to continue to let the NRA call the shots when it comes to our safety. These politicians are not listening to us because we are supposedly too young to know what’s good for us, but apparently their silence is what’s best. Or perhaps the issue here is special interests and the money they receive is more important to them than our lives.”

Many of the parents of student speakers and participants in attendance expressed how proud of their children they were.

“It’s honestly the most proud that I’ve ever been of them,” said Kathy Podair, whose daughter Emma and frienf Alyssa Anderson, Smithtown High School West students, were among the marchers. “I’ve raised them to be strong women and to speak out against things that are wrong and that need to change. To see them take that initiative and stand up, I feel like I did a good job. I’m very proud of them today.”

She called sending a student off to high school in today’s world “terrifying.”

“They had a lockdown drill last week,” she said. “We got an email from the superintendent in the morning letting us know that there will be an unannounced lockdown drill today, and they came home from school and told me they were in the choir room when it happened, in a room that doesn’t have a lock on the [glass] door, and they said ‘we were sitting ducks if this was real.’ There were 150 kids in this room and they said ‘there’s nowhere safe for us to hide.’”

Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman and Matt Pifko, who helped organize an indoor assembly that took place March 14 on the day a national walkout was scheduled, along with classmate Gavin Barret, also spoke during the event. The trio said they were inspired by the solidarity they felt from seeing so many of their peers in attendance. The students helped establish a station in the high school that will remain open at which their peers can get assistance in writing letters to elected representatives.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were also among the attendees.

“It is amazing to see the passion, the dedication, the commitment of these students — no fear,” Hahn said. “It is wonderful. They are focused, they are determined, they are smart and they’re getting things done already. And we need to follow their lead.”

A smaller group of counter protestors stood across the street on Route 347 holding signs in support of the Second Amendment, with several Suffolk County Police Department officers and their cars positioned on the median to separate the two groups, though no violence and minimal interaction occurred.

A package of gun control bills passed the New York State Assembly in March and will require passage by the Republican-majority state senate before becoming law. All of the students asked said they intend to vote in the next election, or the first one after their 18th birthday. Organizers from the various activist groups had a table set up during the march to help register attendees to vote.

by -
0 2977

Go Fund Me pages set up to aid future of Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs' family

A helicopter crash in western Iraq hit close to home.

Port Jefferson Station Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs was among those killed in the crash March 15. The 30-year-old was one of seven airmen on board carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Sergeant Dashan Briggs. Photo from 106th Rescue Wing Facebook

Briggs was one of four assigned to the National Air Guard 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach on board the Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed. He was a full-time military member with the wing and a special missions aviation flight engineer, according to a post on the Rescue Wing’s official Facebook page. Briggs was previously deployed to Afghanistan as a munitions system specialist with the 106th maintenance group, as well as to Texas and the Caribbean for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet,” said Andre Galarza, a close friend, former roommate and Riverhead High School classmate of Briggs’ who set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his fallen friends’ widow Rebecca, 2-year-old son Jayden and 1-year-old daughter Ava. “As a person, he was one of the strongest people I know.”

Galarza called Briggs a warrior, a genuine friend always willing to offer a helping hand and a true leader. He said his goal in setting up the fundraiser, which collected nearly $12,000 as of midday March 19, was to help Briggs’ family with future expenses.

“I know with him being in the [Air National Guard], I’m sure they have a process of how they take care of the widow, but for me, I know folks always say, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help’ — I know deep down in my heart this is the right thing to do,” Galarza said.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet.”

— Andre Galarza

Another fundraiser with a similar goal was established by Dusti Napolitano at the request of those who served with Briggs, including her husband, who is currently deployed in Iraq.

“He needs to be honored — he was an excellent man,” she said in a phone interview. “They want to make sure that his children have money available to them if they need anything that their dad would have otherwise provided for them in the future.”

Captain Michael O’Hagan, public affairs officer for the 106th Rescue Wing, said during a media briefing that at this time, the crash does not appear to be the result of enemy activity. Briggs’ body, along with the others in the crash, will be returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the coming days ahead of burial with full military honors, O’Hagan said. He added that the wing has a team of professionals dedicated to helping the families through the grieving process.

“The 106th Rescue Wing specializes in worldwide personal recovery of pilots, military personnel and civilians by air, land and sea during combat and peacetime,” O’Hagan said. “First, on behalf of the men and women of the 106th Rescue Wing, and our extended family, I want to offer up our most sincere, deepest condolences for all those affected by this horrific tragedy, most especially, the loved ones and families of our fallen. Our hearts and prayers and support go out to them through this difficult time. This is where we live and serve. Our hearts are broken.”

“They want to make sure that his children have money available to them if they need anything that their dad would have otherwise provided for them in the future.”

— Dusti Napolitano

Captain Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Captain Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack were the others from the Rescue Wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. Master Sergeant William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sergeant Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Visit https://www.gofundme.com/in-loving-memory-of-dashan-briggs or https://www.youcaring.com/rebeccabriggs-1134709 to donate to Briggs’ family.

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

Discussion also comes in wake of Parkland, Florida shootin

The Port Jefferson School District community attends a meeting in the high school auditorium on school safety Feb. 26. Photo by Alex Petroski

School districts and communities have been forced to reflect in the days since a shooter at a high school in Parkland, Florida killed 17 people.

Port Jefferson School District’s self-examination included a look at the reaction to a social media threat by a now former student the day after the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy. Improving school safety going forward, and a give-and-take between Superintendent Paul Casciano and concerned parents, highlighted a two-hour community meeting inside a packed Port Jefferson High School auditorium Feb. 26.

Casciano shared some details about the district’s handling of the student and the threat, which played out during the final days before mid-winter recess, frequently reminding attendees that he was not at liberty to discuss many of the factors that played into the timeline.

“He doesn’t have access to weapons.”

— James Strack

He said district administration became aware of a social media post at the end of the school day Feb. 15 when two students came forward with concerns.

“Although there was no indication that there was an imminent threat to the safety of our students and staff, we take any threat of violence very seriously, and we immediately contacted the police,” the superintendent said.

He said Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct thoroughly investigated the matter into the night of Feb. 15 and most of the day Feb. 16. He said information, much of which was false, has been spread by parents and members of the community, stemming from a parent.

“Since the investigation was still in progress, I was unable to get any information at that time,” Casciano said. “I was assured that there would be a police presence at the school the next day. We were allowing the 6th Precinct to do their work. We weren’t looking to start spreading the news.”

The superintendent sent out an email to district residents just before midnight Feb. 15 to let parents know a threat had been made, a law enforcement investigation was underway and that extra precautions would be taken to ensure students and staff felt safe during the Feb. 16 school day. He said he elected not to notify parents via a prerecorded phone message because of the late hour.

“Wake us up,” several parents said in response to Casciano’s rationale behind email notification as opposed to a phone call as to not disturb families.

“Although there was no indication that there was an imminent threat to the safety of our students and staff, we take any threat of violence very seriously, and we immediately contacted the police.”

— Paul Casciano

“I think vague is better than zero,” another parent responded to Casciano’s contention that the presence of an ongoing investigation tied his hands.

Many parents said during the meeting they didn’t see the message until after they had sent their children to school, and as erroneous rumors began spreading on social media of a lockdown or evacuation, parents began pulling students out of school. Casciano sent out a second email around 1 p.m. Feb. 16 with the stated mission in part to dispel a “firestorm” of rumors on social media pages frequented by district parents. The second communication reiterated that an investigation was ongoing, which prevented the superintendent from being able to fully brief parents on the situation and that the district buildings were safe.

“Your imagination tends to run a little wild, and I think that’s part of the reason why people were looking for an answer,” one parent said of the environment in the hours after rumors began to spread. “I think it would’ve been nice to get a little articulation from you before this.”

Casciano said at the time, he was advised by the SCPD that there was no credible threat of violence, a point that was backed up by 6th Precinct Police Captain James Strack, who attended the meeting and fielded a handful of parent questions.

“He doesn’t have access to weapons,” Strack stated when asked about the status of the investigation. He said the student and his family were extremely cooperative, and none of the evidence presented to the district attorney’s office met a criminal threshold.

Casciano said he was assured the student was supervised and “receiving proper care.” The student, who is not a Port Jefferson resident, attended by paying tuition, and was not arrested following the incident. The child will not be returning, though Casciano declined to specify if the decision was entirely the district’s.

“I’d like to think it was mutual,” he said.

In addressing increased safety options for the future, the superintendent was clear about a plan being discussed across the country, including at the highest levels of the United States government.

“Teachers with guns make me nervous.”

— Paul Casciano

“Teachers with guns make me nervous,” Casciano said. The sentiment was met with applause from the attendees.

The superintendent mentioned suggestions he’d received from parents, which included arming teachers. Other proposals included installation of bullet-proof windows, enhancing the number of security personnel, conducting backpack checks or banning them altogether, adding metal detectors, arming security guards and monitoring students’ social media accounts.

Casciano also detailed some of the safety practices the district employs, including shooter drills and training for staff and students and identification checks for visitors. He also stressed the district’s commitment to mental health awareness.

One parent, Karen Sullivan, pointed to Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit established by relatives of victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, which offers support, strategies and suggestions to familiarize onself with signs that could indicate a student might be troubled.

“I recently signed up to be a promise leader,” she said. “I’ve been in contact with them over the last three or four days, and they have a slew of programs that would be free to our district. They are ready, willing and able to come here to help, and I’m offering my help and my support.”

Casciano said the district will review submitted suggestions as soon as possible while also examining the feasibility and practicality of any option before eventually submitting any further safety recommendations to the board of education.

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron and county Executive Steve Bellone hold a press conference with new police commissioner nominee Geraldine Hart..Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is looking to continue the year of firsts for law enforcement.

Bellone announced 21-year FBI veteran Geraldine Hart as his nomination to be the next police commissioner in Suffolk at a press conference Feb. 22. If confirmed by the county Legislature, Hart would be the first female police commissioner in Suffolk’s history.

“I am honored for the opportunity to serve the residents of Suffolk County and privileged to serve with the brave, hardworking men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” she said. “I am extremely optimistic about the future of the Suffolk County Police Department and what we can accomplish together.”

Hart was most recently the Senior Supervisory Resident Agent in charge of the FBI’s Long Island office, a position she held for four years. Hart received a bachelor of arts from St. Francis College in Brooklyn and juris doctor from St. John’s University School of Law in Queens.

“Geraldine possesses the integrity, competence and excellence that we are looking for in someone to lead the Suffolk County Police Department,” Bellone said.

In addition to her work combatting gang violence, Hart oversees complex investigations that include public corruption, white-collar crime, terrorism, counter-intelligence, child exploitation and cyber crimes. Hart is also actively engaged in liaison activities, such as providing active shooter training opportunities for county school superintendents, houses of worship, and the first FBI teen academies in Central Islip and Brentwood.

Her leadership abilities were recognized at the highest levels as the recipient of the 2015 Director’s High Impact Leadership Award, which is given to a select number of individuals in the bureau based on an anonymous survey among their peers who rank them for superior leadership abilities.

Hart began her career as an FBI special agent focused on transnational organized crime, where she helped lead and execute complex investigations and enforcement actions to dismantle violent organized crime enterprises, such as the Lucchese crime family. In 1999, Hart was assigned to the Lucchese organized crime squad, working on an investigation that led to the conviction of fugitive Frank Federico, who was responsible for the murders of garbage-industry haulers and informants Robert M. Kubecka, of Greenlawn, and Donald Barstow, of Stony Brook (United States v. Federico). That same year, Hart was awarded the Office of Inspector General’s Integrity Award.

As an FBI case agent, Hart, in 2005, worked closely with the SCPD to investigate two former NYPD detectives who secretly worked as mafia associates on behalf of the Lucchese crime family.  The investigation led to the indictments of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were ultimately convicted of committing murder and disclosing sensitive law enforcement information to mob bosses. The investigation also led to the discovery of a body in Brooklyn in connection with the criminal actions of these two individuals (United States v. Eppolito). For her performance on the case, Hart received the United States Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, the highest award given out in the FBI.

In 2012, Hart was promoted to supervisory special agent to supervise a task force comprised of FBI special agents and NYPD detectives investigating the Genovese, Colombo and Bonanno crime families. In January 2014, these investigations resulted in the takedown of five organized crime members for murder, one tied to the Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy Airport, along with a body that was identified and dug up dating to the 1970s.

“As our next Police Commissioner, she will bring a fresh perspective and build on the progress that we have made over the last two years,” Bellone said.

Hart joins recently inaugurated Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. in a year of firsts for the county, as he became Long Island’s first African American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position earlier this year. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said in a phone interview she was happy to hear of Hart’s nomination because of her integrity and experience, and also noted the significance of a woman holding the position for the first time.

This post was updated with new photos and to include videos Feb. 22.

Check back soon for more information on Hart’s nomination.

Social

9,204FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,118FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe