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Alex Petroski

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Kids play on the equipment at Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson Village during its grand reopening event in June, following a renovation headed up by L.K. McLean Associates, which received an award for engineering excellence last week. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Residents of Port Jefferson Village have known for decades Rocketship Park is a special place, but now the engineering firm that handled its renovation has the hardware to prove it.

L.K. McLean Associates announced Jan. 3 it received the Diamond Award in the special projects category from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York for its renovation of Clinton H. Lee Memorial Park in Port Jeff Village, or Rocketship Park as it’s commonly known. LKMA is a firm with licensed engineers, land surveyors and architects that has been serving the New York Metropolitan area since 1950, according to its website.

The ACEC of New York has hosted annually for more than 50 years its Engineering Excellence Gala — or the Academy Awards of the consulting engineering industry, as the organization’s website indicates. The event is the culmination of a selection process in which more than 60 firms submit projects to be judged on a rigorous set of criteria, including complexity, innovation and value to society. A panel of industry experts, including military and government officials, leadership from ACEC, educators from college and university engineering departments and others, judges the projects. Winners are selected based on the highest average scores in the various categories.

The Diamond Award is the highest level handed out by ACEC.

“As a parent, it was a rewarding experience to work with the village to renovate the park I grew up playing in,” said Chris Dwyer, an associate at LKMA and the project manager for the Rocketship Park renovations. “The park now gives kids of all ages and abilities the opportunity to play and enjoy such an iconic landmark. We are thrilled at such an honor by ACEC.”

The 4,000-square-foot playground was originally built in the 1970s. The idea to overhaul the footprint can be traced as far back as 2013, after vandals destroyed some of the previous equipment. In addition to extra security features, this prompted the village to look into repairs, according to a previous interview with former village trustee Adrienne Kessel. She is chair of the Treasure Your Parks campaign, a group which spearheaded the upgrade project.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting, but that wasn’t the answer,” she said. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she was glad to hear the park would be recognized for its design.

“The recognition for Rocketship is really meaningful because not only is the park beautiful, it was done to allow inclusion for all children to have access,” she said. “So we made it bigger and more beautiful than even we could have imagined it. I am so pleased that everyday residents and visitors can continue to revisit and build their strong family memories at this beautiful family park.”

LKMA served as the sole engineering consultant and site surveyor, and proposed schematic site plans that were eventually developed and used.

“Equipment selection emphasized a meaningful play design, allowing children the opportunity to choose how they play, while seeing connections with play and choice,” LKMA’s announcement of the award said. “A ‘choose your own adventure’ engages children in the five elements essential to meaningful play: physical, cognitive, social, sensory and communicative. The site plan was arranged to maximize parental supervision with clean lines of sight from dispersed seating areas.”

The park has been under video surveillance since it reopened in June and Garant asked that all those who visit the park help ensure it remains clean, free of graffiti, vandalism and litter.

The total cost of the project was almost $900,000, with $500,000 coming from taxpayer dollars, $265,000 from a New York State parks grant and about $120,000 from donations, according to Barbara Sakovich, assistant to the mayor.

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Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

By Alex Petroski

Randall E. Woodard died Dec. 25, Christmas morning, at 8:10 a.m. He had pneumonia for two weeks and died at the hospital in Riverhead. He was 97 years old.

Woodard sat for an interview with TBR News Media in December to share a story about the time he met former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Port Jefferson in 1932 and was photographed at just 11 years old on a sailboat in Port Jefferson Harbor with the soon-to-be president. Woodard gave other biographical details about his life.

He was born Sept 3, 1920, at 104 Prospect St. in Port Jefferson opposite the First Baptist Church, where later he would become the bell ringer.

Woodard and his family owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the decades he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

Randall Woodard and his wife Barbara aboard the family sailboat. Photo from Warren Woodard

He graduated from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, and then went on to serve as a Seabee officer — a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was ultimately not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

He was part of a mission that headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges, Woodard was responsible for overseeing the U.S. Marine Corps invading Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard was in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

He is survived by his wife Barbara Woodard, of Port Jefferson; daughter Tracy Woodard Wyncoop of Lebanon, New Hampshire; sons Terry Randall Woodard of Port Jeff and Warren Woodard of Calverton; his grandsons Eric Randall Michaels and David Randall Woodard; and three great grandchildren.

The Woodard family has decided to have a service in the spring or summer at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jeff. The date and time will be announced in the near future. Services will be entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket.

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson is set to join Northwell Health. File photo from Mather Hospital

A historic change at a nearly 90-year-old Port Jefferson institution has been finalized.

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital will officially finalize an affiliation agreement with Northwell Health Dec. 21, according to a Mather board member, who asked not to be referred to by name. Leadership from Mather Hospital signed a letter of intent to join Northwell, New York’s largest health care provider, in August, though the sides had not yet finalized the terms of the agreement at that time. It is the first time in the hospital’s history it will be affiliating with a larger health system, and a signing ceremony is set to take place Thursday, Dec. 21, at 3 p.m. in a conference room at the hospital. The board member said he expects Northwell Health president and chief executive officer Michael Dowling as well as Mather board of directors chairman Ken Jacoppi to attend the signing.

Mather Hospital is set to join Northwell Healht. Photo from Huntington Hospital

“We’re very pleased Northwell has committed to making an investment in our community and bringing their extraordinary capabilities to our community,” the board member said. “They’ve committed to preserve our culture of patient safety.”

The board member said part of the agreement is that Mather’s board and CEO will remain in place through an initial period of five years, allowing the hospital to remain “largely self-governing” during that time with collaboration and cooperation from Northwell. The Mather board member did not specify the total length or any other specifics of the agreement. A spokesperson from Mather confirmed the ceremonial signing will take place Dec. 21 and that the agreement has been reached, but declined to confirm any details relating to the contract.

The board member summed up what the change might mean for hospital patients going forward.

“In the near term the experience should not change at all,” he said. “We happen to believe that’s a good experience, generally speaking. In the long term Northwell has greater capabilities than we do and we’ll gain those. They’re committed to supporting our residency program as well.”

In August, state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) voiced opposition to the agreement, saying he would have preferred Mather affiliate with Stony Brook University Hospital.

“I don’t think it’s a good decision,” LaValle said at the time. “For 50 years-plus there’s been a culture in place if people needed tertiary care they would go from Mather to Stony Brook. Stony Brook will still be in place, will still offer services and people if they choose can go to Stony Brook.”

Mather Hospital vice president of public affairs Nancy Uzo said in August Stony Brook was considered an option for affiliation and offered an explanation by email.

“Our goal through this process is to ensure that our communities continue to have access to advanced, high-quality care and superior satisfaction close to home, and to serve the best interests of our medical staff and employees,” she said.

Dowling commented similarly about Mather Hospital’s reputation around the letter of intent signing in August, and as to why Northwell would be a good fit for Mather.

“Mather Hospital is known for patient-centric care both in the community and throughout the industry,” he said. “That deeply embedded sense of purpose is the type of quality we want to represent Northwell Health, along with an excellent staff of medical professionals and physicians. Together, Mather and Northwell will play a crucial partnership role expanding world-class care and innovative patient services to Suffolk County residents.”

A public relations representative from Northwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This story was updated Dec. 19 to include a Mather spokesperson’s confirmation of the signing ceremony.

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The 'pink house’ in Belle Terre Village as it's being demolished in November. Photo from Historical Port Jefferson Facebook page

An iconic Port Jefferson landmark located on the Belle Terre bluffs and previously owned by a Bulgarian countess and movie star is no more.

Colloquially referred to as “the pink house” for its bubblegum-hued exterior paint job, the 30 bedroom home located at 161 Cliff Road was built in 1870 and was nearly 19,000 square feet, according to the Town of Brookhaven assessment roll. It was demolished during November, according to a Belle Terre Village employee, though the village declined to comment further on the house or property when asked why it was demolished or if the owner needed village permission to do so.

The home was recently owned and occupied by Countess Nadia de Navarro-Farber, who died in 2014, according to an obituary on the O.B. Davis Funeral Homes website. A November legal notice from Belle Terre Village indicated a public hearing was held Nov. 28 based on the request of the property’s current owner, Yuri Farber, who is seeking to build a new two-story residence on the premises, the notice said. Farber is listed as the countess’ husband in her obituary. He could not be reached for comment.

“It’s just a total icon, you won’t run into anyone in the area who doesn’t know it,” a Facebook user named Theonie Makidis said in a discussion that took place on a page with more than 5,000 followers dedicated to sharing stories and photos related to the history of Port Jefferson. “Kind of an enigma as well because it was extremely private and secluded — being parked right in front of it you couldn’t see it at all between the bushes and the gates, but you may be lucky enough to catch a small glimpse of the (almost as iconic) green gardener’s house. The only way you could really see this home for its true beauty is when you were on a boat on the water and you’d look up and there it was up on the bluff, comforting, reliable and breathtaking. It will be missed; it’s heartbreaking and the end of an era.”

Scenes from the 1989 comedy “She Devil” starring Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep were shot at the pink house, which added to its iconic reputation. The countess was born to a noble family in Bulgaria and starred in several black-and-white movies in her home country, the obituary said. She moved to New York in 1949 and lived in Belle Terre for more than 40 years. She was twice honored by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital for her generosity, and her propensity to donate her time and money to help the hospital.

“The countess was very generous at Christmas time [as] she had many parties for the local kids,” poster Ernie Rositzke said in the Facebook thread. “Some of the gifts were mink teddy bears all lined up sitting on the staircase leading upstairs. She was a very generous women, lots of pleasant memories.”

Several community members lamented the loss of the local monument, where some said they attended hospital fundraisers and other events or took wedding photos. Another poster said being from Port Jefferson Station, it was a destination simply worth “taking a ride past” to see it. An area fisherman said the house even served as a marker for those fishing from a boat.

“Obviously the owner can do what he likes with his property, but this particular one means a little something to many of us,” Warren Handy, an administrator of the Historical Port Jefferson Facebook group, said in the thread.

Many of Port Jefferson’s buildings have a Victorian-era architectural style, but one trustee wants to establish the style as a standard for future construction. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village trustee wants to look to the past for inspiration while visualizing future construction.

Village board member Bruce Miller publicly introduced a draft of a resolution Dec. 4 born out of a meeting of the Architectural Review Committee, which if passed would require new buildings in the village’s commercial districts both uptown and downtown to adhere to designs consistent with Port Jeff’s “Victorian, maritime heritage.”

“We have a village for which there are a lot of reasons for people to come to Port Jefferson, either to visit, to live or to establish a business, and we believe that the charm of the community is part of that,” Miller said during the meeting. “We feel that we would want to emphasize our strong points. Development has been somewhat haphazard in the past, and we have a number of architectural styles. The core architectural style is a Victorian style.”

Miller, one of three members of the architecture committee, was outspoken about the look of various construction projects already underway in the village in February.

“We have a village for which there are a lot of reasons for people to come to Port Jefferson, either to visit, to live or to establish a business, and we believe that the charm of the community is part of that.”

— Bruce Miller

“This is a Victorian village but we’re turning it into hodgepodge lodge here,” he said during a meeting. “There’s just no cohesion here.”

Miller admitted after reading the drafted resolution during the meeting he didn’t expect immediate action from the board on the matter, but rather to begin a conversation with the hope of a resolution similar to the one proposed eventually reaching the point of a board vote.

“We have a number of mixed styles that have been constructed over the years in the village, and we, the committee, feel that establishing a brand — establishing Port Jefferson as a Victorian, maritime village as far as image is concerned and architecture — is important and helpful,” he said. “Sometimes developers want to build things that are maybe in the style that they prefer. Maybe they want to build things that are just cheaper to construct. We feel that this resolution highlights some direction for the future in terms of what will be more attractive to bring people to Port Jefferson in terms of visiting, tourism and property values.”

The committee’s other two members also attended the meeting and voiced support for Miller’s resolution.

“Because of the recognized history of the Victorian architecture in Port Jefferson Village, and because I believe that upper Port and lower Port should be coordinated in that effort, I feel that trustee Miller’s suggestion has merit and I would appreciate some thoughtful consideration be given to that,” said Kathy Schiavone, a six-year member of the committee.

Jackie Mooney also spoke during the meeting, calling her committee member’s suggestion “a very good one.”

Heritage Open Days, England’s largest festival of history and culture established in the mid-1990s to increase appreciation for the country’s cultural assets according to its website, points out several architectural characteristics considered to be of Victorian style, including patterned bricks, terraces, stained glass, front porches and high towers with pointed roofs. Many homes in the village share the characteristics associated with Victorian-era architecture. Certain village events, like the Charles Dickens Festival, are even billed as odes to Victorian-era culture..

None of the other Port Jeff Village board members commented on Miller’s proposal during the meeting.

Randall Woodard, 97, reflects on meeting Roosevelt, a life and roots in the village, military service

Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in one case, a picture is worth almost 100 years of history.

On Dec. 8, 1941, 76 years ago to the day, then president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered his “day which will live in infamy” speech during a joint session of Congress in response to Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7. The address served as the precursor to the U.S. finally joining World War II and taking up the fight against the Axis powers. He went on to serve as president until his death in 1945, preventing him from completing his fourth term in office, a feat in itself, as no other American president has served more than two terms.

In the summer of 1932 just before his first presidential campaign, Roosevelt, an avid sailor, made a recreational stop in Port Jefferson Harbor.

Woodard and son Warren during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Warren Woodard

At the time, Roosevelt was the governor of New York and the Democratic Party nominee for the general presidential election that fall. He defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover to win the highest office in the land in November 1932. During the visit, Roosevelt took a photo aboard a sailboat with two youngsters from Port Jeff, one of whom is still alive residing in the village.

Randall Woodard was born Sept. 3, 1920, in his home on Prospect Street. His family has deep roots in Port Jefferson, though his ancestors can be traced back even further to Southold in 1664.

“I wasn’t there that day,” Woodard quipped during a November visit to the Times Beacon Record News Media office in Setauket, accompanied by his youngest son, Warren, and Richard Olson, a longtime Port Jefferson School District history teacher who has since retired.

Woodard’s father Grover was the school district manager in Port Jeff, and actually hired Earl L. Vandermeulen, who the high school was eventually named after. His wife Barbara worked in the elementary school under Edna Louise Spear, the eventual namesake of the same school. Though he said he didn’t meet any other presidents in his life, Woodard met Albert Einstein once, and his grandmother heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech in New York. Woodard went on to have two sons and a daughter, who were all raised in Port Jeff in a house on the corner of High Street and Myrtle Avenue.

The photo of Woodard, his childhood friend Gilbert Kinner and the soon-to-be president of the United States is a cherished possession of the Woodard family. Warren joked there’s a framed copy hanging in every room of his house.

Woodard said on the day he met Roosevelt that he and Kinner were sailing his family’s 12-foot mahogany vessel around Port Jefferson Harbor on a warm summer morning in June or July.

At about 10 a.m., two or three seaplanes landed in the harbor and taxied over to the beach near the east end of the waterfront near the famous Bayles Dock. Woodard, who was 12 years old at the time, said he and Kinner noticed a large crowd gathering near the dock, so they decided to sail over and see what the commotion was all about.

“I think I could take you.”

— Randall Woodard

They approached the black yawl sailing craft tied to the dock with a man wearing a white sun hat seated in the cockpit. Woodard said he still remembers noticing the metal braces on Roosevelt’s legs and a pack of cigarettes on the seat next to him.

“The whole waterfront of Port Jeff was people,” Woodard said. Roosevelt was waiting for his four sons, who were running late, to arrive to begin a vacation cruise.

The Democratic National Convention had just selected him as the party’s nominee for the presidential election that fall, and it was too early to begin campaigning. While he waited for his sons to arrive, Roosevelt and the reporters milling in the vicinity suggested the candidate should be in a photo with the two boys. Woodard and Kinner boarded, and “Vote for Roosevelt” hats were placed on their heads to wear in the photo. Woodard recalled that Kinner took the hat off, tossed it in the cockpit and calmly said, “My father is a Republican.”

Woodard said there was an even more memorable interaction from the meeting when Roosevelt asked him, “How does the boat sail?” Young Randall responded, “I think I could take you.”

He referred to the then-governor’s vessel as “badly designed,” with a laugh during the interview. He said eventually Roosevelt and the others took off sailing in the Long Island Sound. Woodard and his friend tried to keep up with Roosevelt for as long as they could until the soon-to-be president was out of sight.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies,” Woodard wrote in a 2004 account of the day.

Woodard and his son Warren shared a story about seeing by chance a clip of 12-year-old Randall dancing on Roosevelt’s boat in a documentary about past presidents decades later. Warren said they purchased multiple copies of the documentary on DVD.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies.”

— Randall Woodard

Woodard’s life and interests would intersect with Roosevelt’s in other ways later in life. His daughter Tracy was diagnosed with polio in 1949, which also famously afflicted Roosevelt. Woodard’s affinity for boating only grew after 1932, and he eventually went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, where Roosevelt had previously served as the assistant secretary prior to his years as governor.

The Woodards owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the years he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time,” he wrote in 2004. He joked he and a high school friend went to Citadel because their grades were not good enough to attend the U.S. Naval or Coast Guard academies.

“I was not a hero,” Woodard said. “If we didn’t have a Marine Corps we’d still be over there. I was in enough tight spots to know.”

After graduating from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, he became a Seabee officer in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time.”

— Randall Woodard

He was part of a mission headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges Woodard was responsible for overseeing, the U.S. Marine Corps invaded Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

One day a Japanese Zero aircraft flew low and attacked his flat steel barge with little options in the way of hiding places. He said he pulled out his handgun and fired two rounds at the aircraft, which eventually went down.

“I probably missed, but the plane crashed into the side of a freighter,” he wrote in 2004. He said his barges survived for five weeks until the island was secure. After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington, D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard said he remained in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

This post was updated Dec. 8 to correct the date of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 speech.

The community came together in Port Jefferson Village over the weekend to embody a famous quote from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

Dec. 2 and 3 marked the 22nd annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jeff, an event that brings out locals and visitors to take part in a weekend full of events, activities, performances and parades. Attendees were treated to ice skating, cookie decorating, a display of decorated Christmas trees with various themes, street performances by actors portraying people from the Dickens era, horse-drawn carriage rides, toasted marshmallows, Christmas carols and much more.

Every year the organizers of the event select honorees and dedicate the festival in their name. This year, George and Karen Overin, two long-time Dickens Festival participants and volunteers, were recognized.

“Perhaps there are no two people that better represent the joy, the feeling of family, and, indeed, the magic of this cherished weekend that has captured the imagination of people from around the globe,” the dedication to the honorees read in part.

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

A technological upgrade in Port Jefferson almost four decades in the making got a jolt of life this month.

The Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road line was electrified as far east as Huntington in 1970, and despite calls ever since, electrification of the line further east to Port Jeff has yet to take place. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) met with Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mitchell Pally during November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff. Trains used on the line east of Huntington currently run on diesel fuel.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said of electrification during a phone interview. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

The feasibility study would be conducted by the LIRR and MTA, according to LaValle, and he said he’s not sure what the study would cost.

“Conducting a feasibility study makes a great deal of sense,” LIRR spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement. “Additional electrification has long been part of the discussion for future improvements. We look forward to working with Senator LaValle about the possibility of obtaining funding for such a study.”

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

Stadler said in an email he considered the feasibility study “a big step forward,” and said he’s optimistic it could get the ball rolling. However, he added the discussion has heated and cooled in the past as well.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a Nov. 20 board of trustees meeting she and Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe recently met with LaValle, and the topic of electrification of the Port Jeff line came up as well.

“It would be critical to electrify the North Shore line,” Garant said during the meeting. The village is in the process of examining transportation improvements that could among other benefits, increase LIRR ridership and better coordinate the schedules of the railroad, Suffolk County buses and the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry.

LaValle said the process of obtaining money to actually complete the electrification work wouldn’t be done prior to the feasibility study, though he said he believes funding could be attainable.

“We want to move people as quickly as possible east to west and build the same rate of success as Ronkonkoma is enjoying in terms of availability of trains into not only New York City, but west,” he said. “Before we do that we need to know with specificity — communities need to know what it means for their community.”

The state senator also mentioned discussions with the MTA concerning the possible usage of Lawrence Aviation Industries Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station as a possible LIRR rail yard.

Both LaValle and Donovan declined to share specifics about the timetable of a feasibility study.

U.S. Reps. Peter King, Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi voice bipartisan opposition to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 28. Photo by Alex Petroski

Components of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a federal tax reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in November and currently before the U.S. Senate, has achieved the seemingly impossible in finding common ground for Republicans and Democrats.

Members of Long Island’s congressional delegation from both political parties stood in front of the Internal Revenue Service building in Hauppauge Nov. 28 alongside business owners, representatives from local chambers of commerce, and town and county elected officials to deliver a clear and unified message: As currently constituted, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would harm Long Islanders.

“I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth to propose eliminating [state and local tax deductions],” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said during the press conference, pointing to the elimination of the SALT deduction as a key sticking point in the bill. “You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

“You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

— Lee Zeldin

The SALT deduction, which was enacted 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid double taxation. The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle-class families.

The 2nd District U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) also attended the press conference to rally support for changes to the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it. None of the House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

“There are some good aspects in both the House bill and the Senate bill,” Zeldin said. “Voters last November, when they went to the polls looking for that tax relief for them, for their families, for their community … this is not the tax relief that they had in mind. We may be upsetting a lot of people in our own party back in Washington right now, but we are not elected to be their congressmen.”

King echoed Zeldin’s position on both versions of the bill, calling the position between the three representatives a “united front.”

“I strongly favor tax cuts across the board,” King said. “I believe they are necessary, but this bill, both the House version and the Senate bill, I am opposed to.”

“We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that.”

— Peter King

King reiterated that his biggest issue with the bills is the elimination of the SALT deduction.

“This is inequitable, it’s unjust and it’s wrong,” King said. “Long Island is really the main victim of this tax bill. We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that. Don’t make it worse.”

King, who has been a supporter of Trump and his agenda, also took the opportunity to send a message to the White House.

“My district twice voted for Barack Obama by four points and by five points,” King said. “Donald Trump carried [New York’s 2nd Congressional District] by nine points. That was a 14-point turnaround. The people of Long Island didn’t make that turnaround so the Trump administration could raise their taxes so the rest of the country could get a tax break.”

Suozzi, the lone congressional Democrat at the event, also preached unity on tax reform as it pertains to Long Islanders.

“This would be a punch in the gut to everybody on Long Island if this bill were to pass either in the House form or the Senate form,” he said. Suozzi added that he thought it took guts for Zeldin and King to be among the 13 “no” votes among Republicans in the House. “We’re united 100 percent in recognizing eliminating the state and local tax deduction would be devastating to our constituents.”

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

Participants of a protest against the federal tax bill outside of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

Representatives from local organizations stood outside Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket Nov. 29 to voice their opposition to the bill. Until recently, Robert Mercer was the chief executive officer of the hedge fund, though he is known nationally for his contributions to conservative and right-wing political campaigns.

“It’s clear that there are a lot of changes that are coming and for middle-class folks like us, they’re not going to be good changes,” said Peter Verdon a Suffolk County resident who was present at the protest. “The system is clearly out of whack, tilted towards the extremely wealthy and it’s continuing in that direction and enough’s enough. We can’t allow that to continue to happen.”

Bill Crump, a Lindenhurst resident and member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition political activist group also attended.

“We’re going to have a $1.5 trillion deficit and they’re going to cut our Medicare and our benefits,” he said. “It’s coming out of our pockets. Trump claims he’s going to give a tax cut. Maybe he’s going to give you a quarter while he reaches in and takes your wallet.”

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills, and to include information about a Nov. 29 protest in Setauket. Additional reporting contributed by Kevin Redding.

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Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

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