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Andrew Cuomo

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has put New York on a path to become the 10th state in the United States to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. We’re in favor of jumping on the national movement, so long as it’s done with both eyes wide open.

On Aug. 2, Cuomo announced that he was forming a group of 20 experts specializing in public health, safety and economics to draft legislation to regulate the recreational use of marijuana by adults. The bill would go before the state Legislature in January 2019.

Laws surrounding marijuana have been gradually shifting since California legalized its medical use in 1996. A number of scientific studies have shown the drug may be beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain, seizures and mental impairments. New York adopted medical marijuana laws in July 2014.

The state’s foray into opening the medical marijuana market has been closely regulated. Patients need to be formally diagnosed by a licensed medical practitioner, have it prescribed, register with the state and carry an identification card. The state has limited the number of dispensaries, making for news whenever a site opens.

Moving toward decriminalizing recreational use of pot — as its more commonly called — could provide several benefits. Colorado, one of the first states to allow smoking marijuana in 2012, saw an immediate economic boom. It saw a vast spike in tourism, something unlikely to repeat here in New York, but reports show benefits from taxing and regulating what was once an underground market.

The Gazette, a Colorado Springs newspaper, reported in July that studies show there’s been an increase in the number of adults who are indulging in marijuana, while the number of high school and middle school students who report testing it out has held steady at or below the national average. Simply put, if a teen was tempted to try it — marijuana’s legality wasn’t stopping them.

New York approving legislation allowing for the drug’s recreational use — treating it similarly to alcohol — could open up avenues for regulations of an otherwise black market turning it into a resource to provide tax revenue for the state. The funds would arguably benefit school districts and could be used to help close state budgetary shortfalls while helping offset any further tax hikes.

The drafted bill should outline restrictions on smoking up more in line with shifting socially acceptable drugs, like alcohol. We agree age restrictions, limitations on appropriate places and enforcement against drugged driving need to be on the books.

The issue becomes, can marijuana be safely, legally and responsibly used?

State legislators need to create a carefully crafted, well-thought out bill that sets parameters to allow for regulation of what’s already happening. Each week, TBR News Media reporters see countless incidents of people being arrested for possessing or smoking marijuana — without committing other criminal behavior. Regulate it, create a market and be flexible to amending the laws when — not if — loopholes emerge.

It’s time to refocus our law enforcement’s efforts on cracking down on Long Island’s illegal heroin and opioid problems, which can and do result in fatal overdoses and places stress on our health care system.

Citizen's Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, on left, shows the decrease in single-use plastic bags (in blue) from a survey done in December 2017 to one done in April 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though there are still people in Suffolk County who regularly kick themselves for forgetting to bring their reusable bags into stores, a newly-released survey says the law that enforces a five-cent per bag fee has so far been effective.

Legislature to vote on statewide ban of plastic bags

By Desirée Keegan

At the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags across the state April 23, which would begin in January 2019 if passed. The three-page bill, introduced by the governor a day after Earth Day, comes a little more than a year after he blocked a 5-cent surcharge that New York City had sought to place on plastic bags.

Cuomo described the measure as an effort to counteract the “blight of plastic bags” that is taking “a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources,” he said in a statement.

Seeking re-election for a third term in the fall, Cuomo then quoted an adage: “We did not inherit the Earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children.”

If the bill were to pass, New York would join California, which approved a statewide ban of plastic bags in 2016. Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags; all of its counties have instituted bans.

But the measure faces an uncertain path in the Legislature, where leaders of the Assembly and the Senate had opposed the city’s bill. The measure would very likely face a stiffer challenge in the Republican-majority Senate.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, a variety of bags would be exempt from the ban, including those that contain raw meat, fish or poultry; bags sold in bulk; those used in bulk packages of fruit and dried goods; those used for deli products; newspaper bags; trash, food storage and garment bags; and takeout food bags. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation would also be allowed to exempt certain bags through regulations.

The news comes after advocates from across the state gathered the same day in Albany to hold Cuomo accountable for meeting his climate and clean energy commitments.

“Today, New Yorkers delivered a message to Governor Cuomo: Walk the talk on climate action; follow through on your words, because lasting change only happens through action and putting goals into law,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “New York has a remarkable opportunity to be an international leader on climate if, and only if, we embrace a future powered by renewables. The people of the state will continue to remind Governor Cuomo of this opportunity until he takes advantage of it.”

“And this is only in three months since the law passed,” Executive Director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito said to the Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee April 19. “This is a great success. Public behavior is changing.”

In November and December of last year, her environmental advocacy group conducted a study that showed 70 percent  of 20,000 Suffolk County shoppers surveyed left a store with a plastic, non-reusable bag in tow. Only 6 percent of customers surveyed used a reusable bag.

After a new survey of 6,000 people this month in 20 grocery stores throughout the county, just 30 percent of those surveyed bought plastic bags and 43 percent were now carrying reusable. Twenty-one percent of people shopping in those grocery stores decided not to take a bag.

“As we celebrate Earth Day it’s great to have news that the bag fee is effective, said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “I know that there were concerns with adopting the bag law, but to see real, tangible results in such a short period of time, I think it’s very exciting.”

Ocean plastics have become a real concern to a number of environmental scientists and advocacy groups, and Esposito said the next goal is to see if there’s a way to reduce the use of other sources of plastic, like straws and utensil.

“Plastic is becoming a real threat to the environment,” she said.

Dr. Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood schools research scientist and teacher, surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and said the amount of plastics found in the water was extremely troubling.

“What we found at the Flax Pond in one square meter [was] 17 grams of microplastics, which are plastics under 5 millimeters [large],” Grella said. “In the entire shoreline of Flax Pond — over a mile of shoreline — we extrapolated there is about 400 pounds of plastic.”

The microplastics are from larger pieces that have eroded along the sea floor until they are smaller in size. They are often ingested by sea life, which not only endangers aquatic creatures but any creature who eat them, including people.

Spencer said that while a total ban on bags would have been more efficient, there was no way to get it passed by the Legislature.

“I think in order to get to this point after years of negotiation, the nickel offered a successful compromise,” Spencer said. “I think the law has worked so well because people don’t want their nickels going to the store.”

“By charging people 5 cents there seems to be a lot of people getting angry and agitated,” Grella said. “In all actuality, it isn’t as easy to put a 5-cent fee on paper or plastic.”

Despite the success, Esposito admitted there is a chance to eventually see an increase in purchased bag use as more people get used to the law.

“We do get concerned about people getting used to the nickel and just paying it,” she said. “So that’s why we need to keep up public education.”

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment is planning to conduct another survey in November and December to gather a much larger sample size, and survey more than just grocery stores.

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

To preserve it, they plan to purchase it.

For years, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and his colleagues have fought tooth and nail to make the scenic stretch of woodland surrounding an abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off-limits to
developers. In January, he co-sponsored legislation to prevent the site from being dismantled for solar farm installation. 

And as of this month, under legislative approval in the state’s recently passed budget, not only has more than 800 acres of the site been added to the publicly protected Central Pine Barrens preservation area, as well as portions of Mastic Woods, elected officials have pushed for the state to buy the parcel of land altogether.

“[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright announced Apr. 4 that, as per an agreement passed by state officials the previous week, roughly 840 acres of the property — made up of rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife — is set to be
purchased from its current owner, National Grid, in increments over the course of a few years, beginning in 2019. He said he and his fellow officials will urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to fund the acquisition, projecting that it could cost between $20-$50 million. But a final price won’t be known until the land is appraised, he said. At this point, he said there is roughly $36 million in the state budget this year for land acquisition, from which funds can be pulled to begin the process. 

He said National Grid has signed an agreement for the sale of the property and, since the acreage lies within the Shoreham-Wading River school district, taxes will be paid by the state on behalf of the school.

By turning the Shoreham land into state property, Englebright, as well as state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), longtime ralliers against ecosystem disturbance, hope to be able to better utilize its “unique natural characteristics” and improve its ground and surface water quality and coastal resiliency, as well as support tourism.

“We’ve recovered the Shoreham property and we’re stepping off into the direction of doing positive things, so stay tuned,” Englebright said. In his announcement at the beginning of the month, he said, “[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting. Preservation of this museum-piece landscape as well as ensuring public access is a triumph for the protection of Long Island’s natural history heritage.”

“I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

— Richard Amper

Last year, Englebright proposed building a state park on the site as an alternative to National Grid’s plan to bulldoze its forest to build a solar farm in its footprint.

Together with the help of LaValle at the beginning of the year, Englebright drafted a bill calling for the expansion of the Central Pine Barrens to protect the Shoreham site and Mastic Woods — a 100-acre parcel also in danger of being deforested for a solar farm.The elected officials argued against “pitting greens against greens,” saying that while solar panels provide an important renewable energy source, they should not be installed “on pristine ecosystems.” Cuomo ended up vetoing that bill, but passed the Shoreham portion of it less than a month later.

The Mastic acreage is still slated for a solar farm installation to Englebright’s dismay, but he said he’s not giving up on saving it.

“My hope is that we can still see some leadership at the state level to provide alternative sites for solar development,” he said, suggesting the state office building in Hauppauge, which includes a large section of parking lots. “We should encourage solar installation, but work to move the project to a more worthy, and less destructive, site.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, commended the purchase of the property.

“This is one of the most important [proposed state] acquisitions in the history of the Pine Barrens and other woodland preservations over the years,” Amper said. “I think that it’s terrific that we are still protecting our woodlands. I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County has signed off on joining New York State in suing the Environmental Protection Agency for dumping dredged materials in Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced last summer the state would be taking legal action against the EPA after in 2016 the agency moved to increase the number of open water dumping sites in the Sound from two to three, despite a call from state government leaders of both New York and Connecticut in 2005 to reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of dumping in the Sound.

The Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site, now a permanent open water site for the disposal of dredged materials, is midway between Connecticut and New York, and less than 1.5 nautical miles from Fishers Island, which is part of Southold Town and Suffolk County, despite technically being in Connecticut’s waters. The disposal site is in an area that had never before been used for open water disposal.

Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who represents Southold, Riverhead and communities in eastern Brookhaven, initiated the legislation directing Suffolk County to join the action against the EPA.

“This is another step in a decades-long fight to try and get the EPA to play by the rules,” Krupski said. “The Long Island Sound is threatened by pollution, warming waters and acidification, and the last thing that should be done is to dump potentially toxic substances into the estuary.”

Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) joined Krupski in sponsoring the legislation authorizing the county to join the lawsuit.

“For more than the 30 years, leaders from both shores of the Long Island Sound have invested heavily on a cooperative effort to restore its life and majesty,” said Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee. “As such, the decision by our neighbor to the north to dump potentially toxic pesticides, heavy metals and industrial by-products into the Sound is nearly as dumbfounding as the Environmental Protection Agency’s willingness to allow it.”

Cuomo made the case against expanded dumping when the lawsuit was announced.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to protect New York’s environment, and with the EPA’s unfathomable and destructive decision to turn the eastern Long Island Sound into a dumping ground — now is the time for action,” Cuomo said in 2016. “We will establish that this designation not only poses a major threat to a significant commercial and recreational resource, but that it also undermines New York’s long-standing efforts to end dumping in our treasured waters.”

Last year, Brookhaven and Southold towns joined the lawsuit, which contends the EPA failed to adequately investigate alternatives to open water disposal and overestimated the need for the new site. It also alleges the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, which was approved by the EPA, violates the Ocean Dumping Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and cited a “failure to address environmental impacts on the Long Island Sound.” The body of water was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the EPA in 1988 and is recognized as an important economic engine for Suffolk County and all of Long Island, supporting both recreational and commercial businesses and contributing billions of dollars to the regional economy.

“We’re here to send a very strong message — that we are opposed to dumping in the Sound,” Romaine said during a press conference Aug. 28 at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. “The State of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

As students and districts deal with the aftermath of a nationwide student walkout March 14, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has made it clear where he stands on punishments for those who participated.

“Peaceful expression of views on controversial issues that is not disruptive or threatening is a right that all students have in this country, and any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students and faculty to free speech,” Cuomo said in part in an open letter to New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in an open letter March 15. “Threatening to discipline students for participating in the peaceful demonstrations is not only inappropriate, it is unconstitutional. Reports that schools may also discipline faculty are also highly concerning and would send a terrible message to our students.”

Students from several North Shore schools — including Ward Melville High School, Rocky Point High School and Northport High School — participated in the national walkout inspired by the political activism stemming from a Feb. 14 shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people. Many of the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida spearheaded what became a national movement. Students in other districts — like Port Jefferson High School and Harborfields High School — participated in school-approved indoor memorials and remembrances which also included outlets for students to express their views on gun control legislation. Many school districts issued warnings prior to March 14 that participating students would face disciplinary action. Elia was publicly supportive of the walkouts prior to March 14.

Michelle Salz, the mother of a Rocky Point Middle School student, said she will be joining with a group of parents who have come together to fight the suspensions legally.

“I am infuriated that the school is not allowing my straight A honors student, who is the president of her student council and the president of the national junior honor society, to exercise her First Amendment right to free speech,” she said. “It is disgraceful that our school district is choosing to penalize our activist students instead of embracing this event as a teaching opportunity.”

Cuomo’s letter its entirety:

Dear Commissioner Elia,

Yesterday, I proudly stood shoulder to shoulder with brave students and faculty who spoke out against gun violence. History provides moments where real change is possible, and the thousands of students who participated in organized walk-outs all throughout the state are seizing the moment and admirably standing up for the safety of their classmates and students across the country.

In the last 24 hours, there have been several reports of New York State schools disciplining students and faculty for participating in yesterday’s historic events to stop gun violence. In at least one disturbing incident, it was reported that the school physically blocked the exits to prevent students from demonstrating.

These actions send a terrible message to New York’s children and are against constitutional free speech protections. I call on you to use SED’s authority to stop these schools, reverse course and cease any disciplinary actions.

Peaceful expression of views on controversial issues that is not disruptive or threatening is a right that all students have in this country, and any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students and faculty to free speech. Threatening to discipline students for participating in the peaceful demonstrations is not only inappropriate, it is unconstitutional. Reports that schools may also discipline faculty are also highly concerning and would send a terrible message to our students.

The students who participated in the walk-out are trying to advance laws and actions that would save their lives, and many viewed their participation as necessary to their own safety. The scourge of mass shootings in schools is very real, and these students were taking proactive steps to protect themselves and their classmates. These actions, coupled with the peaceful manner in which the demonstrations were conducted, is something that should be lauded, not punished.

Additionally, I call on you to thoroughly investigate any reports of schools that blocked the exits to physically prevent students from leaving during the event. This an egregious safety violation and it is also unlawful.

Yesterday’s actions were a testament to the courage and leadership of New York’s students. As I said yesterday, these young people are showing more leadership than the so-called leaders in Washington. To punish or discipline them is inconsistent with the freedom of expression that we cherish. It would say more about the adults imposing discipline than it would about the students who exercised their rights to speak out.

Sincerely,

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting

Drug dealers are designing and manufacturing fentanyl-laced drugs to resemble name-brand prescriptions. Stock photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) took a firm stand against the spread of fentanyl earlier this month, proposing legislation to add 11 variations of the highly addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid drug to the state’s scheduled controlled substances list. If enacted, this law would help close a current loophole in New York that makes it easier for narcotics dealers to distribute deadly drugs and skirt felony charges by designing and manufacturing them to resemble name-brand prescriptions.

The governor pushed the proposal Feb. 5 as part of a 30-day state budget amendment, with the hopes of the budget passing the senate in April.

Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine. Stock photo

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable and helping ensure that our laws are able to keep pace with this evolving public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “Make no mistake: Fentanyl is potent, dangerous and its abuse is increasingly fueling the misery of the opioid epidemic.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine and even more so than heroin — the lethal dose of heroin is about 30 milligrams, while the lethal dose of fentanyl is 3mg. It is also not commonly reversed by Narcan, the lifesaving drug that combats heroin overdoses. Cuomo said the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state increased by nearly 160 percent in 2016, a statistic that led him to evaluate what’s missing from the controlled substances list.

His push is resonating across Suffolk County.

“I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this important step toward closing this dangerous loophole that shields drug dealers from justice and continues to tear our communities apart,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in response to the governor’s statement. “I urge the state senate and assembly to include this proposal in their respective budget bills. We need to utilize every resource available to deter individuals who create and sell these deadly drugs.”

Over at the county correctional facility, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., who regularly visits school district across Suffolk to speak with students about the dangers of opioid use, also approved of Cuomo’s actions.

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable…”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I applaud [Cuomo] for proposing strong regulations on fentanyl analogs because it gives law enforcement another avenue to crack down on drug traffickers and dealers pushing these dangerous and lethal substances into our communities,” he said.

Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and the president of nonprofits North Shore Drug Awareness and On Kevin’s Wings, knows firsthand the devastation these opioids cause. Her son, Kevin, died of an overdose in 2012 and her daughter Breanna is currently three years in recovery.

Farrell said because there are so many different chemical makeups of fentanyl, “too often this ties the hands of our law enforcement” to enact stricter penalties.

“My son was one of 83 who passed in Suffolk County in 2012 when fentanyl wasn’t really on the radar, but five years later, that number is over 500 with a very large percentage of those deaths being caused by fentanyl,” she said. “We must take any and all steps possible to get the sale of this drug to impose the maximum sentences and potentially save lives.”

Sal Vetro, a pharmacist at Echo Pharmacy in Miller Place, said this would be a major step in the right direction toward saving lives.

“I think Cuomo’s on the right track,” Vetro said. “We’re trying to fight this epidemic and the people who need fentanyl should have fentanyl, but if it’s being used illegally, sold illegally, or causing damage illegally, those people should certainly be punished. We have to stop ignoring the problem, and this is a start.”

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to four; eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes; and would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

Last week Republicans in the House of Representatives took a major step toward fulfilling a lynchpin campaign promise that is seemingly decades old.

The House Ways and Means committee released the framework of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 2, a major piece of legislation touted by President Donald Trump (R) as a cut to income taxes for “hardworking, middle-income Americans,” though it would negatively affect New Yorkers if signed into law, according to lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle.

The highlights of the bill, which would require passage by the House and Senate and the president’s signature before becoming law, include a consolidation from seven individual income tax brackets down to four; the elimination of the deduction for state and local income taxes, a provision that in the past through federal tax returns gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income tax states like New York; and a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent.

“I am a ‘No’ to this bill in its current form,” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in a statement. “We need to fix this state and local tax [SALT] deduction issue. Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 is progress, but not enough progress. If I’m not fighting for New Yorkers, I can’t expect anyone else from another state to do it for me.”

U.S. Rep. for the 2nd District, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), was even more critical of the bill than Zeldin.

“The goal of tax reform is to help hard-working Americans make more money so they can live the American Dream,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The American people expect us to find a bipartisan solution to tax reform that helps create good paying middle-class jobs. This plan doesn’t achieve that goal. I won’t support it.”

Other New York lawmakers from the Democratic Party voiced harsh opposition to the bill in its current form.

New York’s U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) each said via Twitter they viewed the bill as a tax break for corporations that would have a negative impact on middle-class citizens. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called the bill a “tax increase plan.”

“The tax reform plan, they call a tax cut plan,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It has a diabolical dimension, which is the elimination of the deductibility of state and local taxes … what makes it an even more gross injustice is, the state of New York contributes more to the federal government than any other state. New York contributes more to Washington than any other state. We’re the No. 1 donor state. We give $48 billion more than we get back. Why you would want to take more from New York is a gross, gross injustice.”

Duncan MacKenzie, chief executive officer of the New York State Association of Realtors said in a statement the bill would harm many New York homeowners.

“It will lessen the value of the property tax deduction and it cuts a host of other key housing-related tax incentives,” he said.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in the 1980s and dedicated to educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact, estimated the bill would result in a $1.5 trillion increase to the national deficit.

Mark Snyder of Mark J. Snyder Financial Services, a Hauppauge-based personal financial planning and management firm, called the bill a “torpedo aimed at the wallets of Long Islanders” in an email. He also pointed to the elimination of the SALT deduction as clear evidence the bill would harm New Yorkers.

“As a representative from New York, I’d kick this bill to the curb,” he said when asked what he would do if he were tasked with voting on the bill.

Smithtown United Civic Association published the above master plan aimed at revitalizing Main Street and the downtown area on its Facebook page Oct. 6. Photo from Smithtown United Civic Association

A small group of Smithtown citizens have come together to draft and present a plan they hope may lead to big changes for Main Street.

The Smithtown United Civic Association unveiled a detailed conceptual plan for downtown revitalization Oct. 6 on its Facebook page. The group is asking residents to review the proposal and provide feedback via social media before they present it to town officials.

Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed when Smithtown residents came together earlier this year after two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocated $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of Smithtown school district administration headquarters on New York Avenue to the town for a sewer treatment plant to support a condominium development. Small said the two events set in motion real opportunity for revitalization of the town.

“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” he said. “There’s a lot of vacant shops and properties. We live in a wonderful town. The schools are wonderful, we love our homes, but it’s our downtown business districts that are deeply suffering.”

Small, a retired engineer who held an executive position at a utility company, said for approximately six months the group assessed the community needs and drew inspiration from surrounding towns including Huntington, Patchogue, Sayville, Bay Shore, Farmingdale and Babylon for changes they’d like to see in Smithtown.

Smithtown United’s plan for the western downtown area focuses on several key points including consolidation of the town offices into the New York Avenue school building and retaining the sports field behind it for public use.

“It’s the last green space that remains in all of downtown,” Small said. “I would consider that an anchor for the western edge of redevelopment. It would be tragic to see that property lost to dense development.”

The civic supports the town’s acquisition of the property in exchange for selling off its other buildings scattered across the business district, but discussions of the deal have been tabled by the Smithtown school officials. The plan also proposes several existing downtown storefronts be made into two-story, mixed-use buildings with retail on the first floor and apartments above. These housing options, according to Small, would be attractive to young adults and senior citizens. Behind the existing New York Avenue school district property, the plan calls for construction of a new sports and community center.

“We need a place for our kids to go in the evening,” Small said. “There needs to be a community space for our residents and young adults.”

The conceptual design also calls for several changes to Smithtown’s existing roadways, including a rotary at the intersection of Main Street and New York Avenue and rerouting Edgewater Avenue to run parallel to Main Street. This would cause Edgewater Avenue to empty onto Maple Avenue, and there would be a new set of village townhouses built on the southwest corner of the new intersection.

To further increase available housing, the proposed plan suggests the construction of three-story, transit-oriented housing near the Long Island Rail Road train station and municipal parking lots.

Initial feedback on the plan from residents on the civic’s Facebook page has been a mix of positive and negative, along with offers to help refine it. Supporters have praised the organization for taking action, while critics expressed traffic concerns.

“Main Street is already undersized for what it is used for,” said John McCormick, 29, of Smithtown. “[The] parking does not look to be sufficient for customers of the first-floor shops and people renting out upstairs apartments.”

McCormick, a young homeowner, feared adding townhouses and apartments would change the character of the local community and the plan’s possible impact on the school district.

Smithtown resident Michael Tarquinio, 20, said the plan was a step in the right direction but needed to be more innovative.

“They need to stop thinking with a Robert Moses mind-set,” Tarquinio said, who is studying environmental science at the University of Maine. “I’m all for it, but you can’t wipe out your heritage and start fresh. You need to know where you came from to know where you are going.”

He said he believes successful downtown revitalization will require the civic to work with town, county and state officials to improve roadways and mass transportation options to reduce traffic.

Small said he agreed the proposed overhaul of both the business and residential space in downtown Smithtown required cooperation at several levels of government. It would only be possible if sewers can be brought to the downtown area.

“Anyone who is going to invest money into redevelopment won’t unless there is adequate sanitary sewer conditions,” Small said. “It’s essential.”

The civic group has tentative plans to present its proposal to Smithtown officials at the Oct. 26 town board meeting at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards, at center, announces the town’s partnership with two organizations to aid Puerto Rico. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington town officials have set up two partnerships to make it easier for local residents to send donations and supplies to Puerto Rico.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) announced Oct. 3. that the town will be working in collaboration with both the American Red Cross’ Hurricane Maria relief effort and Long Island Hispanic Business Roundtable, Inc. in Oyster Bay in an effort to get much-needed funds and specific supplies to the victims.

“We are a giving community,” Edwards said. “We have always responded, and I am absolutely confident that the people in our community will respond to support people who critically need these supplies to survive. We are asking all Town of Huntington residents, both businesses and our community members, to help.”

Edwards said the town will accept donations of specific, needed supplies at the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, at 1264 New York Avenue in Huntington Station. Requested donations include
water, batteries, flashlights, portable lanterns, diapers, baby wipes and feminine products. Supplies can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, or after hours donations can be made by scheduling an
appointment with Edwards’ office at 631-351-3175.

Edwin Perez, of Long Island Hispanic Business Roundtable, is also helping the town with working out the specifics of transporting all donations. Perez reached out to Liberty Moving and Storage in Commack, who has agreed to pick up items collected at the resource center and deliver them to a central facility in Hauppauge, overseen by the New York National Guard as part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Stands with Puerto Rico initiative.

“People have reached out and asked if I was going to do anything for my American homeland,” Perez said. “I was able to reach out to my network and say, ‘Huntington is standing with Puerto Rico.’”

The Red Cross is reporting that there are nearly 400 volunteers in Puerto Rico who are helping to reconnect families and distribute relief supplies, including food and water. International Red Cross workers are also
restoring electrical connections and installing satellites to help Puerto Ricans get in touch with family members and access vital information.

“There people really need a lot of things,” said Rosa Moya, representing Latinos Unidos de Huntington. “People are panicked. They are getting frustrated. If we can do something for them, it will be very appreciated. This is the time we need to step up for Puerto Rico.”

In coordination with government and nonprofit partners, the Red Cross is helping to distribute water, ready-to-eat meals, fresh fruit and vegetables, tarps and comfort kits. Emergency distribution of water has been provided to several vulnerable communities which were running out of water. The Red Cross has already mobilized more than 250 tractor-trailer loads of relief supplies to help aid Puerto Rico. Red Cross teams are also assessing what the community needs, and providing health and mental health services.

To make a monetary donation to the Red Cross, residents can visit the town’s website, www.huntingtonny.gov, and click on the  red heart at the top of the home page. The link will lead to a microsite on the Red Cross web page, where by following the prompts residents can choose from a drop-down menu how they want their donations to be used. The default setting will send money to Hurricane Maria victims, but money can also be marked for victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington High School found itself in the crosshairs of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) latest initiative that takes aims at cracking down on Long Island gang activity, much to the surprise of school officials.

Cuomo announced Sept. 13 his plan for deployment of a new Gang Violence Prevention Unit, which will deploy state troopers to monitor gang activity and recruitment in the alleged top 10 “high-risk” Suffolk County schools. Huntington High School made the list.

The prevention unit will immediately assign 10 state troopers, one to each of the 10 schools in the six targeted districts which includes Brentwood, Central Islip, Huntington, Longwood, South Country Central and Wyandanch. Cuomo said these districts were chosen as they were identified by local law enforcement as having the highest concentration of gang violence and vulnerability to recruitment efforts.

In addition, the prevention unit will coordinate with the Suffolk County Police Department to launch an “Educate the Educators” program, aimed at helping teachers and faculty recognize early warning signs of gang involvement.

“Our number one job in government is to keep all New Yorkers, and especially our children, safe,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By partnering with our schools, we will be better prepared to stop gang activity before it starts and end this heinous cycle of violence. This is just one step in our ongoing efforts to eradicate the threat of MS-13 and ensure that every student remains on a path to a bright future.”

Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said he was “deeply disappointed” by the manner in which the governor presented the initiative. Polansky made clear to residents it was not a coordinated effort with the district in a letter sent to the community dated Sept. 14.

“Much of our dismay stems from the fact that at no point were we approached,” Polansky said in a statement. “At no point did any state official or otherwise reach out and ask what we need or don’t need. At no point did anyone request a visit or invite a conversation of any sort. At no point have we received even fragments of information about this proposal.”

Upon questioning state officials about Cuomo’s proposed plan, Polansky said the district received a thorough apology and admission that the “ball was dropped.”

The superintendent stated in his Sept. 14 letter that Cuomo had mischaracterized the Huntington school district and that his words, “frankly, offend all members of the school community.”

“In fact, numerous students were the first to point this out first thing in the morning,” Polansky wrote. “Unfortunately, we continue to witness education and politics rarely prove to be a productive combination.”

As of Sept. 19, a state trooper has not been assigned to Huntington High School as part of the prevention unit, according to school spokesman Jim Hoops. The district does have a school resource officer assigned from Suffolk County police since 2004 to monitor issues that arise, which is shared with the South Huntington school district.

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