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Brookhaven Town

Supervisor Ed Romaine is taking a leadership role in trying to streamline town government services. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town is looking to get by with a little help from its friends.

The town is among six other New York State municipalities vying to be selected as the recipient of a $20 million grant that will be awarded in the fall to the applicant that demonstrates the most innovative ways to reduce property taxes through the consolidation of shared government services and increased efficiency. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition in November as a way to inspire local governments to reduce the cost of living for residents in the state. Each of the nine incorporated villages within Brookhaven passed resolutions identifying the areas in which a consolidation of services makes sense, and officially pledged partnership with the town in pursuing the projects, which would be funded by the $20 million grant.  In addition to the nine villages, leadership from ambulance, school, fire and library districts, as well as special districts like sewer and erosion, were consulted and will remain involved in brainstorming ways to make shared services more efficient and cost effective going forward.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes.”

— Ed Romaine

“Property taxes remain the most burdensome tax in New York and with this competition, we are incentivizing local governments to band together to think outside the box, streamline their bureaucracies, cut costs and deliver real relief to their taxpayers,” Cuomo said in November. “New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) explained his interest in applying for the grant for the town during an interview at Town Hall July 7.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes,” Romaine said.

Brookhaven’s application included 16 proposed projects that would accomplish the stated goal of the competition, according to Town Chief of Operations Matt Miner, who played a vital leadership role in applying for the grant.

“We’re doing duplicated services — why can’t one municipality do ‘that,’” Miner said. He said some of the projects would include the consolidation of tax collection and tax assessor services; utilizing Brookhaven’s staffed maintenance workers rather than putting out bids for contracts; creating a regional salt facility to be used during snow removal; using town contracts for things like asphalt replacement, which yield a better price due to Brookhaven’s size compared to the smaller villages; and creating digital record keeping and storage.

The supervisor said in total, the projects would result in a savings of about $66 million for taxpayers, or a return of more than three times the investment made by the state in disseminating the grant dollars.

Romaine and Minor both stressed the importance of allowing the towns to maintain their autonomy despite the consolidation of services. The projects will emphasize ways to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in the administration of government services while allowing incorporated villages to continue overseeing themselves. Romaine also dispelled possible concerns about loss of jobs as a result of the consolidation of services. He said he expects the phase out of antiquated departments through retirements, stating no layoffs will be required to make the consolidation projects happen.

“New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

— Andrew Cuomo

Port Jefferson Village approved a resolution to partner with Brookhaven in pursuit of the grant during a June 26 board meeting. The resolution stated the village’s interest in pursuing projects related to enhanced services in the highway department and department of public works; the purchasing portal; electronic records management and storage; and several others.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview she was on board for any initiatives that would result in savings for taxpayers, though maintaining Port Jeff’s autonomy and independence is of the utmost importance to her.

“The reason why you incorporate is so you have home rule,” Garant said, adding she has concerns about the management of a government that would in effect be growing, should the town win the competition. “The proof will be in the pudding. It’s all about who is going to manage these programs and what level of competence they have.”

The winner of the $20 million grant is expected to be announced this fall. Representatives from the town will head to Albany next week to present their case to a panel, but for reaching Phase II of the competition, Brookhaven has already received a $50,000 grant, which was used to develop project proposals for the application.

As another aspect of the application, the town passed a resolution in June that formed the Council of Governments, a committee that will be led by the town and comprised of leaders of the various villages and districts that will meet quarterly to discuss common issues. The first meeting of its kind is slated for September.

Group created Facebook link using Brookhaven server with anti-Trump message

An ISIS-inspired Facebook page posted a link to an anti-American propaganda page created using Brookhaven Town servers Sunday. Image from Facebook

A pro-ISIS group successfully hacked the Brookhaven Town web servers for at least three hours Sunday, June 25.

Brookhaven was one of 76 municipalities affected by the hack, according to Deputy Supervisor Daniel Panico (R-Manorville). The anti-American group created a page with hateful propaganda against the USA and the President of the United States.

Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) addressed the incident during a press conference at Town Hall June 26. The group, called Team System DZ created a link using the Brookhaven Town servers to a static, “look-alike” webpage at the address www.http://www.brookhavenny.gov/index.html, and posted it on their Facebook page with the message “Government sites continue to be fondled,” in Arabic, according to Google Translate. The standard brookhavenny.gov website was not impacted and the propaganda page was not visible anywhere on the site, though “out of an abundance of caution,” the town server has been quarantined and the town webpage was taken down.

At the time of this posting the town website remains down, though Romaine said he expected it to be restored within 24 hours of the press conference. The propaganda page has been taken down and currently lists an error message.

“You will be held accountable Trump, you and all your people for every drop of blood flowing in Muslim countries,” the message read in part.

Panico said he was alerted about the issue after a town employee notified the town’s information technology department about the breach after reading a New York Post story posted at about 1:30 p.m. with information about the Facebook post by the group.

Panico was asked if it was concerning the town was alerted thanks to media reports rather than its own security defenses.

“It was a Sunday, and I don’t know anyone in our IT department that checks ISIS-related Facebook pages,” he said. “We’re pretty thorough here at the town, but I don’t know that our IT department combs the pages of those people who hate America.”

Romaine said officials from a Suffolk County cybercrimes unit were speaking with the town’s IT director while the press conference was going on, and the FBI and Homeland Security would assist in investigating the breach. Romaine added U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) offered full assistance of federal investigative personnel to get to the bottom of the incident, and he had also been in contact with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D) office Monday.

Brookhaven Councilman Daniel Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine address a hack of town servers during a press conference June 26. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s disconcerting and we don’t write it off as a prank,” Romaine said during the press conference. “We take threats like this, cyber threats, seriously.”

Panico said no information was extracted from the website or servers, and possible actions to prevent future breaches are part of the investigation. He also said it is unclear how long the servers were infiltrated by the hackers. Panico disputed claims the message was posted on the town website’s homepage. Romaine said this was the first time the town had suffered a breach like this.

“None of our records that we know of were breached,” Panico said, adding that the town’s financial information is stored on the cloud offsite on different servers.

Zeldin addressed the hack in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena.

“I will continue to do anything in my power to improve cyber security and protect against other threats facing our nation at home and abroad,” he said.

Marisa Kaufman, a spokeswoman from Schumer’s office, said in an email they have been in contact with Brookhaven about the issue and are looking into the matter. Schumer sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly urging him to launch an immediate investigation into the incident.

“The possibility that these breaches were done by an ISIS or terror-affiliated organization is especially troublesome; citizens deserve to feel like their everyday critical infrastructure, especial their local government’s website are safe and usable,” the letter said.

This version was updated June 26 to include comments from Schumer and the message on the page.

A fire destroyed a barn on Ada Lane in Setauket June 19. Photo by Dennis Whittam

An early morning fire left a Setauket barn destroyed Monday, June 19. The barn, which was more than 300 years old, was located on the property that once belonged to a family with deep roots in the village.

At 4:33 a.m. the Setauket Fire Department responded to the scene at Ada Lane off Route 25A in Setauket. Larry Hall, the department’s public information officer, said firefighters on the scene encountered a fully involved fire of the 30-by-30-foot structure that was used for storage.

In addition to the Setauket Fire Department, the Port Jefferson, Stony Brook and Terryville fire departments were also on the scene to assist in distinguishing the fire, which burned for approximately two and a half hours. The Selden Fire Department and the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps were on standby at the Setauket headquarters.

A fire destroyed a barn on Ada Lane in Setauket June 19. Photo by Dennis Whittam

Hall said one of the main concerns was a neighbor’s house, which is situated approximately 40 feet from the barn, because plastic on the home was beginning to melt. However, the fire did not spread to adjacent properties.

According to Brookhaven town historian Barbara Russell, the barn is on the same property of the home known as the Micah Jayne House in the Three Village area. The land belonged to the Jayne family for generations. The family can trace its roots back to one of the first settlers in Setauket, William Jayne, a native of Bristol, England, who immigrated to the United States in the 17th century. The property was also the site of the Lade Brae nursery for years.

Russell said 20 years ago she toured the barn with an architect historian who said the barn appeared as if it was built between 1680 and 1720, and he called it a unique structure. One of the distinguishing features of the barn was hand-hewn braces.

“It had elements of both Dutch barn construction and English barn construction,” Russell said.

The historian said while the structure of the barn remained the same through the centuries, a previous owner approximately 20 years ago re-shingled the roof and added board-and-batten siding.

No firefighters were injured while fighting the fire. The Suffolk County arson squad and Town of Brookhaven fire marshal have been notified for further investigation, and the town will demolish the remnants of the barn.

Russell said she feels sorry for the family that currently owns the property as well as the local community.

“We have lost a piece of our very early history and, unfortunately, it’s not replaceable,” Russell said.

Good Samaritans and SCPD Marine Bureau divers help a driver submerged in Port Jefferson Harbor April 6. Photo by Andrew Tetreault/Fully Involved Media Group

Following an April incident in which a man drove into Port Jefferson Harbor via the Town of Brookhaven boat ramp located at the north end of Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson Village is calling for action.

Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a board meeting June 5 the village has sent a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation and State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) asking for the traffic signal at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway to be changed from having a standard green light to a green left arrow and right arrow. The April 6 incident saw a man in his early 60s drive into Port Jefferson Harbor via the ramp at about 5:30 p.m., according to the Suffolk County Police Department. The car was found submerged underwater and a few good Samaritans helped remove the man from the car. Members from the Suffolk County Marine Bureau dive team went in the water to search for possible additional victims. The driver was treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook Hospital and his current condition is still not known, according to Garant.

“People sometimes are losing their way on a misty morning or a foggy morning or a rainy morning or on a sunny morning,” Garant said during the meeting.

In the aftermath of the incident in April Garant called on the Town of Brookhaven to step up and do something to resolve the recurring issue, as the ramp is town property.

“It’s only a matter of time before this happens again,” she said.

A spokesperson for the town that asked not to be named responded to Garant’s calls for action at the time.

“The Port Jefferson boat ramp has existed at its current location for generations,” the spokesperson said. “A number of measures are in place including a multitude of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, road arrows and other traffic control measures to clearly indicate that this is not an entrance.”

This is not the first time the positioning of the town ramp beyond the village intersection has been the source of controversy.

According to documents obtained from Brookhaven in May, both the town and village were sued by the wife and executrix of the estate of Richard Levin in 2007. Levin died Dec. 5, 2005, after driving into the water via the ramp at about 6 p.m. Alice Cialella, an eyewitness of the incident who was directly behind Levin in traffic, said Levin had his left blinker on, hesitated momentarily, then accelerated through the intersection and plunged into the harbor via the ramp.

“As a result of the negligence of the defendants in failing to properly maintain the intersection of Route 25A and Barnum Ave., in failing to properly safeguard against motorists driving onto said Port Jefferson ramp into the water, in failing to properly illuminate said area, in failing to provide fencing and warning lights — as a result of the aforementioned Richard Levin died,” the lawsuit read in part. “[The] town failed to submit any evidence that it maintained its property in a reasonably safe condition by providing adequate fencing, lighting or warning of the dangerous condition on its property.”

Judge Joseph Farneti of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2011 because the “acts or omissions of defendants were not the proximate cause of the alleged accident.”

Christopher Kelsch, a former village resident who was given a Carnegie Medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for trying to save Levin, said in an April phone interview he’d like to see action to prevent similar future accidents.

“People are dying here and it’s a simple fix,” he said. Kelsch also testified on behalf of Levin’s case in the 2011 lawsuit.

James Canale, left, has the support of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin in his bid for town council. Photo from James Canale

Being a 25-year-old first-time candidate for public office might seem like a disadvantage to most, but don’t try to tell that to James Canale (R-Port Jefferson Station). Canale, a Port Jefferson Station resident for about 20 years, will run against incumbent Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for a spot on the Town of Brookhaven board representing the 1st Council District in November. Cartright was first elected to the position in 2013 and is concluding her first term in office.

Canale said in a phone interview he sees his age and inexperience in politics as an asset for his campaign.

“Because I didn’t go to school for political science or political policy, I come in with a clean slate and no bias,” he said. “I am not entrenched in any party politics. I don’t owe anyone any favors. I’m just a regular guy and I want to make sure I never forget my roots. I see too many of my friends moving off Long Island because they can’t find opportunities here.”

Canale identified repeatedly with being a millennial and said a major focus of his campaign will be trying to find ways to create opportunities for young people to find employment and affordable places to live in Brookhaven. Also part of this new politician’s platform are the environment and animal rights issues.

Canale, who currently works part time in the town’s Department of General Services, echoed many of the policies regarding the environment from the town’s top Republican — Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I don’t have kids but when I do I want to make sure that they’re able to have a high quality of life on Long Island,” Canale said. Sustainability, renewable sources of clean energy, investing in electric vehicles for the town fleet, the preservation of parklands and open spaces and clean air and water were among the environmental issues the candidate said he found most essential to the health and future of Brookhaven and Long Island as a whole.

Canale received the nomination to run on the Republican ticket from the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee earlier in June, though Chairman Jesse Garcia did not respond to requests for comment. Other than Romaine, another local Republican the young candidate views as a role model is 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), and the congressman has taken notice.

“I endorse James Canale for Brookhaven Town’s 1st Council District,” Zeldin said through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena in an email. “James is an exceptional bipartisan candidate who is more than capable of taking on this role. James has demonstrated his commitment to fiscal responsibility, environmental protection, and making Brookhaven a better place to live and work. James will excel as a Councilman, and I am proud to lend him my support.”

Though Canale said he doesn’t necessarily fall in line with Zeldin on every issue, he said he’s extremely proud to have his support and lauded the work he has done for veterans and his bipartisan approach to policy. He referred to himself as a progressive Republican. He said he is “very pro-LGBT,” believes in the public education system — which the Comsewogue school district graduate said he’s proud to be a product of — and said supporting small businesses should be a priority for all Brookhaven shoppers.

Canale spoke respectfully of his November opponent, who did not return a request for comment.

“I do think my opponent has done a commendable job in the town,” he said of Cartright. “She’s a very good person and I have the utmost respect for her.”

Canale addressed the idea that he has stepped into a heated political climate, which could present challenges in his first foray into the arena.

“I’m a very honest guy with integrity, I always want to do the right thing,” he said. “I don’t have blinders on. I want to listen to everybody.”

Disclaimer: James Canale previously worked as a freelance photographer at Times Beacon Record Newspapers and directed “The Culper Spy Adventure,” a TBR News Media production.

Results from a Brookhaven Town preliminary assessment show that two of four cottages at West Meadow Beach are structurally unsound. Photo from Herb Mones

Attendees at the June 5 Three Village Civic Association had the beach on their mind, but this time in terms of preservation, instead of recreation.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) addressed the meeting to update the civic association members about current town projects in the area. While the councilwoman covered a number of topics, the town’s recent preliminary assessment of four cottages at West Meadow Beach along with other concerns at the location produced a number of comments and questions from those in attendance.

Cartright said after an internal evaluation it appears two cottages are dilapidated and have been found structurally unsound, and possibly not salvageable. However, there is the potential to save a third one and use the fourth as an outdoor interpretive kiosk.

The councilwoman said in order to save a cottage a huge expense is incurred. When the ranger home was renovated it cost $500,000 to get it to a point where it was stable. Any costs to renovate a cottage would have to be funded by taxpayer money because West Meadow Beach is town-owned property. While an endowment fund was set up after the sale of former cottages at the beach, the town can only use the interest from that fund. According to Cartright, from 2011 to 2016 the account has averaged only $2,500 per year in comparison to $36,000 a year from 2004 to 2010.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary.”

— Valerie Cartright

“As you can expect there’s a lot of reluctance from people in the town as to putting in a certain amount of money into all of the different cottages that are in between the Gamecock Cottage and the ranger home,” she said.

Cartright said she is following standard operating procedure and has asked for an independent engineer to assess the cottages, and the town has complied with her request.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary,” she said.

She has also enlisted the help of state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to secure funds from the state to help with restoring the cottages, if necessary.

The councilwoman said many residents have voiced their concerns to her about the dilapidated cottages.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, said he believes the town hasn’t done their part in properly restoring and maintaining the cottages. He also said while he applauded Cartright and the town for their past attempts at preserving the Gamecock Cottage, some of the renovations were not up to par and appendages were added to the structure without consulting historic experts. He reminded those in attendance that West Meadow Beach is a historic district and that any money would be better spent preserving them for the time being and avoiding any possible demolition.

“We’re going to spend a great deal of money to tear them down and restore those sites,” Reuter said. “We can spend that money to preserve them for smarter people to think about it in the future.”

The councilwoman agreed with Reuter that the matter should be referred to the town’s historic district advisory committee, of which Reuter is a member, before a community meeting is held and the town makes a final decision.

Cartright feels West Meadow Beach has come a long way over the last few years despite problems in the past, including the appointment of a new ranger and consultant.

“When I came into office, I think we were at the point of where it just started to transition where people started to look at the beach as a beautiful preserve, whereas we should now be trying to preserve everything that is there and make it so that the community could actually enjoy this treasure,” she said.

The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

What was once an abandoned and forgotten horse racing track in a stretch of woods in Terryville is now a Brookhaven-designated historic landmark.

The town board voted unanimously during its May 11 meeting to recognize the Gentlemen’s Driving Park, the last Victorian-era harness racing track on Long Island, as an historic landmark and by doing so, solidified the hard work of the local residents and elected officials who helped to make it happen.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Jack Smith, Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine examine the Gentleman’s Driving Park. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The half-mile track, before it became hidden among trees, was a popular gathering place for bettors in the late 19th century to watch men race around the loop behind horses in carts. It was part of a circuit of tracks in the Northeast — others sat in Smithtown, Setauket and Riverhead — and is the last remaining one.

“I urge you to recognize it,” Barbara Russell, Brookhaven town historian, said before the board made their decision.

Russell played a huge part in providing historical context to the site when Jack Smith, president and founder of the Cumsewogue Historical Society, initially kicked off the project more than a year ago.

She made all resources of her office available to the historical society, including original photographs of the track donated by the historic Davis family and firsthand accounts of these races through old letters.

Smith discovered the faint outline of the horse track from a satellite image on Google Earth upon hearing of its existence off Canal Road, and eventually went to the site with his wife Pam, to examine it more closely. To his delight, he ended up finding pieces of Long Island history scattered throughout the 11-acre site, including a broken pair of Victorian-era field glasses close to where the finish line of the track would’ve been as well as a race day ticket from 1892.

Smith then reached out to former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and other council members about acquiring the site, clearing the overgrown path and restoring it. Rosenfeld, Smith said, saw the value in preserving the site and laid the groundwork to make the project possible.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park officially opened to the public in October.

“The landmark status recognizes the importance of preserving this colorful and almost forgotten part of Brookhaven Town’s history,” Smith said in a phone interview. “The driving park is now a collective symbol of the many large driving parks that once dotted the Long Island landscape … Long Island being the birthplace of horse racing in America. I’m happy the society as a whole was able to play an integral part in getting this important part of our history preserved.”

Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Smith said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) picked up where Rosenfeld left off when she was first elected.

“She took it through some difficult negotiations and brought the whole thing to fruition,” he noted. “Her diligence and hard work, tremendous optimism and skill in bringing everything together have culminated in the preservation … .”

Cartright expressed her excitement about the designation in an emailed statement. She described the endeavor as a three-step process — first the town’s acquisition of the park in 2014, then the reopening in 2016, and finally receiving the landmark designation last week.

“During each of these steps, and for several years prior to my taking office, Jack Smith has been at the forefront of the Gentlemen’s Driving Park project,” she said. “The activism, research and unwavering support of Jack and the Historical Society has been an inspiration. The historic landmark status draws additional attention to Gentlemen’s Driving Park and is an honor the rich history of the location and all those who helped preserve it certainly deserve.”

Smith said the town plans to build a Victorian-style gate as an entranceway to the track.

An aerial view of the area designated for sidewalk replacement. Image from Google Maps

What’s old will soon be new again as U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced this week $1.58 million in federal funding would be designated to go towards the construction of new sidewalks and curbs on Old Town Road in Port Jefferson Station and Coram. The funding will cover 80 percent of the total cost of the project. The new sidewalks will span from Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station to Route 112 in Coram along Old Town Road, and some of the improvements included fixes to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

“This is key funding to improve walkability and bicycle access in the Town of Brookhaven,” Zeldin said in a statement. He said the sidewalks in question are in desperate need of repairs. “Last Congress, I proudly helped lead the bipartisan effort to pass the highway bill, which secured funding for the Surface Transportation Block Grant. Our transportation and infrastructure are essential to the Long Island economy, way of life and safety, and I will continue working to ensure that states and local governments have the flexibility and resources necessary to strengthen our infrastructure and improve transportation safety, job creation, and our overall economy and quality of life.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) praised Zeldin for securing the funds because of what it could mean for the environment, as the new paths will create carbon-free transportation alternatives to driving cars, he said.

“Old Town Road connects the communities of Port Jefferson Station and Coram and both hamlets will soon become more pedestrian and bike friendly with the construction of new sidewalks as well as bicycle access along this route,” he said in a statement.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also thanked Zeldin and stressed the importance of infrastructure improvements in the town.

“Infrastructure keeps the town moving forward and upgrading it improves our quality of life and creates jobs that drive the local economy,” he said. “Congressman Zeldin has always been a strong advocate for the people of the 1st District, and I look forward to working with him to help find more ways to make Brookhaven a better place to live and work.”

Brookhaven Town  Superintendent of Highways Dan Losquadro (R) expressed similar excitement for the impending improvements.

“As we work to improve our infrastructure, the construction of bicycle paths and ADA-compliant, accessible sidewalks is crucial in ensuring the safety of our roadways for motorists and pedestrians,” he said.

SCPD Commissioner Tim Sini speaks at Broohaven Town Hall during a crime awareness event. Photo by Kevin Redding

Drug addiction on the North Shore and across Suffolk County is a complicated problem, so the police department and the community are coming together to come up with strategies to combat it.

One of the reasons Salvatore Pitti, a retired New York City police officer, left the Big Apple to live on Long Island he said in part was to escape drug-related crime. But in recent years, he has seen what he called an alarming uptick in heroin and opioid-related overdoses and deaths in the suburbs — so he decided to do something about it.

“We need to put the fear of God into our kids about this problem.”

— Salvatore Pitti

“We need to put the fear of God into our kids about this problem,” Pitti said April 11 during a Crime Awareness Committee meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall. “I’ve had the misfortune, in my career, to scoop three or four children off the street, dead. I don’t want to see that.”

Pitti, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and leader of a local neighborhood watch group designed to eliminate local criminal activity, co-sponsored the event along with Brookhaven Town.

Joined by several guest speakers including Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson) and Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Tim Sini, Pitti spoke with local organization leaders and residents about how they can help make their communities safer.

Sini, who became commissioner last year, has already rolled out several initiatives through the SCPD to address the issues of illegal drug sales, abuse and overdoses as well as prevention and recovery in his short time leading the department.

Many of them rely on police department collaboration with the public.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that information from people in this room or from folks like you have helped us solve crimes,” Sini said, highlighting such programs as the NARC hotline, a partnership with Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, where callers can give crime tips anonymously and receive cash rewards for those that lead to arrests.

Another initiative, Sini said, is the Long Island Heroin Task Force, which targets drug dealers causing overdoses and the areas that have the biggest spikes in overdoses through data collected in the department. Programs are also being implemented in local schools that teach about the consequences of taking drugs, offer prevention and recovery steps, and even train parents and teens on how to administer Narcan, the nasal spray used to reverse heroin overdoses.

“We need to get people off drugs and into treatment for recovery,” Sini said. “Please think of ways the SCPD can partner with you to promote drug prevention in your community.”

Cartright said she understands the importance of a partnership with local law enforcement.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that information from people in this room or from folks like you have helped us solve crimes.”

— Tim Sini

“I grew up in Queens, in an urban community where there was a lot of crime, and there was no interaction with the police department the way we interact with the police department here,” the councilwoman said. “They come in and ask, ‘how can we work with you?’ That’s something, 25 years ago, I didn’t have when I was growing up. This is not a problem we can solve alone.”

Pitti said he started the Crime Awareness Committee three years ago to shine a spotlight on a local marijuana dealer in his neighborhood. Due to his effort and a collaboration with neighbors and the police, the dealer was ultimately pushed off the block.

Even though the group has since grown, he said he wants more community involvement.

“When I first started this, I received a civic email list but, unfortunately, it was antiquated and outdated,” he said. “We’re working together on it, to try and fix it and put more emails in. That, to me, is the first problem. If we can’t call each other, how can we help each other?”

He handed out a packet to attendees of the meeting outlining ways to identify dangerous people in the community. The packet gives details on how to check if houses in a neighborhood have rental permits; report town code violations; deter underage drinking at parties and neighborhood gatherings; and a detailed physical description form to fill out upon witnessing suspicious activity.

History is repeating itself, at the boat ramp in Port Jefferson Marina located at the north end of Barnum Avenue in Port Jefferson Village.

A man is being treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital after driving into Port Jefferson Harbor via the ramp at about 5:30 p.m. April 6, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. The car was found submerged underwater and at least one good Samaritan helped remove the man from the car. Members from the Suffolk County Marine Bureau dive team went in the water to search for possible additional victims, and the police said the investigation is continuing.

Several similar incidents have occurred since an episode in December 2005 when then-60-year-old Setauket resident Richard Levin drove into the water on the same ramp and onlookers had to pull his unconscious body from the fully submerged car. Levin died days later as a result of the incident.

“People are dying here and it’s a simple fix,” Christopher Kelsch, one of the people who witnessed Levin’s death 12 years ago and tried to help, said after seeing news of the April 6 incident.

Good Samaritans and SCPD Marine Bureau divers help a driver submerged in
Port Jefferson Harbor April 6. Photo by Andrew Tetreault/Fully Involved Media Group

Kelsch was given a Carnegie Medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, for his attempts to save Levin’s life. Kelsch had to be rescued by firefighters as a result of his efforts, and suffered from hypothermia in the aftermath. He was also called to give testimony about the incident when Levin’s family sued Brookhaven Town for negligence, a suit that was dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court.

The Carnegie Medal recipient said during the interview he wanted to reach out in part to make the 2017 victim and family members aware he would be glad to help them if they sought him out.

“Somebody needs to shine a serious spotlight because Dr. Levin died at that location,” he said.

A Brookhaven Town spokesperson said in an emailed statement there are clear signs and traffic measures in place to warn residents of the ramp’s location.

“The Port Jefferson boat ramp has existed at its current location for generations,” the spokesperson said. “A number of measures are in place including a multitude of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, road arrows and other traffic control measures to clearly indicate that this is not an entrance.”

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant is taking the issue seriously, and said she asked the village’s code enforcement chief to compile data for her regarding the number of times similar incidents have happened at that location, and she plans to present the data to Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine to reiterate calls for preventative action to be taken by the town. Garant said in a phone interview she had heard the driver was in stable condition as of Saturday, but she was told he had taken a turn for the worse since.

“It’s only a matter of time before this happens again,” Garant said. She added at the present time she plans to call on the town to do something to solve the problem and no plans of possible village actions are currently being discussed. Garant said Port Jefferson Village and Brookhaven Town cofunded a waterfront revitalization plan years ago, which included a proposal to move the town ramp elsewhere.

“This is town-owned property — they have to step up and resolve this once and for all,” Garant said. She added that additional signage beyond two “do not enter” signs or some sort of barricade would be “minimal” steps the town could take.