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Centerport

The fate of the cats at Huntington’s animal shelter is still unknown as the facility reaches capacity. To adopt animals contact the shelter at 631-368-8770. Photo by Little Shelter Animal Rescue

On May 22 the people at Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center rescued more than 20 abandoned cats living in squalor in an unidentified Centerport home. Neighbors and the new property owner called the shelter after the previous residents were evicted. 

David Ceely, executive director of Little Shelter, which manages the Huntington shelter, said the situation was initially too much for its responder to handle.  

“This is not a daily occurrence,” he said. “We typically get calls about a couple of animals abandoned not usually something this large.”

After Ceely entered the house with trappers, the cats scattered. Authorities identified extreme living conditions, while trying to catch the animals. They found rooms fouled with old, soiled newspaper in litter boxes and empty food and water bowls. The cats were forced to escape through a broken basement window in search of food and water. 

The state of the house when Ceely entered it. Photo by Little Shelter Animal Rescue

Ceely also noticed that a stove top burner had been left on. 

“Cats love to move around and jump on things, that gas burner had to have been running for weeks, not only is that danger but this could have ended a lot worse than it did,” he said. 

The captured cats will be vaccinated, spayed or neutered and fit with a microchip. 

Ceely said some of the cats were put up for adoption last weekend. The rest need to be evaluated to make sure they are ready for a new home. 

“The biggest way to help us is to adopt and donate to help offset the medical cost,” Ceely said. 

The executive director said the facility has too many cats that need homes. They hope people adopt the animals, since the facility is maxed out on its capacity. 

For more information on the shelter, call 631-368-8770 or visit www.littleshelter.com.

Centerport residents held a rally Feb. 9 seeking protection of the area's environment and speaking out on proposed developments. Photo from Facebook

Town of Huntington officials have decided to calm the fears of Centerport residents over potential water contamination that could harm and scare off local wildlife, particularly their beloved American bald eagles.

Dom Spada, deputy director of the town’s Maritime Services, said a 300-foot-long soft boom was installed Feb. 13 along the waterfront near the former Thatched Cottage site on Route 25A, which is currently under construction to become Water’s Edge.

“We did this at the request of the people from Centerport,” he said. “We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.”

We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.” 

— Dom Spada

The barrier is an oil-absorbent sock made of cellular fiber, approximately 8-inches in diameter, and is usually used for containing and absorbing oil-based spills, according to Spada. It will float along the top of the water and soak in lubricants and fuels without absorbing any water. It cost the town approximately $2,000 plus labor for five men needed to install it.

Over the last three weeks, Centerport residents have filed a series of complaints with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the town expressing concerns that construction debris and stormwater runoff after heavy rains could be contaminating the harbor.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) sat down Feb. 8 with Centerport residents including Tom Knight, co-president of Centerport Harbor Civic Association, and Rob Schwartz, founder of Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, to discuss and address these concerns and other proposed developments including a 7-Eleven.

“I am really happy, happily surprised,” Schwartz said. “I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.”

On Feb. 1, Huntington’s building division received a new complaint forwarded from Suffolk County’s Department of Health Services alleging that asbestos runoff was entering the pond, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. The town told residents in the Feb. 8 meeting the county had tested the water then informed Steve Kiewra, the town’s building permits coordinator, in a phone conversation there was no evidence of asbestos runoff.

I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.

— Rob Schwartz

Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for Suffolk’s DHS, said Division of Environmental Quality employees did visit the site Feb. 1 to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks.

While county employees have been frequent contact with town staff in recent weeks, according to Kelly-McGovern, the results are still out as to whether or not Mill Pond has been contaminated from any source.

“Yes, our staff has been in touch with the town staff, but did not claim any testing results,” she said.

New York State DEC visited the site Feb. 5 and found the Water’s Edge in full compliance with state regulations.

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said his company, in full cooperation with state DEC guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond. 

Stormwater runoff coming from Route 25A headed toward Mill Pond after a heavy rainfall. Photo by Rob Schwartz

Two Centerport civic groups will join together this weekend to protest against proposed developments they fear could negatively impact the environment if left unchecked. 

Centerport Harbor Civic Association will join with members of the Bald Eagles of Centerport, NY Facebook group to rally at the intersection of Route 25A and Little Neck Road Saturday, Feb. 9, from 10 to 11 a.m., to draw attention to the potential environmental and traffic impacts of several developments in progress. 

“No one is looking at the overall picture of the area,” Rob Schwartz, of Centerport, said. “There’s a large amount of construction and it’s a concern for the community.” 

Schwartz, founder of the Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, said he’s seen firsthand stormwater runoff from Route 25A making its way into Mill Pond. He voiced concerns over whether the property owners of Water’s Edge, formerly The Thatched Cottage, are following all necessary precautions to ensure materials from the construction do not wind up in water. He fears if pollutants make their way into the harbor, it could cause extensive harm or death to native fish and wildlife. 

A gap in the silt fencing by the site of the former Thatched Cottage in January. Photo by Rob Schwartz

“They are not doing what they should be doing to protect the wetlands,” Schwartz said. “The pictures show that.” 

As a photographer, he’s posted numerous photos and videos via social media of rainbow-hued pools of water along Mill Pond’s banks alleging it’s a clear indicator of contamination. 

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said Centerport residents’ outcries of contamination are unfounded. 

“We have taken every safety precaution possible to not only safeguard the pond, but any impact our construction would have on the environment and its surrounding area,” he said. 

Scarda said his company, in full cooperation with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond.  

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe,” he said.

The concerns of Centerport’s residents of the harbor’s contamination have not fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office received a complaint Jan. 30 regarding Centerport Harbor, complaining of issues with ongoing construction at the former Thatched Cottage site, EPA spokesman David Kluesner said. Those complaints were forward to the Town of Huntington for further investigation. 

Lauren Lembo, spokeswoman for the Town of Huntington, said DEC staff and the harbormaster checked the site Jan. 24, shortly after a day-long downpour and found no signs of a spill. She said town employees later investigated the matter to find the silt curtain required along the bulkhead, while present, was improperly installed and immediate corrective action was taken. 

“Our building department has been made aware, and maritime services will continue to make routine inspections regarding stormwater control measures and any improper discharges into Mill Pond,” Lembo said. 

Suffolk County’s Division of Environmental Quality routinely tests the water quality of the pond, as part of the Huntington-Northport Harbor complex, on a bimonthly basis, according to spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern. 

Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he’s had several constituents reach out to him with concerns over the former Thatched Cottage property and runoff into Mill Pond, and has requested that the county takes additional water samples. 

“I want to make sure we are addressing true concerns and not getting into rumors,” Spencer said. “It’s near the water and there’s construction going on. Are there pollution concerns? It’s reasonable.” 

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe.”

— Enrico Scarda

Employees of Suffolk’s Division of Environmental Quality visited the site Feb. 1, Kelly-McGovern said, to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks. 

Kelly-McGovern said the “rainbow opalescence” seen by Centerport residents in the photos can be produced by microbes as a result of breaking down organic matter such as fish, leaves and plants. 

“It’s a relatively common wetland phenomenon,” she said. 

Schwartz said he and others would still like to see additional environmental protection measures, such as a floating boom to limit the spread of any possible debris or floating contaminates. 

In addition to the environmental concerns, Tom Knight of Centerport Harbor Civic Association said the rally will voice opposition to the proposed 7-Eleven he fears will create significantly more traffic on the corner of Route 25A and Little Neck Road. The intersection is a steep angle and prone to causing accidents, Knight said. 

The proposed 7-Eleven is currently in the process of a drafting an environmental impact statement, which has yet to be completed and submitted to the Town of Huntington. 

“I can’t stop progress, but I can ask them to make it safe,” Schwartz said. “I’ve lived here for 30 years, I love this town, and I don’t want to see it ruined.” 

The Thatched Cottage as it appeared circa July 2012. Photo from Facebook

The former owner of a once-popular Centerport restaurant admitted to forcing immigrants to work at his establishment.

Huntington resident Ralph Colamussi, former owner of the Thatched Cottage and Jellyfish Grill, pled guilty Sept. 26 before U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley in Central Islip federal court to charges of forced labor of employees. He faces up to 20 years in prison, as well as restitution to his victims and a fine of up to $250,000.

East Northport resident Ralph Colamussi was arrested Dec. 11 on charges of allegedly exploiting immigrant workers at his Centerport restaurant. File photo

In December 2017, Colamussi was arrested alongside his former restaurant manager Roberto Villanueva on charges of conspiring to engage in forced labor of immigrants, visa fraud and fraud in foreign labor contracting.

In entering his guilty plea, Colamussi admitted to bringing prospective workers from the Philippines to the United States on H-2B visas that expired shortly after their arrival here. Once the visas expired, the former restaurant owner admitted to encouraging workers to apply for student visas by fraudulently representing they intended to attend school full time and had the resources to do so. Colamussi admitted at times he would deposit funds in the workers’ bank accounts to ensure the appearance of ample financial resources to attend school and then would withdraw the funds once a student visa was approved.

“This case is an example of ruthless labor trafficking hiding in plain sight,” said Angel Melendez, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations special agent-in-charge at the time of Colamussi’s arrest. “These individuals allegedly committed visa fraud while forcing people to work in their catering hall under horrible conditions in what seemed to be an inescapable situation.”

The restauranteur also admitted when immigrant workers objected to performing certain jobs, such as working consecutive shifts or not being paid promptly, he threatened to report them to immigration. In the original indictment, federal prosecutors said Colamussi threatened his employees with physical violence and deportation. In one instance, Colamussi allegedly asked a worker to assist him in burning down the Thatched Cottage, and then threatened the worker with a knife for refusing to aid him.

This is not the first time Colamussi has faced legal issues over his operation and management of the former Centerport restaurant. Colamussi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the Thatched Cottage in January 2014, after which the restaurant was sold at auction for $4.65 million in September 2014. Lawsuits followed as December 2015 court documents claimed he transferred funds to Jellyfish Restaurant, and he was ordered by the judge to pay restitution.

One of Centerport's two mated American Bald eagles. Photo by Bruce Adams

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two of Centerport’s biggest celebrities are safer thanks to quick action taken to protect these majestic winged beauties, much to the delight of their paparazzi.

PSEG Long Island announced in honor of the nation’s birthday, the 4th of July, it had answered the calls of Centerport residents asking the company to help protect a nesting pair of American bald eagles and their two eaglets from dangers posed by two nearby electrical poles. During the last week of June, PSEG crews wrapped bright orange insulation around the electrical wires and the transformers on top of two poles on Centershore Road near the intersection of Route 25A, according to Dan Wickstrom, a manager for PSEG.

PSEG Long Island has installed orange insulation on two poles closest to the eagles’ Centerport nest. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We were so concerned when we found the eaglets were landing on the wires,” Bruce Adams, of Northport, said. “As you all know, when linesmen are up on wires they are exposed to tremendous danger and we did not want that danger to impact the birds.”

Adams is one of the thousands of local residents and bird watchers who have flocked to Centerport hoping to catch a glimpse of The Commodore and Mrs. Vanderbilt, as the mated pair of eagles is affectionately nicknamed. The names were chosen by a growing number of birdwatchers on the Facebook group “Bald Eagles of Centerport, NY,” which has more than 8,000 followers, some who give updates on the eaglets’ progress and photographers share their best images and videos.

“This is so phenomenal,” Adams said. “The presence of these birds has made birders out of those us who were not birders a year ago.”

The avid photographer said he first noticed the eagles’ arrival in November 2017 as they began constructing a nest in close proximity to Chalet Inn & Suites in Centerport. Shortly thereafter, two eggs appeared in the nest and a pair of fledglings hatched in April.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, Bruce Adams, Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci and Dan Wickstrom, of PSEG Long Island, show off eagle pins given to them by Adams to mark the occasion. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

As the young birds began to fly, Adams said he and other birdwatchers were alarmed to see the eaglets landing and perching on two power poles with transformers close to the nest. He said he reached out to Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) for help.

“Centerport is already a picturesque place and the presence of these birds only adds to its beauty,” Spencer said. “I was happy to play a role in the community effort to protect the eaglets that thousands of residents have come to treasure.”

Spencer said he contacted PSEG and received an affirmative response within hours that they were willing to take action to protect the birds.

“A part of our mission is to be engaged in the community and be good stewards of the environment,” Wickstrom said. “We were happy to get involved and take some corrective action to make things safer.”

Wickstrom said the animal protective caps should stay in place and last through the summer as the eaglets continue to grow and learn to fly. The utility company is looking to install similar protective features on six additional poles in the Centerport area in the coming weeks, according to Wickstrom.

More than 1,000 hours of community service put into gardens, mansion tours, live music and more

Members of the Centerport Garden Club volunteer their time to maintain the Vanderbilt's rose garden. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum.

One of Suffolk County’s museums leads by example in knowing the value of the proverb many hands make light work.

The Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion & Planetarium has been able to delight visitors with its scenic gardens and extensive programs thanks to the time put in by its roughly 135 year-round volunteers who have donated more than 1,000 hours in 2017.

“Volunteers are better than staff as they do work but don’t get paid,” Executive Director Lance Reinheimer said. “Their time is very valuable and it saves the museum a big expense each year.”

A visitor’s experience is shaped by the work of the museum’s volunteers from the minute they enter the estate. Volunteer gardeners designed and planted a garden near the property’s entrance at the request of the executive director. Master gardener Gloria Hall has taken over organizing a group formed by her late husband, Bill, that works on the property each Monday, during the growing season from May to October, helping in every aspect from planting and weeding to designing new features.

“Gloria has done a great job in carrying on the tradition of caring for our gardens,” Reinheimer said.

The gardening clubs involved have also helped design and create gardens that encircle the estate’s celebration tent on the Great Lawn, which overlooks the Long Island Sound. The director said it has added
visually to many of the weddings and special occasions happening on the grounds, anchoring the tent to make it feel like a permanent structure and blend into the property
.

Agnes Ward has spearheaded the Centerport Garden Club in donating its members time to  delicately handling  the Vanderbilt Estate rose garden outside of the planetarium.

“The gardeners really augment my ground staff,” the executive director said. “We’ve made great strides in beautifying the property in the last two years.”

Museum guests who take a tour of the historic Gold Coast mansion may be led around by a volunteer, as hundreds have by guide Ellen Mason who has volunteered at the Vanderbilt since May 2006. The retired school teacher said her passion for history keeps her coming back on Saturdays to share the experience with others.

“I’ve been asked over and over again to get on the payroll,” Mason said. “I refuse. I wanted to volunteer, I want to volunteer at something I love doing and it makes my spirit soar. I love the people who work there, it’s like a whole other family.”

It’s so welcoming that there’s even a former Vanderbilt employee who continues to come back and volunteer. The museum has several longtime volunteers who regularly give freely of their time including Rick Ellison, Mary McKell, Dale Spencer and Marianne Weeks, a
ccording to museum staff.

“There are so many people involved in that Suffolk institution — garden clubs, the living history program, all different types of work,” said Herb Mones, husband of museum trustee Gretchen Oldrin-Mones. “It’s really under the radar. I don’t think the larger community is fully aware of how much the volunteers impact the daily running of that institution that services tens of thousands of school kids each year.”

Once inside the mansion, visitors may be treated to live music played on the antique aeolian pipe organ played by volunteers Bill Caputi and Sheldon Cooper.

My feeling is that Long Island is a mecca for volunteerism,” Reinheimer said, in recognition how generous the museum’s volunteers have been. “Long Islanders give willingly to causes that are worthy.”

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File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a two-vehicle crash that killed a Centerport man Nov. 6.

Tyler Gomes was driving a 2007 Subaru eastbound on Cuba Hill Road in Greenlawn when he lost control of his vehicle, crossed into the westbound lane and struck a 2016 Toyota 4Runner, driven by Allison Raich, at approximately 9:35 a.m.

Gomez, 26, who was alone in his vehicle, was transported to Huntington Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Raich, 33, of East Northport, and her 9-month-old son were transported to Huntington Hospital where Raich was treated for broken bones and the child was evaluated and released.

Both vehicles were impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Two hopefuls will face off in the Sept. 15 primary to win the Democratic party line in the wide-open race for the Huntington Town supervisor seat. For many, it is the first Democratic primary for town supervisor they can vote in.

Incumbent Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), 72, announced in April he would not be seeking re-election.. He has served for nearly a quarter of a century, as he was first elected to the position in 1993.

Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) will compete for votes against community leader Darryl St. George (D), of Centerport, to determine who will attempt to fill Petrone’s shoes.

Tracey Edwards

Edwards has made the decision to step forward and run for supervisor, rather than seek re-election to a second term as a town council member. If she does not win the Democratic primary, she may no longer serve Huntington as an elected official.

“I chose to run for town supervisor versus running for re-election,” Edwards said. “This is not about me. This is about what I believe is best for Huntington.”

Tracey Edward

Edwards was elected to the town board in 2014, after serving 10 years on the board of education in the Elwood school district. She previously served on the board of directors of the Long Island Association and worked for 37 years at Verizon, starting as an operator and climbing the ladder to regional president of network operations.

Over the last three years, Edwards spearheaded the creation of Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with job hunting and career training for unemployed and underemployed residents. She has also been an advocate for Huntington Station revitalization, a plan which includes construction of veteran’s housing, art space, stores, sidewalks, and a parking garage while also working to stamp out crime.

“The biggest issue is public safety and safe neighborhoods,” Edwards said. “That is always No. 1.”

If elected supervisor, Edwards said her primary goal is to improve public safety, making more affordable housing for millenials and seniors, working with families to address ever growing opioid and heroin dependency, and expanding the town’s environmental initiatives.

“I think what [voters] have to do is really decide who has the business experience, the civic experience and governmental experience to make the changes necessary to take the town forward,” Edwards said. “We have work to do.”

Edwards will be attending Huntington Awareness Day, Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Stimson Middle School, located at 401 Oakwood Road in Huntington Station

Darryl  St. George

St. George was one of the first to announce he would seek election as town supervisor in February, prior to Petrone’s announcement he would not seek re-election. He said he previously contemplated running for town board in 2015.

“The political landscape from February till now has shifted dramatically, what has not shifted is my resolve,” St. George said.

St. George works as a Northport High School teacher, where he is the co-advisor of Northport High School branch of Students Against Destructive Decisions and the advisor of Project Vets, a club that works to improve the lives of veterans once they return home. He previously taught at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington.

Darryl St. George

St. George is a U.S. Navy veteran who served a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2011. Upon returning home, he served as the president of Greenlawn Civic Association for three years. In that role, St. George said he addressed public safety issues and opioid and heroin addiction.

“I was proud to be in that position,” St. George said. “I felt we were able to grow the civic association and get a lot of young people involved.”

If elected supervisor, St. George said he would focus on improving public safety by addressing in addition to opioid addiction, gang issues, protection of the environment and democratic reform to make town government more accessible for people to become involved.

“The real difference between the supervisor and the town board is a supervisor must be a leader,” he said. “A leader should have a vision and be able to communicate that vision clearly, build consensus on the town board and in the community so the vision can be translated into action. I have a track record of doing that as a teacher, as a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy,  as a civic leader and as an activist.”

St. George will be holding a fundraising event Sept. 9 at 6:45 p.m. at the Conklin Brush Barn, located at 2 High Street in Huntington.

Polls will be open for primaries Sept. 12 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Huntington Town residents are eligible to vote in the supervisor race if you are a registered Democrat,  at least 18 years old, have lived at your current address at least 30 days before the election, and have not been in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

To double check if you are registered to vote, visit the state’s website at voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx.

Scott Lipton. Mugshot from SCPD

Suffolk County police arrested a Centerport man for driving while intoxicated with one stepson in the vehicle, after he was involved in a motor vehicle crash in Centerport Sept. 4 in which he hit another stepson with his car.

Scott Lipton was driving his 2017 Jaguar southbound on Laurel Hill Road when his vehicle struck his 13-year-old stepson, who was walking his dog, and then a pole at approximately 5:50 p.m.

The 13-year-old was transported by Suffolk County police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of a broken leg. Lipton’s 9-year-old stepson, who was a passenger in the car, was transported by Centerport Fire Department to Huntington Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. Lipton, 42 of Laurel Hill Road, was not injured. The dog was not injured.

Second Squad detectives charged Lipton with aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child passenger 15 years or younger (Leandra’s Law) and endangering the welfare of a child. He will be held overnight at the 2nd Precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Sept. 5.

USCG vessels. File Photo

A sailing lesson ended in tragedy Tuesday afternoon, July 18, as a 12-year-old boy died after injuries from a boat propeller in Centerport.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, three children, all wearing life vests, were taking part in a sailing lesson when their boat was capsized as a controlled part of the lesson, at the Centerport Yacht Club, located on Beach Plum Drive at approximately 2:55 p.m.

A 12-year-old boy was receiving sailing instructions when he fell into the water.  An 18-year old instructor who was operating a small Zodiac inflatable boat was able to pull the child from the water and onto the Zodiac. The child was seated on the side of the Zodiac when the instructor started to move forward. The boy again fell into the water and became entangled in the propeller of the Zodiac. The instructor immediately entered the water to render aid. He and another instructor were able to pull the child onto another boat and began CPR. On shore other EMT’s assisted until a paramedic from the Centerport Fire Department responded. The child was transported to Huntington Hospital where he died from his injuries. An instructor was also admitted to Huntington Hospital for shock. The other children did not receive medical aid.

Second Precinct detectives are investigating the incident.