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Committee

George Hoffman, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Jane Taylor stand in front of Stony Brook train station on Route 25A. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Brookhaven Town is calling on those residents who know the area best to help herald in a new era for Route 25A, just weeks after passing a resolution to explore a land use plan and study for the area.

On Feb. 4, the town board created a Citizens Advisory Committee for the Route 25A study and plan, and appointed Three Village’s own George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and Jane Taylor, assistant head of The Stony Brook School, to lead the committee.

The efforts could tie in with similar ones in Port Jefferson Station, where residents, with the help of the town planning department, have already finalized their land use plan for the main drag between the Long Island Rail Road tracks at the northern tip of the hamlet and Route 347 at its center. That main road starts as Route 25A and becomes Route 112.

Brookhaven officials are starting up this year on rezoning parcels in that study area to fit the finalized plan.

In Three Village, the new citizens group will also include members from 12 offices or organizations, including the newly renamed Three Village Civic Association, the office of the president of Stony Brook University, members of the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments, among others, the town said.

For Hoffman, traffic and pedestrian safety is an area for concern for him and other community members and officials alike. About one-and-a-half years ago Hoffman helped establish a kiosk for an Eagle Scout project near Route 25A and the Stony Brook train station. A car destroyed it nearly a month later, he said.

Hoffman said, “It’s a tricky area and there’s a lot of pedestrians” that walk along Route 25A.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said a Stony Brook University student died several years ago when walking along Route 25A. Many others walk along this road throughout the school year.

“When you have the largest state university in the state of New York, it should have sidewalks,” Romaine said.

Hoffman started working to revitalize the area when he joined the civic association board four years ago. His co-chair, Taylor, has lived in the Stony Brook area since 1973 and said that she was pleased with the news of her position on the committee.

“One of the important values that I have … is to be able to give back to our community in some way,” Taylor said.

Taylor added that it’s exciting to see a variety of local organizations unite for this issue. She also said community input is something the supervisor and town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) wanted from this land use study.

Cartright has worked with the supervisor to address the Route 25A issues.

Last June, Cartright teamed up with the Three Village Community Trust and organized a meeting with residents to get their input on how they’d like to see the street revitalized. According to Cartright, around 100 community members attended the meeting at The Stony Brook School. While there were some differences in opinion, the majority of residents wanted to “keep the small-town feel” and maintain as much open space as possible.

“I think it is part of the planning process. I think we need to always make sure to have the community [as] involved as possible,” Cartright said.

Cynthia Barnes, president of the Three Village Community Trust, said the corridor study was an opportunity for residents to make sure any past successes were not wiped out by future indifference.

“The community has worked hard to prevent Route 25A from turning into an endless corridor of strip malls like so many other places in Brookhaven and elsewhere,” she said in a statement. “Over the past 20 years, civic leaders have actively engaged in community-based planning, advocating land and historic preservation, scrutinizing development proposals and conducting two planning studies, in 1997 and in 2010. As a result, land has been preserved along 25A and throughout the area and the first of 15 historic districts now in Brookhaven were established here in Setauket and Stony Brook.”

Barnes also said the study is an opportunity for the entire community to “influence policymakers and deciders in how they direct future development and redevelopment along our ‘Main Street.’”

Looking ahead, she said the trust urges everyone to participate in this planning process by seeking out information and watching for meetings and workshops — including the trust’s spring “Join the Conversation” series.

The town will conduct the study in phases starting from the Smithtown line to Nicolls Road while the second phase will focus on the remainder of Route 25A to the Poquott Village line. Although Romaine said there’s “tremendous opportunities for redevelopment” of the street, it will take time to revitalize the area. The supervisor agreed with Cartright that community members are key to a successful study and plan.

Cartright is also involved in revitalizing the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville area to meet the needs of residents. The Citizens Advisory Committee there has presented the town with a vision for the area, which the town previously accepted and then voted on Jan. 14 to start rezoning the area to fit that vision.

Port Jefferson Station’s land use plan was built on existing studies of the area, and the town’s Citizens Advisory Committee meetings will add on to previous Route 25A discussions.

“We’re just at the beginning of the process,” Hoffman said. “We want to build off Valerie’s successful community meeting in the summer. People have different views of how they want their community to look [and] we want to make the area really beautiful [for residents].”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo

A North Shore lawmaker and former Suffolk County detective has his sights set on the Suffolk County Police Department.

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) took to the Legislature this week to introduce a procedural motion that would establish a special committee to watch over the county’s law enforcement operations. If enacted, the committee would investigate and oversee different aspects of the county police department, the legislator said.

Trotta has been an outspoken critic of the police department, recently calling for the demotion of former police chief, James Burke, after his resignation amid being charged with civil rights violations and obstructing an investigation. In a statement, Trotta said there was enough evidence to support his proposed need for a committee overseeing operations of the department.

“As a result of the recent allegations of wrongdoings by top officials in the Suffolk County Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, I felt compelled to sponsor this measure to review all aspects of law enforcement operations in Suffolk County,” Trotta said.

The lawmaker said the special committee would be comprised of six members of the Legislature who would be tasked with reviewing the operations, procedures and practices of the entire police department as well as the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office. The committee would also investigate allegations of favoritism, the lack of adequate rules and procedures and the failure to comply with laws already on the books relating to internal affairs investigations in the police department, Trotta said.

The Suffolk County Police Department did not respond to requests seeking comment.

“As a retired Suffolk County detective who was assigned to the FBI’s Long Island task force for 10 years and now as a legislator, I feel it is incumbent upon me to try to rectify the situation created by a few bad apples in various departments,” Trotta said.

The county Legislature scheduled a review of the procedural motion at its public safety committee meeting today, Feb. 4, at 9:30 a.m. If put into effect, the committee would be empowered to administer oaths and affirmations, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers related to the review and investigation. It will have subpoena power with approval of the Legislature and will hold meetings and hearings as needed. In addition, the committee is authorized to hire the necessary staff to conduct its investigation, subject to appropriations by the Legislature, according to Trotta’s statement.

Drug busts are becoming more common in Suffolk County. Above, drugs and other items seized during one such bust. File photo

Overall crime is dropping in the 6th Precinct — but one wouldn’t know that by looking at the number of drug arrests.

Fewer crimes are being reported across the board while heroin arrests have doubled in the last five years, according to Suffolk County Police Department statistics shared at a joint meeting Tuesday night of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and Comsewogue Community Crime Awareness Committee. Inspector Bill Murphy, the head of the precinct, said those arrests numbered 148 in 2011 but ballooned to 298 last year.

“And that’s just our arrests,” he said, noting that it doesn’t account for all heroin use. “Those are times that we come across it.”

Comsewogue area residents and visitors from neighboring civic associations vented their frustrations about local drug-related crimes and activity at the meeting in the Comsewogue Public Library on Terryville Road as they received the most recent data about police action on the issue. Despite the overall drop in crime, Murphy said drug addicts are still behind many of the reported incidents in the 6th Precinct.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the serious crimes we have are driven by drug abuse: The people addicted to heroin and they’re so addicted to it, they have to get money to go and buy these drugs,” he said. “They’re doing stickups, they’re doing burglaries.”

The police are cracking down on the drug trade, however. Murphy noted that officers had executed search warrants on three “drug houses” in the past week alone. One of them was in Centereach, where he said cops busted a repeat offender and caught him with 4 ounces of cocaine and 2 ounces of heroin.

“He’s going away for a long time,” Murphy said.

But the police activity is not limited to arrests. Officers also attack local drug addiction when they save people from opioid overdoses using Narcan, a medication they carry that stops overdoses of drugs like heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, Demerol and Percocet.

Officer Will Gibaldi said at the meeting that in the past four weeks alone, they responded to three overdoses in Port Jefferson and one in Port Jefferson Station.

“We do handle a decent amount of them,” the officer said.

Police have been relying on Narcan so much in the few years since they first got access to medication that the department has stopped keeping track of how many lives officers have saved with the overdose antidote.

“We actually stopped giving statistics on it,” Murphy said. “After we broke the ‘500’ mark, there were just so many of them, it was senseless to even bother keeping numbers.”

For residents who are concerned about drug activity in their neighborhoods or want to report it to the police, Gibaldi emphasized that communication with the public is a department priority, saying, “Our door is always open.”

Likewise, Murphy invited people to reach out to him.

“If you contact me with a problem, you will get a response. You will not be ignored.”

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Smithtown Animal Shelter Director Sue Hansen, left, outlines candidates she helped seek out with hopes of hiring somebody to work with her team as an animal behaviorist. Councilwoman Lynne Nowick, center, and Supervisor Pat Vecchio say they are on board to hire someone. Photo by Phil Corso

After losing her volunteer advisory panel tasked with moving the Smithtown Animal Shelter into a new era, town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) moved forward this week by inviting the shelter director to speak before the board.

Early this year, Nowick assembled a panel of animal welfare experts with hopes of soliciting their advice and bringing calm to a contentious conversation that has surrounded the shelter for the past year. That panel, however, called it quits at a town board meeting last week, accusing Nowick of being unable to respond to one of their top concerns of hiring a full-time animal behaviorist at the shelter with an annual salary of $45,000. In an attempt to set the record straight, Nowick invited new shelter Director Sue Hansen to speak at a work session on Tuesday morning about finding someone to fit the behaviorist role.

“The last meeting was a little bit contentious,” Nowick said. “I want the board to be aware of what we were doing as far as hiring our behaviorist and why we haven’t done certain things.”

Nowick’s former advisory panel consisted of animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein and animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden. The three penned a letter to the board on Sept. 15 accusing Nowick of failing to serve as a bridge between the animal experts and elected town officials, raising the issue of the town neglecting to consider hiring a full-time animal behaviorist to train dogs at the shelter.

The letter was news to Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who told the animal experts that he was never made aware of any discussions regarding a behaviorist position.

“You guys got tricked,” Nowick said at the work session Tuesday. “They only wanted one full-time behaviorist. They didn’t want to consider anything else.”

Stein, DeFina and Madden did not return requests seeking comment.

On Nowick’s invitation, Hansen introduced two potential candidates she had vetted who could fill the role of an animal behaviorist at the shelter with hopes of finding homes for the eight dogs housed there: Michael Gould, owner of Hounds Town USA, and Aimee Sadler, owner of Dogs Playing for Life.

“These candidates would be available to work with the staff and make our dogs more adoptable,” Hansen said.

Both candidates, who did not return requests seeking comment, have extensive backgrounds in training dogs and also pet lovers on how to interact with them.

Gould, a Long Island native, has worked with the shelter in the past, helping some dogs train their way to becoming police dogs, Hansen said. If the board chooses to work with him, he would work as a volunteer to help train and assess Smithtown dogs and teach shelter staffers how to handle them. The proposal was met with satisfaction from board members, with Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) calling it a “great idea.”

Sadler, the other candidate for the job, would call on her experience working with other Island shelters including the Southhampton Animal Shelter to assemble socializing playgroups for dogs in Smithtown. Hansen said she’s had Smithtown shelter workers visiting Sadler’s programs over recent weeks to explore how her services could benefit the town. But the town would need to seek ways to fund it, she said.

The board asked Hansen to speak with the candidates and report back  how they might fill the Smithtown shelter’s needs before a deal is inked.

Residents have flocked to board meetings over the past year to air their grievances surrounding the shelter, accusing former Director George Beatty of mismanaging animals and staffers and honing in on various aspects of operations there. Beatty retired as director in August, prompting the hiring of Hansen.

Northport power plant. File photo

A new Huntington Town citizens group will boost a movement to upgrade the Northport power plant, independently studying the issue and submitting ideas to town officials.

The town board, on Tuesday, unanimously supported a measure co-sponsored by Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) to create the Repower Now Citizens Committee, a group of nine who will weigh in on an analysis the Long Island Power Authority and National Grid are conducting with respect to repowering, or upgrading, the plant.

Earlier this year, the state charged LIPA and National Grid with studying the feasibility of repowering the Northport power plant, the Port Jefferson power plant and others. Having the Repower Now Citizens Committee can only boost that effort, Cuthbertson and Petrone said in interviews with reporters after Tuesday’s meeting.

Local leaders want to see the aging Northport plant repowered so it will remain a source of energy and property tax revenue for years to come. Several local budgets, including that of the Northport-East Northport school district, rely heavily on the tax revenue.

Upgrading the Northport power plant can be done, Petrone said. It will be the new group’s responsibility to support repowering by producing a factual analysis on the issue.

“Our plant is probably the most viable plant to be utilized for that,” Petrone said, explaining Northport’s advantages in being repowered. “It has property available and it can be expanded. The need now is to put together a group to basically put some kind of study together … to support this. And there are many people out there that have expertise that we would wish to tap.”

Membership would include at least one person each from Northport and Asharoken villages, someone from the Northport-East Northport school district and members with engineering and sustainable energy backgrounds.

Repowering has another benefit: It may help settle a lawsuit LIPA brought against the town, challenging it over the value of the power plant.

LIPA claims the plant has been grossly over-assessed and the utility has overpaid taxes to the town. If LIPA’s suit is successful, the judgment could translate into double-digit tax increases for other Huntington Town and Northport-East Northport school district taxpayers.

If, however, the utility chooses to repower by upgrading the facility, the town has offered to keep its assessment flat, preventing those skyrocketing taxes.

“It’s a lawsuit that’s a very, very high-stakes lawsuit,” Cuthbertson told reporters after the meeting. “We have to look at both legal and political solutions, and political being through legislation. This is a part of trying to formulate a legislative solution and come up with a compromise that we might be able to work through.”

Petrone said he hopes to have the repowering citizens group assembled within a month.

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