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Doc Spencer

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Local politicians and Huntington Town residents have successfully lobbied the state Department of Transportation to halt construction of a rest stop on exit 51 of the Long Island Expressway.

Individuals were up in arms over the proposal, and lawmakers expressed their dissatisfaction about the plans. Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said it’s an unacceptable location for a rest stop and said the rest stop itself is unnecessary.

“It backs a residential area,” Stern said in a phone interview. “Unlike other rest stops or centers, where they carry on commercial activity, on the LIE, here all the exits are about a mile apart. There is an ample supply of restaurants, shopping centers and restrooms at every exit, so there is no need for a separate rest stop at this location.”

Stern said the plan calls for featuring the state’s Taste NY program, designed to promote New York’s agriculture vendors. This particular Taste NY would serve as a gateway for Long Island wine country out east, according to Stern.

“This exit is a long way from being a gateway to the East End,” Stern said about why this exit choice doesn’t make sense to promote Taste NY.

According to Stern, Suffolk County has made an offer to work with New York State to create a Taste NY location off exit 67 in Yaphank, which Stern said is a more appropriate location.

Gary Holmes, director of communications for the state’s Department of Transportation, said no work is currently being done at exit 51.

“The commissioner has held several productive meetings with local and state officials on Long Island, and while no decisions have been made about the rest stop at exit 51, we look forward to continued conversations about the health and safety of all users of the LIE,” Holmes said in an email. “LIE motorists deserve a safe place to rest and we’ll keep working on the best way to do that.”

Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) said the rest stop should not be added, and that she started fighting plans for it 15 years ago.

“I led the charge against this rest stop when I was vice president of the House Beautiful Dix Hills Civic Association,” Berland said in a phone interview. “I have always been opposed to this.”

She also said the Taste NY aspect is inappropriate, and that the state should not be selling alcohol on an expressway: “The last thing you want to do is give people the opportunity to get alcohol there.”

Berland said the rest stop is too close to a residential community, and the construction the state’s done so far was done without permission. She said residents are already being impacted by the sound of the LIE because brush berms have been removed.

Assemblyman Chad A. Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) agreed that the rest stop is disruptive to residential life near exit 51.

“The location is poor because of the noise and the secondary effects it will have to the area and the residents,” Lupinacci said in a phone interview. “I am totally against it.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) agreed with his colleagues that the rest stop should not go up, and that the voices of Huntington are not being heard.

“It doesn’t sound like the Town of Huntington was involved in this decision,” Spencer said in a phone interview. “I always think coordination and communication with the community is key.”

Eli Mollineaux, who was born with a rare condition called Pearson marrow-pancreas syndrome, smiles for a photo at Huntington High School after receiving a proclamation from the town for his positive attitude and high spirit despite his condition. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Rain or shine, 13-year-old Eli Mollineaux always has a smile on his face — even as he battles a rare mitochondrial disease known as Pearson marrow-pancreas syndrome.

On Wednesday, Suffolk County honored Eli for his sunny disposition despite his condition, with a proclamation. Now, the month of September is Mitochondrial Awareness month, and Suffolk County officials went a step further, calling the proclamation “Eli’s Law” in light of the Huntington native’s 14th birthday this Saturday, Oct. 3.

Eli’s birthday is yet another milestone for him, his family and their friends.

“The lifespan for kids with Pearson’s is around 3 to 4 years old,” said Alyssa Mancuso, a family friend of 10 years. “So the fact that Eli’s turning 14 is huge.”

Children with Pearson marrow-pancreas syndrome, an incurable multisystem disorder, have problems with the development of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow that have the potential to develop into different types of blood cells.

From left, Huntington School District Superintendent James Polansky, Principal Brenden Cusack, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, Eli Mollineaux, his mother Ellen, younger brother Sam, older brother Josh and Eli’s aide Ilene Messina, pose for a photo at Huntington High School while Eli holds his proclamation. Photo by Giselle Barkley
From left, Huntington School District Superintendent James Polansky, Principal Brenden Cusack, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, Eli Mollineaux, his mother Ellen, younger brother Sam, older brother Josh and Eli’s aide Ilene Messina, pose for a photo at Huntington High School while Eli holds his proclamation. Photo by Giselle Barkley

According to Eli’s mother, Ellen Mollineaux, the “mitochondria is [the] battery for cells and [Eli] is missing a big part of that battery.”

Mollineaux remembers her son’s condition developing when he was a infant, as he was often sick and didn’t act like a typical child.

“Cognitively, I knew he was there, but all of a sudden he was sleeping more and wasn’t playful,” Mollineaux said. “[He] always wanted to be held and hugged and I knew something was wrong.”

After taking Eli to his pediatrician, a blood test revealed Eli’s hemoglobin level was around 1.9 grams per deciliter, when the average 6-month to 2-year-old child’s level should be around 12, which means his body was running out of blood. Mollineaux said doctors rushed Eli to the North Shore Hospital in Manhasset for a blood transfusion.

“It was as if they filled his tank up with gas,” Mollineaux said. “He sat up and within minutes; all the skills he didn’t have, he had.”

Mollineaux received the transfusion in September of 2002. While Eli was doing well for a few years, his disorder has progressed in the last several months. According to his mother, his tremors are getting worse, making it difficult for him to eat — especially his favorite food, soup. Walking is also more difficult.

Principal Brenden Cusack, left, and Eli Mollineaux, right, perform Eli’s daily joke over the school intercom. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Principal Brenden Cusack and Eli Mollineaux perform Eli’s daily joke over the school intercom. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Despite this, Eli remains positive.

“He will lose his balance when he tries to walk and he doesn’t say ‘It sucks,’” Mollineaux said. “If the doctor asks him… ‘How you doing?’ Even though he can’t walk [properly, he says] ‘Great. Everything’s good.’”

During an interview with media, Eli’s older brother, Josh, also commented on his brother’s sunny disposition. He said his brother is a happy kid who is indifferent to his illness.

The only thing Eli doesn’t like, is having his blood drawn.

Regardless of his hardships, thinking about school and seeing his friends is what keeps Eli’s spirit up. During an interview, he said art was his favorite subject at school.

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who was present at the press conference where Eli received his proclamation, said “Eli’s Law” will honor Eli’s courage, while bringing awareness to his condition. Spencer said that Eli and his spirit is inspiring, and gives hope to those who are battling their own adversities.

Although his current prognosis is not very good, Ellen Mollineaux said her family clings to their motto.

“Nobody knows their future,” she said. “That’s like our motto. No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Horrible things happen every day and we just move on.”

Suffolk officials discuss environmental issues facing Long Island after thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead. Photo by Alex Petroski

The estimated nearly 100,000 dead bunker fish that have washed ashore in Riverhead may seem astounding, but it wasn’t all that surprising to the panel of experts brought before the Suffolk County Health Committee on Thursday.

In late May, the thousands of dead bunker fish, formally known as Atlantic menhaden fish, began appearing in the Peconic Estuary, an area situated between the North and South Forks of Long Island. According to a June 2 press release from the Peconic Estuary Program, the bunker fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. This shortage of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s environmental quality division, who serves on the panel, which was organized by the health committee chairman, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), testified that the number of dead fish was at or approaching 100,000.

“This one is bigger and worse than any,” Dawydiak said.

According to the PEP, which is part of the National Estuary Program and seeks to conserve the estuary, bunker are filter-feeding fish and an important food source for many predatory fish, including striped bass and blue fish.

Alison Branco, the program’s director, said the fish are likely being chased into shallow waters by predators, but are dying because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the waters. In addition, an algae bloom is contributing to the low levels and is fueled by excess nitrogen loading. Much of that nitrogen comes from septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizer use.

“We’ve reach a point where this kind of hypoxia was run of the mill. We expect it every summer,” Branco, who also served as a panelist, said following the hearing.

While magnitude of the fish kill was astounding, the experts said they weren’t so surprised that it happened.

“I definitely thought it could happen at any time,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a one-on-one interview after the panel hearing. “There’s been an oxygen problem there all along.”

Gobler called it largest fish kill he’d seen in 20 years.

According to panel members, the worst of the fish kill occurred between May 27 and May 30.

Branco did suggest that this shocking environmental event could be turned into a positive if the right measures are taken sooner rather than later.

“It’s always shocking to see a fish kill,” she said. “As much as we don’t want to have things like that happen I think the silver lining is that it did capture the public’s attention.”

Prevention of a fish kill this large is possible, according to Branco. While preventing the harmful algal blooms is not possible, reducing the frequency and severity can be done if the amount of nitrogen in the coastal water supply is controlled.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental policy advocacy group, agreed that curtailing the amount of nitrogen in the water is the easiest and most impactful way for prevention of a fish kill of this magnitude.

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Esposito said in response to a question about the daunting task of fixing the Island’s sewage treatment techniques and facilities on a limited budget.

Esposito described the roughly $5 million from New York State, which was allotted to Suffolk County to deal with cleaning the coastal water supply, as seed money. Esposito and Branco both said they believe the commitment of time and money required to solve the nitrogen problem in the water supply will be vast.

“We can do this,” she said. “We have to do it. We have no choice.”

Town board to host public hearings on new proposals

The town board will consider a ban on e-cigarettes at town beaches and playgrounds. File photo by Nick Scarpa

Huntington Town residents next week will be able to weigh in on a proposal to ban e-cigarettes from town beaches and on another measure that would expedite cleanup of graffiti-ridden properties in the town.

The proposals will be the subject of two separate public hearings on June 9 at 7 p.m at Town Hall.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) has introduced the new legislation to ban e-cigarettes from town beaches and playgrounds. Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) hopes to improve on old legislation to speed up the process of graffiti removal from both residential and commercial properties.

Berland’s proposal enhances existing graffiti cleanup laws. Under the new provisions, residents of Huntington would have 10 days after they receive a summons from the town to remove the graffiti from their property, according to Berland. After the 10 days expire, the town can send Huntington Town General Services Department employees in to remove the graffiti. The resident will then be charged with the cleanup fee and a $250 administrative fee.

If the owner fails to pay the cleanup bill within 30 days, the property will be added to a graffiti blight inventory, which will cost homeowners $2,500 and owners of commercial properties $5,000. Owners who fail to pay the bill will have the bill become a lien on their property.

The time frame is even shorter for graffiti that contains hate speech. The owner has a total of three days to remove it after getting a notice of violation before the town takes action.

“I think it’s important to protect our neighborhood from unwanted graffiti,” Berland said in a phone interview.

Berland has worked with graffiti cleanup for years and is now trying to create legislation that amends the town code so that the cleanups are routine.

Cuthbertson has introduced legislation to add electronic cigarettes to the list of products banned from town beaches and playgrounds. This list already includes tobacco and herbal cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

In 2010 a county law restricted the sale of e-cigarettes to those old enough to buy tobacco. Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) sponsored legislation to ban vaping, or the act of smoking an e-cigarette, at county parks and benches in late 2012.

Many residents in Huntington approached Cuthbertson asking for legislation to end vaping on public grounds, since they have concerns with being exposed to secondhand smoke. However, this new law, if adopted, would not include private property, as well as the parking lots at beaches. New no-smoking signs would go up at each public beach and playground.

In an email through his legislative aide, Cuthbertson said he believes this legislation is important on a public health level.

“The extensive amount of medical research and published studies support our desire to protect the health and welfare of those at our town beaches from secondhand smoke,” the councilman said.

New DNA-based marker technology to aid town residents in securing property

Above, a view of the technology, called DNANet. Photo from Applied DNA Sciences

A new public safety pilot program in Huntington Station puts crime-fighting in the hands of residents by providing them with innovative DNA-based technology to mark up property susceptible to burglary.

Last week, Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) was joined by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and other elected officials in Huntington Station, where a new device manufactured by Stony Brook-based Applied DNA Sciences was introduced as part of a pilot program in the town. The kit called DNANet comes with a special marker that can be used to mark up to 100 valuables and assets in a home in an effort to keep track of goods if stolen or removed from the home.

“When I was approached last year by the scientists at Applied DNA Sciences with this unique technology, it was clear that it has great potential to be an effective tool in keeping communities safer,” Spencer stated in a press release. “Increasing public safety in Huntington Station and all of Suffolk County has always been a central focus of mine. Bringing in this resource will make this great community even better.”

Suffolk County is paying for the pilot program, which will cost $25,000.

The kits will be distributed to 500 homes in Huntington Station in areas with high burglary rates. Residents will be asked to perform in the study, mark up items and register them with the company.

The mark is not visible to the naked eye. A UV lamp will be needed to see the distinctive mark.

“You can’t see it [and] you can’t scratch it off,“ Spencer said in a phone interview Monday.

When items are stolen, burglars tend to trade the goods to pawn shops for quick cash. The new device will also force shop owners to carefully record data when items are pawned.

“Now it will be harder to pawn stolen goods,” Spencer said.

Once an item with the DNA code is run through the website’s database, it will match to a particular person and address. In the past, reuniting goods with an owner has proved to be difficult because there is no proof of ownership, according to Spencer. The mark would help prove ownership, he said.

Spencer hopes this new initiative will help increase item recoveries, theft convictions and decrease low level petit theft.

“This technology is another tool our police can use against crime,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a press release. “Our police will be able to address and solve theft of personal property with the information made available by DNAweb.”

According to Spencer, studies show the DNA mark has proven to last up to 350 years. Also if the owner sells an item, a call can be made to have the item removed from the database to prevent confusion.

The program is expected to begin in Huntington Station and Huntington shortly as officials wanted to focus in areas with high crime. The program will be evaluated after six months to see if there has been an improvement in recoveries and convictions. Residents who participate in the program can also put signs on their lawns alerting people the system is in use.

Once the evaluation is over, the Suffolk County Police Department will decide whether to recommend the program expand.