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Donna Deedy

Caged migrant children at U.S. Mexico border

By Donna Deedy

Local U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D–Glen Cove), after visiting detention centers along the southern United States border July 13 with 15 other House Democrats, has returned to his Huntington office alarmed. The situation, he said, is awful.  

U.S. Immigration Detention Center. photo from Tom Suozzi’s Office

“We need to make the humanitarian crisis at the border priority number one,” Suozzi said. “The system is broken.”

The group toured and inspected facilities that are currently holding Central American migrants seeking asylum and met with several migrant families to hear, first-hand, their experiences and what can be done to help.

“America is better than this,” he said. “I have worked on this issue since before I was elected mayor of Glen Cove in 1993 and I will continue to fight for solutions consistent with our American values.” 

During the visit, Suozzi learned that only 20 to 30 migrants seeking asylum are processed each day. This provides an incentive for people to cross in between ports of entry, he said, and once apprehended, they then turn themselves in to seek asylum. In turn, this leads to their detention.

“My recent trip to the border makes it clear that this issue is incredibly complicated and has been for decades. The policies and rhetoric from this administration have exacerbated the problem, permeating a culture of fear that forces many immigrants further into the shadows.” 

 The congressman is calling for action, insisting that all delegates work together to:

•Address the current humanitarian crisis at the border.

•Secure borders in a smart and effective way.

•Create stability in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that account for almost 90 percent of current immigrants.

•Protect the legal status of Dreamers and people with temporary protective status and their families with renewable temporary protection and a path to citizenship.

The tour coincided with rallies held in Huntington village and across the country and the world in protest of the policies and inhumane practices at U.S. border with Mexico. 

Suozzi was a guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on July 16, where he said that “the president has, once again, shifted the conversation away from important policy issues toward a racial divide in our country.”

The Rev. Duncan Burns, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington, attended the Huntington rally “Lights for Liberty” and spoke to the crowd that gathered July 12. Suozzi’s trip to the border, the reverend said, has sparked greater concern.

“We encourage people to raise their voices and to call their members of Congress to urge them to work together to find solutions,” he said. “The Episcopal Church is completely backing both parties to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on his position on the issue.

By Donna Deedy

donna@tbrnewsmedia.com

“It’s more than a pretty garden,” said Chris Clapp, a marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a biological process that relies on plants, wood chips and microbes to remove nitrogen in wastewater before it flows back into the environment.”

On June 24, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined Clapp with a conglomerate of representatives from both government and the private sector at The Nature Conservancy’s Upland Farms Sanctuary in Cold Spring Harbor to unveil a state-of-the-art method for reducing and eliminating nitrogen from wastewater. 

The county expects the new system to be a replacement for cesspools and septic systems, which are blamed for the seeping of nitrogen into Long Island waterways, causing red tides, dead zones and closed beaches.

County Executive Steve Bellone and Nancy Kelley of The Nature Conservancy plant the new garden at Upland Farms.

The issue is a serious concern, Bellone said, as he introduced the county’s Deputy Executive Peter Scully, who is spearheading the county’s Reclaim Our Water Initiative and serves as the Suffolk’s water czar. “Anytime a government appoints a water czar, you know you have problems to address.”

Scully, formerly the director for the Long Island region of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said six other septic alternatives are currently approved.    

Long Island is reportedly one of the most densely populated locations in the country without adequate wastewater treatment. Currently, there are 360,000 antiquated cesspools and septic systems. The county expects to set nitrogen reduction targets for watershed areas where replacement holds the most benefit. 

The technique, called a vegetated circulating gravel system, is composed of an underground network that essentially connects the drains and toilets of a home or office to plant life and microbial action. It works in two stages to denitrify the wastewater. The first phase discharges wastewater into an underground gravel bed covered with a surprisingly small garden of native plants that takes up nitrogen through its roots. The water is then circulated into an underground box of wood chips that convert the remaining nitrogen into gas, before it’s circulated back to the gravel bed. Once the water is denitrified, it’s dispersed through a buried leaching field. 

The county partnered with the Nature Conservancy to develop and implement the system for its Upland Farms Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located a half-mile from Cold Spring Harbor, where water quality has worsened during the last 12 years to the point where the state is officially proposing to designate it an impaired water body. 

“The Conservancy is proud to stand alongside the county and our partners to celebrate this exciting new system that taps into the power of nature to combat the nitrogen crisis, putting us on a path to cleaner water,” said Nancy Kelley, Long Island chapter director for The Nature Conservancy.  

During the experimental phase the system reduced by half the amount of nitrogen discharged from wastewater. A similar technique has been effective at removing up to 90% in other parts of the country. The system’s designers at Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology aim to completely remove nitrogen from discharges.  The Upland Farms offices and meeting hall system, which encompasses 156 square feet,  serves the equivalent of two to three homes. 

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that denitrification efforts work. The Centerport Yacht Club’s beach was closed for seven years due to water quality issues and reopened in 2015 after the Northport sewer plant upgraded to a denitrification system. Improvements to the harbor storm drain discharges, and a public lawn care campaign about curbing the use of fertilizers, also reportedly helped. 

The county has reached a critical juncture and beginning July 1, its new sanitary code for septic systems takes effect, which permits only denitrifying technology.

Justin Jobin, who works on environmental projects with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said that he expects to gain approval for a pilot program to accelerate the vegetated circulating gravel system’s public introduction, which could be approved as soon as this summer.  The design can be modified, its developers said, to serve single homes or large businesses. In addition to removing nitrogen, the system can also naturally filter out pharmaceuticals and personal care products.  Its impacts on 1,4-dioxane are being studied. 

Visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info for additional information. 

Photos by Donna Deedy

By Donna Deedy

Few D-Day veterans are alive today, but you can find three of them at Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, where an award ceremony was held June 6 in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious operation in military history.

One hundred World War II veterans were presented with the Governor’s Proclamation for the occasion, while Phillip DiMarco and Frank DePergola were decorated with the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross and Charles Cino was decorated with the New York State Medal for Merit. All three men participated in the Normandy invasion.

Ninety-seven-year-old DiMarco was among the first wave of soldiers to storm the beach. “I’m just grateful to have survived,” he said.

Two-thirds of his fellow troopers perished in the first 30 minutes of battle, according to information provided by the state. DiMarco’s group suffered from wounds, hunger, exhaustion and trench foot and survived on green apples and stagnant water doped with halazone tablets, a chlorine-based water purifier. 

“Our World War II heroes and heroines who came of age during the Great Depression, gave new meaning to the words, duty, service, sacrifice, courage and honor,” said Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home. “They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs.”

War veterans often are understandably reluctant to talk about their horrific war experiences — it’s clearly too painful to relive. At their advanced ages, speaking also requires tremendous effort. Their stories live on through oral history and past memorials. But these men have stories to share from which history can be garnered. After 75 years, their summaries of what happened are often succinct and to the point. 

“There was this man who didn’t like Jews, and we got him,” 96-year-old DePergola said. DePergola was part of D-Day plus 10, meaning his troop arrived 10 days after the initial invasion. He was one of only four people to survive the war out of a platoon of 20, his daughter Jean Pulizzi said.

In his campaign in Germany and Poland, DePergola encountered what they thought were abandoned buildings, only to discover upon entering about 30 captives: Jews, Catholics and Muslims. It was essentially a concentration camp. The stench inside, he said, was intense and unforgettable. The people, he said, were emaciated and wore black and white striped uniforms.

“They were glad to see us,” DePergola said.

While on assignment from headquarters to retrieve maps, DePergola encountered two German soldiers in the woods in Metz, France. He took them captive with a German Luger pistol he had taken off another German officer earlier, since he forgot his issued rifle at headquarters, and returned to base with the captive soldiers. For this, he was awarded a Bronze Star, a military badge of heroism.

For Thursday’s ceremony, DePergola insisted on wearing his favorite cap, which bears the Purple Heart badge, an emblem that recognizes war injuries. DePergola was shot in the knee during battle, but back then, he said, you remained on active duty.  

Cino was 18 years old when he stormed the Normandy beaches. He was responsible for transporting under the cover of darkness thousands of troops in a landing ship tank, or LST, an amphibious boat capable of landing on shore carrying tanks, cargo and troops. Cino, when he heard it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day nodded, shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He could utter only one full sentence, “I was there.” Then he closed his eyes. 

Both DePergola and DiMarco, in addition to their experience at Normandy, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of World War II during the harsh winter in 1945.

The D-Day ceremony included color guards and live musicians, who sang patriotic tunes and played the bugle. About half of the veterans in attendance were in wheelchairs, and despite their limitations, tapped their toes to the music. Many were able to salute the flag. Some veterans wiped tears from their eyes, particularly when the room sang the lyrics to “God Bless America.” 

During World War II, 900,000 New Yorkers went to the battlefield; 43,000 did not come home. 

The nation’s largest population of World War II vets live at Long Island State Veterans Home

 

All photos by Donna Deedy

Lisa Cooper embraces her son Dante Lombardo at a recent reunion. Photo from Lisa Cooper

Mental health, particularly among service members, often seems to be a forgotten topic. One man and his Northport High School friends want to change that by riding bicycles this June from New York to California to raise awareness about mental health concerns among those who have served our nation’s military. 

Dante Lombardo in uniform. Photo from Lombardo

Dante Lombardo is a former U.S. Marine who was medically discharged due to his mental health. The East Northport resident,  who graduated from Northport High School in 2015, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 2015 to 2019. He was trained as a digital wideband transmission equipment operator and as a field radio operator. 

Throughout Lombardo’s time in the Marine Reserves, he struggled with depression and anxiety, and like many others in a similar position, tried to “tough it out,” because that’s what he said the current military culture dictates. “Nearly anybody who has served can tell you that it is highly frowned upon to seek out mental health care,” he explained.

These issues came to a head in April of last year for Lombardo, when he attempted to take his own life. Thankfully, he was connected with a local behavioral health service, giving access to the counseling and the psychiatric care he needed. 

“Had it not been for these services, I do not believe I would have ever begun the path to wellness that I am on today,” said Lombardo.

Unfortunately, many service members suffer from similar mental health issues but do not seek out the help provided by the military, Lombardo said, in fear of being separated from duty due to their issues.

The statistics are staggering.

“We see 20 veterans each day take their own lives,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist who created in 2005 a national network of professionals who provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones and their community. “People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.” 

‘People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.’

— Barbara Van Dahlen

As for Lombardo, he may no longer wear his Marine uniform, but he and his bike team are committed to fighting for their fellow service members. 

Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin, all Northport High School graduates,  just earned their college degrees. Lombardo graduated from Clinton College, Fabian from SUNY Plattsburgh last weekend and Rubin from SUNY Buffalo. Now, they’re raising money in a GoFundMe campaign to pay for expenses that occur throughout the trip. Proceeds remaining will be donated to Give an Hour, which earns exceptional ratings as a charity on Guidestar. 

Give an Hour was chosen, the bike team stated, because it is an organization that is not affiliated with the Department of Defense and can provide mental health services to those in need, without running the risk of negative consequences from the service members chain of command. Lombardo said that the charity could provide service members the opportunity to get help and start healing before their issues become a crisis that demands the official attention of their command, or one that brings harm to themselves or others, while simultaneously defending them from the stigma of needing mental health care while serving.

“The need is huge,” Van Dahlen said in a phone interview. She is honored and grateful for Lombardo’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for the non-profit. 

Van Dahlen emphasizes the need for collaborative approach to address the issues. “We really can take care of the understandable mental health needs of those who serve and their families,” Van Dahlen said. “If we work together and coordinate services — we in the government, nonprofit and private sectors — our country can hopefully step up to serve those who have given so much.”

Northport residents Dante Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin are riding bicycles cross-country to raise awareness about military mental health issues. Photo from Coast to Coast for Mental Health, Dante Lombardo’s supporters.

It’s a concept that Lombardo and his bike team understand. “This fight is not one person’s burden to bear, but instead one we face together.”

During the team’s travels cross-country, they plan to volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, elderly care homes and other places that offer opportunities to give back. Their journey aims to seek out and hear the testimonies of veterans nationwide so their stories may be heard. 

The bike team has created a Facebook group page, Coast-to-Coast for Mental Health, which will be updated to post stories and experiences of the team, as well as testimonies of those who have suffered. This trip is a humanitarian interactive wellness journey as seen through three young Long Island men who are raising awareness for those who suffer with mental health issues all too often in silence. 

Lombardo encourages people to share the funding page, the Facebook page, as well as sharing their own stories. His message to the public, “We’ll be seeing you on the trail.”

The Times of Huntington will provide updates of the team’s journey in upcoming issues.

The GoFundMe page, Give an Hour website and an overview of the charity from Charity Navigator  can be found at: 

GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/tmt6z-coast-to-coast-for-mental-health

Give an Hour: www.giveanhour.org

Charity Navigator: www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=17415

Danielle DeSimone

By Donna Deedy

When Samantha Marill stepped up to the microphone at a town hall meeting March 16 in the Northport High School auditorium, the crowd of more than 500 local residents fell silent as she spoke.

“Four of my classmates have been diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “I attended this high school and I’d like to know if emissions from the Northport power plant are a factor.”

Marill said that she and her classmates graduated Northport High School in 2016.

“This is an alarmingly high number,” she said.  “Most schools do not even have one student diagnosed.”

The situation Marill describes is statistically abnormal. Leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, strikes mostly older adults. Suffolk County, overall, does have a higher leukemia incidence rate for 2011-15 than state averages, according to New York State Department of Health spokesperson Jill Montag. But more than half of the people diagnosed with the disease are in excess of 65 years old. 

“None of my classmates should be fighting for their lives so soon after graduating.”

— Samantha Marill

The statewide annual average for leukemia diagnoses for ages 20 to 24 totals 18, as reported in New York’s most recent cancer registry, which excludes New York City.

It would be expected that two people between the ages of 20 and 24 would be diagnosed with leukemia, according to the state’s statistics, in a population of 100,000. In the Northport-East Northport School district, where an estimated 36,000 people live, one case would be rare. 

“None of my classmates should be fighting for their lives so soon after graduating,” Marill said. A fifth high school friend, she said, was diagnosed with sarcoma, another rare type of cancer that affects connective tissues.

It’s difficult to know whether or not a specific environmental toxin will cause a particular individual to develop cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2003 report titled “Cancer and the Environment.” 

But Marill was one of two people to raise health concerns about the Northport power plant at that meeting. Christine Ballow said that she drives past the plant’s stacks daily, coming and going from her home on Eaton’s Neck. Her two neighbors, she said, suffer from another rare blood disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis. The disease effects the lungs, throat, sinuses, kidneys and blood vessels. The Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic health center, reports on its website that the disease is not contagious or hereditary. Its causes are unknown.

The Times of Huntington has dug into some of the issues and contacted state officials to learn how the public’s health concerns, past and present, are addressed. 

Here’s what we found:

• New York State Department of Health and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated complaints about the Northport power plant in 2009. 

  The 2009 report’s conclusion: “It is unlikely that people who live and utilize facilities around the Northport power plant will come in contact with chemicals originating at the Northport power plant site while touching soil or breathing dust at the [soccer fields], or by drinking groundwater that is outside of the Northport power plant property, and that in these ways operations at the Northport power plant are not expected to harm people’s health.”

• The only public health action recommended in 2009 was that the grass surface on the plant’s public soccer fields be maintained to ensure that the potential for exposure to arsenic and cadmium are minimized.

• That same report stated that contamination concerns date back to the late 1970s, saying: “There have also been many complaints about oil and soot emissions from the plant’s four smokestacks; some exceedances of air guidelines may have occurred, although no data on air emissions was reviewed that could confirm this.”

• Leukemia risk factors, which are listed on the state health department website, include exposures to ionizing radiation, smoking, rare viruses and blood disorders. Long-term exposure to benzene and ethylene oxide, typically in the workplace, are also a known cause of the disease.

• Suffolk County Water Authority reports by email that it tests its wells for benzene, but has never in 25 years identified the chemical’s presence in county waters.

• The Northport power plant is considered a Major Oil Storage Facility, an official term.  The 2009 report confirmed that the facility’s groundwater is subject to regular monitoring and reports that no significant petroleum products and material have contaminated the area. The water authority has confirmed by email that it has no record of significant contamination since 2009.

To address residents’ cancer concerns, New York State created in 1981 the Cancer Surveillance Program. It currently indicates no cancer cluster for leukemia near the Northport power plant, according to Montag. The program data, she said, shows one case of leukemia diagnosed between 2011-15 in the area that contains the plant.

“While the community has not requested an investigation for this area, interested community members are welcome to contact the Department of Health at 518-473-7817 or canmap@health.state.ny.us to discuss their concerns and provide detailed information,” she said.

The American Lung Association doesn’t track cancer or Wegener’s disease, but it does monitor air quality. It reports Suffolk County is repeatedly one of the most polluted counties in the state, and is assigned an “F” rating for its ozone emissions.

“Basically, the plant is required to meet modified emission standards from those applied to plants that are newly built,” said Jennifer Solomon, media person with the American Lung Association. “The power plant can emit thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides, a pollutant that is an essential contributor to ozone smog. Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant and causes breathing problems for children, seniors and for those with chronic lung diseases, sometimes sending people to their doctors or even the emergency room.”

Graph from New York State DEC.

LIPA’s tax lawsuit against the Town of Huntington has pushed the community to a tipping point. 

LIPA spokesperson Sid Nathan directed questions about Northport power plant health concerns to National Grid, which owns the Northport power plant.

National Grid has not responded to phone and email requests for comment.   

“In response to constituents very serious concerns raised during my town hall meeting on LIPA, I am requesting that the state immediately look into these community health concerns,” Gaughran said. “I am requesting a meeting with the relevant state agencies to ensure that the health of our residents is of the utmost concern.”

As for Marill, a junior at SUNY Potsdam, she’s declared a major in environmental science. She wants to study environmental law.

“It’s wild to think that we could shut the plant down but, ideally, I would like to see it closed,” Marill said.  “We need clean sources of energy.”

Be the Match

Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. For patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and other life-threatening diseases, a cure exists. Be The Match is a community of donors, volunteers, health care professionals and researchers who deliver cures by helping patients get the life-saving blood stem cell transplants they need. Some 70 percent of patients do not have a fully matched donor in their family — they depend on Be The Match to find an unrelated donor. To join, people need to meet age and health guidelines and be willing to donate to any patient in need. Registration involves completing a health history form and giving a swab of cheek cells. Join the Be The Match Registry online at www.bethematch.org, or by phone at 1-800-MARROW (627769)-2.

Celebrated chef Michael Maroni died unexpectedly at age 57 Friday, March 8, while swimming in an indoor pool. One week later, his namesake restaurant in Northport resumed operations to the rhythm of the rock ’n’ roll music that he loved. 

Jose Vasquez of Maroni Cuisine. Photo by Donna Deedy

“Maroni’s is open,” said wife Maria Maroni. “Not only our doors but our hearts. Mike always said, ‘Maroni’s is not just business … it’s a beating heart.’ That’s what everyone feels when they come through these doors, not only amazing food and service … but love. Not only will that continue, but that heart will beat stronger and better than ever to make Mike proud. The beat goes on … come and see for yourself. If I can do it … so can you. Love wins.” 

Operations will continue with the same six chefs that have been cooking in the kitchen since Maroni Cuisine was established in 2001. The dining room and kitchen staff, Maria said, are committed to carrying on the legacy. 

The spot gained renown for both its menu-less, gourmet tasting meals and its hotpots of meatballs, prepared from the 110-year-old family recipe of Michael’s grandmother. The meatballs are served in cherry red enamel crockpots that are available for take out in a variety of sizes. 

The novel idea of serving fine cuisine alongside good home cooking became a quick success, Maria said, when she and her husband opened the restaurant near the harbor 19 years ago. 

Just a few wooden tables are arranged in the dimly lit dining hall. Candlesticks decorate the tabletops, while rock ’n’ roll memorabilia hangs on the wall.

The couple married in 1995 and from 1997 to 2003 they owned and operated Mirepoix, a popular upscale French-American restaurant located in Glen Head, before opening a second restaurant.

Somehow they have connected with the Northport community in a special way.

The couple’s photo is on display in the restaurant’s dining room. Photo by Donna Deedy

“Yes, the meatballs are good, but it’s really not just about the meatballs,” said Emily Climo, who prepares floral arrangements for the restaurant. “It’s about the love.” 

Lindsay Ostrander is co-owner of The Wine Cellar on Main in Northport. Her establishment offers patrons the cooking of other village restaurants, including Maroni Cuisine. She said that Maria’s eulogy for her husband was a moving, powerful and life-changing experience for her.

“I’m not sure if there’s a greater message,” Ostrander said. “Love wins.”

The original version of the story that appeared in the March 21 edition of the Times of Huntington Northport & East Northport incorrectly had the date of Maroni’s death. We apologize for the error.

Residents file into Northport High School to speak out over LIPA's power plant. Photo by Donna Deedy

By Donna Deedy

More than 500 residents joined forces in the Northport High School auditorium March 16 to challenge the Long Island Power Authority. The quasi-governmental agency is seeking through the courts a 90 percent reduction in the approximately $82 million in annual property taxes it pays to the Town of Huntington for the Northport power plant. 

A number of Northport residents were galvanized to take action. Paul Darrigo, a local commercial banker with Capital One, launched a new Facebook page, Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA.

“We now have 1,200 members and are still growing at a rate of 15 members per hour,” Darrigo said. 

LIPA states in its report, “2019 Fair Property Taxes for Electric Customers,” that New York charges more of the cost of government on utilities than other states. As a result, the not-for-profit entity alleges that it’s overassessed for its aging assets. 

“I am advocating for the governor to support my two initiatives to provide Long Island residents with $139 million in state aid to communities impacted by tax certiorari issues.”

— Jim Gaughran

“The plant’s units were built in 1967 and 1976 and its technology is outdated,” LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said. The plant operates at 12 percent capacity today compared to 54 percent capacity in 1999, a 78 percent decline. 

The tax reductions LIPA seeks will reportedly be used to reduce customers’ electric bills.

Gordian Raacke, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Renewable Energy Long Island, stated by email that he agreed. 

“All LIPA customers pay more than would be the case if the properties were assessed at fair value,” he said. 

But many Town of Huntington residents aren’t buying into what they call more empty promises. 

If LIPA’s case is successful, as the agency has been in previous cases, critics say it could inflict a major economic blow to the community. Northport schools would annually loose an estimated $49 million out of some $54 million it receives from LIPA, according to district’s attorney John Gross.

To compensate for the loss, the Town of Huntington states on its website that residents would be forced to pay higher property taxes.

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) organized the town hall meeting to answer questions and to let the community know that he aims to seek funding to soften the blow if LIPA’s case prevails. His legislative bills, however, would require the approval of state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The state senator said he’s working to build consensus in Albany, but urges citizens to contact elected officials at all levels of government to encourage cooperation in the battle. 

“I am advocating for the governor to support my two initiatives to provide Long Island residents with $139 million in state aid to communities impacted by tax certiorari issues,” he said. “I am fully supportive of the town and school district in continuing their fight against LIPA.” 

The situation raises questions about how education is funded in New York state. However, many community members question why National Grid and PSEG aren’t bearing tax liabilities when shareholders are earning dividends. National Grid, a business based in the United Kingdom, owns the Northport plant and operates under contract to LIPA; PSEG Long Island manages transmission and distribution for LIPA. 

Gaughran said that he’s looking into reforms that ensure the public’s interest is properly represented.

“Local communities should not be bankrupt by runaway authorities like LIPA,” he said.

“I love this place, but if I can’t afford to pay my bills what good is it.”

— Joseph Sabia

Northport resident Michael Marcantonio was among people who spoke during the meeting. Now a lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and hostile takeovers, the Northport High School graduate blames the problem on the government’s practice of using public funds to bail out shareholder-owned businesses. LIPA, he explained to the crowd, was formed when officials used the public’s money to buy all the debt and some of the assets of the Long Island Lighting Company after it mismanaged the Shoreham nuclear project, which
ultimately failed. 

“This is what corruption looks like,” Marcantonio said. “Do not trust LIPA, they are robbing us, and we need to fight this.” The Northport resident ran for the state’s 12th Assembly District in 2018, largely on the LIPA issue, but he was forced to drop out due to a court decision over him voting locally in 2012 and 2014 while a student at Duke University Law School in North Carolina.

Newspaper reports from 1998 show that the now defunct Bear Stearns, the investment firm involved in the subprime mortgage crisis, served as the state’s financial adviser for the LILCO bailout, before quitting to successfully bid and broker the deal’s bond offering. At $7 billion, it became the largest public offering for municipal bonds in U.S. history.  

The LILCO deal was originally promoted publicly as a 20 percent rate reduction plan, as reported in the May 28, 1998 New York Times article titled “The End of LILCO, as Long Island has come to know it.” Long Island ratepayers reportedly paid the highest electricity bills in the nation at the time. As details began to surface, critics found the scheme entailed delaying interest payments on the debt and permanently saddled ratepayers with 33 years of liability.

Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the think-tank Manhattan Institute wrote a 2013 op-ed piece in Newsday titled “Long Islanders are still paying for three bailouts.” The policy analyst explained that Long Islanders need to understand the past mistakes related to the bailouts to prevent similar situations in the future. 

LIPA restructured part of its debt in 2013. That plan, as reported in Newsday, aimed to reduce the cost of debt, instead of paying it down.  

LIPA reports today that customers pay 10 percent in debt reduction and another 10 percent goes in interest. An additional 15 percent of a LIPA bill pays taxes and other fees. LIPA’s report does not specify what those other fees are. 

“Do not trust LIPA, they are robbing us, and we need to fight this.”

— Michael Marcantonio

Business leaders, who also spoke at the meeting, urged others to join the Northport Chamber of Commerce. School board members passed out red business cards instructing residents to visit STOP LIPA NOW on Facebook and get involved.  

LIPA states in its report that it ensures it’s working on all customers behalf to lower tax bills on its power plants and other equipment to reflect their fair value. It estimates the plant tax valuation at $200 to $500 million. Huntington assessed the value on the tax code at $3.4 billion.

The plant sits on some 244 waterfront acres near Asharoken, which LIPA estimates is worth “roughly $50 million.”

“We are confident that the court will agree that the Northport power plant is accurately assessed,” said Nick Ciappetta, Town of Huntington attorney. 

For people like Northport resident Joseph Sabia, the situation has become unbearable. 

“I love this place, but if I can’t afford to pay my bills what good is it,” he said.

The original article had the wrong first name for Sen. James Gaughran. We regret the error.

Political cartoon by Jake Fuller. Image courtesy of SunshineWeek.org

By Donna Deedy

It’s Sunshine Week (March 10-16), time for recognizing and celebrating the importance of freedom of information  laws and open government in our democracy.

Newsrooms nationwide are participating in the weeklong event, which specifically aims to help people better understand their everyday right-to-know under federal and state laws. Sponsored since 2005 by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors, TBR News Media is joining in for this year’s tribute. 

We’re focusing on New York State’s Freedom of Information Law. First enacted in 1974, the law succinctly states: “The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is fundamental to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.” The law applies to schools and all government entities within the state.  

We’ve taken a look at the websites of towns and villages within our circulation area on Long Island’s North Shore to gauge whether or not the process is user-friendly. 

What we’ve found is most entities acknowledge their obligation to respond to Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, requests. The towns of Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven post their record access codes online, along with most incorporated villages.   Rather than posting their FOIL codes, the villages of Huntington Bay, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor and Port Jefferson simply provide a link to a one-page preprinted FOIL request form. Port Jefferson village online code explicitly directs the public to visit Village Hall during business hours to examine its record access policy. 

Political cartoon by Joe Heller. Image courtesy of SunshineWeek.org

It’s important to note that state legislators created a special unit within New York State to answer the public’s questions and render legal opinions about open government practices. The unit, known as the Committee on Open Government, has determined government entities should not mandate the use of record request application forms. 

Villages that currently require the public to use their application forms to request records may need to revise their practices to align with state’s legal advisory opinions. 

“There’s no obligation on behalf of the requester to travel to town or village offices to view records,” said Robert Freeman, the executive director of New York State Committee on Open Government.

Fortunately, requesting records in the electronic age is easier than ever. If documents aren’t already posted online, people can simply request copies of records via an email to the record access officer. Instructions can be found on the state department’s website: https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/freedomfaq.html#howrequestemail. The record request template clearly outlines requesters basic rights within the form letter. 

Christian Trejabal is the open government chair for the Association of Opinion Journalists.  In a blogpost for Sunshine Week he opined on the need for journalists in this day and age.

“Thousands of newspapers have closed over the last 20 years,” Trejabal said. “Tens of thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. Without them, government is under less scrutiny, and that isn’t healthy for democracy.” 

If you would like to know more, visit the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government website. It provides volumes of information about the Freedom of Information Law, the Open Meetings Law and the Personal Privacy Protection Law. The committee’s lawyers can also be reached by telephone at 518-474-2518. 

Donna Deedy is currently a freelancer for TBR News Media, and has years of experience in the journalism field.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, above, sits in her office in Stony Brook Village Center.

By Donna Deedy

An old, darkened portrait of George Washington hangs on the wood-paneled wall behind her desk. Abraham Lincoln’s words are inscribed on an office vestibule plaque. She fills a seat once occupied by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville. She’s Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. And for the last 38 years, she’s been successful at a job that she never imagined for herself.

“It’s impossible to describe all that we do here in one sentence,” she said.

Gloria Rocchio plans cultural events with staff members Kim Hernandez, Gabrielle Lindau, Anna Macukas and Patricia Dilucca.

As a landlord, Rocchio oversees the Stony Brook Village Center and 41 other commercial and residential properties in the Three Village area. She’s on constant lookout for good tenants. Her ultimate goal, however, is community enrichment. With a background in Long Island tourism, she and her staff of 12 develop educational and cultural events related to history, science and the arts.

It’s all part of the Melvilles’ legacy. The affluent discount shoe retailer and his wife ushered in an enterprising plan in the post-Depression era to create a socially viable business district with a nearby university at the headwaters of Stony Brook Harbor. Originally called the Stony Brook Community Fund (founded in 1939 and renamed The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1969), its mission celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019.

“People may not realize it, but Rocchio took on an organization that was not in the best fiscal condition and with the board turned it around to resurrect a community,” said Dr. Richard Rugen, the organization’s chairman of the board. “She’s been able to draw in big names and corporations, and our endowment has improved tremendously.”

Its net assets today are valued at $37 million, state filings show, up from a reported $2 million in 1980. Thanks to rental revenue, the company reportedly contributed $626,000 last year to the tax roll.

With an improved bottom-line, its programs now touch many lives.

The nonprofit business offers $l-a-year leases to three charitable organizations: The Long Island Museum, The Jazz Loft and Lending Aids for the Sick. Some of the region’s most celebrated chefs cook at the Three Village Inn and the Country House Restaurant, also part of the group’s holdings.

“We see familiar faces, business travelers and many new people in our dining rooms, and it’s all very rewarding,” said French chef Guy Reuge, who relocated his Mirabelle Restaurant to Stony Brook hamlet 10 years ago.

The organization’s programs on the Underground Railroad and the Culper Spy Ring have earned national acclaim. Performances at its historic sites reach virtual audiences near and far — from schools in Setauket to classrooms in Louisiana, Quebec and Panama. A new event in 2019 entitled The Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War will showcase the unsung stories of four women involved in George Washington’s spy ring.

When Rocchio sees a social concern, she said she looks for people who can take it on.

Stony Brook University is co-sponsor for an annual walk/run that has raised to date more than $1.4 million for breast cancer research. Its Youth Corp initiated last summer a farm-to-table event that fed the needy.

To promote regional tourism, Rocchio in 2017 recruited support from elected officials to designate Route 25A from Great Neck to Port Jefferson as a national historic trail. The roadway is now prominently marked Washington Spy Trail on 26 brown stagecoach signage.

Overall, an estimated 18,000 people of all ages attend each year more than 70 sponsored events in the village of Stony Brook. Activities range from summer concerts, wetland cruises and kayak rentals to luncheon theater and cultural seminars. December’s tree lighting ceremony culminated the year’s events

Rocchio lives in town with her husband of 43 years, Richard, and their shih tzu Muffin. Residents since 1977, she’s often greeted with warm hellos and suggestions as she walks through the village.

“It’s a 9 to 5 job with 24/7 responsibilities,” she said as she encountered a jammed door in need of immediate repair at the old post office.

“I suppose Lincoln’s words sum it all up,” Rocchio said, trying to explain her organization’s purpose. Ward Melville, she said, made sure Lincoln’s quote was prominently displayed throughout the village: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.”

All photos by Donna Deedy

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