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Ken LaValle

Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium during a football game. File photo

By David Luces

In response to the decision of state Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) to vote against a ban on gay conversion therapy, almost 800 people have signed a petition calling for Stony Brook University officials to change the name of the football stadium that bears his name.

The petition was posted to Change.org Feb. 12 by Stony Brook College Democrats, alongside support by other organizations such as SBU’s LGBTA club, House of SHADE and Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

“While some will use my votes to paint me as anti-LGBTQ nothing could be further from
the truth.”

— Kenneth LaValle

The petition states if the university wishes to be an inclusive community, it means no longer idealizing an individual who voted for “the torture of LGBTQ* youth.”

“Stony Brook University has a responsibility to protect all of its students, especially those who come from marginalized communities,” the petition page reads. “No student should have the name of their oppressor looming over them at graduation. No student should have to see their oppressor glorified in their home.”

The bill banning gay conversion therapy for minors was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 25, in conjunction with the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

LaValle has put out two statements on the matter. The first reads he is opposed to gay conversion therapy; however, he chose not to vote for the ban because it would undermine the current legal process for determining medical misconduct, which leaves it up to professionals on state review boards to decide whether or not to ban the medical practice, according to a Feb. 13 article in The Statesman.

In a letter that was sent to university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., which was shared to TBR News Media by LaValle’s director of communications, the senator defended his stance again.

“I voted ‘no’ on this bill because I strongly believe that trained medical professionals, who across the board have stated that the practice of conversion therapy is archaic and inhumane, should be determining misconduct, not elected officials,” LaValle said. “I try to thoughtfully study an issue and base my votes on facts to avoid unintended consequences. While some will use my votes to paint me as anti-LGBTQ nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout my tenure, I have been a supporter of civil rights for all groups. That being said our laws have to be workable and satisfy constitutional requirements.”

The senator has been responsible for several projects and expansions at the university over the years, including the creation of the roughly $27 million football stadium in 2002, which is credited with helping bring Division 1 athletics to the school. He also helped raise $21.1 million for a renovation of Island Federal Credit Union Arena in 2012, which was a collaborative effort between state legislators and university officials.

This is not the first time the university has fielded calls to rename Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. In 2009 there was a short-lived campaign led by students to rename the football stadium after the senator voted against a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in New York state.

“We think it’s important that the university take into account that this is not the first time LaValle has failed to represent the students at Stony Brook,” said Cecelia Masselli, president of Stony Brook College Democrats.

Lauren Sheprow, Stony Brook University’s media relations officer, sent a statement on the university’s behalf.

“At this point, Lavalle’s voting history does not reflect the values of diversity and inclusion which Stony Brook University claims to hold.”

— Charlie Scott

“The New York State Legislature and Governor Cuomo got it right — not only on conversion therapy but also on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act,” she said. “That said, you may have seen the letter that The Statesman published outlining Senator LaValle’s concerns about the conversion therapy bill as drafted, along with his history of legislative support for equality for the LGBTQ* community. It’s an important letter for members of the campus community to read.”

Charlie Scott, the president of the Stony Brook LGBTA club, said Lavalle’s legacy does not mandate his name be on the stadium.

“At this point, Lavalle’s voting history does not reflect the values of diversity and inclusion which Stony Brook University claims to hold,” Scott said. “Lavalle didn’t give anything to Stony Brook. He was a well-known name on a committee that moved funds toward Stony Brook University. The money wouldn’t be withdrawn without his support at this point. We owe him nothing.”

Masselli said students on campus have been receptive to the petition. Members and peers in the LGBTQ community have expressed enthusiasm about the petition as well.

The political science major added that her club and other campus groups hope to speak with university officials, but in the meantime, they want to continue to collect more signatures and make more people aware of the petition. They have also discussed the possibility of a protest or rally in front of the stadium, but first, they have to see whether or not university officials are responsive to the petition.

Masselli said if LaValle’s actions as a legislator got his name on the stadium, his actions as a legislator could get his name removed as well.

“To us, one vote in favor of gay conversion therapy is enough to make this request,” she said.

Elected officials, scientists and environmentalists filled the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building last year to provide testimony against offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

State legislators are trying to ensure the federal government doesn’t murk up New York’s coastal waters.

Both the New York State Assembly and Senate passed legislation Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 to prohibit oil and natural gas drilling in New York’s coastal areas. The legislative action comes a year after hundreds of Long Island residents attended a public hearing at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Smithtown to voice concerns relating to discussions on the federal level over potential drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Assemblyman Steve Englebright addresses the crowd before a hearing last year concerning the proposal of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the Assembly environmental conservation committee chair, was one of the legislators who hosted last year’s Smithtown hearing. The assemblyman said in a statement those who attended the hearing unanimously condemned the federal government’s proposal to drill for oil and gas in open waters.

“This legislation will safeguard our water and shores from the dangers of fossil fuel exploration and drilling, and will support our efforts to move our state toward cleaner and renewable energy sources,” Englebright said.

The legislation would prohibit the use of state-owned underwater coastal lands for oil and natural gas drilling; prevent the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of General Services from authorizing leases which would increase oil or natural gas production from federal waters; and prohibit the development of infrastructure associated with exploration, development or production of oil or natural gas from New York’s coastal waters, according to a press release from Englebright’s office.

The new legislation will reaffirm the state’s coastal management practices to ensure the protection of endangered and threatened species, along with tourism and recreational and commercial fishing industries, according to Englebright.

“Our largest industry in New York, and especially in coastal New York, is tourism,” Englebright said. “Oil and gas exploration is incompatible with tourism. We’ve seen the kinds of mistakes that have occurred in other parts of the world where oil and gas exploration near recreation areas and near active fisheries has occurred. We don’t want those kinds of chaos to descend upon our economy or our state.”

“We’ve seen the kinds of mistakes that have occurred in other parts of the world where oil and gas exploration near recreation areas and near active fisheries has occurred. We don’t want those kinds of chaos to descend upon our economy or our state.”

— Steve Englebright

The legislation updates New York State laws that are decades old, according to a press release from state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).

“Offshore drilling is the single largest threat to the sustainability of Long Island’s environment,” Gaughran said in a statement. “I am proud that under [Senate] Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins [D-Yonkers], New York State is moving toward protecting our natural resources and banning senseless proposals to drill off our beautiful coast.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who was the original lead sponsor of the legislation in the state Senate, said he urges the governor to sign the bill.

“We have painstakingly worked to preserve and protect our pristine waters, and we certainly do not want to imperil all of our efforts to maintain clean water by allowing drilling off our shoreline,” LaValle said.

Kevin McAllister, founding president of Sag Harbor-based nonprofit Defend H2O, said restricting oil and gas exploration off the coast is important as the drilling for fossil fuels negatively impacts the environment. He said it’s critical for states along the entire Eastern Seaboard to follow suit, and he urges Cuomo to enlist coastal solidarity.

“If rising seas, ocean acidification, killer floods aren’t sobering enough, don’t overlook a legacy of regret with oil extraction and transport,” he said. “Santa Barbara oil spill, Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon all inflicted massive damages to the marine and the coastal environment over thousands of square miles. In the oil industry, accidents happen. The best way to prevent another catastrophe is to close the door on further exploration.”

Port Jefferson's stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

An idea decades in the making could take a major step forward by the end of 2018.

It still may be years before electrification happens, if it ever happens at all, but momentum is building toward funding being secured for a study determining the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road on the Port Jefferson line from Huntington to the stations east by the end of this year.

Mitchell Pally, the Suffolk County representative on the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board of trustees, said the LIRR has already appropriated funds to support the study, adding state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has also succeeded in appropriating state funds toward the plan.

“The support of the communities involved is essential to making this work,” Pally said in an interview. “The railroad is very supportive.”

Community support for exploring the possibility of electrifying the line, which currently allows trains to run on diesel fuel east of Huntington, has been building in recent years, although the idea has been on the radar for North Shore residents at least as far back as the 1980s.

Anthony Figliola, an East Setauket resident, former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities, has been leading a community coalition advocating for a feasibility study for about the last year, he said. The group, which Figliola said has been informally calling itself the North Shore Business Alliance, has been lobbying elected officials and community organizations like civic associations and chambers of commerce throughout the relevant territories in an effort to build public support for and attention on the idea. Figliola said he hopes the funding for a study will be in place by the end of the year. The study is expected to cost approximately $12 million, he said.

“It’s ripe, the community wants it,” Figliola said. “We’re very grateful for all that Mitch is doing to advocate on behalf of this.”

Figliola identified Charlie Lefkowitz, vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and real estate developer, as one of the other community members leading the charge for electrification.

“It’s a long time coming,” Lefkowitz said of progress on the feasibility study. “It was a collaborative effort on many fronts. The direct beneficiaries of it will be the communities.”

The study would examine how much faster trains on the North Shore line would reach Penn Station in Manhattan with electrification from Port Jeff, select a new rail yard to house the electric trains among other logistical particulars. Currently, the LIRR rail yard is off Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson, though several officials have indicated electrification would require the relocation of that yard and the Port Jeff train station. The former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries has been suggested as a possible new rail yard and train station.

On April 4 Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to the New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015. Figliola said his coalition had lobbied for the support of the three supervisors.

“I think it has legs,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said of electrification. “It’s such a good idea that I think it should happen.”

Local government officials at all levels are pushing for the Shoreham woods adjacent to the Pine Barrens be spared from development. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put plans in his preliminary budget despite vetoing a bill to save the trees. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County elected officials learned last week that with perseverance comes preservation.

In a surprising move, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled in his 2018-19 executive budget Jan. 16 that roughly 840 acres in Shoreham would be preserved as part of an expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens. This proposal — which, if the budget is passed, would make the scenic stretch of property surrounding the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off limits to developers — came less than a month after Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) calling for that very action.

A proposal was made to cut down a majority of the more than 800 acres in favor of a solar farm. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We saw that he did a cut and paste of our bill,” Englebright said. “It left in all of the language from our bill for the Shoreham site and now that’s in the proposed executive budget. That is really significant because, with this initiative as an amendment to the Pine Barrens, this will really have a dramatic long-term impact on helping to stabilize the land use of the eastern half of Long Island. The governor could do something weird, but as far as Shoreham goes, it is likely he will hold his words, which are our words.”

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June but was axed by the governor Dec. 18, aimed to protect both the Shoreham property and a 100-acre parcel of Mastic woods from being dismantled and developed into solar farms.

Both Englebright and LaValle, as well as Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), pushed that while they provide an important renewable energy, solar panels should not be installed on pristine ecosystems. They even worked right up until the veto was issued to provide a list of alternative, town-owned sites for solar installation “that did not require the removal of a single tree,” according to Romaine.

In Cuomo’s veto, he wrote, “to sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.” Englebright said he and his colleagues planned to re-introduce the legislation a week or two after the veto was issued and was actively working on it when the proposed budget was released.

The legislation’s Mastic portion, however, was not part of the budget — an exclusion Englebright said he wasn’t surprised by.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, despite Shoreham not being in his coverage area, has been pushing to save the virgin Shoreham property from development. File photo

“During negotiations leading up to the bill’s veto, the governor’s representatives put forward that we let Mastic go and just do Shoreham — we rejected that,” he said. “We didn’t want to set that precedent of one site against the other. So he vetoed the bill. But his ego was already tied into it.”

The 100 acres on the Mastic property — at the headwaters of the Forge River — is owned by Jerry Rosengarten, who hired a lobbyist for Cuomo to veto the bill. He is expected to move ahead with plans for the Middle Island Solar Farm, a 67,000-panel green energy development on the property. But Englebright said he hasn’t given up on Mastic.

“We’re standing still in the direction of preservation for both sites,” he said. “My hope is that some of the ideas I was advocating for during those negotiations leading up to the veto will be considered.”

Romaine said he is on Englebright’s side.

“While I support the governor’s initiative and anything that preserves land and adds to the Pine Barrens, obviously my preference would be for Steve Englebright’s bill to go forward,” Romaine said. “There are areas where developments should take place, but those two particular sites are not where development should take place.”

Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who has been vocal against the veto and proposals for solar on both sites, said Cuomo is moving in the right direction with this decision.

“It’s clear that the governor wants to avoid a false choice such as cutting down Pine Barrens to construct solar,” Amper said. “I think he wants land and water protected on the one hand and solar and wind developed on the other hand. I believe we can have all of these by directing solar to rooftops, parking lots and previously cleared land.”

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

Not seeing the forest for the trees is one thing, but a recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to not preserve the forest or trees for the sake of solar installation is causing a major stir among Suffolk County elected officials.

On Dec. 18, Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that called for the expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens to include more than 1,000 acres in Shoreham and Mastic Woods — “museum quality” stretches of open space that should never be developed by private owners, according to the sponsors. Their legislation aimed to pull the plug on solar plans for the sites.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish,” Englebright said. “And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone. I am the legislator that sponsored and spearheaded solar more than 20 years ago — these are not good sites for solar.”

A solar farm is still being proposed near the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Currently, there are plans near the Pine Barrens in Mastic for a solar installation. Photo by Kevin Redding

A large chunk of the Shoreham property — made up of approximately 820 acres of undeveloped vegetable land, coastal forest, rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife on the shoreline of Long Island Sound — was almost demolished last year under a proposal by the site’s owners, National Grid, and private developers to knock down trees, level ridges and scarify the property to build a solar farm in the footprint. This “replace green with green” plan garnered much community opposition and was ultimately scrapped by Long Island Power Authority, leading civic association and environmental group members to join Englebright in proposing to preserve the parcel by turning it into a state park. The assemblyman also pledged that while there is a great need to install solar panels as a renewable energy source, there are ways to do so without tampering with primeval forest.

In Cuomo’s veto of the proposed bipartisan legislation to preserve these properties, which had been worked on over the past year and passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June, he said that it “unnecessarily pits land preservation against renewable energy.” The governor voiced his support of developing solar energy projects on the sites and said the legislation as written prevented environmental growth.

“I am committed to making New York State a national leader in clean energy,” Cuomo said in his veto message. “New York’s Clean Energy Standard mandates 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, to be aggressively phased in over the next several years. … Siting renewable energy projects can be challenging. But it would set a poor precedent to invoke laws meant for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land in order to block projects that should be addressed by local communities or through established state siting or environmental review processes. To sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.”

Among some of the veto’s supporters were the League of Conservation Voters and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Jerry Rosengarten, the Mastic site’s owner and managing member of the Middle Island Solar Farm, a proposed 67,000-panel green energy development on a 100-acre parcel in Mastic which would cut down woods near the headwaters of the Forge River, voiced his support of Cuomo’s decision in a statement.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish. And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone.”

— Steve Englebright

“Gov. Cuomo’s bold leadership today is hope that we will be able to effectively fight Trump-era climate denial and the ‘not in my backyard’ shortsightedness that would otherwise prevent crucial environmental progress at the most critical time,” said Rosengarten, an environmentalist who has been working for six years to place a solar farm on the site, making numerous applications to Long Island Power Authority to obtain power purchase agreements. “We look forward to working with the Town of Brookhaven on the next steps toward realizing a solar farm that we can take great pride in together.”

Englebright took issue with the not-in-my-backyard claims, which were also made by the League of Conservation Voters.

“I find that most unfortunate because it’s a falsehood,” he said. “I don’t represent Shoreham. I live in Setauket, and these sites are nowhere near my district. But, on merit, the properties deserve preservation. To have my sponsorship characterized as NIMBY is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting.”

Those who are against the veto have been championing preservation on both sites, including Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Andrea Spilka, president of Southampton Town Civic Coalition.

“The land is so valuable, environmentally, that it should be preserved,” Amper said of the Shoreham site in the spring when the legislation was first being pushed.

He added that solar is an important renewable energy in combating global warming, but that panels should be installed on roofs and parking lots rather than ecosystems.

“The reality is that once taken, these forest lands will never be recovered,” LaValle said in a statement outlining his disappointment over the veto. “These lands are particularly critical for the ecology of the Forge River. Destroying the forest and the trees to install solar power just does not make sense at either the Mastic Woods or Shoreham Old Growth Coastal Forest properties. … Currently, over 30 percent of New York state’s solar power is generated on Long Island, the majority of which is produced in my senate district. We can continue to expand the green energies where they will benefit Long Island without damaging the environment as we proceed. Destroying the environment is never the direction I wish to take.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on manufacturers to keep harmful chemicals out of child products sold in New York. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a career advocate for the environment who worked tooth and nail alongside Englebright and LaValle to preserve these sites, said vetoing the bill “was the wrong thing to do.”

“[It’s] the reason why Brookhaven Town adopted a solar code that allows for both the preservation of our open space and the development of solar energy,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town was committed to preserving these lands, and worked right up to the hours before this veto was issued to provide the developer with up to 60 acres of alternative, town-owned sites that did not require the removal of a single tree.”

Some of these alternative solar sites, Englebright later explained, were the paved parking lot of the State Office Building in Hauppauge and the nearby H. Lee Dennison Building, each of the Brookhaven Highway Department yards and the roofs of numerous local schools. Englebright successfully pushed for solar panels to be placed on the roof of Comsewogue’s elementary school.

“Regrettably, the developer did not respond to these offers, and the governor did not take these alternative sites into account when issuing the veto.” Romaine said. “I thank the sponsors, Sen. Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and their colleagues for their hard work to preserve these ecologically important woodlands, and urge them to re-submit legislation for this in the coming session of the state Legislature.”

Englebright said he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

“We are going to revisit this, and I hope that the governor keeps an open mind going forward,” he said. “It just requires a little bit of thought to realize that we have a vast amount of the Island where you can place solar panels without cutting down forest. By contrast, there are very few opportunities for preservation on the scale of these two properties. This is a source of some frustration.”

 

Elected officials, religious leaders, volunteers and residents gathered at the Long Island State Veterans Home on the campus of Stony Brook University May 26 to give thanks to a roomful of United States military veterans. The annual ceremony, which includes a color guard, firing detail and wreath laying, honors the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country — whose brothers and sisters in arms reside at the home on campus.

The Long Island State Veterans Home is dedicated to serving the more than 250,000 veterans who live on Long Island. Opened 26 years ago, the facility’s relationship with Stony Brook University’s medical department has been a winning combination for the care of veterans — providing skilled nursing services that many veterans wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Veterans who fought in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II sat together in the home’s Multipurpose Room, some of them tearful as singer Lee Ann Brill performed moving renditions of “Amazing Grace” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Marine Corps veteran Edward Kiernan read “In Flanders Fields,” a famous war memorial poem written during World War I. Korean War veteran Richard Seybold was honorary bearer of the wreath.

“Every minute, of every hour, of every day, Americans enjoy the blessings of a peace-loving nation — blessings protected by the selfless service of men and women in uniform,” Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home, said to the crowd. “The America we know would not be the same were it not for the men and women we honor on Memorial Day … a single day during which we honor the spirit of all those who died in service to our nation, but whom we continue to remember and honor in our hearts.”

Stressing the holiday means much more than a three-day weekend, Sganga recognized the collective shift in thinking when it comes to Memorial Day.

“In recent years,” he said, “a new awareness of the sacrifices our military members are making is emerging, becoming an ingrained part of our American experience.”

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who delivered the keynote address, read excerpts from President Ronald Reagan’s (R) 1984 address commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day. LaValle prefaced by saying, “Whether you served in the second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War or Gulf War, these words apply to you.”

“President Reagan said, ‘Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here … you were young the day you took these cliffs, some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? … It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. All of you loved liberty, all of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew people of your countries were behind you.’”

LaValle ended his address by thanking the veterans in attendance for their service.

“On behalf of the Senate and majority leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), we really appreciate what you do and we try each and every day to make sure this veterans home is everything that you would want it to be,” LaValle said. “We all say thank you.”

To learn more about the Long Island State Veterans Home, visit www.listateveteranshome.org.

Community members hold up signs on the corner of Route 25A and Miller Place Roadto bring awareness to the dangerous intersection following the death of a local 14-year-old boy. Photo by Kevin Redding

In response to a 14-year-old’s death at a busy intersection, the Miller Place community says enough is enough, and their voices were heard.

Residents from across the North Shore gathered March 26 to push for drastic safety changes at a dangerous road crossing at the intersection of Miller Place Road and Route 25A, where Nico Signore was struck by an SUV while riding his bike with friends last month.

Community members, including Signore’s family and friends, said the intersection should have a red left-turn signal to stop cars from entering the crosswalk when pedestrians are given the signal that it’s safe to walk to the other side. The group also agreed every corner of the intersection should be a no turn on red.

Community members hold up signs on the corner of Route 25A and Miller Place Road to bring awareness to the dangerous intersection following the death of a local 14-year-old boy. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Feb. 23, Signore pushed the crosswalk button, waited for the go-ahead signal to bike across the intersection, and was struck because the northbound driver had a green left turn arrow.

According to Miller Place resident Tammy McGuire, rally organizer and close friend to the Signores, the disastrous layout of the intersection gave the driver an invitation to run him over.

“There’s no reason Nico should be dead,” McGuire said, holding back tears. “We want someone to do something about it before more [people] die. Any parent or community member should want this changed.”

McGuire asked for a moment of silence among the crowd in memory of the beloved Miller Place lacrosse player, and 16-year-old John Luke, who died at the same intersection in May 2015, before leading the residents in a call and response chant.

“What do we want? Change,” the group shouted. “When do we want it? Now.”

Those in the crowd held up signs that read “make Miller Place safe again” and “we demand a full red before anyone else is dead” as passing cars honked in support.

“This corner has been a disaster — this whole section needs to be revamped and they need to do it immediately,” said Angela Campo, Signore’s former religion teacher. “The more time they take for studies, the more lives are lost. The Signore family has been destroyed and this community can’t take it anymore.”

A bear placed in memory if Nico Signore, who was hit by a car, holds a sign that says “make Miller Place safe again,” following the 14-year-old getting hit by a car at an intersection. Photo by Kevin Redding

She held up a sign containing a photo of her former student, adding that he was a beautiful and vibrant boy.

“He never got to live his life and the world is a much more awful place without him,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Kevin Cantwell, of Sound Beach, said Signore’s death should be the catalyst to get something done.

“Somebody has to figure this out because it’s a safety issue and there’s been proven deaths here,” Cantwell said. “Living in the community for 15 years — seeing this happen, seeing all the accidents, talking to the Miller Place fire department — this [intersection] is a nightmare.”

Back in October, months before Signore’s death, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) reached out to the department based on concern from the Miller Place School District about hazardous traffic conditions at the same intersection, where a frequent number of car accidents occurred.

Signore’s death at the intersection prompted a recent request from state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) to the New York State Department of Transportation to conduct an immediate pedestrian-bicycle safety study along the Route 25A corridor.

LaValle received word from the DOT that it will be making changed to the Miller Place intersection. The agreement included a red turn arrow on Miller Place Road.

“This will prevent cars from turning into the intersection while pedestrians are in the crosswalk,” LaValle said. “Additionally, the DOT will be installing new signs to warn drivers about pedestrians in the crosswalk.”

The changes, according to LaValle, will be implemented in two to four weeks.

“The DOT is in the process of developing long-term recommendations as well that, when implemented, will greatly improve the safety of this intersection,” LaValle said. “It is my deepest hope that these changes will prevent any future loss of life and lower the accident rate in this area.”

Community members hold up signs on the corner of Route 25A and Miller Place Road to bring awareness to the dangerous intersection following the death of a local 14-year-old boy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Stony Brook resident Danielle Algiere said even though she doesn’t know the Signore family, she came out for the simple fact that she’s a mother.

“It doesn’t matter that it happened in Miller Place, any local mother should be out here right now fighting for change,” she said. “He did everything he should’ve, and a flawed system is what got that child killed.”

The Signore family rejected the idea that the red light program had anything to do with Nico’s death, saying just the green arrow did.

“That’s not what this is about,” said Vincent Signore Jr., Nico’s older brother. “The intersection itself needs to be looked into and it’s nice to see a lot of people supporting this and caring about my brother. No family should ever have to go through this.”

All in attendance were encouraged to sign a petition, which help enacted the change, and another was passed around for the Rails to Trails project, to provide a safe, out-of-the-way path for residents to bike on. Also included in that petition was a request to dedicate a portion of the path running through Miller Place to Nico, an avid bicyclist.

“I met with the parents and they want to see a better situation in their community,” Anker said. “I hope if we move forward with Rails to Trails we’ll provide that safe place for our children to enjoy riding their bikes. The Signore family is close to my heart right now.”

This version is updated to include state Sen. Ken LaValle’s response from and about changes made to the intersection by the New York State Department of Transportation.

Accident leads to two fundraising efforts, 25A study

Nico Signore with his mother Kim. Photo from Facebook

Just days after Miller Place teen and lacrosse superstar Nicolo Signore died riding his bike on Route 25A, friends, relatives and community members are doing all they can to help his grieving family.

A little after 5 p.m. on Feb. 23, Signore, 14, described as “a happy kid with a big heart” by those closest to him, was out doing what he loved to do — riding his bike with his friends — when he tried crossing northbound Miller Place Road at Route 25A. The last of his group of four friends to cross the street, Signore was struck by an SUV after the light turned green, suffering significant head trauma.

Nico Signore wore No. 20 as a goalkeeper for Miller Place’s lacrosse team. Photo from Pam Santo Speedling

He was immediately rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, sending a shock wave through not only his family and friends but the entire community.

“I have no words to offer that could ever make this time easier; my thoughts are with you.”

“We are absolutely heartbroken with the loss of Nico. We will never forget him and will pray for peace for his loving family. We love you.”

“Although we do not know your family, we are part of the Miller Place community family. We are so very sorry for your loss. Our prayers are with you all.”

These messages, accompanied by donations of $100, are just a small portion of the love and support seen on the GoFundMe page “Please support Nico Signore,” one of two fundraising campaigns set up in the aftermath of Signore’s death. The page was created by family friend Pam Santo Speedling Feb. 25, just one day after the accident, with the intention of helping the Signore family pay for funeral costs and ease the burden of Kim Signore, Nico’s mother, who will now be able to stay home from work and grieve without worrying about income.

Nico Signore with his brother Vincent Jr., father Vincent, mother Kim and sister Sophia. Photo from Pam Santo Speedling

Speedling, who has been best friends with Kim for more than 20 years since graduating nursing school together, said she’s long considered all three Signore children her own, and sprang into action, unbeknownst to Kim.

“I just felt completely helpless because Kim was so distraught she couldn’t even speak, and so I knew I had to do something that would help her,” Speedling said. “The last thing you want to worry about after burying your child is worrying about how you’re going to pay the bills. At this point in [Kim’s] life, she doted on Nico and everything she did revolved around him. This accident just took her life away, it’s devastating.”

When she presented the idea to family friend Denise Cagno, Cagno told her it was a great idea.

“It’s just amazing how many people are being so generous and supportive of this thing for the family at this time,” Cagno said. “It’s a great way to help a family in need, and it’s a big load off them.”

“My little brother was the most perfect, pure person I’ve ever come in contact with. He could walk into a room full of sadness and light it up like a Christmas tree.”

— Vincent Signore Jr.

The fundraiser hit its goal of $5,000 after just about a day, and within three days, the funds exceeded $27,076. So far, 370 people have donated, with individual contributions ranging from $15 to $300. The family has considered putting Signore in a burial vault, as they did with his grandparents, which costs $10,000.

Charles Butruch, Nico’s uncle, created another GoFundMe page, “The Nico Signore Scholarship Fund,” Feb. 27, on behalf of the Miller Place teen’s parents, who wish to preserve their son’s legacy through a scholarship fund that will recognize Miller Place seniors “who embody the same exemplary spirit, courage, determination, love of community and passion for living that Nico exhibited so naturally.” After just one day, the page has raised $3,200 of its $25,000 goal.

Kim Signore is also interested in having a bike path named in memory of Nico in recognition of one of his greatest passions. Coincidentally, Suffolk County is in the process of planning a bike path that would run from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River.

“My nephew was just an unbelievable person, had such a love for lacrosse — ‘proudly wore the No. 20 for the Miller Place Panthers as goalie’ —and bike riding, he loved life and always had a smile on his face,” Butruch said. “It’s a very sad time, but hopefully through the scholarship, since he never got a chance to go to college or do what he wanted to do in life, other kids can … and he can have a living legacy.”

Nico Signore proudly displays a lacrosse award. Photo from Pam Santo Speedling

Butruch recognized the support of local businesses, including Middle Island Pizza, which has been sending food every day to the Signore family, saying the outpouring of support has given Kim and Vincent, Nico’s father, “an unbelievable feeling” and has “taken them totally by surprise.”

“My sister says her heart is touched, she’s overwhelmed with all the love and support being provided from total strangers,” said Kelly Butruch, Kim’s sister. “They’re brought to tears by all of this, it’s beautiful.”

Nico’s older brother, Vincent Jr., 22, expressed his feelings in an email.

“My little brother was the most perfect, pure person I’ve ever come in contact with,” he wrote. “He could walk into a room full of sadness and light it up like a Christmas tree. People from all over are reaching out with support, love and amazing memories of Nico and it’s really helped put into perspective how many lives he has touched. I would like to personally thank all my close family and friends for being such an amazing support system right now.”

In response to Signore’s death, State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) wrote a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, requesting a pedestrian/bicycle safety study along the Route 25A corridor to prevent further injuries or deaths, writing that Nico’s accident was “the second tragic fatality of a young student crossing Route 25A in Miller Place in 18 months.”

The family also points to the red light cameras across county intersections as a concern and a possible contributing factor in the accident.

State Sen. Ken LaValle will build on 40 years of service with another term. File photo by Barbara Donlon
State Sen. Ken LaValle will build on 40 years of service with another term. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Voters in the first senatorial district have two excellent candidates to choose from on Election Day. Incumbent Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) was first elected to the New York State Senate in 1976 and has been re-elected 19 times since.  He prides himself on being one of its most productive legislators in terms of bill introduction, bills that pass the Senate and bills that go on to pass both houses. He calls this a record of “relevancy” and we agree. He works hard for our district, understands its problems and thinks there’s more he can do — especially in combatting the heroin/opioid addiction crisis and increasing environmental protections.

His challenger, Gregory Fischer (D) has some interesting ideas and brings the perspective of a business background to his analysis of the issues facing the district and the state. A self-professed reformer, he believes that the Senate needs new blood — and more specifically, blood of the Democratic persuasion.

We endorse Senator LaValle for a 20th term because we believe he has done great work for his constituents and will continue to do so for another two years. His seniority in a body that rewards it, makes him an even more powerful advocate for our interests.

Greg Fischer, left, and incumbent State Sen. Ken LaValle, right, will compete to represent New York’s 1st Senate District. Photos by Alex Petroski

Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has been a New York State senator for nearly four decades, and although he’s joked about retirement, he doesn’t plan on vacating the position just yet. That won’t stop Democratic challenger Greg Fischer from trying to unseat him Nov. 8.

According to a 2015 New York Public Interest Research Group Report, LaValle was ranked second of 63 legislators in words said on the Senate floor, second in bill introduction, fourth in those that passed the senate and second in those that passed both houses.

“It’s a record of relevancy that I think is pretty good,” LaValle said in an interview at TBR News Media’s main office when the combatants sat down to discuss their campaigns.

LaValle said he’s excited for the chance to amend the East End’s Community Preservation Fund, which is responsible for the preservation of more than 3,000 acres of vacant land on Eastern Long Island and also improves parcels of historic, recreational and environmental value. He also noted the $400 million in construction going on at Stony Brook University Hospital that will produce jobs for doctors, clerks and others.

Fischer is a business consultant who has a passion for economics, he said, and he sees the economy as the “most important issue of our day, especially for the district.”

“We’re constantly on this treadmill of tax and spend, tax and spend,” he said. “And even though I’m a Democrat and you hear Democrats labeled for that, my background is in business and my background is to find the best value.”

The candidates are in support of the two percent tax levy increase cap for property owners as a means to curb government overspending, though Fischer said he isn’t sure the policy goes far enough. “It’s only applying the brakes gently — it’s not fixing the problem,” he said.

Fischer is running on the mantra: “It’s time for a turnaround.” His platform is about reform, which he said would be a product of his background. He’s not a lawyer like many other legislators.

Fischer said he thinks new blood and a democratic representative are needed to be able to better address not just the district’s issues, but statewide issues.

“There’s so much we can do, but we’re moving so slowly,” he said. “I think that’s the danger. We all know where we’re headed. People want to move out of state. Students want to be accepted out of state so they can stay out of state.”

To combat that mentality, LaValle said he’s been conducting research on millennials, regarding whether or not they want to be homebuyers or renters, or drive a car as their primary means of transportation. LaValle co-sponsored legislation to allow municipalities to continue tax exceptions for first-time homebuyers of newly constructed homes as an incentive. He is also a supporter of New York State’s School Tax Relief Program, which lowers property taxes for owner-occupied primary residences. As chairman of the Higher Education Committee, LaValle said he’s also trying to address how to minimize millennial debt.

Fischer said he’s a proponent of free tuition for Suffolk County and New York State residents.

Fisher has run unsuccessful campaigns for Riverhead Town and local school board offices. He previously sued the Long Island Power Authority and conducted his own audits of Riverhead school district. More recently, he filed a lawsuit claiming Stony Brook University named its football stadium for LaValle after he secured $22 million in state funds for the venue’s construction, stating in his notice of claim that “It is ludicrous for sitting legislators (seeking re-election or otherwise) to have public structures named for them for the de facto benefit of their personal political careers.” Fischer asked LaValle’s name be removed from both the Nov. 8 ballot and the stadium. The arena was opened and named after LaValle in 2002.

Fischer said another issue he’d like to address is corruption in the courtroom, and added he’d like to see cameras allowed in state courtrooms.

“I think there needs to be more scrutiny of the judicial process,” he said. “We have a huge problem with corruption. There have been a lot of problems where the transcripts are changed after the fact, and things happen that are problematic.”

Fischer also said he believes legislation takes too long in New York, and cited response to the growing opioid abuse issue as an example. While LaValle said it’s his No. 1 priority — adding that many of his colleagues say the same — he believes increased penalties for dealers could put a dent in that problem.

Fischer said he understands enforcement sells, but added it’s only part of the solution.

“Of course we have to do some more enforcement, but it’s a mental health issue,” he said. “We have reasons for people doing these drugs — even in the suburbs — it’s despair. By the time you’re detecting use, you’ve already got a real problem going on. We have to have a whole new way of thinking about deterrence and really scaring children into the reality that, as a first use, you could have a dependency for life.”