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Kevin Redding

Members of Gentle Strength Yoga studio relax during a class. Photo from Christne Cirolli

kevin@tbrnewsmedia.com

In 2014, Andrea Petterson was in a dark place. The Sound Beach resident had recently left her job as a landscape manager at Stony Brook University, just months after she accused her supervisor of sexual harassment and discrimination. At the time, she was in the beginning stages of filing a lawsuit against the school.

“I was at my lowest,” Petterson said, looking back. “That job was my life, my identity and everything I was. Suddenly, I felt very unsafe.”

Andrea Petterson with one of the ornaments she made and sold. Photo from Christne Cirolli

That was, she said, until she found herself inside Gentle Strength Yoga studio, after a friend suggested she try and heal herself there. Owned and operated by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital nurse Christine Cirolli, the yoga studio opened in Mount Sinai in 2013, and moved permanently to Route 25A in Rocky Point in 2016.

Aside from offering regular classes, acupunctures and massages, the studio was designed to be a community-oriented refuge where “people can band together to help each other,” according to Cirolli.

“The second I stepped in, it just felt like home,” said Petterson, who was a student for two years before graduating from Long Island Yoga School in Great Neck and eventually becoming an instructor at the studio. “Christine really gave me an opportunity here to learn more about myself. She was the one that told me that ‘helping heals’ and that has stuck with me.”

This past Christmas, Petterson raised close to $3,400 by making and selling holiday ornaments in the studio, and then donated the funds to several families in need. She routinely teaches classes at Joseph A. Edgar Immediate School in Rocky Point and within Shoreham-Wading River school district.

She also said the studio has motivated her to start an organization that helps to empower young women.

Melissa McMullan, a longtime regular at the studio and a teacher in the Comsewogue School District, said the holiday fundraiser at the studio helped provide a happy holiday for one of her students, whose family lives in poverty. She referred to the studio as “a special place.”

“Christine really gave me an opportunity here to learn more about myself.”

— Andrea Petterson

“It’s the kind of place where people can come in and talk about what’s going on physically or mentally and everybody sort of works together to help each other,” she said. “At the studio, we learn that yoga is really the beginning of a lifelong practice of being connected with, and kind to members of our community.”

Cirolli, a Queens native and Suffolk Community College graduate, said she has been practicing yoga on and off since she was in high school, and always aimed for her studio to be inclusive for everybody.

“I feel blessed that people would trust me, that they are here in a place of caring and love,” Cirolli said.

She added that Gentle Strength hosts a free 12-step recovery yoga program for those affected by alcohol addiction.

“It’s just providing people with another tool to help in their recovery,” she said of the program. “It doesn’t require anyone to sign up or register, either, so if they wanted to come here and be completely anonymous, they can. I thought that was a really nice way to try and welcome people in here who might otherwise be steered away.”

A haven for Long Island’s injured wildlife

By Kevin Redding

Three weeks ago at a construction site in Elwood, a young red-tailed hawk was lying on the ground with its eyes closed. It had been hit by a car and its skull was fractured.

But today, that same bird of prey can be found perched inside a spacious flight aviary at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, gliding from one branch to another and darting its head in every direction in search of its next meal. Dan’s Bird, as it’s known on the property after it was rescued by Daniel DeFeo, a Sweetbriar volunteer since 2015, will eventually be released back into the wild as one of more than 1,000 injured animals the nonprofit will rehabilitate this year. 

“As a wildlife rehabilitation center, we are about 50 percent successful with what goes back into the wild, where most other centers are at about 30 percent,” said Janine Bendicksen, Sweetbriar’s curator and wildlife rehabilitation director. “We can do everything a vet hospital can do except surgeries, as far as medications and setting bones. We’re also the only center where people can just walk in and drop animals off. It’s a real service to the public.” Whatever the site can’t do on its own, she added, is handled by the staff at Best Friends Veterinary Care in Nesconset.

All in a day’s work

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Bendicksen — who has been at Sweetbriar for 18 years, is at the site five days a week and is in charge of teaching educational programs, fundraising for big events and running the summer camp and wildlife rehabilitation camps — made her rounds throughout the property, making sure to greet every critter along the way, including permanent wildlife patients like Einstein the screech owl, who has suffered a broken wing and leg and takes shelter among piles of towels and blankets inside a laundry room; Jack, a kestrel with a missing eye and a crossed beak due to exposure to the pesticide DDT; an old turkey vulture that was hit by a car in Pennsylvania, broke its hock and sustained a wing fracture; and an opossum that was found starving to death and is expected to be released in the spring.

There are also box turtles, mallard ducks, rabbits and chipmunks. A groundhog and a deer too. The site is licensed to take in almost any animal, Bendicksen said, except rabies vector species like raccoons and skunks.

Squeezed into a tiny wooden habitat, Bendicksen summoned two flying squirrels from inside a nesting box. Although they are nocturnal, she said these animals only slip into semihibernation during the day and can be woken up to eat and play. “These guys came from somebody’s attic,” she said. “Every couple of weeks we get another one because somebody uses a Havahart trap to catch them.”

Even though the nonprofit, which officially opened in 1986, has been rehabilitating wildlife for more than 30 years, Bendicksen said the program has grown in “leaps and bounds” over the last decade and each year the site takes in more and more. This is due to both Sweetbriar’s growing popularity in the community and people and developments “encroaching on animal’s habitats,” Bendicksen said.

The goal of Sweetbriar, of course, is to bring every animal back into the wild, and specifically back to exactly where they were found, but in many cases, the outcome depends on the specific animal and its situation. For instance, some injured animals can’t live in captivity and these — as well as animals that don’t recover from their severe traumas — must be euthanized.

“It’s the humane thing to do,” Bendicksen said. “Seagulls come in all the time and they don’t do well in captivity. While in cages, they get what’s called bumblefoot [inflammation on the soles of the feet], which they eventually die from.”

Not long after she explained this, William and Mary Krumholz of Smithtown brought in a box containing a seagull they found hobbling in the Costco parking lot.

“It looks like the wing is broken,” William Krumholz said. “It could hardly run away from me. It was only a matter of time before it got run over.”

After wrapping the seagull in a towel and doing some quick detective work in the rehabilitation room, Bendicksen deduced more than likely it was struck by a car, and found that the last digit of its wing was separated and hanging on by a part of the bone. She assured the Krumholzs that it would be taken to the veterinarian to be checked out further and told them about the inflammation concern with seagulls.

“But, if that’s the case, what you did do was save him from starving to death or being eaten or run over,” she said to them. “We’ll do our best.”

Mary Krumholz nodded her head. “I mean, that’s nice, but … It was only a car ride over here and I already feel bad.”

Bendicksen later said one of the most challenging parts of the job was to resist the urge to become attached to the animals that come in.

“It’s why we try not to give names to any injured animals we release, just the permanent ones,” she said, “because you become too close to the animals and it makes it very, very hard if you have to make a difficult decision. We wish we could release everything back where we found them.”

The human touch

People have been bringing animals to Bendicksen to be patched up since she was a young girl growing up in Hauppauge.

“There are little kids here who just stick their hands into cages and that would’ve been me — I was always told to be a veterinarian,” Bendicksen said. “My mom’s friends would call and say, ‘The cat just grabbed a baby bunny and it survived.’ I would always build little habitats for them and make sure they had a comfortable bed, even if it was just, like, a frog.”

Bendicksen grew up to be the owner of a children’s clothing business called Janine, which employed stay-at-home moms. In the late 1990s, however, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, which forced her to give up everything for a while.

“I went through two years of hell and then had to kind of start my life over again,” she said. When she became cancer free, she came to Sweetbriar with her children for one of its volunteer picnics. She struck up a conversation with the site’s director, who, after finding out more about her, asked if she’d be interested in helping them curate the site.

After some extensive training, a licensing process and testing from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bendicksen was a teacher on the site. It didn’t take long before she became director of wildlife rehabilitation. “This place saved my life,” she said. “What makes you happy as a child should be what you do as an adult. I’m extremely lucky.”

Val Timmerman, a Stony Brook University student and one of Sweetbriar’s 14 volunteers, said everything she knows she learned from Bendicksen.

“She’s so awesome and knows everything,” said Timmerman, who stumbled across Sweetbriar almost two years ago while searching for animal rescue facilities close by. “Being able to make even a small difference in the patient’s lives, making things a little bit better for them, is what I love. And, of course, releasing them, finding out that a possum or something we didn’t think was going to make it is doing so well now. It’s great.”

Bendicksen said without her volunteers, the site wouldn’t survive. “These people are near and dear to my heart,” she said.

DeFeo, who studies biology at Suffolk County Community College and hopes to be a zookeeper one day, is at Sweetbriar every Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. taking care of all the birds of prey on the property, preparing all their food, changing their water bowls and cleaning out their dirty cages.

“I’ve always loved animals,” DeFeo said. “Just going out there and saving an animal’s life — it’s such a beautiful feeling. And I always feel a sense that I will do anything to save that life.”

Before pursuing the animal field, DeFeo said he was an electrician. But he knew he had to call it quits after nearly suffering a severe injury.

“If I fell off a ladder and broke my back, I’d be miserable for the rest of my life,” he said. “But if I got my arm bitten off by an animal, I’d probably still be happy and go to work the next day. This is what I’m meant to do.”

How you can help

“The public needs to be better educated on what they need to be afraid of, what they shouldn’t be afraid of and what they should do when they find an animal,” Bendicksen said, adding that any and all residents who do come across an injured animal should call Sweetbriar before handling it or bringing it in.

Here are some helpful tips Sweetbriar staff members have assembled:

• Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.

• If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.

If you encounter any kind of turtle crossing the road, it is okay to help it along. However, please carry it to the side of the road in the direction it is heading. By putting it back on the side it is crossing from, it will start crossing the road all over again.

If an opossum is found smaller than 8 to 10 inches, it probably needs attention. Orphaned babies are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. These animals rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature.

• DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed on the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a T-shirt on the bottom of the box.

• DON’T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown. The center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-979-6344 or visit www.sweetbriarnc.org.

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Jake Nieto’s research findings have potential to reduce the need for painful kidney biopsies

Dr. Prakash Narayan and Commack High Schoo senior Jake Nieto. Photo from Commack school district.

By Kevin Redding

Most teenagers don’t spend their summer developing new scientific methods that have the potential to revolutionize medical care. But Jake Nieto, a senior at Commack High School, is no ordinary teen.

In 2016, Nieto, a then 15-year-old math and science whiz was looking to spend his summer break continuing research he had gleaned in his chemistry and biology classes. He told his Commack science teacher, Richard Kurtz, who connected him with Dr. Prakash Narayan of Uniondale’s Angion Biomedica Corp., a clinical stage organ restoration company that opens its doors to student researchers.

“He was very precocious. His knowledge and abilities were very advanced for someone his age. If I gave him a problem, it would keep him awake at night.”

— Prakash Narayan

In Angion’s labs, Nieto applied his academic strengths — advanced biophysics, statistical analysis, computation — to an in-depth, months-long project on kidney disease. Despite being the youngest person working at Angion, he often worked four days a week from 8 a.m. to sometimes as late as 5 p.m.

“He was very precocious,” said Narayan, the vice president of preclinical research at Angion. “His knowledge and abilities were very advanced for someone his age. If I gave him a problem, it would keep him awake at night. It’s not like if he couldn’t solve it, he’d let it go.”

Nieto said, as with everything in his life, he was driven by genuine curiosity.

“I just found it so interesting that I could take what I learned from school and finally apply it to actual problems,” he said.

Both of Nieto’s scientific research papers based on that summer’s findings were published by PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open access scientific journal. The first paper,  published in October 2016, details a formula he came up with and dubbed the “Nieto-Narayan Formula” — that estimates the volume of cysts found in the kidney of a person with polycystic kidney disease.

In a second paper, published this January, Nieto outlined a better approach to determining the amount of scar tissue in the kidney of someone with chronic kidney disease with the aim to alleviate the use of biopsies — the painful process of injecting a long needle through a patient’s back to examine the kidney scarring. For this project, he modified the commonly used elliptical formula in order to obtain more accurate measurements and volume of a kidney.

“I was so excited,” Nieto said. “It was really awesome and humbling to think that something I worked on could potentially be read by other people who are in the field.”

He and Narayan are confident, down the line, that his research has the potential for clinical study and could become part of normal kidney monitoring.

Commack High School teachers Jeanette Collette and Richard Kurtz; Dr. Prakash Narayan, vice president of preclinical research at at Angion Biomedica; and Commack senior Jake Nieto. Photo from Commack school district.

“Jake’s research really opens up the door for noninvasive characterization of kidney disease,” Narayan said. “I believe it can revolutionize the diagnosis and will greatly reduce very painful kidney biopsies. And, of course, for any 15-year-old to walk to spend the summer in a facility here, when other 15-year-olds are doing whatever they’re doing, and achieve this —  I think that’s very remarkable. I’m very proud of him.”

Nieto’s grandfather Ray Ingram, a Queens resident, said he was not in the least bit surprised by this achievement.

“Since he was 4 or 5 years old, Jake was outside looking through a magnifying glass,” Ingram said. “He had a microscope, a telescope, a chemistry set — everything he touched, he took apart and figured out how it worked and figured out a way to improve it.”

At the high school, Nieto is a competitor on the Science Olympiad and mock trial teams. He is president of the Spanish honor society and science honor society, plays trumpet in the marching band, and tutors other students in science and math. While unsure what college he will attend, Nieto knows he wants to study physics and engineering.

When asked if he is ever able to rewire his mind off science, Nieto laughed.

“I try to still have fun and obviously be a normal kid when I’m with my friends,” he said. “But I have my moments where I’ll start looking at something and try to make a scientific connection and be that kind of annoying person. Whenever I see something, I really just want to know why.” 

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The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

During a second public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education Tuesday night, a grieving mother pleaded with administrators to “be brave, step out of the box and take a chance” by turning the beloved-but-shuttered school on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham building into a refuge for students that need one.

“We can do something really big here,” said Grace Shea McCarthy, the mother of Remy Kallie Jeanne McCarthy, who, as a 15-year-old freshman at the high school, took her own life Nov. 2, 2016. “My daughter was a very capable, talented, skilled person who, over time, had lost connection with her school and her peers. We need to do more to help these kids sooner.”

McCarthy, an employee at Brookhaven National Lab, asked the board to support a joint proposal by North Shore Youth Council and Tesla Science Center for student-oriented programs and services in the portable units at Briarcliff Elementary School, which was built in 1907 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

She explained that North Shore Youth Council — a Rocky Point-based nonprofit active in communities and school districts throughout the area, including Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai and Miller Place — would be able to host cost-efficient after-school tutoring, recreation, social skill development and summer programs in the space; and provide students of varying ages with professional counseling in the areas of substance abuse, social isolation and depression.

“As a parent watching my child go through this district, I can absolutely tell you this school needs more of these programs,” she said. “We are going through a suicide epidemic — our students need opportunities to build their confidence through buddy systems.”

McCarthy said partnering these students with science and technology programs at the Tesla Science Center would be “incredibly beneficial,” and serve to reignite the passion for science among youth in the community. She addressed the annual costs of $95,000, plus any additional unexpected costs, to operate the school. Board members and residents expressed concerns over the pricey upkeep during the first public discussion about the property last month. Some proposed that the property be sold off to eliminate the costs.

“When I look at that amount of money to maintain such a spectacular building, such a historical landmark in our backyard, I believe we need to fight to keep it,” she said. “It’s not something we should just give away. To have that knocked down to have condos put up or something, that would be a crime.”

Residents spoke up in favor of the proposal.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, urged the board last month to file covenants on the property so the building could never be taken down.

“This way, you can maintain the ownership of the building for future use and defray the costs,” Madigan said.

While Dennis Ryan, a Shoreham resident, said leasing the building was a good idea if the right group came along, he asked the district to not sell, but demolish the school, getting rid of all the extra upkeep costs and turn the 10-acre property into a park for the community.

“We talk about the budget and trying to get a nest egg — the value is in the land itself,” Ryan said. “Hold onto the property. We don’t need the money at this point. If something happens 10 to 15 years down the line and we need that money, then we know we’ll have it.”

At the top of the forum, Superintendent Gerard Poole presented the district’s evaluation and consideration of some of the ideas residents had during the first forum Jan. 9. These included selling the property, moving the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is attached to the high school to Briarcliff,
attaining historical landmark status and redeveloping the building as a residence for seniors.

Board president Robert Rose assured that the district will not be rushing into any
decision, continuing to weigh the options while promising to hold more public forums.

“We want to take our time and make the right decision,” Rose said.

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Rocky Point Middle School's Robo Eagles robotics team. Photo from Rocky Point school district

At Rocky Point Middle School, LEGO-building is serious business.

The school’s two robotics teams — Radical Robotix and Robo Eagles — will compete in the 14th annual FIRST LEGO League Long Island championship tournament in Longwood this March after taking home a total of three awards in the qualifying tournament Jan. 20.

Rocky Point Middle School’s Radical Robotic team. Photo from Rocky Point school district

“Both teams have worked very hard from the beginning of the school year and to be recognized for these efforts is outstanding,” club adviser Mark Moorman said. “I was thrilled that both teams qualified.”

During the high-stakes competition, held at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset, the Rocky Point students — grades 6 through 8 — squared off against 23 other robotics teams from across the region with programmable LEGO Mindstorm robots they started building in October.

Under this year’s theme of hydrodynamics, the students applied math, science and technology skills to build robots with the ability to complete water-related tasks, such as replacing water pipes and connecting water pumps, on a table-top playing field.

The teams had to present research projects identifying a problem and finding a solution related to the theme. During the tournament, judges evaluated the students based on teamwork and technical skills, as well as “gracious professionalism,” according to Moorman.

Robo Eagles:

Misha Zaslavsky

Leila Riedl

Zach Accetta

Alex Rosenberg

Marco Tanza

Felicity Monaghan

Oskar Chorzepa

As the results show, Rocky Point certainly made a splash.

The Robo Eagles received the Alliance Award for scoring the highest point total on the robot table and the Judges Award for “unique efforts, performance or dynamics.” The Radical Robotix took home a project research award for its desalination aviation life vest.

For the project, Radical Robotix determined that while each seat on an airplane is equipped with a life vest in case of emergency water landing, once a passenger is in the water, specifically seawater, he or she is left on their own to survive while waiting for rescue. The students developed a water bottle, attached to the vest, that would filter the salt and bacteria out of seawater and turn it into drinking water.

“We were so excited to win the project research award and qualify for the next tournament,” said Radical Robotix member seventh-grader Eve Hald. “It was fun getting to see our robot compete and to compete in the tasks that judges gave us.”

Radical Robotix:

Jake Bazata

C.J. McMillen

Sola Matsumoto

Eve Hald

Nick O’Shea

Maddy Knopke

Moorman said the two teams had a balanced mix of veteran robotics members and “newbies” — Radical Robotix has six members, Robo Eagles has seven. While he said members of the robotics club meet twice a week every other week and knew what to expect, it didn’t make the tournament any less chaotic.

“It seemed like when we were done with one aspect, like the Robot round, we had to move straight to another aspect, like the project presentation,” he said. “It was all happening very fast.”

Back at the middle school, Principal Scott O’Brien expressed his pride in the club’s performance.

“The students and advisers of the Rocky Point Middle School robotics teams work tirelessly throughout the year to compete in tournaments,” O’Brien said in a statement. “We are so proud of the robotics teams for qualifying for the championship tournament this March. Best of luck to both teams and their advisers.”

Plans for the new Rocky Point firehouse on King Road. Ground is scheduled to be broken in June. Rendering from Michael Russo/Hawkins Webb Jaeger

With an extra push from the town, Rocky Point Fire District is setting its sights on early June to begin construction of a more durable and up-to-date firehouse in the footprint of its existing one at 90 King Road. The $8.5 million project, approved by the public in a vote in August 2017, also includes the acquisition of a new aerial ladder truck.

During the Jan. 25 Town of Brookhaven board meeting, council members voted to waive the project’s site plan requirements and building fees, turning an administrative review over to its Department of Planning, Environment and Land Management instead of outside engineers. This reduces the overall cost to taxpayers and speeds up the “shovel in the ground” process, according to fire district officials.

“Every little bit helps,” said Rocky Point Fire District Vice Chairman Kirk Johnson, who was unable to provide the exact costs the fire district would be saving at this time. “It’s not astronomical, but there are significant costs, and those things add up.”

“The fire district is very fiscally conservative, but the first responders don’t have room, they respond to an enormous amount of calls and the building isn’t very energy-efficient. This needs to be done.”

— Jane Bonner

Fire district officials have been working alongside architect group Hawkins Webb Jaeger since last year to fine-tune the design of the new firehouse — which the project’s architect said will be made of natural stone as opposed to brick; consist of pitched roofs and a hidden flat roof for storage of mechanical equipment; and include a spacious meeting room as well as a “ready room” for responders, who currently have to put on their gear in the way of incoming and outgoing fire trucks.

The building will also be up to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, the most widely used green building rating system in the world; include energy-efficient LED lights; and be equipped with better, more cost-efficient heating and cooling systems.

It was designed to have a “more residential feel” than the existing, decades-old building, according to Michael Russo, an associate architect at Hawkins Webb Jaeger.

“We felt this would be the bookend to the north end of the Rocky Point business district and something that works well for the edge of a residential community and the end of a North Shore downtown center,” Russo said.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) spoke of the benefits of the new design.

“It’s a very modest firehouse, very traditional looking, and it will blend in nicely in the community and downtown,” she said. “The fire district is very fiscally conservative, but the first responders don’t have room, they respond to an enormous amount of calls and the building isn’t very energy-efficient. This needs to be done.”

Russo and Johnson said upon breaking ground in June, they hope to complete construction of the new building’s apparatus bay by winter, so the fire vehicles can be stored and protected against freezing temperatures. During construction, fire district personnel will work out of portable trailers and possibly garages being offered up by community members.

Johnson said he estimates the project will take up to a year to complete. The fire district will be going out to bid for contractors in the coming months.

Town's 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million features Lake Avenue revitalization in St. James

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kevin Redding

With the adoption of more than $30 million in  capital plans Tuesday, Smithtown officials hope to be looking at a robust future.

Smithtown Town Board approved its 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million — $8.8 million is bonded — and a proposed 2019-22 capital plan — totaling $20.8 million.

The majority of the 2018 capital budget funds St. James downtown business district improvements, with $4.6 million in bonds set aside for the revitalization of Lake Avenue, of which $2.4 million will fund water main replacement.

2018 Capital Budget

For 2018, town officials have set aside funding to completely revise the town code — $300,000 — and update the town’s master plan on a budget of $500,000. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said these will serve as “blueprints for all downtown revitalization throughout Smithtown.”

We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”
— Ed Wehrheim

“Without these two items, downtown revitalization is merely a concept,” Wehrheim said. “We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”

Wehrheim said the town’s existing master plan was written in-house at least 10 years ago.

Bouncing off the success of a recent market analysis study by an outside urban planner of what was needed to revitalize downtown Kings Park — that broke down the pros and cons of different sections of the hamlet — the town will issue a request for proposals to bring in a new set of eyes to evaluate and suggest improvements to the existing plan.

“The master plan is essentially going to be that, but times 10 or 20,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “It’s geared toward figuring out where the town is going to be decades down the line and the focus of progress for this new administration. It’s really the start of making this town more small business friendly and civic minded.”

Once the results of the evaluation are collected, Wehrheim and other council members will pick and choose what improvements work best for Smithtown.

“We want to hear what they think we need to move forward in the business districts and the rest of the town going into the future,” Wehrheim said.

While discussing the recodification plans, Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R) said, “This is going to bring things into the 21st century.”

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning”
— Tom McCarthy

“It’s going to streamline things and help residents, help small businesses,” McCarthy said. “It’s been decades now and there’s no reason to make people have to — as I like to say — ‘spit blood’ just to get a permit. Right now they have to go to the board of zoning appeals and planning boards for things approved 95 to 100 percent of the time.”

2019-22 Capital Plan 

Among its planned projects for 2019-22, the town will look to fund $2.2 million in improvements at various town parks: Flynn Memorial Park in Commack to turn it into a premiere Long Island sports park; $500,000 in renovations to Gaynor Park in St. James that include new tennis and basketball courts, a playground with improved surfacing, installation of refurbished, handicap-accessible bathrooms; and new surfacing in the waterpark at Veterans Memorial Park in St. James.

The town also plans to add steps leading to the gazebo at Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, install LED lighting in Maple Avenue Park in Smithtown, repave and landscape the Bellemeade Avenue parking area and replace its deteriorating showmobile. New highway equipment will be purchased, including yard generators for Smithtown and Kings Park.

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning,” McCarthy said.

Town of Brookhaven submits grant application to pay for dredging

A grant would help pay for dredging of Miller Place Duck Pond. File photo by Giselle Barkley

A local ecosystem needs saving.

The Miller Place Duck Pond — located at the intersection of North Country Road and Rocky Point Landing Road — is too low, looks dirty in the summertime and appears to be invaded by destructive species.

Those are some of the complaints residents have made to Tom Carrano, Brookhaven’s assistant waterways management supervisor, who, along with his team, has been monitoring the pond in recent years, determining that the concerns are valid.

The small but vibrant pool of water, which sits across from Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School and has long served as an educational tool for its teachers, has been found to be overrun with a multitude of plant species not native to Long Island, some identified and some not, which Carrano said have the potential to “wreak real havoc.”

“There aren’t that many areas left where local amphibians and reptiles can go on the North Shore, so these small systems are extremely important.”

— Tom Carrano

The pond currently contains water lilies, plants that thrive in areas of high nitrogen loading and sedimentation, and, possibly, Caboma and watermilfoils — plants whose root systems are known to threaten the quality of fresh waters, greatly affecting swimming and fishing.

Because of these findings, the town board recently submitted a grant application to the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program as well as the Stewardship Initiative in hopes of acquiring funds to eradicate the invasive species and restore and maintain the health of the water.

“We’re just hoping to make this little ecosystem — which is very special to the community — better than it is today,” Carrano said. “There aren’t that many areas left where local amphibians and reptiles can go on the North Shore, so these small systems are extremely important.”

The restoration, of which the projected cost is $240,000 with a $120,000 town match, will include dredging the pond to remove excess sediments and all invasive plant matter and using the highway department’s Vortechs unit — a hydrodynamic separator that “combines swirl concentration and flow controls into a shallow treatment unit and retains trash, debris, sediment and hydrocarbons” — to reduce stormwater runoff and filter clean water from natural wetlands. If the grant is received, Carrano said he expects work would begin in the summer of 2019.

“We have a very comprehensive plan that we’ve worked on and we’d like to go after some grant funding to go and take care of it,” Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “We’re taking it piece by piece. We know we can do the dredging in-house, because we’ve done so in the past.”

Bonner said the pond was dredged and invasive species were taken out in the 1980s, but said the problem is, over time, people dump their own fish into the water.

Miller Place Duck Pond, which has been contaminated by nonnative fish and plants being dumped into it, warns against dumping on a sign by the pond. Photo by Kevin Redding

“[Dumping] what’s in their own fish tanks, such as plants, and they’re not native to the Island,” she said. “Birds drop seeds, animals drop seeds and then you have invasives. The grant funds will go toward bringing the pond back to where it was.”

Carrano said by installing the Vortechs unit and creating a cleaner water filter, he is confident it would stop all sediments from entering the water again, eliminating the need to have to worry about dredging the pond for a “very long time after this.”

Although the wetland is outside of his district, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) spoke highly of the plan to save it, calling the pond “a crown jewel” in the Miller Place community.

“This is a very important water body simply because it anchors one end of the historic district in Miller Place and is, visually, critically important to the sense of place for that whole area,” the assemblyman said, noting insects reproduce in the water, and it attracts birds, reptiles and local wildlife. “We don’t have many ponds on Long Island on an overall landscape basis and open freshwater bodies are extremely rare, so I would strongly support the idea of restoring it.”

He did, however, warn dredging too deep with a perched pond like this runs the risk of taking away the clay base that holds the water.

“That would not be good,” Englebright said. “So, while dredging makes sense, it also makes sense to try to restore the pond a shallow depth rather than gauging down deeper, which could be dangerous.”

Dredging crew rescues five town employees from frigid waters after boat capsized

Gibson & Cushman dredgers Keith Ramsey and Che Daniels accept proclamations for helping rescuing five Town of Smithtown employees including Joseph Link, on right. Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

A Bay Shore-based dredging crew sprung into action while working on the Nissequogue River in December when a boat capsized, hurling five Town of Smithtown employees into the frigid waters. For their heroic efforts, the seven-man crew, responding medical professionals and first responders, were honored by Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) during a special ceremony at town hall Jan. 30.

“A first responder’s primary duty is to protect all others before self,” Wehrheim said before presenting plaques to the heroes. “But, when unforeseen conditions put the lives of first responders at risk, who protects them?”

I was just trying to keep my head above the surface.”

— Joseph Link

It started out as a routine day for three bay constables and two parks employees as they steered their vessel around the head of the river Dec. 12 removing buoys. While attempting to pull a seventh buoy from the water, however, a rogue wave came crashing in from Long Island Sound. It flooded the boat, overturning it in a matter of seconds. All five employees struggled to swim the 40-feet to shore against the rough current.

“I couldn’t get anywhere, the waters were way too strong,” said Joseph Link, of one of the rescued employees. Link said he wasn’t wearing a life jacket at the time as it obstructed his work. “I was just trying to keep my head above the surface.”

Sgt. Charles Malloy, a senior bay constable, said he faced different dangers when he was knocked overboard.

“I was swimming away from the rear of the boat because the motors were still engaged and the propellers were still spinning and within arm’s reach,” Malloy said.

Luckily, members from Gibson & Cushman Dredging Company were about 500 yards away when the accident occurred, setting up equipment by the river’s bluff. Once they saw the boat capsize, the crew acted quickly.

“We just grabbed some lines or whatever else we could find and started throwing them out to pull them toward us,” said dredger Keith Ramsey.

They yanked four of the five stranded employees onto their boat. One member, Dan Landauer, managed to swim back to shore on his own.

“It was just our reaction,” said dredger Che Daniels. “We saw that people were in the water. The water was cold, like 40 degrees [Fahrenheit]. The wind was blowing. We were just doing what we would do for anybody on our crew if something were to happen like that.”

Upon reaching the shore, Kings Park volunteer firefighters and Kings Park EMS responders rushed to the scene. Two men were treated for hypothermia and exposure. All were transported to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and out of the hospital within an hour without any lasting injuries.

We were just doing what we would do for anybody on our crew if something were to happen like that.”

— Che Daniels

Paul Taglienti, director of emergency medical service at St. Catherine’s, was honored during the ceremony. He said his staff’s job had been about 95 percent done for them. “This was a circumstance where I think everything was done pretty much ideally,” Taglienti said. “They were rescued very quickly and we just kept an eye on them to make sure everyone was OK.”

Wehrheim was joined by town council members Lisa Inzerillo (R) and Tom McCarthy (R), to present proclamations to all seven members of Gibson & Cushman — Daniel Engel, Daniels, Michael Lake, Jordy Johnson, Joseph Johnson, Ramsey and Peter Wadelton — although only Ramsey and Daniels were on hand to accept them. 

“I was glad when I heard they helped out, but I also would expect that from them,” said Matthew Grant, supervisor of the dredging crew’s project. “If something happens, we help out. Not many people are out on the water at that time of year, so it was a good thing we were there.”

Those rescued echoed the sentiment.

“If it wasn’t for the dredge crew — use your imagination,” Malloy said. “The outcome would’ve been far more tragic.”

Landauer also expressed his gratitude.

“There wasn’t a hiccup in anything they did, they saw us and boom — they jumped right on it,” he said. “I hope they never have to do it again, but I’m very glad that they were there that day.”

A child takes Infant Swimming Resource steps during a lesson to prevent drowning. Photo from Kristine McCarren

For 10 minutes a day, five days a week, Kristine McCarren prevents tragedies.

As founder of the Long Island branch of Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) — a “self-rescuing” program that originated in Florida in 1966 — McCarren of Mount Sinai teaches children between 6 months and 6 years of age how to hold their breath underwater, wriggle onto their backs and float on the surface until help arrives in the event that they fall in water unsupervised. Since it began, she said, the technique has proven to be successful in saving more than 800 children from drowning — the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 4 in the United States.

Kristine McCarren. Photo from Kristine McCarres

“People worry about their children in car seats and preventing accidents there, but I don’t think they even think about how big of a problem drowning is,” said McCarren, who since 2013 has provided lessons, at ISR Seal Team Survival Swimming Inc. in Port Jefferson Station and Courtyard by Marriott in Ronkonkoma. She currently has 15 students of varying ages, who each go through a six-week program.

McCarren said unlike typical swim lessons, it’s best to teach the technique every day in small increments so the children are able to retain it.

“This program is about making swimming second nature,” she said. “If a child can learn how to crawl or walk, it’s the same thing — it’s a motor skill just like that. The repetition gets it into their muscle memory, so as soon as they hit the water, they know to flip back and float.”

McCarren said parents are encouraged to stay on the sidelines and not interfere as their child is learning, as hard as that might be initially. The children are tested in both winter and summer clothes, as most would be fully clothed in a drowning situation.

“Kristine is absolutely amazing and it’s insane what she’s able to do with them,” said Sarah Walters, who two years ago traveled every day from Babylon to Port Jefferson Station with her three children. “I know that’s absurd, but at the same token I don’t have to worry anymore. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made. We were at a party once and my daughter, [who was 2 at the time], fell into the pool. There were adults all over the place, but I didn’t have to panic. She just got herself to the surface and to the side. That peace of mind is worth every penny and hour spent driving.”

“After five weeks of the intense training and a little bit of tears, she can now save herself.”

— Nicole Delfino

McCarren got involved in early 2013 after seeing a picture of her then-18-month-old niece swimming underwater in Florida, where the program had been extremely popular for decades. A physical therapist at the time, with a doctorate from Stony Brook University, the lifelong lover of water quickly decided to travel down to Florida to get certified as an ISR instructor. She went through an intensive, eight-week training program that, on top of in-water, hands-on training, included education in physiology, anatomy and child psychology.

Melissa Larsen, who brought her 14-month-old son to McCarren for lessons in 2016, became so inspired by her and the program that she became an ISR instructor herself, training in New Jersey. She currently teaches ISR in Hauppauge and Garden City.

“Seeing what [McCarren] did with my own son was incredible,” Larsen said. “She has patience and she’s thoughtful in what she’s doing. We have a pool in our backyard, and even if we didn’t, I think it was a necessary skill for him to have.”

The program has been especially essential and therapeutic for those in the area who have suffered water-related tragedies like Nicole Delfino, a Centereach mother whose 15-month-old daughter Kyleigh died after falling into a pool at a family party Aug. 15, 2016. Delfino said Kyleigh was in a crowded living room while she was helping her 5-year-old daughter Liliana in the bathroom. Kyleigh found her way outside and into the pool.

A child floats to the surface during fully-clothed drown-prevention training. Photo from Kristine McCarren

“Kyleigh was bright,” Delfino said. “She had her whole life ahead of her, and it was taken away in an instant.”

Only a few months after Kyleigh’s passing, Delfino enrolled Liliana in the program to make sure something like what happened to Kyleigh never happened again. Her 6-month-old daughter will begin ISR lessons in a few weeks.

“After five weeks of the intense training and a little bit of tears, she can now save herself,” she said Liliana. “It means everything to me, and she’s phenomenal in the program. If my daughter [Kyleigh] would’ve taken ISR lessons, she could have fallen into the pool, gained her composure and floated on her back until she was able to literally swim to the side of the pool.”

She said she encourages any parent to enroll their child in the program.

“I would highly suggest it to anyone, because at the end of the day, who is responsible to save them are themselves,” Delfino said. “All the layers of protection — you should have a gate around your pool and you should have an alarm — can fail, and if they do, you and only you can save yourself.”

McCarren and Delfino are in the process of starting a nonprofit in Kyleigh’s name to provide ISR scholarships to children whose siblings have drowned. For more information on the ISR program, visit ww.isrnewyork.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ISRSealSchoolLI.

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