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Kyle Barr

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

By Kyle Barr

It is a real testament to the late, great Freddie Mercury and the band Queen that their songs sit so squarely in the public zeitgeist. “We Are the Champions” is still the go-to sports song for anybody’s home team, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that one song that, when played 50 times on a road trip, still never gets old.

It also means that the show “We Will Rock You,” which held its Northeastern regional premiere opening at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts on July 7, really needed to encapsulate just what Mercury and Queen meant to culture just before the turn of the century. Thankfully, the talented 18-member cast at SPAC managed to pull it off with ease.

With book by Ben Elton, the story takes place 300 years in the future in a vague dystopian world where all music but that which is produced by the corporation is banned. All those living on the iPlanet, as it is called, exist under the thumb of the Globalsoft Corporation, headed by the stiff-necked Khashoggi (Dylan Bivings) and the raucous Killer Queen (the-great-as-always Brianne Boyd). Two young rebels, Galileo (Andrew Murano) and Scaramouche (Danielle Nigro) are captured by Globalsoft right out of high school for being too out of the mainstream. This leads them on a quest to find the rebels called The Bohemians and then to find the true meaning of rock and roll and set the world free.

Featuring more than 20 hit Queen songs, the show is accompanied by a live band, with Melissa and Craig Coyle on keyboard, Chad Goodstein and Mike Lawshé on guitar, Rob Curry on bass and Jim Waddell on drums. At first it’s hard to tell from where the band is playing. They are not on stage, nor on the balcony. It is well worth staying until the end to see exactly where these band members were cleverly hid.

Tim Golebiewski, who directed last year’s very fine production of “Young Frankenstein,” returns this year to showcase his talents for stimulating musical sequences and cutting humor. This time the stage is set with what appears to be a very simple layout, just a two-level affair with a white screen hanging above it all. Yet this display holds more than a few surprises. 

Golebiewski and Chris Creevy, the head of lighting design, must have had a lot of fun setting up the LED lights all around the stage, whose multiple colors coordinate with a projector screen behind the stage. Every musical performance has a corresponding color and video that plays in time to the music. It’s a surprising sensation seeing the performance and video, like attending both a musical and rock concert all at once.

Danielle Nigro and Andrew Murano in a scene from the show

In a production such as this, where the story is not much more than a vehicle to get to the next Queen song, the vocal quality is probably the biggest selling point and the cast is very much up to the task. 

Nigro does a great job with the punk-styled, quick-mouthed Scaramouche, and she is great both in lead vocals in songs like “Somebody to Love” and in chorus in songs like “Under Pressure.” Mark Maurice, as Brit, and Courtney Braun, as Oz, are both absolutely hilarious, especially with Maurice’s random bouts of martial arts. Their duet on “I Want It All” is fun and energetic. Terrific in last year’s SPAC performance of “Man of La Mancha,” Boyd  pulls out all the stops with her usual considerable stage presence. She’s a perfect fit for the part of Killer Queen, especially with such loud and sometimes racy renditions of “Play the Game” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

If you have even a passing interest in Queen, Freddie Mercury or rock in general, then this is a great night outing to rekindle that old rebel rocker spirit.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “We Will Rock You” through Aug. 19. Parental discretion is advised. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Photos courtesy of SPAC

From left, Cindy and Maddie Miller in their newly opened shop. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Though opening a store takes an adult mind for business, a child’s sense of creativity doesn’t hurt.

Mother-and-daughter team Cindy and Maddie Miller, who is 11 years old, cut the ribbon on Macked Boutique, a new women’s and girls’ clothing shop in downtown Rocky Point June 9.

Customers line up at the register to check out.

“It’s amazing now to have it open and see all the people in it,” Cindy Miller said. “It’s awesome to see what we had in our heads come to life.”

The front of the store is dedicated to women’s and girls’ clothes from 1-year-old to women’s plus sizes. The rear of the store is dedicated to their design space that includes stencils and paints for kids to create custom shirt designs for parties, using whatever stencil and color paint they want.

For Christmas last year Miller received a Cricut — a fabric, wood and stencil cutter — from her husband, Mike Miller. After making stencils for custom designs, the mother and daughter thought about making a business out of it, first by hosting parties so kids could customize their own shirts, then later for an overall online store for young girls clothing. It wasn’t long before Miller had the idea for a brick-and-mortar location, and with the new boutique, the Miller family hopes to establish themselves as a focal point for girls’ and women’s clothing in Rocky Point.

Maddie helps other kids design their shirt.

Maddie came up with the idea for using glitter when painting the shirts, something that Miller said has become a big hit.

“We went through a lot of learning experiences,” the mother said. “There was the time when we first put paint on the shirt and it got paint on the table because the paint went through the shirt.”

Miller’s husband, a Nassau County police officer, helped work on putting in the boutique’s new floor before the store opened. He said while his wife is stressed from all that goes into opening a new business, she is excited to see where it takes her.

“She’s amazed,” Miller’s husband said. “I think it’s a new adventure, and it’s going to be very exciting.”

Maddie helps the other kids when it comes to painting shirts, and she is already experienced in customer care. When one customer asked her mother where she could find the clothing sizes on a selection of shirts, Maddie stood on her tiptoes, reached up to the shirt in question and showed her each of the shirt’s sizes.

“It’s cute because she’s learning a lot of about business,” Miller said. “It’s teaching her the difference between price and cost, what’s the margin, how do you price things, how do you tag things and other different applications.”

Paints and glitter available to those designing their own T-shirts at Macked Boutique in Rocky Point.

Maddie has started to learn the fundamentals of operating a business from her mother.

“You have to multiply [cost] by 2.5 to get the price, and the difference between what you are charged and what you sell it for,” Maddie said. 

Though even beyond the business aspect, Maddie said the experience of first helping the online shop and now opening a store has been fun, and that she looks forward to helping out with the business.

“I like the clothes that I get to wear, and I like helping the other kids with painting,” Maddie said. “I love it – I love the boutique.”

Photos by Kyle Barr

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Every Fourth of July, if only for a few hours, Long Islanders create their own stars in the night sky.

If one drives down the side streets and residential neighborhoods late at night on America’s birthday, one can hear a chorus of whistles and pops from every direction. People in local neighborhoods sit in lawn chairs with their necks craned to the night sky to watch the lights flash high over their own roofs. All those involved know that, without a license, it’s illegal to own, sell and, especially, to light any fireworks in New York state, but this is Independence Day, and the date demands ceremony.

On one street in Port Jefferson Station, where locals hosted their own fireworks show, the air was suffused with a burning smoke that smelled like brimstone and burning paper. Fireworks enthusiast Louie, who agreed to comment if his last name would be withheld, along with his brother and their friends, laid out rows of mortars stretching more than 10 yards down the street. For close to two hours nonstop the fireworks illuminated the sky and onlookers cheered.

“Jones Beach does it, Bald Hill does it … why can’t we do it?” Louie said.

Louie said he has helped set off his block’s firework display for four years, and each July Fourth his group sets off more than $2,000 worth of fireworks.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) warned residents ahead of the holiday in a YouTube video that the county would be enacting a zero-tolerance policy for the possession, use and sale of illegal fireworks.

“We are here today to talk about the Fourth of July and how we all love to get together and celebrate,” Bellone said in the video. “We always hear about these incidents happening and they are unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Officials asked Suffolk residents to attend licensed firework shows going on all across the Island, rather than creating their own events. There were shows at Bald Hill, in Wading River, at Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead, on East Beach in Port Jefferson, on Shelter Island and at the Long Island Ducks stadium in Bethpage, to name a few.

Suffolk County is stricter on fireworks than other parts of the state. While New York passed a law in January that made owning sparklers legal, in Suffolk owning a sparkler remains a misdemeanor. Owning certain fireworks, like the M-80s, which were originally designed by the United States military to simulate gunfire, or the mortar-type of fireworks, is a Class E felony subject to up to four years in prison.

Several individuals were arrested this year and charged with crimes of possessing and selling fireworks. In June, a Medford man was arrested for having $100,000 worth of fireworks in a storage facility. Later that same month, an Oakdale man was arrested for bringing $2,000 worth of fireworks home from Pennsylvania and selling them online.

“We take it very seriously,” 4th Precinct Capt. Kevin Williams said at the June 1 Smithtown Town board meeting. “All fireworks are illegal, and that includes sparklers. Some of the larger fireworks that we see today, the M-80 fireworks or the mortars that people shoot up, those are designated as explosives under New York State Labor Law.”

The danger presented by misusing fireworks is real. Nationally, fireworks were identified in 12,900 hospital visits and eight deaths in 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released in June this year.

Suffolk police reported that a man from Gordon Heights lost three of his fingers
after a firework exploded in his hand this year. Another woman, a Florida resident who was visiting her family in Mastic, was injured after she tossed a lit cigarette in an ashtray which caused a firework that had been placed there to explode. The detonation severed the tip of one finger and injured other fingers on her right hand. Both were sent to Stony Brook University Hospital for their injuries.

Dr. Steven Sandoval, medical director of Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the last weeks of June and the first two weeks of July are the peak in terms of burn center patients. On average his unit receives five to 10 patients every Fourth of July season, and that’s not including those who arrive to the hospital with other, non-burn related injuries. By July 5 this year, the burn center received four patients who had injuries related to fireworks, but Sandoval said they would not know the total number of injuries until a month has passed.

“Every other year there’s a fatal or near-fatal event that occurs from fireworks,” Sandoval said. “This is a vulnerable population, who might already be intoxicated, inebriated or have been standing out in the sun all day … people should leave fireworks to the professionals.”

Those people setting off the pyrotechnic display in Port Jeff Station said they understood the hazard that fireworks presented.

“We’re all organized, not drunk, professional and we have order,” Louie said. “We have communication, and communication is key.”

Still, there is always danger when it comes to explosives. The street in Port Jeff Station was bordered by power lines and trees that an off-course rocket could potentially strike. One neighbor put large towels and cardboard boxes on her fence to mitigate any potential burn damage. After the grand finale, where the group let off their last rockets and mortars, they started to throw loud firecrackers into the street. One of them bounced into a neighbor’s yard right next to a fence. The firework exploded and dug a small hole an inch deep into the dirt.

Despite it all, the neighbors laughed and cheered anyway.

Robert Moses featured in Fortune Magazine in 1938. Photo by Fernand Bourges/courtesy of The LIM

By Kyle Barr

This summer, visitors to The Long Island Museum’s Visitors Center can enjoy The Land of Moses: Robert Moses and Modern Long Island, an exhibit dedicated to the legacy of the man responsible for the development of many of Long Island’s bridges, parks, highways and more. 

Presenting a major exhibit on Robert Moses meant trying to understand who he truly was, beyond many of the long-held concepts of the controversial 20th-century builder/planner and unelected official.

‘Southern State Parkway,’ watercolor on paper, circa 1930 by Samuel Rothbort. Image courtesy of The Long Island Museum

Though Moses wanted his story to be known through the pages of his own autobiography called “Public Works, A Dangerous Trade,” it was another book, a thick tome titled “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro, that defined his legacy, that of a callous and conceded individual who simply did not care who he ruined in his pursuit of his next, great project.

According to the exhibit’s co-curator, Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretations and chief curator at The LIM, “That became the portrait that Moses spent the rest of his life fighting. He wanted to get things done, and back then the way to get things done was to accumulate power.”

Close to 37 years after his death, Moses remains a controversial figure. In his decades spanning career, he was in charge of cultivating nearly 2.5 million acres of parkland in New York state, building 13 bridges and completing 135 miles of parkway on Long Island. Those parkways, originally intended to be used for “pleasure driving,” now exist as often congested strips of road that connect Long Island’s east and west ends.

Ruff, who organized the show along with Assistant Curator Jonathan Olly, spent the past several months researching and gathering the more than 170 items for use in The Land of Moses exhibit. On display is Moses’ oblong desk and typewriter along with many of the original models used when Moses was in charge of building the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and designing the 1964 World’s Fair along with many paintings, historical photographs and film and audio clips. “What we try to get into with this exhibition is you can go back much earlier in his career and see much controversy, but maybe just not as necessarily at the public level,” said Olly during a recent tour of the exhibit. “He was very press savvy, and he was often able to control the terms of the public perception.”

Moses held sway in multiple unelected positions throughout his reign, from head of the New York City Planning Commission to president of the Long Island State Parks Commission. Ruff said that, at his height, Moses held more power as an unelected public official than most other elected officials at that time.

The “master builder” never shied away from the public space and was quick to get his picture taken with influential figures; and the exhibit shows Moses with many famous people from Walt Disney to President John Kennedy. He wasn’t a man to shy away from controversy either. Quotes from Moses are posted high up on the exhibit’s walls. One reads: “As long as you’re on the side of the parks, you’re on the side of the angels. You can’t lose.” Another reads: “Those who can, build. Those who can’t, criticize.”

Though many perceptions of Moses have been formed from his description in “The Power Broker,” the museum curators wanted to offer a more nuanced, historical view of the man. “His ideas endured — because how do you deal with a lot of people living in a confined space?,” explained Ruff. “They need people to be able to move from one space to another. What about recreation? He was interested in the quality of life for the greatest number of people.”

Though Moses built this lasting infrastructure, he did so sometimes in nefarious ways. Building the roadways as he intended often put the work straight through some poor, yet vibrant, neighborhoods; and while he might have paid to move suburban houses out of the way of progress, he would easily make near-unilateral decision to tear down poor and minority neighborhoods to build his highways.

‘No Exit,’ acrylic on linen, 2006, by Margery Caggiano. Image courtesy of The Long Island Museum

This ties into many allegations of racism that people like Caro have made of Moses. Ruff and Olly said that reality is more complicated. “It’s been a controversial topic in academia,” Ruff said. “Robert Moses, in some ways, undeniably made some racist decisions in his career and his work, such as putting highways through poor areas. His thought process was it cost less to demolish a poor neighborhood than it was to demolish a rich neighborhood, so it would cost less to the taxpayer.”

There are allegations that Moses specifically built bridges along his parkways too low for buses (which were often used by poorer minority communities) from the city to pass under, just so they wouldn’t walk on Moses’ many beaches and parks. The museum curators don’t put too much credence to that claim. “There’s no evidence that states that this was a decision to make it so poor people couldn’t get to the beaches,” Olly said. “The reason really was about aesthetics and economics. What Moses wanted was this idea of ‘Ribbon Parks,’ for use in pleasure driving. Having buses or public transportation on the roads was unacceptable. He didn’t think this was the road that people in 20, 30 years would be commuting to work on.”

Olly added that buses were able to go to Jones Beach, Heckscher State Park and other parks since the beginning, and there are bus advertisements from the time that prove it.

“In many ways, [‘The Power Broker’] was the last word in many instances in a lot of things Moses — it’s one of the best biographies of an American public official ever written, but on this particular argument its on shaky ground,” Ruff said.

Moses’ power declined in the late 1960s. Perhaps his biggest failure was his inability in the 1970s to finalize the building of a cross-sound bridge from Oyster Bay to the town of Rye up in Westchester County. Many locals protested building the bridge over concerns of increased traffic congestion and potential environmental impacts. 

After Caro released his book in 1974, Moses spent the rest of his days contesting the allegations made in the book until his death in 1981 at the age of 92 from heart disease.

Though he remains controversial, Moses made a definite and lasting impact on Long Island. Ruff said that while his public perception changed over time, Moses was the catalyst that really created the Long Island identity. “People like to think about how his career ended — of how Caro’s book changed a lot of the perception about him,” Ruff said. “But he played a leading role in the 20th century, and we wanted to put an emphasis of his work specifically on Long Island.”

Related programs at the LIM

Summer Thursday 

Enjoy a free self-guided tour of The Land of Moses on Thursday, July 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. Sample wine and tasty treats on museum grounds. Coolers and picnics welcome. 

Author Talk

Journalist and author Anthony Flint will speak about his book, “Wrestling with Moses:  How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City,” on Sunday, Aug. 19 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Flint will lead the audience on an introspective journey into the battle between Moses and activist Jane Jacobs.  Afterward, visit the Robert Moses exhibition to gain additional insight into Moses’ life and times. This event is free with museum admission.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present The Land of Moses: Robert Moses and Modern Long Island in the Visitors Center through Oct. 28. Museum hours are Thursday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 ages 6 to 17. For more information on ticket prices or for more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is as happy as a clam to have received a $400,000 grant from New York State for use in its shellfish hatchery located at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Brookhaven’s Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced June 20 that the state Department of Environmental Conservation awarded it a grant to expand and upgrade the Mariculture Facility at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Long Island Coastal Steward President Denis Mellett shows growing shellfish at Brookhaven’s mariculture facility. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said shellfish play an important role in cleaning the town’s coastal waters.

“All the seeding that we do — and the ability to grow more — just contributes to cleaning the harbor even more,” Bonner said. “You put a couple million oysters in there, you have your own natural filtering system.”

Oysters and other shellfish help remove harmful nutrient pollutants in the water like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide. These shellfish also feed on algae, which improves water clarity.

Romaine said the grant will fund an upgrade to the facility’s power supply through PSEG, which will run new power lines and poles to the facility, a $275,000 operation. The grant also upgrades motors on existing water pumps to 20 horsepowers and allows for the installation of a new floating upweller system, or FLUPSY, where immature seedlings can be put into the water and be protected from predators. The unique design of FLUPSY incorporates a basket/silo combination to allow easy access to seed and extend the oysters further into the water column, creating more water pressure and higher water flow. Water flow from individual silos is dumped into a centrally located trough with a well and mounted pump to eliminate cavitation.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra checks oysters cages in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

Romaine said repopulating shoreline with shellfish will restore Long Island’s shellfish industry.

“It’s critical to have the ability for people to make a living collecting oysters and clams,” Romaine said. “[Oyster and clam fishermen] have had hard times, and these shellfish would restore that industry.”

The hatchery currently produces 1 million oyster seeds, 2 million clam seeds and 70,000 scallop seeds. The grant funds will enable the town to purchase an additional 2 million new seed clams. The hatchery is expecting to yield approximately 12 million hard clam seed and 3 million oysters by 2019, according
to Romaine.

The most recent group of oysters will be kept in cages over the winter and grow over another season, which starts in spring and runs into late fall. When they reach adult sizes, at about 1.5 inches large, they will be moved into protected plots along the North Shore.

Though town employees operate the Mount Sinai facility, the nonprofit Coastal Steward of Long Island is partnered with the Town of Brookhaven to use the hatchery for its educational shellfish monitoring programs. The town grows the bulk of the oysters inside its facility several yards beyond the beach sands, but the nonprofit helps to monitor the shellfish health inside Mount Sinai Harbor under normal conditions.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra, president Denis Mellett and treasurer Mark Campo at Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We clean them, we maintain them and we help them get to adulthood before they’re released,” Coastal Steward President Denis Mellett said. “Unlike the town we’re not trying to breed a million oysters — we’re
managing 50,000 oysters that we can look at and see how they’re growing, measure them and check the mortality.”

Bruce Folz, Coastal Steward director of shellfish restoration, said this year’s crop of shellfish have had better than average growth, and that the group is excited to see if the upgrades will help accelerate growth and
reduce mortality.

“They are important for structure and tidal erosion of the beaches,” Coastal Steward Treasurer Mark Campo said. “That is in addition to all the other benefits, such as the water filtering they provide.”

The grant is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) $10.4 million state initiative to improve Long Island’s water quality and coastal resilience by expanding shellfish populations. Other grants were awarded to the towns of East Hampton, Islip and Hempstead.

Brookhaven town board members unanimously adopted a $400,000 bond June 14 in case the grant money does not arrive by this fall, which is when renovation is expected to start, and continue through Spring 2019.

By Kyle Barr

There are 1.3 million active military personnel stationed all around the world according to the U.S. Department of Defense, and while Janet Godfrey and her nonprofit Operation Veronica know they can’t reach all of them, they’ve sure tried to.

The Rocky Point-based organization has worked to ship thousands of boxes filled with food, toiletries, utensils and more to thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen stationed overseas since 2005. Even after all this time Godfrey said she is still amazed just how appreciative the men and women in uniform are after receiving their packages.

“More important than the contents of the box is that the soldiers know people they never met got together and intentionally spent their time, money and effort to send this package to them.”

— Janet Godfrey

“More important than the contents of the box is that the soldiers know people they never met got together and intentionally spent their time, money and effort to send this package to them,” Godfrey said.
“We’re told by the people who receive it that it’s like getting a message from the American people.”

Close to 20 women volunteers have met nearly every Friday at St. Anthony’s Church in Rocky Point since the group’s inception, and over its 13-year lifespan, have helped ship over 70,000 items. The boxes have been sent to soldiers in nine different countries as well as several naval ships stationed all over the world.

If volunteers are not busy packing boxes, they are working a sewing machine making neck coolers for the spring months and polar fleece sweaters for winter. Other women are hunkered down creating survival bracelets made from 550 paracord, the same cordage that airborne infantry used making World War II parachutes. Soldiers can find the bracelets useful in the field for making tourniquets or restraints, for storing equipment or to do something as simple as lacing their shoes.

“This kind of thing is very spiritually rewarding,” Rocky Point volunteer Judi Miranda said. “I’ve always done volunteer work, but there is something very special about what we’re doing.”

The boxes the group ships are filled with essentials, but the volunteers often add other items at soldiers’ requests. This could be anything from glue traps to deal with vermin problems to flip-flops to aid in walking around without fear of getting dust in their boots.

“I’ve always done volunteer work, but there is something very special about what we’re doing.”

— Judi Miranda

“Everybody wants to do something to support our troops, but they just don’t know what to do,” Godfrey said. “We’re an outlet in that regard.”

It’s not cheap to send so many boxes overseas. Using a medium-sized flat-rate United States Postal Service box costs $18 to ship. If the group wishes to send a more irregular-sized box it may cost closer to $30 or $40. The volunteers rely on donations from the local community as well as the support from the American Legion Post 1880, the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary at the Leisure Glen Homeowners Association in Ridge, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and the Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation based in Port Jefferson.

“We’re relying on every little penny,” said Irene Stellato, a volunteer from Rocky Point.

Even with the amount of time and money that goes into the work, Godfrey said she sees what Operation Veronica is able to do as a good that goes beyond politics. The name for the group comes from the story of
St. Veronica, who in the Bible is said to have used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to the mound. 

“She couldn’t take him off the walk, she couldn’t change his fate, but she gave him a momentary relief from physical discomfort, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Godfrey said. “We can’t change their fates, we can’t change their lives, we can’t bring them home as much as we want to, but we can cool them off when they’re hot, we can warm them up when they’re cold, we can give them something to eat when they’re hungry, so we do what we can.”

To learn more about Operation Veronica visit www.operationveronica.org.

This post was updated July 6 to correct the amount of total items Operation Veronica has shipped to service members.

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With mounting pressure to preserve the sanctity of Long Island’s coastal waters, Suffolk County is teaming up with specialists at Stony Brook University to educate the public on marine pollution.

“Folks on Long Island are more involved with [marine pollution] than other parts of the country because they are spending time around the sound and beaches,” said Katherine Aubrecht, the faculty director for coastal environmental studies at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s such a bigger part of people’s lives, and there is a more receptive audience here to be thinking about this.”

The county Legislature unanimously passed a resolution June 5 to direct the Division of Planning & Environment in the Department of Economic Development and Planning to collaborate with SoMAS to establish a marine debris pollution awareness program.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Though it is just in its preliminary stages, according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) who sponsored the resolution, the awareness program would be used to educate school-aged children and the general public on the dangers of garbage pollution to the marine ecosystem.

“We want the education to be generalized, so that we can have flexibility in who we speak to and about what,” Anker said.

Anker said the two goals for the upcoming program are to educate the public on how we are affecting and degrading our oceans, and to teach people what they could do about it, including the need for beach cleanups and how to properly recycle plastics.

Aubrecht said that there are three unpaid interns from the Stony Brook University’s environmental humanities program charged with compiling data on ocean pollution, and looking into what other marine debris  education efforts exist on Long Island. Data is also being collected on demographics the program wishes to target with the campaign.

Kathleen Fallon, the coastal processes and hazards specialist for New York Sea Grant, said educating young people is of the utmost significance.

“It is important to teach young children about the impact they are having on their community and how they can become environmentally conscientious,” she said. “Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

“Some examples could include teaching students about the impact they might have, even just picking up a few pieces of trash or about how all pollutants eventually make their way into marine environments.”

— Kathleen Fallon

Anker said she expects the program to have a full formal presentation ready by the end of next year. She also expects by next Earth Day, the debris awareness program will have presentations to show what citizens can do to help clean up the local marine environment.  

Microplastics ending up in local waters are among the most pressing issues on Long Island. Microplastics are plastics that have broken down due to erosion into pieces smaller than 5 millimeters — they end up being swallowed by sea life endangering the health of the animal and, if the issue is untreated, those plastics can easily end up on the dinner table.

At the county Legislature’s April 19 Health Committee meeting Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School research scientist and teacher, said she had surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and that in 1 square meter of shoreline, found 17 grams of microplastics. She said there were approximately 400 pounds of plastic in 1 mile of shoreline in the pond.

Aubrecht said that when these plastics enter a marine environment they can also cause organic pollutants — which are often too dispersed and not dangerous — to merge onto these plastics, but have a larger effect on marine wildlife. Ocean debris also cause animal entanglement, like a small fish or turtle getting caught in a plastic ring that holds a six-pack of cans. These entangled creatures often suffer major injuries or die if they can’t free themselves.

Though all these problems may seem daunting, Fallon said that education is the starting line in a race that will hopefully end with the elimination of marine pollutants and debris.

“A community that is made aware of the impact that they are having on their environment will hopefully be more likely to avoid harmful actions,” Fallon said.

Mount Sinai’s valedictorian Jonathan Yu and salutatorian Jack Pilon are like many other students in their class, looking forward to college, and even further, future careers.

Yu finished with a 103.12 GPA. The senior was the environmental club vice president, a National Merit Scholarship award winner and he ran winter and spring track.

Mount Sinai valedicotiran Jonathan Yu. Photo from Mount Sinai School District

He said his proudest accomplishments were as a member of the school’s Ocean Bowl team. The team is made up of four students who travel to competitions where they test their knowledge of marine sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics and geology. This year the team won the regional Bay Scallop Bowl at Stony Brook University and went on to compete in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, where it placed eighth.

“It was a great accomplishment,” Yu said. “It was great to explore, go to different places and meet new people.”

Yu will attend Georgia Institute of Technology where he plans to study physics, a subject which to Yu is a means to understanding a complex world.

“The world is so complicated — so it’s nice to simplify it,” Yu said. “At the simplest level everything in the universe follows a certain set of rules, and I think that’s amazing.”

Yu said he hopes to take his passion for the subject to work as a researcher, and added if he had any choice of destination, it would be to work in Antarctica. 

“It just seems like a really interesting place,” Yu said. “There is so much going on, from ice movement to the wildlife.”

As a word of advice for incoming high school freshmen, he said kids have to help each other so that everyone can succeed.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.

Mount Sinai salutatorian Jack Pilon. Photo from Mount Sinai School District

Pilon graduated with a 103.52 GPA. The senior has been team captain for spring and winter track, National Honor Society president and a member of the school’s orchestra, but his highlight moments were spent as this year’s class president.

In his junior year, Pilon and his fellow class officers created committees on prom, homecoming, fundraising and class trips that were joined by students interested in having a say in running the school events.

“These were students who wouldn’t have originally had the opportunity or even interest in school government, and we were able to get them involved,” Pilon said.

Being class president is just a part of Pilon’s interest in government and politics. It’s why he plans to major in government while attending the College of  Arts and Sciences at Cornell University.

“It kind of drew from what I did as class president — you’re really able to create change, and it’s something I’m really interested in,” Pilon said.

But that isn’t his only interest. He is attending the arts and sciences college to see which of his interests — medicine, government or business — draws more of his attention.

Pilon said anybody who wants to enjoy high school should look to get involved.

“Use the opportunities given to you,” he said. “Explore everything you can, take the hard classes and be up to the challenge.”

Shoreham-Wading River seniors Christian Wesselborg, left, and Calvin Schmalzle, right, were named this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Photos from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River’s valedictorian Christian Wesselborg and salutatorian Calvin Schmalzle both managed to achieve high marks while squeezing in a helping of extracurricular activities.

Wesselborg earned a 101.42 GPA. He is a gold medalist at the Al Kalfus Long Island Math Fair, a winner of department awards for both AP Biology and AP Statistics, was named an AP Scholar with Distinction and
was honored with a Rensselaer Medal for excellence in math and science. 

Wesselborg participated in several sports, including wrestling and winter and spring track. He was also recognized as a member of the academic All-County team as a member of the Wildcats varsity soccer team. The senior also spent his time as the robotics team captain and a member of the jazz band.

Other than school, Wesselborg participated in Relay Iowa, an adventure over 330 miles long.

After four years of high school, Wesselborg plans to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
in Troy, where he will study biosciences.

Schmalzle finished with a 100.09 GPA. He is a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student, a Brookhaven National Laboratory High School Research Program summer intern and placed first at the Suffolk County Math Teachers Association precalculus contest.

Outside of the classroom Schmalzle was also a member of the school robotics team. After school he played volleyball and ran track and field, earning an All-American nod during winter track and to the All-County academic team during volleyball season.

In the fall Schmalzle will attend Clarkson University where he plans to study mechanical engineering and explore his passion for math and physics. He said he’s hoping to land a job in the engineering field.

“Christian and Calvin are both exceptional students who represent the well-rounded education at Shoreham-Wading River High School,” Principal Frank Pugliese said. “Their commitment to school, community and
extracurricular activities will certainly drive their future successes.”

Schmalzle said the things he would miss the most from his time in high school are his friends and family. He said other students that look to do well should do their due diligence.

“Work hard and believe in yourself,” he said.