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Legislator Kara Hahn

Elected officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at Old Field Farm. The event marked the official opening of a nearly half-mile trail that can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Elected officials have made it easier for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a county property in East Setauket.

At a press conference Aug. 12, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), employees from the county’s parks department and residents were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at Old  Field Farm. The event marked the official opening of a nearly half-mile trail that can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking.

Bellone credited Hahn’s persistence for making the trail happen. The legislator secured $100,000 from the county’s 2018 Capital Budget and Program to fund the path. The trail starts at a pedestrian entrance on West Meadow Road on the eastern side of the farm, runs around the perimeter of the farm and ends on Trustees Road right before visitors enter the Town of Brookhaven’s West Meadow Beach pathway.

“What a wonderful gem this park is for our community and for the county, and what an incredible addition this is for people,” Bellone said. “You think, well is a path that significant, and the answer is yes. It literally changes the whole environment for people.”

Hahn said she knows that trails such as the Old Field Farm are important to the community, because it allows people to be physically active, while enjoying the outdoors without sharing the road with vehicles. 

The nearly half-mile trail can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“I’m a runner, and I run often on West Meadow Road here,” she said. “There are some blind curves. And, this will also function to get people — walkers, runners, bikers — off the dangerous road and on to our public space. Having people have access to these public places is so important for us as elected officials to make sure that these spaces that we invest in — that we spend money to maintain — that people use them and appreciate them, and this is a way that many more people can take advantage.”

Hahn thanked community leaders for their support, including county parks department employees, Herb Mones of the Three Village Civic Association’s land use committee, Larry Swanson from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Englebright, who secured the land for Suffolk in 1985 when he was a county legislator. She also thanked Sally Lynch, president of Old Field Farm, Ltd., who she called an advocate and steward of the property. Hahn said the nonprofit organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years. The funds, in conjunction with county grants, have helped to restore and maintain the historic structures on the property. The farm is also home to horse shows, and the trail will be closed during those shows to avoid spooking the horses.

Old Field Farm consists of 13 acres that adjoin the 88 acres of protected wetlands and overlooks the Long Island Sound and West Meadow Creek. Long Island philanthropist Ward Melville built Old Field Farm in 1931, and it was initially called North Shore Horse Show Grounds. Melville commissioned architect Richard Haviland Smythe to create the equestrian facility, which includes a main barn and courtyard, freestanding stables and a wooden grandstand.

“This property is exquisite, spectacular as you can see,” Hahn said.

Englebright said the property could have been sold to a developer to build a waterfront housing development in 1985. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, who owned it at the time, decided to sell it to the county. The land acquisition was an important one, he said, because it is located right next to West Meadow Beach. The assemblyman described the area as a mosaic of public lands forming a protective encirclement around West Meadow Creek. He called the addition of the trail extraordinary.

“With the access now of this trail, when you add this trail to Trustees Road, you have more than a mile of waterfront-exclusive, non-motorized access,” he said.

In the past, Hahn has spearheaded initiatives for a parking lot and walking path at Forsythe Meadow Woods County Park in Stony Brook and a parking lot at McAllister County Park in Belle Terre.

 

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Volunteers remove a telephone pole from Stony Brook Creek. Photo by Thomas Crawford

Residents and legislators gathering in front of the Hercules Pavilion across from Stony Brook Village Center had more on their minds than shopping the morning of Aug. 6.

Workers cut away at the phragmites along Stony Brook Creek. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, announced at a press conference that Suffolk County awarded the organization a $10,750 grant. The funds will be used for a pilot program to remove 12,000 square feet of phragmites from the shoreline of Stony Brook Creek.

Phragmites, an invasive species plant, has been known to choke many waterways on Long Island. In Stony Brook Creek, the debris caused by the phragmites has created silt buildup, which in turn has caused flooding along the creek.

According to Rocchio, county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) secured the grant, and WMHO and Avalon Park & Preserve matched it. The total cost of the project is $21,500.

Rocchio said the problems caused by the phragmites have been going on for years. The town line between Smithtown and Brookhaven goes straight down the creek, and the estuary is owned partially by the two towns, Suffolk County, private residents and not-for-profits, all of which made it challenging to determine who was responsible for it in the past.

WMHO’s president said water goes into and out of the creek twice a day

“There are over 300 acres of land that have runoff on it that empty into this 5-acre creek,” she said.

When the banks of the creek overflow, she said, the water goes into the Stony Brook Grist Mill, which was built in 1751 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Rocchio said the water that continually flows through the mill every day has destroyed lower parts of the structure as well as its mechanisms.

“We can’t lose this beautiful heritage we have here,” Rocchio said.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, center, is given a demonstration of phragmites removal before the Aug. 6 press conference. Photo from Ward Melville Heritage Organization

She added that residents’ yards have also been flooded and one homeowner had to pull up the level of her bulkhead because the water comes in regularly.

The day before the press conference, workers from North Shore Tree & Landscaping and Usher Plant Care began eliminating the phragmites using a hand cutting process, which involves no chemicals or mechanical equipment. Dr. Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman, explained the procedure.

“The process includes hand cutting of the stalk in a certain way and coming back in two weeks to do a second cutting,” he said. “It’s usually completed within 21 days, weather permitting.”

In addition to the legislators and residents on hand at the press conference, owners and employees of local businesses including Lessing’s Hospitality Group, People’s United Bank, Stony Brook Marine Services, Stony Brook Harbor Kayak & Paddleboard Rentals and Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn were in attendance to help remove pilings that floated into the creek and logs from fallen trees to stop further silt buildup.

Michael Lessing, president and chief operating officer of Lessing’s, which owns Stony Brook’s Three Village Inn, said the company’s employees are part of a program called Do Good and have participated in fall beach cleanups at Gilgo Beach, along with other areas on the South Shore. He said when Rocchio heard of their program, she asked for their help to clean up the creek.

“Dan Laffitte and his crew from the Three Village Inn is really what brings us together today,” he said.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) also spoke at the press conference and said the two-part cleanup project was just the beginning.

The Stony Brook Creek Stormwater Mitigation Project, she said, is set to be voted on by the Suffolk County Legislature this month, adding the county’s Water Quality and Land Stewardship Initiative Committee had recommended the project. Suffolk will contribute $251,526 in funding, while the Town of Brookhaven will match the other $251,526.

Cartright said the project would involve four discharge pipes that carry stormwater from the Stony Brook community directly to the creek, which will be disconnected. A new drainage structure will be installed where pipes will lead to bioretention and water quality units. The goal is to minimize the direct discharge of pollutant-laden stormwater in the creek, she said.

“We have taken a number of steps collectively to make sure we save our Stony Brook Creek and our Stony Brook Harbor,” Cartright said. “As we know they are very special and important to our community.”

Residents enjoy a day on the Nissequogue River. Photo from the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation

County officials are asking residents for help in creating Suffolk’s new blueway trail.

According to the National Park Service, a blueway trail is a water path that provides recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline.

The county’s blueway trail plan will make nonmotorized water sports — kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and rowing — more accessible to residents and visitors by identifying information needed for a safe and fun paddling experience.

As part of the first phase, the county has launched a survey to solicit feedback from residents to see what they would want in a blueway trail. The comments and recommendations received through the survey will be open until July 15.

“Our ultimate goal is to link the blueway trail to our great recreational assets, such as our parks, beaches, and hike and bike trails, as well as provide opportunities to advance ecotourism and economic development within the county,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time. The county is committed to working with residents to add to the enjoyment of the experience.”

The survey will help identify existing and potential launch sites throughout the county’s more than 1,000 miles of waterfront and develop a wish list to improve the sites for water access.

“Paddlers have long enjoyed Suffolk’s scenic waters, and we want to make it easier for residents and visitors to learn how to take advantage of the magnificent waterways we have available to us while doing it in a safe and fun way,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

The origins of a countywide blueway trail date back three years ago, when Hahn was developing a similar plan for her North Shore district.

In June 2016, Hahn sponsored bipartisan legislation authorizing the county to pursue state funding, which resulted in the award of a $60,000 grant.

“It is an exciting next step,” she said. “I grew up in Stony Brook, and there’s nothing like being out in the water.”

Once priority sites have been identified, Suffolk County will work with the various municipalities to identify funding sources for specific project improvements and develop a management, communication and marketing plan.

Hahn said the trail would help drive new opportunities for tourism and benefit the local economy.

“We are looking for inexpensive ways for residents to access the shoreline,” she said.

The trail would provide suggested routes depending on skill level, locations of features such as rest stops, scenic locations, bird-watching and amenities including restrooms, concessions, nearby businesses and parking. It will also include signage to help paddlers find launch locations and provide information such as maps, environmental educational information and safety information.

Though the first phase of the plan is underway, Hahn said this will be a long planning process that could take a few years.

She said it depends on how much funding they can get as they will need to reapply for more grants as well as fixing and preparing the launch sites to be used as part of the blueway trail.

For residents who want to contribute to the blueway trail survey visit, www.arcg.is/1KyPDq.

Steve Chassman, executive director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, speaks at a May 21 press conference. Photo from Suffolk County

Legislators are asking high school athletic coaches to help combat substance abuse in Suffolk County and are looking to give them the training needed to do so.

“This program will help save lives. I have no doubt about that.”

— Steve Bellone

On May 21, at a press conference held at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) announced a partnership with the nonprofit Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Bellone said a new, county-funded program will provide athletic coaches and trainers in middle and high schools with a 75-minute training course designed to combat substance abuse among student-athletes. Ward Melville coaches have already been through the awareness training that now will be offered to all county secondary schools.

“This program will help save lives,” Bellone said. “I have no doubt about that.”

Krista Bertschi, who lost her son Anthony Mazzella to drug addiction, attended the press conference, holding a photo of her son, to show support for the training.

Mazzella passed away Jan. 22, 2017, from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. Bertschi said her son was a boxer who was clean for two years when he dislocated his shoulder before Thanksgiving of 2016. While he refused pain medication at first, as the pain lingered, he decided to take them.

The program, developed with LICADD and Stony Brook University, will look to provide coaches with the knowledge of the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse in student-athletes and how to engage and intervene with team members suspected of abusing addictive substances. Bellone said a coach’s knowledge of an injury may be especially critical in that they may be able to link subtle changes in a player’s behavior to the treatment they are receiving as many times opioids are prescribed for pain.

Hahn had piloted the program with several local school districts, working alongside LICADD and SBU to develop the training. The county will be providing $100,000 to LICADD to aid in developing the program.

Hahn, a graduate of Ward Melville High School, said she was pleased to launch the program at her alma mater. As a former student-athlete and the mother of a recent Ward Melville cheerleader and current Three Village athlete, Hahn said she recognizes how influential a coach’s role can be in a student’s life both on and off the field. She added that the training course was customized to address the various scenarios coaches may encounter, from an injured teenager being prescribed opioids to a marijuana bag falling out of a backpack to team members talking about a big party coming up.

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing.”

— Kara Hahn

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing,” she said.

Hahn said social workers are still needed when a problem is identified but coaches can be the first line of defense.

“They can play an important role in the fight against student drug abuse, and through this training, we have invited them to be among the traditional stakeholders working to save lives,” she said.

Steve Chassman, executive director of LICADD, said the seeds of drug disorders usually start in high school, and he thanked the legislators and coaches for their help in solving what he called a public health crisis.

“We are encouraging the coaches to create a culture where people can work together and come forward not just from a disciplinary standpoint but from a public health standpoint,” he said.

Peter Melore, executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics for the Three Village Central School District, said during training the district coaches had numerous questions, including how to approach a student, and what to say if they were approached first.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to be the first to do this,” he said. “I would be remiss if I did not thank our coaches for their engagement in the workshops.”

Bertschi said she believes the program will foster essential communication between coaches and parents if an issue is identified. She will continue to support awareness and prevention programs such as the coach training course, she said, “In memory of my beautiful son and all of the other angels gone too soon to this horrific disease so that no other parent has to walk in the ugly shoes that I walk in every day.”

Districts interested in participating in the program can reach out to LICADD at 631-979-1700 to schedule a training session.

A rundown building on Gnarled Hollow Road and Route 25A may be demolished and the property turned into a passive park. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A familiar corner in East Setauket may get a permanent makeover.

On May 2, Town of Brookhaven council members and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) unanimously approved a resolution to allow Suffolk County to begin the process of purchasing land parcels containing the old derelict building that sits across from East Setauket Pond Park on the southeast corner of Gnarled Hollow Road and Route 25A. The county is buying the land under the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection program.

The resolution also authorizes the town to demolish the buildings on the property and maintain and manage the parcel as an open space passive park.

The passage of the town resolution follows a county resolution introduced by Suffolk County legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) that was approved in March. The county legislators determined the land parcel meets the criteria for acquisition under the drinking water program due to the land containing wetlands. The approval of the county resolution also allows Suffolk to appraise the property for possible purchase. Concrete Condor, LLC and Marine Midland Tinker National Bank are listed as the current owners of the buildings on the site.

Hahn said the spot has been recognized as an eyesore for years and is an environmentally sensitive area due to a stream flowing under the property and into waterways such as Setauket Harbor and East Setauket Pond Park. The building’s basement was known to constantly flood because of this running water.

She said the first step is an appraisal of the land parcel, and then the owner will be made an offer. If the offer is accepted, the county and town can move forward with plans for a passive park. She said the municipalities would also look for community input, and they have already consulted with town historian Barbara Russell to see if there is anything of historical value that needs to be preserved.

“It’s exciting that there is real opportunity there,” Hahn said.

Town councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in an email the town is committed to preserving open space and creating it when possible.

“In this case, the property on Gnarled Hollow is in an environmentally sensitive wetlands area,” she said. “We think it is important to restore this location to its natural state or as close to natural as possible. This parcel was part of ongoing discussion among the elected officials including myself, [state]Assemblyman [Steve] Englebright, Legislator Hahn and Supervisor Romaine.”

Before the May 2 town council vote, George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, spoke in support of the resolution.

“We call it the Chippendale’s building because of the unique architecture on the top,” Hoffman said. “But it’s derelict, and it’s been boarded up now for seven or eight years.”

Hoffman described Setauket Harbor as an impaired waterway, and he said protecting the stream on the land parcel and the wetlands would help with the task force’s work to improve the waterway. He added a passive park also would be ideal in the location because it is located near where Roe Tavern once stood on Route 25A. Historians believe that General George Washington slept in the establishment in 1790 and traveled along the 25A corridor.

“It’s important for us as a community because it’s an eyesore,” he said.  “It’s helpful to us in terms of changing the ecology of the harbor, and it’s also important to us because of our historic highway.”

Michael Kaufman, of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and a task force member, said he scaled the fence one day to look at the property and described the wetlands as pristine.

He said the task force has partnered with the town to work in cleaning up and maintaining the park next to Se-Port Delicatessen across the street from the property. New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant from the state for the Town of Brookhaven in 2016 to be used to improve water quality in Setauket Harbor. The grant was also allocated to help clean out the pond slightly west of Se-Port and fix the dock on Shore Road. The contract period began Oct. 1, 2018. Kaufman said the future open space would complement the current park across the street.

“There is a chance to really make something spectacular which we otherwise would not really have there on both sides of the street,” Kaufman said. “There’s an excellent entryway into the area and an excellent exit.”

Singer Billy Joel, bottom right, joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local legislators in the signing of the bill. Photo from Steve Englebright's office

Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), while Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced that police would be cracking down harder on those who violate the Move Over law. And with temperatures rising, county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) challenges residents to get out and enjoy their local parks.

Governor signs Englebright’s legislation banning offshore oil and gas drilling

With singer Billy Joel on hand, Cuomo signed legislation sponsored by Englebright and state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) into law April 30.

The legislation will prohibit the use of state-owned underwater coastal lands for oil and natural gas drilling, and prevent state agencies from authorizing leases that would facilitate the development and production of oil or natural gas. It also prohibits the development of pipelines and other infrastructure associated with exploration, development or production of oil or natural gas from New York’s coastal waters.

“This legislation takes aggressive action to protect New York’s marine environment by prohibiting offshore drilling,” Englebright said in a statement. “This law will protect and defend our waters, keeping them safe for recreation, fishing and wildlife.”

Despite the Atlantic Coast being off limits for drilling for decades, in 2017, the federal government proposed a new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program which would open more than 90 percent of the nation’s offshore waters to oil and gas drilling.

Englebright said the legislation will ensure the protection of endangered and threatened species as well as the state’s tourism and recreational and commercial fishing industries.

Bellone announces new campaign to crack down on Move Over state law violators

Suffolk County is cracking down on Move Over law violators with a multipronged awareness and enforcement campaign.

Bellone announced the campaign April 25 at a press conference in the hopes of increasing roadway safety for law enforcement personnel, emergency vehicles and road workers.

“Move Over is enforced for a reason — to ensure the safety of law enforcement, first responders and highway personnel,” Bellone said. “This public awareness effort is intended to protect our roads while protecting those whose job it is to enforce the rules of the road.”

Under New York State law, drivers traveling in the same direction must reduce speed and move from an adjacent lane to avoid colliding with a vehicle parked, stopped or standing on the shoulder or any portion of the highway when the vehicle is an authorized emergency response, tow truck or maintenance vehicle with its lights flashing.

The original legislation was signed into law by New York Gov. David Paterson (D) and took effect from Jan. 1, 2011. Cuomo expanded enforcement in 2012 to include maintenance and tow truck workers, and again in 2017 to include volunteer firefighters and volunteer EMTs.

Drivers who violate these laws are subject to fines of up to $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense within 18 months and $450 for a third offense within 18 months.

Public service announcements, including a 30-second television ad and a one-minute social media version, will educate residents on the importance of the law and how it helps keep the roads safe for police officers, emergency services personnel and roadway workers.

On April 25, the Suffolk County Police Department began using both unmarked and marked cars to crack down on violators. The department partnered with Maryland-based Rekor Recognition Systems earlier in the year to conduct a two-week study of compliance in the county.

The number of citations for the Move Over law has increased over the last five years with nearly 800 summonses issued in 2018, and since 2013 the SCPD has issued more than 2,600 summonses for Move Over law violations, according to SCPD.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn announces the A Park a Day in May challenge. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Hahn kicks off annual park challenge

County Legislator Hahn is encouraging Long Islanders to get out and explore once again.

On May 1, Hahn held a press conference at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket to announce her fourth A Park a Day in May challenge. The location was the first of 31 parks that will be featured in the social media event.

For every day in May, participants will find a description with photos of a different park through Facebook. Participants are then invited to take and post a picture of themselves with the hashtags #APADIM and #aparkaday. Daily A Park a Day in May posts will be added to www.facebook.com/karahahnld5.

“The May sun has always been a beacon, drawing me back out after the biting cold of winter,” Hahn said. “With life returning to nature, my intention was to find a way to return life back into our parks.”

Linda Sanders, Frank Melville Memorial Foundation trustee, said she hopes residents will enjoy the challenge and thanked Hahn for including the park.

“I grew up visiting parks, beaches and open spaces in my youth in Southern California,” Sanders said. “My family’s trips and times together spent outside in nature are some of my fondest memories.”

Hahn’s office will also once again have Park Passport booklets available. Children can collect badges by traveling to any of 24 local parks contained in the booklet. At each park, participants search for a hidden sign and check in by either scanning a QR code or entering the web address listed on the sign, which then loads a printable logo page that the child cuts and pastes into his or her passport. Residents can call 631-854-1650 for more information.

— compiled by Rita J. Egan

County officials joined Legislators Sarah Anker and Kara Hahn and County Executive Steve Bellone in announcing new changes to Cathedral Pines County Park. Photo by David Luces

County to increase accessibility options

As the weather begins to improve and with summer just around the corner, residents may begin to enjoy Suffolk County-owned parks. With their minds on attracting nature tourism, county officials came together April 26 to announce the start of a $5 million multiyear modernization project at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island. 

“We are announcing our next phase of the Stay Suffolk campaign, where we are encouraging our residents to stay local,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We want them to enjoy the things that we have here particularly in the summertime.” 

The renovation project is part of an effort to promote Suffolk County parks, local tourism and highlight popular destinations, as well as regional attractions. 

The first phase of the project will be a restoration of some of the park’s most used areas. Roads will be widened and realigned to reduce congestion, while areas are planned to be reconfigured to accommodate 74 additional campsites. All sites will be outfitted with concrete paved picnic table pads, barbecue grills, fire rings, a Wi-Fi system, water and electricity. 

Additionally, the renovations will create a designated recreation area away from the current campsites in the center of the park, where visitors can have oversight over children without disturbing other campers. 

“When we invest in our parks, it improves our quality of life,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the chair of the Legislature’s parks committee, said.

“This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

— Kara Hahn

In 2012, the county had an analysis and study done on the park to develop a master plan, which has led to the $5 million expansion.

A playground will be converted into additional visitor parking, while the county would create a new children’s playground located adjacent to the activity building. New projects also include a new picnic pavilion area, additional picnic tables and grills, bathhouses with upgraded showers that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility, five new horseshoe courts, two new boccie courts and a new sand volleyball court. The final phase of the plan is to create a new drive-up check-in station for campers to streamline the check-in process and updates to sanitary systems and the installation of a new central dump station with tanks to store sanitary waste from the bathhouses.

Hahn added that the project will go a long way in providing the necessary activities for residents to take a vacation locally.  

“There are so many spectacular spots available for hiking, camping and biking,” she said. “This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

Cathedral Pines consist of 320 acres of parkland located along the headwaters of the Carmans River and is one of 10 Suffolk County parks that offer overnight camping and possesses a 6-mile mountain bike trail system.  

The county has also announced new accessibility options at other county-owned parks.

Handicap-accessible golf carts will be available at West Sayville Golf Course for free for disabled veterans. Wheelchair-accessible beach chairs will be available at the Cupsogue, Meschutt and Smith Point beaches. Patrons can call the beaches in advance to have the wheelchairs ready upon their arrival. Mobility mats will be rolled out this summer at Smith Point to make it accessible for wheelchair users, elderly and families traveling with children.  

“I’m a part of the senior committee and I hear a lot of complaints that some residents are not able to come to our parks because it’s not accessible,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “So now moving forward we are investing in this very important issue.”

Nicolls Road. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

County Road 97, commonly known as Nicolls Road, is one of Long Island’s main thoroughfares, connecting Stony Brook on the North Shore to Patchogue on the South with nearly 16 miles of highway. For years the county has examined ideas to relieve rush hour traffic; now it is proposing a rapid-transit bus system, high-occupancy vehicle lanes and 16 roadside bus stops.

“It’s going to be dual function, and also reduce congestion on Nicolls Road, so its two birds, one stone effect,” said William Hillman, a chief engineer at Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works.

In a 2015 county report prepared by multinational engineering firm Parsons Brickerhoff, the project cost was originally estimated at upward of $200 million, though plans have been scaled down slightly since then.

“By making the buses faster, more reliable, more frequent, we may have a chance to get people to sit in it and get out of their cars.”

— Kara Hahn

Babylon-based engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, which was the latest company tapped to research the Nicolls Road project, presented April 2 summaries of its initial plans at Suffolk County Community College. 

The plans, as they currently exist, call for 16 new stations positioned along Nicolls as bus terminals connecting to existing Suffolk County Transit routes. The plans would also include 16.5 new miles of dedicated lanes to bypass traffic congestion. Service of these bus lines include a frequency much higher than any current county bus, from a weekday peak of every 10 minutes to a weekend peak of 20 minutes.

Presenters did not offer details on the buses’ fuel source nor did they describe where new stoplights or other traffic slowing devices may be implemented. Larry Penner, who worked for more than three decades in the Federal Transit Administration regional office and now comments on ongoing projects as a self-described transit historian, said that buses typically get right of way in among normal traffic.

Mike Colletta, a project engineer at engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, which created the most recent presentation on the road, said the firm was recently put onto the project by Suffolk County, and is still in the very early stages of design.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said the Legislature has been approving the project, applying for grants and getting funding toward the corridor studies for years. The project still has a while to go before the county can estimate the true impact on traffic. County officials worry that people will not use buses.

“By making the buses faster, more reliable, more frequent, we may have a chance to get people to sit in it and get out of their cars,” Hahn said. 

While representatives from the county and engineering firm could not give an estimate into the amount of vehicles, Penner said the county still has many things to consider, including costs of roughly 10 new buses, 16 stations and proposed amenities, such as real-time bus locators, similar to the units found at the train stations. Seating and overhangs for the stations themselves must also be factored in.

“Here’s the challenge they face: The density in Suffolk County is far less than Nassau, and far less than New York City,” Penner said. “How many people would drive to one of these 16 Bus Rapid Transit stations and how many people will take a commuter bus and switch to the rapid transit when you can get in your car and get there much more quickly, that will be the challenge they face, because time is money for people.”

These proposed stations would link up to existing Suffolk County Transit bus routes. Multiple existing bus routes already travel along or intersect with Nicolls, including the 3D, the S62, S69, 6B, S58 and 7A, though only two routes use the county road for a significant distance. Service on Suffolk County Transit has also been spotty for a long time, with users often left waiting for buses for over an hour. 

Bruce Morrison, the president of the Selden Civic Association, said he is skeptical of the project, questioning how many people would use it, especially with existing issues on the regular county buses.

“If it’s not attractive to the public, you’re going to have empty buses.”

— Bruce Morrison

“Will they get the ridership?” Morrison said. “If it’s not attractive to the public, you’re going to have empty buses.”

Buses would operate in the HOV lanes on the inside of the road and along the specialized bus lanes along the outside portions of the road. One proposed route would take these buses down the Long Island Expressway, through the Ronkonkoma Train Station and the expected Ronkonkoma Hub project as well before linking back up to Nicolls. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has been touting his Connect LI plan for years. In 2014 the county started exploring several other possible projects. Expanding Route 110 and the Sagtikos Parkway is among the other options. In 2015, Bellone shared his expanded plans for $300 million bus transit plan to connect Long Island’s downtowns, colleges, research and business centers. 

At one point, the county executive’s office floated the idea of building a rapid transit in the median of the well-populated road. Environmental impact studies are ongoing and necessary to ultimately receive federal funding.

In addition to the new route, engineers are also touting designs for a new trail that could run parallel to Nicolls. This path would be akin to the Rails to Trails project, but unlike the 3-mile Greenway Trail from Setauket to Port Jefferson Station, and the upcoming 10-mile project from Wading River through Mount Sinai, this path could be well over 15 miles of trail, crossing under the LIE and over other high trafficked roads like Middle Country Road. The 2015 study allocated $15 million for the biking and hiking trail.

BJ Intini and Lois Reboli of the Reboli Center accept the Community Recognition Award with presenter Beverly C. Tyler

CELEBRATING THE THREE VILLAGE COMMUNITY

The Three Village Historical Society held its 42nd annual Awards Celebration at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 27. The evening recognized volunteers, local businesses, society members and area residents who have made significant contributions to help preserve the shared heritage within the Three Village area. Honored guests included the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Michael Tessler, Leah S. Dunaief, Patricia Yantz, Morton Rosen, Steven G. Fontana, the Reboli Center for Art and History, Maura and Matthew Dunn of The Holly Tree House, Marcia Seaman and the Prestia family of Bagel Express. Legislator Kara Hahn and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright also attended to honor the winners.

All photos by Beverly C. Tyler

Suffolk legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) along with women’s groups and members of local soccer teams attend a press conference April 2 for Equal Pay Day. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven officials celebrated Equal Pay Day April 2 by vowing to call attention to the gender pay gap between men and women, especially in the sports world.

Members of the Island-wide Gender Equality Coalition, soccer coaches and student athletes joined forces at a press conference in Hauppauge to highlight workplace gender discrimination in compensation and call on the U.S. Soccer Federation to end gender discrimination in soccer for the sake of future generations of young women athletes and the integrity of the sport. In addition, they called for women all over the country to sign their petition and help them send a message in the world of athletes and beyond. 

“As the mother of a young girl, I want my daughter to know that her mother fought for equal rights and equal pay for women when I had the opportunity.”

— Valerie Cartright

On International Women’s Day March 8, the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, citing salary disparities and unequal support, including inferior training, promotion and playing conditions than their male counterparts. Despite consistently greater success on the field than the U.S. men’s soccer team, the three-time world champion, four-time Olympic gold medal U.S. women’s soccer team said they continue to be paid a fraction of the salary paid to men’s team members. They also allege, unequal treatment by the federation often exposes female athletes to more hazardous conditions to practice, train and compete.

“Young girls around the world idolize the U.S. women’s soccer players because they exemplify unmatched strength, skill and fearlessness,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “Their lawsuit sends a message of solidarity with women worldwide who are fighting for equality in the workplace and presents an important teachable moment for our children about gender disparity and the ongoing fight for women’s equal rights.”

At the Town of Brookhaven board meeting March 27, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) sponsored a resolution to make April 2 Equal Pay Day within the town, which was passed unanimously by the board.

“Pay equity is critically important to having a fair and just workplace,” Cartright said. “Unequal pay and gender discrimination impact a woman as an individual; it impacts her family and the larger society. On a personal level, as the mother of a young girl, I want my daughter to know that her mother fought for equal rights and equal pay for women when I had the opportunity.”

“Their lawsuit sends a message of solidarity with women worldwide who are fighting for equality in the workplace.”

— Kara Hahn

In New York State, the gender pay gap, or the earnings ratio of women’s median earnings divided by men’s median earnings, is 80 percent. In 2017, women living in Suffolk County earned 78% of what men earned, according to Hahn’s office. Women who are identified within minority groups fare even worse, with black woman earning 79% and Hispanic woman earning just 58% as compared to white men.

“Today, we are wearing red to symbolize that women are ‘in the red’ in terms of pay, as compared to men performing similar work,” said Colleen Merlo, the executive director of L.I. Against Domestic Violence and chair of the Gender Equity Coalition. “This issue is not just a women’s issue, it affects children and families.”

Hahn said she created a letter writing campaign and petition about attaining gender pay equality and to help the U.S women’s soccer team. The petition can be accessed at Change.org under the title Pay and Treat Women Soccer Players the Same as Male Players at http://chng.it/k54wZZqJH6 and a sample letter can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yycb3f8v.

During the next two months leading up to the World Cup in France June 7, the group hopes to obtain 75,000 signatures for the petition, which they will then deliver to U.S. Soccer Federation officials. A 2015 petition supporting the team garnered more than 69,000 signatures, according to Hahn’s office.