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By Bill Landon

Huntington and Northport girls track members put their best feet forward at the Suffolk County track & field large school championships Feb. 2. held at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. 

Huntington sophomores Ella Siepel and Valerie Rogel finished 5th and 10th, respectively, in the finals at 3,000 meters clocking in at 11 minutes, 35.33 seconds and 11:51.66 respectively. Huntington junior Alicia Brooks tripped the clock at 7.55 seconds in the 55-meter dash for 6th place in the county. Huntington seniors Keily Rivas and Erica Varady finished the 1,500-meter race walk in 7th and 9th place crossing the line at 7:32.75 and 7:38.85, respectively. Rogel’s time of 5:30.69 in the 1500-meter race was good enough for 6th in Suffolk.

Northport senior Margaret Van Laer cleared 4 feet 8 inches in the high jump finals placing her in a four-way tie for 3rd place. Northport senior Sydnie Rohme traveled 17-4 1/2 in the long jump placing her in the top spot of the 2nd flight and her teammate Ashley Curcio leapt 15-5 1/2 to finish in 5th place in flight 1. Curcio finished 3rd in the triple jump with her best distance being 30-10 1/2. 

Huntington’s Grace Mckenna earned top honors in flight No. 1 in the shot put by throwing 30-4.

Both the girls and boys track & field are back at the college Feb. 11 for the state qualifiers where the first gun sounds at 5 p.m.

Norhtport village residents packed the Jan. 29 public hearing regarding The Northport Hotel. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Northport residents came out in support of the business a local hotel could bring but raised concerns about the traffic that may come with it.  

Northport village held a hearing Jan. 29 on business owners Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce’s, of the John W. Engeman Theater,  proposal to construct a hotel-restaurant, The Northport Hotel, at 225 Main St. The much-anticipated project drew a large crowd to the American Legion Hall, which was packed to standing room only. 

Christopher Modelewski, an attorney representing O’Neill and Dolce, presented an updated site rendering of the hotel at the village public hearing Jan. 29. The rendering included changes they made to the site as a result of concerns raised by the planning board and area professionals. 

Study:  Northport has parking spots, if you walk

Northport residents voiced their concerns about a lack of parking along Main Street at a Jan. 29 public hearing on a proposed hotel and restaurant. Yet, a study released in December 2018 determined there are plenty of spots if people are willing to walk.

The Village of Northport hired Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport. Their survey, which took place from August to October 2018, concluded the village’s 615 parking spaces are sufficient, with a slight exception of summer evenings.

Northport’s central business district has a total 195 metered slots and 420 free spaces between Main Street and its side municipal lots, according to the study.  Nearly half of these spots are divided between streetside metered parking on Main Street, and the two free lots adjacent to the village’s waterfront parks.

On a typical weekday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Level G Associates found 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and Main Street lots were full as well. However, the study cited roughly 100 available spaces in the waterside lots and Lot 7, located off Woodside Avenue by the American Legion hall.

“These are normal/healthy parking patterns for an active [central business district],” the report reads.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, Level G Associates found most metered parking spots and lots on Main Street were full. However, the study found “ample available parking” in the free waterside and Woodside Avenue lots that “are within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”

The only time traffic experts found an issue with the village’s parking was on summer nights, from 5 to 9 p.m. The study found the village’s parking is 95 percent full, often due to concerts and special event attendance, and could be improved through the addition of 72 spaces.

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport, said the village board is being proactive in trying to address parking demands and congestion concerns.

“The evaluation provided us with some suggestions that we may consider,” he said.

Some suggestions include re-striping of  waterfront municipal lots could add 30 spaces, expanding the free lot by the American Legion to add 35 spots and development of a parking management plan. Other ideas given by Level G Associates are just not feasible, according to Kehoe such as leasing the parking lot used by the St. Philip Neri Church and Parish Center on Prospect Avenue.

Kehoe also said he has suggested moving the village’s Highway Department out of the Woodside Avenue lot to provide more spaces.

“It is a public safety issue,” the deputy mayor said. “You have the theater close by, snow plows are in there — that lot can get very busy.”

Kehoe said Northport residents are fortunate to live in a place where people want to visit and spend money, but in turn that causes more of a demand for parking. The village’s town board plans to continue the process of making these changes between now and the upcoming summer.

When the building plans were first presented to the village’s planning board in May 2017, O’Neill sought to construct a 24-room hotel and a 200-seat restaurant. Recent changes have  reduced the size of the restaurant to 124 seats with an additional 50 seats in the lobby and
bar area. 

Despite these changes, Northport residents continued to express concern about accessibility and how it could exacerbate parking issues in the village.

Tom Mele, of Northport, said he is for the creation of the hotel but argues it is off base to think that there isn’t an accessibility and parking problem in the village.

“If you [O’Neill] love this town as much as you say you do, you would find a way to work with the village board,” Mele said. “Work with them to decrease the traffic on Main Street and if that means downsizing the venue downstairs to accommodate the people, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.”

Northport property owner Frank Cavagnaro expressed similar sentiments saying that the planning board shouldn’t accept the site plans as is. He viewed the parking issue as his main concern.

“You’re gonna come in and try to stuff five pounds of bologna in a 1-pound bag — it’s not going to fit,” Cavagnaro said. “Parking in the village is terrible, it’s going to kill the village.”

The  Village of Northport commissioned a parking study by Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates, released in December 2018, that found that during a typical weekday the downtown area “exhibited normal and healthy parking patterns.” While approximately 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and the free Main Street lots were full, the study found 100 free spaces available during peak times in the in the municipal lots. 

Still, Cavagnaro presented a possible compromise to the village board. 

“Consider a smaller restaurant, to get him started with the option if we find more parking, for him [O’Neill] to come back to the board,” Cavagnaro said. 

Modelewski also cited a traffic impact study performed by Walter Dunn, a professional engineer and founder of Dunn Engineering Associates, and Tom Mazzola, former traffic and safety director for the Town of Huntington. The study found that the hotel would have a benign impact on the traffic in the area.  

O’Neill said under the proposed plans there would be no parking on Woodside Avenue and no right turn out of the two parking lots so traffic does not go into residential areas. 

“We will have the ability to take, between the theater and the hotel-restaurant operation,  roughly 150 cars off [the] street,” O’Neill said. “The village has 609 [parking] spots, for anybody in the industry that’s a seismic shift in the dynamics in how much parking is being provided.”

Residents were also concerned about the possibility of delivery trucks unloading on Main Street, which is not permitted under Northport village law according to Modelewski. 

“Tractor trailers and box cars double park behind cars — that’s unlawful,” the hotel’s attorney said. “There’s a reason why the law isn’t being enforced — it’s because it’s the only way businesses can function.”

Modelewski said O’Neill will work with the suppliers to use only box cars. 

Northport resident Alex Edwards-Bourdrez said the proposed hotel would fit the town beautifully. 

“I understand that there can be all these of glitches [in the process] but I would ask for all of us to rise up together in support of this,” Edwards-Bourdrez said. “We have all the brains in here to put the pieces together in a way that they won’t fall apart, it won’t choke the village — I don’t believe it will.”

Edwards-Bourdrez also touched on the issue of parking. 

“Nobody that goes into New York City or a bigger town worries about walking 5 to 10 minutes to where they are going,” he said. “There is parking, you just sometimes can’t park right next to where you want to go. We have to make these concessions for us to grow as a village.” 

The village’s parking study found that on a typical weekend, defined as Friday and Saturday evenings, there is ample available parking “within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”

Lenny Olijnyk, of Northport, said everybody was against the theater until O’Neill took over and renovated it in 2007. He argued that the hotel would increase the village’s commercial tax base. 

“Maybe we can clean up the streets a little bit, the sidewalks will get fixed,” Olijnyk said. “You have to think about that. The village wants to grow, my grandkids are going to live here. There has to be revenue for the village.”

O’Neill felt strongly in order for his theater business and others to strive they must work together in a positive way. 

“It’s just not sitting up here trying to make money, there’s more to it,” he said. “I don’t believe in sucking the community dry where we do business.” 

 

 

By Bill Landon

The Northport Tigers stood alone atop the League II leaderboard at 9-2 when they hit the road against Half Hollow Hills East, 8-2, who looked to displace the Tigers for the top spot. Displace them they did when the Thunderbirds defeated Northport,  64-50, Jan. 25 on their own home court.

Northport’s defense struggled to contain Hills East’s Shamar Moore-Hough who led the Thunderbirds in scoring with 19 points.

Northport sophomore guard Pat Healy led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points, senior forward Ian Melamerson followed adding 13 and junior guard Sean Walsh banked 11.

The loss bumps Northport from their perch to second place in league with four games remaining before the postseason begins. The Tigers will retake the court Jan. 31 hosting Lindenhurst at 6 p.m.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By David Luces

Northport school administrators gave taxpayers their first glimpse at what potential issues the district will face as it starts to draft its 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave his first overview of the Northport-East Northport school district’s preliminary budget for 2019-20 at the Jan. 24 board of education meeting. The highlights includes two large expenses to the district are expected to decrease based on his initial calculations, but the schools have a different challenge to contend with.

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less. Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge,”

— Robert Banzer

The superintendent said the district’s state-mandated employer contribution to the Teacher Retirement System is anticipated to drop from 10.62 down to somewhere between 9.5 and 8.5 percent, and health care insurance premiums are projected to decrease. 

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less,” he said. “Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge.”

For 2019-20, Banzer explained the district will be permitted to raise taxes by up to 3.22 percent and remain with the state-mandated tax cap. The number can raise above the often cited 2 percent for numerous reasons including tax-base growth and rollover from prior years.

The superintendent said the district’s officials will be mindful of trying to draft a budget that comes in at or below the cap.

“Potentially it will be 3.22 percent, but I hope that it is less and we save taxpayers some money,” trustee David Badanes said.

The district’s budget for the current year is $166,810,381. According to the superintendent, the budget amount has increased by around 1.5 percent each year since the 2013-14 school year. Over half the budget is attributed to personnel’s salaries, about a quarter of it is attributed to employee benefits, according to Banzer. 

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000. About 10 percent of the district’s revenue comes in the form of state aid, the district is currently projected to receive more than $16 million based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) 2019 Executive Budget. Banzer noted that it is only a projected number, and one he hopes could be higher once the actual budget is passed.

There’s work to be done in between. There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

— Robert Banzer

One challenge the school district must face is how to deal with the continued declining enrollment. The superintendent projected the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

“That’s pretty significant, a lot of it has been in the elementary level,” Banzer said. “Things are starting to level off there but now it seems like it is coming to the secondary level.”

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000.

The next Northport school board meeting dedicated to the 2019-20 budget overview will be March 7 at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The district has approximately four months to refine the budget before the vote slated for May 21.

“There’s work to be done in between,” the superintendent said. “There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

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By Bill Landon

A Northport junior raced to the head of his class in the League II boys track and field finals, and he never looked back.

Thomas Fodor was the first to cross the line in both the 600 and 1,000-meter events Jan. 19 at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. Fodor’s winning times were 1 minute 26.51 seconds, and 2:37.57, respectively.

Finishing behind Fodor for a one-two finish in the 600 race was senior Kiernan Weaver, who clocked in at 1:28.09.

Northport senior Sean Ryan tripped the clock at 2:38.48 for second place in the 1,000 race. He also rose to the top of the field at the 1,600 distance with a time of 4:28.89.

In the grueling 3,200 distance, Northport Tigers claimed two top spots on the podium. Senior Jason Gibbons placed second, clocking in at 10:13.41. A bright spot in the freshman-sophomore class (Section 2) was Northport ninth-grader Wyeth Semo who won 1,600 race with a time of 4:54.65.

Pictured, clockwise from top left: Freshman Michael Perrino competes in the long jump event covering a distance of 15-6; Weaver races second place in the 600; Ryan leads the way winning the 1,600 race followed by teammate Aidar Matthews in bib no. 4641 who finished in fifth; junior Luke Cacic finished first in the League 2 shot put eclipsing his personal best by 3 feet throwing 44-5; and Semo took first in the 1,600 for Section 2 (freshman-sophomore division).

The Tigers will be back at the Brentwood campus Feb. 11 for the state qualifiers.

Michael Bento, of Northport village, announced plans to run for Huntington town council Jan. 3. Photo from Bento

A Northport millennial brazenly kicked off 2019 by kicking off his campaign to become a councilman in the Town of Huntington.

Michael Bento, 30, announced his intention to run for a seat on Huntington town board Jan. 3 while standing underneath the towers of the Northport power plant.

“I’m running as someone who grew up out here and now lives here with my wife and am hoping to raise a family here” Bento said. “I would like a Huntington that is not plagued by flooding, high taxes, corruption and has an infrastructure that can handle our cars.”

I would like a Huntington that is not plagued by flooding, high taxes, corruption and has an infrastructure that can handle our cars.” 

— Michael Bento

Bento said he spent his summers growing up at his grandparent’s house in Asharoken. He’s building a career working as a consultant for investment banking operations and corporate giving compliance. 

A registered Democrat, the new candidate said he’s been inspired watching the 2016 and 2018 election cycles where a larger number of young candidates ran for office. Bento said he has worked with the party on six campaigns in 2018, including canvassing for newly elected state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).

“I’m running a people-centric campaign,” he said. “I am running to represent those people who have not been listened to by this or prior administrations.”

Bento said he plans to focus his campaign on his plan for bold, progressive infrastructural upgrades across the Town of Huntington to address widespread environmental issues. Key to this proposal includes improving the area’s coastal resiliency plans, starting with rebuilding Asharoken’s seawall, improving bulkheads, replenishing dunes and creating a system of townwide stormwater drains to deal with roadway runoff, something he said can serve as a precursor for a future sewer system.

He wants to spotlight the issue of affordable housing along with the need to be responsible in future development of Huntington.

I am running to represent those people who have not been listened to by this or prior administrations.” 

— Michael Bento

“We should not have giant, looming buildings in downtown Huntington where roads and the parking infrastructure is already strained to the maximum,” Bento said. “We need to be responsible about this. Part of the reason people want to live and grow up in Huntington is its historic architecture and charm.”

The new candidate said he genuinely appreciates the town’s history. In 2017, Bento received his master’s degree in history with a focus on public policy from Queens College. He’s suggested a shift away from apartment complexes toward tax incentives to purchasing property for low-income families.

Yet, the candidate said he recognizes there are political challenges in the months ahead. The first being gaining enough name recognition to get on the ballot, as he could potentially face a primary opponent. He’s launched a Facebook page titled Michael P. Bento for Huntington Town Council with plans to gradually role out a full social media campaign.

If elected, Bento said he will pledge to be a full-time councilman with no outside income or side jobs. He also plans to decline accepting any corporate donations.

“My job is to the people of Huntington, to the voters and that is one of the biggest things I can offer,” he said.

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By Bill Landon

The Lady Tigers made short work of visiting Lindenhurst in a League II matchup winning, 66-34, Jan. 7.

Northport girls varsity basketball team broke out to a double-digit lead early in the opening quarter and never looked back. Junior guard Danielle Pavinelli led the way for Northport banking seven field goals and two free throws for a total of 16 points. Co-captain senior Hannah Stockman nailed three triples and a pair of field goals netting 13 points, followed by junior guard Kelly McLaughlin who hit four field goals along with one from the charity strip for nine points.

With the win Northport improves to 4-1 in league (7-2 overall). The Lady Tigers will compete next at home against Smithtown West Bulls Jan. 11 at 6 p.m.

From left, Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation; Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy; and Rev. Bette Sohm, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church with the $35,000 check. Photo from St. Paul's United Methodist Church

A Northport congregation’s prayers for help to save its historic steeple have not fallen on deaf ears.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church received a $35,000 grant from New York Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program Dec. 4. The funds from the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to preserve and revitalize architecturally significant buildings, will be used to help restore the church’s historic steeple that towers over Northport village.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re absolutely thrilled to hear that we’ve earned this to fund the steeple work,” said Greg Polli, chairman of St. Paul’s board of trustees.

St. Paul’s church, originally built in 1873, is a red-brick late Greek Revival-style church designed by local architect and builder B.T. Robbins. Rising from the building is the iconic, white-painted wooden shutter board steeple capped with a copper dome.

“Long Island’s long history is reflected in its religious architecture,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “The conservancy is pleased to be able to help this remarkable building continue to serve [its] congregations and communities.”

The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites grants are supported by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, a Hampton Bays nonprofit that supports the study of New York State history.

The bell tower’s issues date back more than a decade. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, a member of the church for 26 years, said churchgoers noticed rainwater was leaking into the sanctuary, but determining the source of the issue took a lot of guess work. For nearly a decade, St. Paul’s churchgoers used a system of pots and pans to catch the water and even went as far as to replace the building’s roof without solving the issue.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” said Pastor Kristina Hansen, former religious leader of St. Paul’s. “The steeple was the culprit all along.”

The leak gradually limited the church’s activities, according to Edwards-Bourdrez, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performances of its bell choir during inclement weather. St. Paul’s launched a successful capital campaign in October 2017 that exceeded its original goal of raising $300,000, according to Polli, to make much-needed structural repairs that included the steeple, securing its aging stained-glass windows and upgrading its bathrooms to be handicapped accessible.

“Before we began the formal capital campaign, we communicated to our congregation what we wanted to do, asked what they wanted to do and what our priorities should be,” he said. “The steeple was the top priority.”

Polli said the church has received a preliminary estimate of $150,000 to repair the structure and hopes to start work in the early spring of 2019. Some interior projects, like the renovations of the womens bathroom, have already been completed.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district trustees voted decisively 6-1 against arming its school guards with firearms after nearly nine months of intense debate.

More than 100 Northport parents, students and concerned residents attended the Nov. 28 board of education meeting at Northport High School where the community members were given one last opportunity to give their opinions on whether to hire armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February that killed 17 people. The majority of those who took to the mic to voice an opinion stood overwhelmingly against the proposition.

“The evidence is clear: If you put armed guards in our schools you are making the children in this community feel less safe, you will not deter crime, you are not avoiding a school shooting, and you will be escalating a dangerous situation not de-escalating it,” Greg Perles, of East Northport, said.

The evidence is clear: If you put armed guards in our schools you are making the children in this community feel less safe…”

— Greg Perles

Andrew Rapiejko, president of Northport-East Northport board of education, said district trustees have received an outpouring of emails from the community over the past several months, voicing their opinions on the issue of hiring armed security guards.

“I did note that some of the comments were kind of short and to the point, on quite a number of them I did note that people took a lot of time to write a number of paragraphs, not using a form letter but their feelings and describing their opinions, researching and looking at options one way or another,” he said. “I want to say I really appreciate that and thank you for that.”

David Stein, vice president of the school board, had put forth a proposal for the district to hire 10 armed security guards, one for each of the district’s buildings, for a trial period of 120 days with instruction to Superintendent Robert Banzer to provide an in-depth analysis of the program after 90 days for the board of education to review.

“That’s ridiculous, with all due respect,” trustee David Badanes said. “If there’s no incident in 120 days does it prove armed security guards work? We have many school districts that don’t have armed security guards and have not faced an issue. It proves nothing.”

That’s ridiculous, with all due respect.”

— David Badanes

Badanes said he was “touched” by emails a number of recent Northport graduates and students who, he said, spoke out unanimously against armed guards. He felt armed security personnel also negatively impact students of minority racial groups or low-income families and lead to an increased likelihood of arrests for low-level offenses such as disorderly conduct.

There are approximately five Suffolk County school districts, including neighboring Kings Park, that have moved forward with a decision to arm security personnel with firearms. Donna McNaughton, a Northport board member, said it was “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make” but opposed doing the same.

“I am not comfortable as a member of a school board that I could craft an RFP, or proposal, and sanction how you could arm someone properly to protect students,” she said. “I cannot in good conscious put a weapon in a school on a person I cannot be confident is trained properly.”

If the district had moved to hire 10 armed guards, trustee Lori McCue said it would have cost the district approximately $450,000 for one full school year.

“I cannot in good conscious put a weapon in a school on a person I cannot be confident is trained properly.”

—Donna McNaughton

“So many people will say we cannot put a price on the safety of our students, and I 100 percent agree with you in theory,” McCue said. “Unfortunately, we sit up here every year at budget time and have to put a price on every single thing we do for our students. That is a very large number for something we cannot predict the outcome of.”

Stein, who has law enforcement background and is a retired lieutenant from New York Police Department, was the sole vote in support of the district hiring armed guards. The board member said his decision was based, in part, on learning that Suffolk County Police Department reported an average response time of five minutes to an emergency at the district’s Oct. 11 security forum and had never conducted a full-scale drill in any of the district’s buildings. One notable exception he said is Ocean Avenue Elementary School, which often has a police officer on site or less than a minute away, who knows the building and has drilled on site.

“As a board and district, how do we address that disparity between how different schools are being protected? How do we reconcile it? I don’t know that we can,” he said. “We have to protect our schools in some fashion now while lobbying Suffolk County for additional programs and support.”

I am just completely relieved that they decided to follow through, and after consideration they decided to vote no on the armed guards.”

— James Connor

Several parents asked the board to move forward to improve security by constructing security vestibules at each school building, ensure all doors are closed and armed at all times, trim hedges and bushes away from windows and entryways, ensure staff members are trained in first aid and tourniquet use, and make sure both teachers and students take lockdown drills seriously. Several Northport High School students had said their peers often laugh, chat and text on their phones during drills.

James Connor, a sophomore at Northport High School who advocated against armed guards at several board meetings, said he was relieved by the school board members decision.

“I am just completely relieved that they decided to follow through, and after consideration they decided to vote no on the armed guards,” he said. “Regarding school security, there are a lot of steps left to take, but in my opinion armed guards are not one of them.”

His sentiments were also echoed by his  mother, Amy — relief at the board’s decision.

During the week of  Thanksgiving, Northport students and faculty wanted to make clear their unwavering support for one of their own.

Northport school district held a charitable volleyball tournament Nov. 19 at the high school to raise funds and show support for 14-year-old Miles Lerner.

Miles was on his way to cross-country practice Sept. 4 when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound on Laurel Hill Road at 8:06 a.m., according to police. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious head trauma. He has recently
returned home but faces extensive recovery.

More than 30 teams participated with players including Superintendent Rob Banzer and Dan Danbusky, principal of Northport High School.

The tournament winners were student team Ralph’s Italian Ices and staff Team Equation. The total amount raised was not available by press time Nov. 20.

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