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Port Jefferson Station

Blighted properties in upper Port Jefferson near the railroad station will soon receive a face-lift following the village’s receipt of a $500,000 grant from the state. Photo by Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson Village’s vision for upper Port revitalization became a little clearer this week. The village was awarded a $500,000 grant from Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm, as part of the Restore New York Communities Initiative, which was created to support municipalities in rehabilitating blighted commercial properties.

The money will be used for infrastructure and demolition needs on five adjacent parcels near the intersection of Perry Street and Main Street, about a block north of the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. This comes on the heels of the village receiving a $250,000 grant from Suffolk County earlier in January as part of its Jumpstart program for transit-based improvements around the train station. The village is calling the multiphase project Uptown Funk.

“I think the momentum is picking up behind us.”

— Margot Garant

“Now being recognized by New York state regional economic development dollars, that’s the exclamation point at the end of the sentence,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said in a phone interview. “I think the momentum is picking up behind us.”

The ultimate plan is to transform the area into a mixed-use, housing and retail area.

“This combined New York state and Suffolk County funding will be the turn-key to bring Uptown Funk alive, attracting young professionals, families and visitors to the area, spurring regional economic growth,” the village’s grant writer Nicole Christian said in a statement.

In an interview after receiving the Jumpstart money from the county, Garant stressed the importance of inter-municipal cooperation in trying to reach her goal of turning upper Port into a suitable gateway for the harborfront village.

“We’re working with all of these different agencies — largely state agencies — but to have the county executive and the county behind us giving us this kind of money, they’re investing in what we’re doing here,” she said. “They see the big picture, and I think that’s one of the things that made Steve [Bellone] a little unique in his role as county executive. He’s done this before in other areas and he knows what needs to be done.”

Village Grants for upper Port Revitalization

–$500,000 from New York State Empire State Development to address blighted/vacant buildings

–$250,000 from Suffolk County Jumpstart program for parking improvements at LIRR station

–$50,000 in state funds to finalize Urban Renewal Plan

The village took the step to commission a blight study in May 2016 in order to qualify for an urban renewal plan, which is required by New York state general municipal law. Because the study concluded the cluster of parcels was indeed a blighted area, the village will have the option to impose eminent domain over property owners should an agreement not be reached for the village to purchase the property, or if owners do not comply with the revitalization plans, according to Garant. The Mayor has said throughout the process she does not foresee the need for eminent domain to be used, but it is a “tool in the toolbox” should the village find it necessary. She added that she has spoken to property owners in upper Port who are excited to get the process started.

At a public hearing to discuss the urban renewal plan earlier in January, some people in the community were concerned about a lack of affordable housing in the area.

Barbara Sabatino, a Port Jefferson resident who owns Port Jeff Army Navy, a retail store in the blighted area, said she is in favor of revitalization, but acknowledged that redevelopment could push out hardworking families who can’t afford an increase in rent.

“Other than the people who rent a room out of their house — and there’s an awful lot of those in Port Jeff Station — I don’t see any safety net for those people,” she said. “If you want to clean up the area and make it more attractive, we need to change the mixture of tenants.”

Garant responded to Sabatino’s concerns.

“I think it’s a careful balance between wanting to keep young families and senior citizens and people who want to afford to live in the village as a family unit or individually, and other situations where you have people who bring other people in to help them pay the rent,” she said.

Other members of the village board have voiced their support for the project and desire to improve upper Port.

“I’m really happy to see the village moving forward on this particular issue,” trustee Bruce D’Abramo said during a board meeting in September. “It has been a clear goal of mine since I became a trustee to do something about upper Port, and this is one of the mechanisms that I’m happy we can embrace.”

The village has put out requests for qualifications to begin the process of selecting a private developer or developers, and they expect to begin the project sometime in the spring.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents a $250,000 check to officials from Port Jefferson Village for a revitilization project at the railroad station. Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stopped by Port Jefferson Station Jan. 19 to drop off a very generous gift. As part of the county’s Jumpstart program, an initiative established to fund infrastructure improvements for transit-oriented areas, Bellone presented a check for $250,000 to Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant for renovations slated for the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

“We have to make our region more attractive [to young people],” Bellone said in an interview. “If we’re going to bring young people back to this region, we have to deliver the things that they need and want.”

The plan for the Jumpstart money is to redevelop parking lots around the train station to increase spots and improve safety in the area. To receive the actual grant money the village must first spend $250,000 on the project before receiving a full reimbursement, according to Nicole Christian who is responsible for writing and obtaining grants for the village. Port Jefferson Village is also in the process of an urban renewal project that would address vacant and blighted buildings on Main Street in Port Jefferson Station. Both projects are part of Garant and the village’s master plan to revitalize upper Port Jefferson and turn it into a more appealing “gateway” for the harborfront village.

Bellone and Mayor Margot Garant look over the area set for improvements. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re working with all of these different agencies — largely state agencies — but to have the county executive and the county behind us giving us this kind of money, they’re investing in what we’re doing here,” Garant said in an interview. “They see the big picture and I think that’s one of the things that made Steve a little unique in his role as county executive. He’s done this before in other areas and he knows what needs to be done. This isn’t a lot of money coming from the county level, but it’s a lot. Every little bit helps us. Just getting this is extremely important.”

Bellone commended Garant for her leadership and vision in Port Jefferson Station.

“I think, clearly this is a model and every time you see a project like this it is [the] local leadership driving it forward that is indispensible to making it happen and making it a success,” he said. “Local leadership is indispensible and partnerships between different levels of government, the private sector, universities — coming together and working together to do something that’s important for the local community and for the region.”

Fifth District Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also praised Garant’s dedication to the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station.

“She’s been working a long time to make this happen,” Hahn said. “To have the dedication and commitment to work on a project for the amount of time and to keep at it, to see it through to now at a point where things are going up, things are getting built, we’re breaking ground on the whole vision and it takes someone special to see something through to the end.”

Hahn said she is also excited for the progress being made within her district.

“I think it’s critically important the county is investing in these types of projects, especially a transit-oriented development where we are focusing our redevelopment in an area that has access to public transportation, that makes much needed housing available for the university one stop away, that supports economic development on a number of levels,” she said.

Garant said the plan is to put the project out for bid and to begin work in the coming months.

While millions across the globe took part in the Women’s March on Washington and other sister marches Jan. 21, hundreds met on the corner of Route 347 and Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station to make their voices heard.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized and threatened many of us — immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault — and our communities are hurting and scared,” a website established to organize the marches states in its mission.

Community members who attended the event from across the North Shore reiterated many of those concerns during the march in Port Jeff Station, which according to the site was the only affiliated sister march on Long Island.

“I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

—Kathy Lahey

“Getting out here in unity and letting our voices be heard is crucial,” Port Jefferson resident Kathy Lahey said over a megaphone to those in attendance. Lahey said she was responsible for organizing the sister march, getting the word out and getting it officially recognized as an affiliate on the website. “We are all in this together. Together we will fight for equality, for fairness and for justice. I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

Women, men and children of all ages, races and backgrounds were represented at the march. The March on Washington and all of those affiliated were set up intentionally to coincide with President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20 as a means to combat what they view as his alienating rhetoric during the campaign, and since his election victory, as well as to voice opposition for several policies on his agenda and nominations for his cabinet positions. Health care, equal rights, demanding the release of the President’s tax returns and immigration policy were among the topics most frequently referenced by signs and chants by attendees.

President Trump addressed the worldwide marches through his personal Twitter account.

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views,” he said Jan. 22, though he later added if all present had gone out and vote they may have been heard sooner.

Many in attendance said they weren’t sure what to expect when they decided to attend, but were blown away by the unity and solidarity they felt upon arriving.

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road, in the end love will always win,” Daniela McKee of Setauket said. McKee said she is a teacher, and brought her own kids with her to experience the event. “I think it’s important that they learn from a very early age that they have to fight for what they believe in and for their rights and equality.”

Joyce Edward of Jefferson Ferry, who is in her 90s, shared her reasons for marching.

“We’re going so far back, it’s sad,” she said. “I think it is important and I hope that maybe our congress people will pay attention. I don’t think Mr. Trump will. He pays attention to one person: himself.”

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road.”

—Daniela McKee

Edward added that her deep concern for where the country is headed for her children and grandchildren inspired her to get out and participate.

She questioned if 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has been a vocal Trump supporter since he emerged as the likely Republican Presidential candidate, would be an advocate for those unhappy with the President’s beliefs and proposed policies.

“If he’s behind Trump then I’m not behind him,” Jeff Schroeder of Greenport also said of Zeldin. “It scares me that someone so far off from the ideologies of people I know is running our district.”

Zeldin addressed the march in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman.

“2017 presents new opportunities to improve our community, state and nation,” he said. “To move our country forward, unity amongst the American people is the most critical necessity. Ideological differences will always exist, but the pursuit of common ground must be the highest priority. In Congress, I have always been and remain willing to work with absolutely anyone to find common ground on anything wherever and whenever possible.”

New York State Sen. and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) was among those marching in New York City.

“Thank you to all the New Yorkers, Americans and people in NY, Washington, and all over the world who laced up your shoes today,” he said in an email. “It was only the beginning.”

Several marchers said they were encouraged by the overwhelming support the large crowd provided for them.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on. I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

—Mitchell Riggs

“It’s so heartening that people realize that they can actually be involved in changing things in government,” Sherry Eckstein of Huntington said.

Allyson Matwey of Wading River expressed a similar sentiment.

“I did not know what to expect coming here today, and I’m just in awe that there’s men, women, children — all ages, all everything here today, and it’s amazing,” she said.

Mitchell Riggs of Middle Island attended the march with two of his children, while his wife attended the New York City march.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on,” he said. “I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

While addressing the crowd, Lahey stressed the importance of seeing the march as the beginning of a movement, and not a solitary event.

“President Obama also said at his farewell speech that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it,” she said. “And here we are — hundreds, maybe thousands — standing together on a street corner in solidarity, a group of ordinary people getting involved, getting engaged, demanding that our servants do what we hired them to do. … Contact your representatives on a regular basis. … Let them know we are here, we are involved, we are engaged and we are not going away.”

Edna White offers a section of clementine to her granddaughter, Alexandria McLaurin. Photo by Donna Newman

In today’s world, the loudest voices often preach a message of divisiveness and look to create an environment that excludes rather than accepts. This message runs contrary to the one preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and [his] vision for a just and peaceful future.

The invitation extended to community members was made in those words for an event titled We Thirst for Justice at the Bates House in Setauket Jan. 16 — the designated commemoration of the birth of the civil rights leader.

The event was organized by Michael Huffner, co-founder of the Community Growth Center with locations in Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station, in partnership with the All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. A newly formed service organization, The Spot — a new service group that provides resources, community and mentoring— and artist Alex Seel of the Center for Community Awareness facilitated a collaborative art project for the multifaith gathering. Each person was invited to record his/her vision of justice on a small square of colored paper. Seel, assisted by Vanessa Upegui worked to merge the squares into a colorful mosaic.

Huffner said he hoped the celebration would inspire people to work collaboratively for justice.

Vanessa Upegui and Alex Seel pause to display their art project. Photo by Donna Newman

“What seems like a small piece of paper can become a beautiful work of art when combined with others,” he said at the event. “What seems like a small voice becomes a sound capable of changing the world when combined with others … Dr. King’s message is simple. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must be the light; we must be the love that Dr. King spoke about.”

The Rev. Farrell Graves, spiritual leader of the All Souls Church, an associate chaplain at Stony Brook University and a founder of The Spot, added his take on the day’s significance.

“This is the joyful part of our work,” he said at the event. “We also have some more difficult work — to stand up for the common good. Freedom is for everyone, or it’s for no one. The cost of our freedom is constant vigilance, and by that I mean awareness, and I include in that self-awareness … If we don’t have the courage to look ourselves in the face, then fear and scapegoating take over. We start blaming others for our inadequacies … This is not yet the world that Martin Luther King envisioned. If we want to change the world, we must have the courage to change ourselves.”    

Seel stressed the importance of the fact that the civil rights movement of the ’60s was a collaborative effort and that such an endeavor is needed again to further the cause of justice in our country in our time.

“What we need now is leadership,” he said. “We need leaders who will bring different faith communities together. There needs to be a call to engage in a clear and effective goal.”

The event included live music and a diversity of foods. More than 65 people attended and, while the host organizations encouraged mixing and mingling, when approached, most people admitted they were sitting with people they already knew.

Jill Gallant of the engineering company VHB explains Port Jefferson’s urban renewal project at a public hearing at Village Hall Jan. 3. Photo by Alex Petroski

Plans to bring new life to upper Port Jefferson are in effect, as residents and village officials weighed in on the proposed renewal project this week.

Revitalization of businesses and infrastructure in upper Port, the area of Main Street south of North Country Road and north of the Long Island Rail Road train tracks, has been on the mind of the village board of trustees for more than a year. The community had the chance to voice its opinion on the proposed urban renewal project at a public hearing Jan. 3, when a representative from VHB, an engineering and planning firm, presented the findings of a blight study and laid out the plan.

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant shows attendees at a public hearing Sept. 26 plans for the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

A blight study was ordered by the village in May 2016 in order to qualify for an urban renewal plan, which is required by New York State general municipal law. Based on the findings of the study, the board determined the area was appropriate for an urban renewal project. The village hopes to eliminate substandard conditions identified in the blight study, redevelop vacant and deteriorating properties, create new housing opportunities, improve public safety, and generate economic activity and support for retail and service establishments through development of new housing in the area. VHB recommends a mix of ground-floor retail and commercial uses and upper-floor living spaces as a way to address several concerns in the blight study.

The study found the upper Port area has a number of poor building and lot conditions, a cluster of vacant lots and storefronts, lots that don’t conform to zoning regulations, building code violations and public safety issues.

As a result of the blight study, if necessary the village can now impose eminent domain on property owners in an effort to promote growth and development, meaning the village government now has the right to take land from a property owner in exchange for compensation. Village Mayor Margot Garant has repeatedly said the board has no plans to use eminent domain currently, but called it “another tool in the toolbox,” adding she hopes to have full cooperation from owners in the area.

Several community members voiced concerns about a lack of affordable housing in the area as a result of the plan.

Barbara Sabatino, who owns Port Jeff Army Navy, a retail store in the blighted area and lives in Port Jefferson, said she is in favor of revitalizing the area, but acknowledged that redevelopment could push out hardworking families who can’t afford an increase in rent.

“Other than the people who rent a room out of their house — and there’s an awful lot of those in Port Jeff Station — I don’t see any safety net for those people,” she said. “If you want to clean up the area and make it more attractive, we need to change the mixture of tenants.”

“Just getting people interested in redeveloping uptown is no easy task.”

— Margot Garant

Garant responded to Sabatino’s concerns.

“I think it’s a careful balance between wanting to keep young families and senior citizens and people who want to afford to live in the village as a family unit or individually, and other situations where you have people who bring other people in to help them pay the rent and it’s an uncontrollable rental situation,” she said. Garant reiterated the village’s preference would be to have a private developer revitalize the area in partnership with property owners without requiring the use of eminent domain.

Village resident John Koehnlein also expressed concerns about the project and the affordability of living in Port Jefferson upon its completion.

“To make it work you have to have families in there and it has to be affordable,” he said. “You’re also going to displace a lot of the families that are there right now.”

Garant explained the difficult position the village is in with trying to revitalize the area while maintaining a level of affordability.

“We’re trying to partner with Stony Brook University, we’re trying to partner with a lot of different entities to get more interest in redeveloping uptown,” she said. “Just getting people interested in redeveloping uptown is no easy task.”

The plan will still require official board approval in the coming weeks to proceed.

Helping the Port Jefferson Station community has been Celina Wilson’s, center, mission since the 1980s. Photo from Facebook

By Rebecca Anzel

When Celina Wilson moved to Port Jefferson Station in 1985, she noticed her new community was underserved — and that she could help. Some Spanish-speaking female residents had problems accessing health care, specifically mammograms.

A nurse and Spanish-speaker herself, Wilson worked to partner with the American Cancer Association to bring these women informational materials, teach them how to conduct self-examinations and schedule mammograms with a mobile service.

She founded Bridge of Hope Resource Center in 1998 with her husband to continue helping Port Jefferson Station residents get free health care by partnering with other organizations and community leaders. As other issues the community faced came to her attention, Wilson expanded the scope of Bridge of Hope to include them.

The organization gets feedback from residents and takes them straight to public officials. So far, it has tackled issues such as safety in schools post-Sandy Hook and drug abuse awareness and prevention.

“I believe that the more awareness you raise about issues communities face, the less chance there is of our communities becoming unstable,” Wilson said. “I really want Port Jefferson Station to stay strong.”

For her work advocating for Port Jefferson Station residents and fighting to combat drug abuse, Times Beacon Record News Media is recognizing Celina Wilson as a Person of the Year.

“Celina Wilson is a resource for Port Jeff Station — she’s been doing this for decades,” Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview. “She does this because she cares so much about not only her own children, but all our children, and I am just so impressed by her.”

Bridge of Hope uses education as a tool to help show community members why drug use is dangerous. Wilson said she thinks it is important to share information about the “basics” of drug abuse — what changes it makes in a user’s brain, risk factors that might lead to someone turning to drugs and signs someone is using.

“We work to make sure that when you look at Port Jefferson Station, people know it’s a community that’s got it together and can weather any problems.”

— Celina Wilson

She shared that information in an educational forum at Port Jefferson High School in mid-October. Also on the panel was a Stony Brook Children’s Hospital doctor of adolescent medicine and a scientist who focuses on addiction’s effect on the brain. The event marked the first time Bridge of Hope was able to host an educational event in a school.

The goal of the forum, Wilson said, was to educate parents and others in attendance about the “root causes” of drug abuse. She expressed to parents there are signs to look for and risk factors that might lead their children to turn to drugs — such as not understanding the world around them and a lack of confidence and self-esteem — and stressed the importance of keeping an open line of communication with their children.

“It’s important that parents are educated about these things so they don’t feel helpless,” Wilson said. “I found out a week or two later the parents there were receptive to the information we shared at the forum, which was a big accomplishment for us.”

Other educational efforts include publishing an article called “The Amazing Human Brain” on the Bridge of Hope website that focuses on brain function and working to create a traveling museum exhibit to make the community more aware of drug abuse.

Dori Scofield, founder of Dan’s Foundation for Recovery, worked with Wilson on the exhibit, which will launch next year. She said she loves the work Bridge of Hope does making a difference in the community.

“Celina is amazing and I love working with her on community issues,” she said. “She is an inspiration to all of us who work in the field of improving life for all.”

Bridge of Hope also works in Brentwood, Central Islip and Bay Shore, but creating a support system for residents in Port Jefferson Station is not any less important to Wilson now than it was when the organization was founded 18 years ago.

“We really want our community to stay strong and our families to have stability. We don’t want to hear about our youths overdosing,” Wilson said. “We work to make sure that when you look at Port Jefferson Station, people know it’s a community that’s got it together and can weather any problems.”

The organization also offers mentoring opportunities for teens in need of extra guidance.

To contact Bridge of Hope Resource Center call 631-338-4340 or visit www.bridgeofhoperc.com.

Wahlburgers on Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station is now open. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Station has some new kids on the block.

The Wahlberg family, of Hollywood and boy band fame, has brought its restaurant chain to Port Jefferson Station. The “lucky 13th” Wahlburgers, as general manager for the restaurant Amani Mousa referred to it in a phone interview, is located at 4837 Nesconset Highway and opened last week. The business announced its opening with a Facebook post Dec. 8 that read “call ya mutha, we’re open.”

One of Walhburgers’ famous burgers, as seen on their menu. Photo from Wahlburgers' website
One of Walhburgers’ famous burgers, as seen on their menu. Photo from Wahlburgers’ website

The menu features choices created by the chain’s head chef, Paul Wahlberg, who is the brother of the more commonly known Mark and Donnie. Mousa said the idea behind the restaurant and its menu is to provide customers with wholesome, comfort food and an environment that preaches the Wahlbergs’ family values — with hospitality coming from the heart.

“It reflects the Wahlbergs’ lifestyle growing up,” Mousa said of the family-friendly chain, which has another New York location in Coney Island to go along with the Port Jefferson Station spot.

Wahlburgers offers fresh burgers, homemade condiments, chicken sandwiches, frappes (which can be spiked), a full bar and even macaroni and cheese named after Alma Wahlberg, the mother of the famous brothers. Some of the grill items are inspired by the father, Donald Wahlberg. All of the condiments are made in-house, from scratch, by the chef. The restaurant has several televisions around a full bar, and is decorated with photos of the entire Wahlberg family.

“While our menu has evolved, one thing that remains the same is our commitment to serving you the freshest possible meals and providing a place where your family and friends can make fond memories,” the company’s mission states on its website. “We’re not kidding when we say that making you happy, makes us happy.”

Wahlburgers' macaroni and cheese, as seen on their menu. Photo from Wahlburgers' website
Wahlburgers’ macaroni and cheese, as seen on their menu. Photo from Wahlburgers’ website

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and offers a hybrid style, with full-service dining, take-out or counter service options. It is located in the building that previously played host to Road Trip American Ale House and El Dorado Bar and Grill. Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Director of Operations Barbara Ransome said she hopes the location finally has a partner with some staying power.

“It seems like an appropriate venue for these types of restaurants — why they’re not surviving, I’m not sure,” Ransome said. “The location is good … it’s in that area where people are looking for that type of food and it’s family-orientated.”

Ransome said Wahlburgers is not yet a member of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.

Mousa said she is excited about the location because of the shear volume of cars that pass it on a daily basis, and believes that will lead to success.

Reviews on the location’s Facebook page are mixed so far, with complaints about wait times and slow service, though some raved about the new dining experience.

“Really great burgers, delish tater tots and onion rings,” one visitor wrote. “My son loved his Thanksgiving sandwich (I tasted it, and it was indeed really, really good. I would order one.). The Fluffernutter was outrageously delicious. Our server was awesome, despite slightly slow service that I think was due to it being opening day, so I won’t hold it against the place or our server at all. All in all, a really solid burger place, a truly enjoyable meal and we will be back!”

The operations of the chain’s various locations can be observed in greater detail on the television show with the same name on A&E.

Erik Westerlund, 33, of Deer Park is charged with driving under the influence of drugs after he collided with another driver Dec. 8. Photo from SCPD
Erik Westerlund, 33, of Deer Park is charged with driving under the influence of drugs after he collided with another driver Dec. 8. Photo from SCPD

A Port Jefferson Station man is being treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital after a crash with a driver who was under the influence of drugs Thursday night, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. Police arrested a Deer Park man after the incident in Mount Sinai Dec. 8 at about 11:15 p.m.

John Barbera, 18, of Port Jefferson Station was operating a 2005 Hyundai eastbound on Route 25A when he attempted to turn left onto Echo Avenue and was struck by a 2006 Chrysler, headed westbound, operated by Erik Westerlund, 33, of Deer Park.

Barbera was transported to SBU Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. Barbera’s passenger, Kuishon Glover, 18, of Sound Beach, was transported to SBU Hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Westerlund was arrested and charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He was treated for minor injuries.

Attorney information for Westerlund was not immediately available.

Both vehicles have been impounded for safety checks and the investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about this crash to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

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Members of Mather Hospital’s leadership team break ground on a new ambulatory surgery center in Port Jefferson Station Nov. 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

With construction officially underway in a secluded lot on Route 112, North Shore residents are one step closer to an efficient and cost-effective surgery center that will provide in-and-out care to its patients while eliminating many of the hassles associated with visits to the hospital.

On Nov. 22, staff from John T. Mather Memorial Hospital and 19 community surgeons stood on the site in hard hats and broke ground on what will be the freestanding Port Jefferson Ambulatory Surgery Center in Port Jefferson Station. The outpatient facility will feature six operating rooms equipped to handle procedures in orthopedics, ophthalmology, pain management, general surgery, neurosurgery and otolaryngology. The project, which cost approximately $12 million and has been in the planning stages for about five years, will be far less expensive to run than a hospital, which means cost savings for patients and the health care system overall. It will also open up more space at Mather for patients that require a more complex procedure and a lengthier hospital stay.

“…at the surgery center, you seem to be able to get in and out more efficiently and that saves you personal time, saves money, and saves cancellations. It just makes the overall patient experience so much better.”

— Michael Fracchia

Those involved in the project said they hoped for the facility’s doors to officially open in the summer of 2017. For now, though, they’re just pleased things are finally moving forward.

“As we’ve been saying — at long last,” Kenneth Roberts, chief executive officer of Mather Hospital, said during the groundbreaking. “We’ve been working on this project for a long time now, so we’re very happy to see it finally getting pushed forward.”

During an indoor celebration after the groundbreaking ceremony, Mather’s Director of Orthopedic Surgery Michael Fracchia said he was excited about what the center will mean for the community.

“People love these types of facilities because they can get in-and-out service and it’s truly less intrusive on their lives,” Fracchia said. “If you have something done in a hospital, it’s always an all-day event, no matter what it is. But at the surgery center, you seem to be able to get in and out more efficiently and that saves you personal time, saves money, and saves cancellations. It just makes the overall patient experience so much better.”

Fracchia said the facility will be able to run more efficiently because it won’t need the sort of complex technologies often found in hospitals. A patient might need an intensive care unit or an MRI or CT scan, he said, and while these are wonderful technologies, they’re also expensive and require maintenance. By eliminating these systems, the surgical centers can treat more patients at a quicker pace.

“We want to provide more care,” said Brian McGinley, orthopedic surgeon and president of the project. “We can potentially do more while maintaining our inpatient surgery at Mather. The community will have access here, rather than having to go to Nassau County or into the city.”

McGinley said that while planning the project, the team interviewed many companies that specialize in developing ambulatory service centers around the country. They found a fitting partner in Pinnacle III, a company based in Colorado that has successfully facilitated the opening of comparable facilities nationwide. This will be the first Pinnacle III facility in New York State.

In a press release, Robert Carrera, the CEO/president of Pinnacle III, said the company is excited to partner with and assist the local physicians as well as Mather Hospital in bringing high quality and cost-effective services to the Port Jefferson area.

The doctors all agreed on the project’s mission: to provide cost-effective quality health care to as many people on the North Shore as possible.

“You come in here, you drive in, you get taken care of and you don’t have to go through all the hoops that you would at a hospital,” Port Jefferson-based general surgeon Nicholas Craig said. “The doctors have all been in the community for a long time. We not only work here, we live here, so you get taken care of by people who care about their community … and when you care about your community, you care about the people in your community, and that’s what this is all about.”

Photo courtesy of Comsewogue Public Library

‘LITERACY BEGINS AT BIRTH’

The Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station recently announced that it has officially become a Family Place Library. Family Place Libraries redesign the library environment to be welcoming and appropriate for children beginning at birth and connect parents with resources, programs and services. Pictured from left are Kristen Todd-Wurm, Christine Kowalski, Director Debra Engelhardt, Audrey Asaro, Debbie Bush and Amanda Pendzick.

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