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Port Jefferson Village

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Meters are covered and fines will not be enforced in Port Jefferson Village lots through March 15. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The holidays have come early for anyone who has experienced the frustration of circling Main Street, to Arden Place, to East Main Street, to East Broadway and back to Main Street countless times in search of Port Jefferson’s most sought-after natural resource — a free parking space.

In keeping with annual tradition, Mayor Margot Garant announced the suspension of metered parking in village lots effective Dec. 5 through March 15, 2017, in a video posted on Port Jeff’s website, which had more than 27,000 views at the time of publication. Parking in a village-metered lot ordinarily costs 25 cents per half hour and is enforced from 10 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Parking on village streets is free, though there are varying time restrictions in most areas. Port Jeff Village residents always park for free in metered lots with special stickers on their cars, and for the time being, non-residents are afforded the same luxury.

Garant said, at a board meeting earlier in December, the idea behind suspending metered parking is to encourage visitors in the winter months to shop at and patronize Port Jeff businesses in the traditionally warm-weather destination. She added that in previous years the suspension of metered parking has extended into April if the weather in the area is particularly damaging for businesses in a given winter season.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announces the suspension of metered parking through March 15 in village lots. Photo from Port Jeff Village website

In the video, Garant watches kids ice skate at The Rinx located outside the Village Center. She then slides a blue cover over the meter in the parking lot adjacent to the ice rink.

“During the holiday season and during the winter months, come on down to the Village of Port Jefferson, come visit us, park for free, visit our restaurants and please support our local merchants,” Garant says in the video.

Revenue raised from metered parking is reinvested into various village projects, according to Garant. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe, who is also the board’s liaison to the parking committee, estimated the fund from parking meters has about $900,000 in it currently.

If it were unclear how big an issue parking is in Port Jefferson, on the village’s Port Jefferson Facebook page, the pinned post featuring the video had 480 shares and more than three times as many likes as any other post on the page in December. Comments on the post indicate most visitors to the village wish parking were free year-round, and others are more likely to visit because of the suspension.

“Love being down Port in the off season,” Yvette Ortiz-Baugh said.

One commenter suggested the difficult parking deters her from visiting the area.

“Parking has become a big nuisance and we go less often to shop there now,” Sue Korpus Ditkowsky said.

Village kayak racks at Centennial Park beach don't provide enough space to meet demand. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

Many kayak users in Port Jefferson Village were left without a paddle during the summer of 2016, and as a result, the board of trustees is examining ways to accommodate more aquatically inclined residents.

Signs detailing the Village's kayak policy are visible year round. Photo by
Signs detailing the Village’s kayak policy are visible year round. Photo by

The village currently supplies four wooden racks, which hold six kayaks each at two different beaches. Use of the racks is determined after applications are submitted and a lottery is held in April each year. About half of the applicants were not granted permits because of limited space for the 2016 season, according to Village Clerk Bob Juliano at a recent board meeting. Storage is provided so that kayakers can safely and conveniently leave their vessels near the water, rather than having to transport them every time they are to be used.

The lack of available storage resulted in about two-dozen vessels being left locked to trees or simply strewn across the beach without permission this past summer. There is no cost to obtain a permit if a resident is selected in the lottery.

“My goal is to expand the number of people able to store kayaks,” Trustee Stanley Loucks, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the recreation department, said in a phone interview. He said the village is actively working on changes to improve policies for the 2017 boating season. “What I want to do is put enough racks in for any Port Jeff resident who wants to have a kayak.”

Permanent signs have been in place warning beachgoers to remove kayaks and other small boats from the racks, and by extension, the surrounding areas, by Nov. 1 or be subject to fines. The signs also warn those without permits to refrain from leaving vessels altogether. Juliano said stickers were placed on the remaining boats Nov. 2, warning the owners to remove them within a five-day period, though the village didn’t act until about two weeks later. To retrieve their kayaks, owners are required to visit the Port Jefferson Department of Public Works and pay a $100 fee.

Loucks said kayak storage and the dumping of vessels without permits got “out of control” this year.

Port Jefferson residents Lois O’Donnell Kilkenny and Jodi Casciano said in Facebook messages that they would like permits to store their vessels, but they avoid the lottery altogether because they don’t think the chances of being selected are great. Demand for spaces may be greater than the village realizes.

“We sure would enjoy having more of them, so those of us who don’t have could obtain one,” O’Donnell Kilkenny said. “It gets harder to transport them as we get older! I know I would use it a lot more if we only had to pull it off the rack and go.”

“I have, like, a boatyard in front of my house.”
—Dorothy Court

Dorothy Court, Waterview Drive resident, which is adjacent to the Crystal Brook Hollow Road beach, said, at a public hearing on the matter in June, that she supported tougher rules.

“I have to deal with these kayaks every single day,” Court said. “I have, like, a boatyard in front of my house.”

Loucks said he is sympathetic to village residents who get shut out by the application process. “It’s a shame we have to limit the number of people,” he said.

According to Juliano, a Port Jefferson family had five kayaks tied together and locked around a tree that were seized by village personnel in November. They submitted a letter asking for leniency from the village when they learned of the $500 in fees required to retrieve the boats. The board approved a motion Nov. 28 to cut the fees in half.

Village Mayor Margot Garant was in favor of reducing the fine for the family, though she said at a recent board meeting that the fees are in place to discourage the practice of abandoning kayaks.

“It’s not really about the money, it’s about cleaning up the area,” she said.

Loucks said the board of trustees is considering moving existing racks to East Beach and removing them from the beach at the end of Crystal Brook Hollow Road, while also adding more to comply with demand. He said an experimental contraption was used on East Beach this year, though moving the racks there and adding more would be ideal. Garant added she would like to see the existing racks moved because of a lack of parking in the area.

The village provides racks with space for 24 kayaks at the beach at the end of Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai Harbor, and the same amount of spaces at the beach near the Village Center in Port Jefferson Harbor.

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Road work will begin in Port Jefferson and will continue for the next four months as PSEG will strengthen the area’s electrical grid. File photo by Kevin Redding

An arm of the federal government and a Long Island utility are working to ensure North Shore residents who lost power in their homes for weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 won’t go through that again.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with PSEG Long Island as part of its Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program to fortify electrical infrastructure in Port Jefferson Village and other areas in Brookhaven Town in the hopes of avoiding the widespread and lengthy outages associated with the 2012 storm. The project entails replacing existing wiring with more weather-resistant wire, installing new and more durable poles in several locations and installing or replacing equipment to help reduce the number of customers affected by an outage, according to PSEG.

“By putting in the storm-hardened equipment, the stronger wires, and the more weather-resistant poles, it will help to reduce the number of customers affected during a storm,” said Elizabeth Flagler, PSEG Long Island’s media relations specialist. “So when we get the high winds, the equipment will hold up better.”

The project’s $729 million in funds was secured in 2014 through an agreement between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, which helps communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a major disaster declaration. PSEG licensed and approved contractors will be doing the work for approximately the next four months in areas along Old Post Road, Hulse Road, Sheep Pasture Road, Main Street, Stony Hill Road and Belle Terre Road in Port Jefferson.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant is glad to see improvements being done to help residents in the event of another major storm.

“Working on these lines and hardening the grid I think is something that should be done constantly,” Garant said during a phone interview. She added she knew of people who live in the village that were without power for up to two weeks after Sandy. “In the modern day I think that’s pretty unacceptable.”

Garant also said the abundance of large and old trees on the North Shore pose another problem for electrical lines when wind gusts get powerful.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) stressed the importance of being ready for another disaster.

“The reliability of our electrical infrastructure is paramount,” she said in an email through Legislative Aide Jennifer Martin. “Communities, including residential customers and businesses must be able to depend on uninterrupted service. In the last few years we have seen many unprecedented extreme weather events and these events are expected to continue. As such, upgrades under the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program will be critically important to my district, much of which is on the North Shore, and to other districts throughout Long Island.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) took over his post a month after Hurricane Sandy hit. He said that in his first few weeks in office he was overwhelmed trying to recover from all of the damage it caused.

“All poles and wires were down, water was about knee high throughout all the streets — if not higher — and obviously, you want to be able to withstand the next storm,” he said.

Romaine did, however, suggest PSEG bury wires to further minimize damage.

“Costs for burying wires is about the same that you would pay to recover from a series of storms in a 30-year period,” he said. “It’s more costly in the short run, but in the long run there’s no difference, and you will be much better protected by buried wires.”

PSEG representatives say that they anticipate minor traffic interruptions, as well as some localized, short-duration power outages related to the project. The crews will generally work Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with limited evening and Sunday work.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting.

The North Country Peace Group attends Port Jefferson’s Dickens Festival for a sixth consecutive year to share their message about social injustices. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson’s 21st annual Dickens Festival brought together members of the community and neighboring areas for a weekend full of events based off Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 3 and 4. But for a group of local activists, the event was a reminder about social consciousness.

The North Country Peace Group, established in December 2002, has been periodically visible on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket to share its message. For the last six years members of the group have used the village’s holiday festival to expand their audience.

Myrna Gordon, a member of the group since its inception, was among the people passing out informational flyers and holding props in front of their faces to simulate being behind bars, which included the message “Debtor’s Prison — Justice for some, not for all,” among others with similar themes.

The group believes in nonviolent activism as a means to combat social injustice, poverty and inequality. They use the festival as a platform to highlight analogous issues in Charles Dickens 19th century London and present-day America.

“It’s important that people don’t forget while they’re moving around and being festive and being joyful, that we have a lot of things in our country that are filled with social injustice, economic injustice, class injustice — and we’d like to bring attention to it to let people think about it,” Gordon said while standing on the corner of East Main Street and Main Street in Port Jeff Village, where the group set up shop for the afternoon. “While they probably have thought about it for the last 18 months, it’s something that we’ve been doing here for six years now, and we feel it’s important to be part of this event. I’m a Port Jefferson resident, so I feel that this is my way of making a statement but in a different way.”

Gordon referenced the outcome of the presidential election as evidence that instances of social injustice may be heading in the wrong direction in 2016 America. She said she was concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, health care for women and education, among other issues going forward as a result of Donald Trump’s (R) surprising victory.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she had no problem with the group’s message or desire to use a popular village event to spread their message, given that they are conscious of keeping sidewalks and streets clear for festival attendees.

“That’s democracy at its highest form of expression,” she said during a phone interview. “I applaud them for taking time out of their day to come down and relay their message.”

Gordon has lived in Port Jefferson for almost 50 years, she said, and called the area a microcosm of the United States.

“I think Port Jefferson does have things that can be better, as in any small community,” she said.

Despite the celebratory nature of the event, which features performers in Dickensian attire, and the group’s use of props, Gordon said she wasn’t worried their message would be construed as part of the festival.

“They may not get the full scope of it, but I think once they see the signs a connection is being made,” she said. “Especially when they see the words ‘debtor’s prison,’ and then they read the contemporary statements underneath the signs. The same things went on then that are going on now.”

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Port Jefferson’s 21st Annual Charles Dickens Festival was Dec. 3 and 4 across the village. Visitors came out and experienced all of the sights, sounds and activities during Port Jefferson’s annual Charles Dickens Festival Dec. 3 and 4. Street performances, parades, a gingerbread house contest and several showings of A Christmas Carol at Theatre Three were just some of the fun attractions during the two-day holiday festival.

The Port Jefferson community lined Main Street in the village Nov. 26 to welcome a very special visitor. The annual Santa Parade saw the man himself riding his sleigh through the streets for hundreds of onlookers, along with floats from local Boy Scout troops, the Port Jefferson Ferry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board and many more. Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival begins Dec. 3.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

The divisive and inflammatory nature of the 2016 presidential election has raised concerns across the country about Americans’ ability to “come together” now that the dust has begun to settle. One Suffolk County organization was concerned enough to send a letter to school districts with a warning for administrators and teachers.

“We are concerned for the safety and well-being of the students of Suffolk County as we know you are as well,” the letter dated Nov. 10 from leaders of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission and Anti-Bias Task Force read. “We are reaching out to ensure that all school climates are one where students feel safe and supported physically, emotionally and academically.”

The Human Rights Commission has existed in Suffolk County since 1963 and it focuses on investigating claims of bias and discrimination. Rabbi Steven Moss has been the chairman of the organization for more than 20 years. He said they were compelled to write the letter in light of incidents, both local and across the country, that have been reported in the aftermath of Election Day.

“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people. We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are.”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I’m sure [people] realize bullying has occurred before the election and will continue onward,” Moss said in a phone interview. He said most incidents reported to the commission thus far have involved elementary-level students making references to deporting classmates.

Moss said he believes incidents involving younger students can easily be traced back to conversations at home, and because of this the commission plans to send a similar letter to local Parent Teacher Associations in the hopes of spreading the conversation beyond classrooms.

At Northport High School swastikas were drawn in spray paint on the walls of a theater storage room this week, according to Suffolk County Police. Moss said it is important for school administrators to act decisively and harshly with incidents like these, even if they fall short of constituting a crime, and Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer is taking the action seriously.

“Our primary objective as a school district is to educate our students in a safe and respectful environment,” Banzer said in an email. He added an investigation is ongoing. “The recent events in our high school have challenged us and make us realize that, although our students participate in many opportunities to build a respectful and safe environment, work remains.  Our high school principal Dan Danbusky is meeting with the student leaders to generate ideas about how best to address not only the recent incident but to help the school community further enhance dignity, respect and acceptance for all.”

Banzer also said the administration plans to meet with local religious leaders to gather their input and insights and assess programs to help the district meet its goals of being a more inclusive school community.

Port Jefferson Village organized a peaceful vigil that was held Nov. 20 at the Village Center designed to show community support for “all segments of society,” according to a press release.

“In response to the fear and hurt felt by so many, Suffolk County needed the opportunity to show everyone our support and commitment to ensuring their freedoms, and to reassure them that they have a safe space here,” Cindy Morris, a Suffolk County resident and co-organizer of the event said in a statement.

Moss said he is hoping much of the inflammatory conversation during the election season, especially from the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump (R), was rhetoric designed to dominate news cycles and spike polling numbers and eventually it will die down.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) shared many of the same concerns as Moss and the Human Rights Commission. He announced several actions Nov. 20 to protect civil rights and combat hate crimes in the state, including the creation of a State Police unit to investigate such crimes. He also plans to advance legislation that would expand protections of the state’s human rights law to all students, and to establish a legal defense fund to ensure immigrants have access to representation regardless of status.

“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are.”

The commission’s letter also called on school districts to share programs they already had in place designed to promote unity and togetherness. Some of those include a Gay/Straight Alliance, the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate campaign, the No One Sits Alone Campaign and suicide awareness and prevention programs, to name a few.

Banzer indicated Northport has several programs aimed at promoting inclusive school communities through unity and respect, and the district plans to continue that effort going forward.

Those who have experienced incidents of hate or discrimination are encouraged to reach out to the Human Rights Commission by calling 631-853-5480 or emailing humanrights@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Additional reporting contributed by Victoria Espinoza.

The pier at Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson needs repairs, according to a report by an engineering firm. Photo by Alex Petroski

After recent accounts of “shifting” and “swaying” of the pier in Harborfront Park, the Port Jefferson Village board of trustees commissioned a field assessment of the pier.

The Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc. conducted the assessment, made several recommendations — including instituting a maximum occupancy for the pier of 180 people — and noted several deficiencies that may need to be addressed.

The Village hosted its annual Port Jefferson Dragon Boat Race Festival Sept. 16 at Harborfront Park, which drew participants and spectators totaling in the hundreds. During the event, the pier was frequently packed with people, and according to the report, it could be felt swaying and shifting at various points throughout the day.

The assessment in part found “severe section loss” to pilings, or columns driven into the sediment that serve as a foundation for the platform, a missing washer and nut for one beam-to-piling connection, rusted connections between pieces of wood and a split in at least one cross-bracing. The report recommended that section loss to pilings and the missing washer and nut be addressed immediately, and called them “significant structural deficiencies.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant said in an email the issues will be addressed as a matter of “when” and not “if,” and the job will be put out for bid. Garant said the maximum occupancy recommendation would be increased when the improvements are completed. At a village board meeting Oct. 20, Garant estimated that, at any given point, there might have been as many as 200 people on the pier.

“We immediately asked everybody other than the boaters to get off the pier,” Garant said after accounts of swaying and shifting circulated Sept. 16. She added the assessment was ordered as an emergency. “It’s obviously showing some age and some wear and tear. … It’s something we’ll need to have addressed.”

Village Trustee Bruce D’Abramo was in favor of a proactive approach regarding the recommendations.

“They’ve called the village’s attention to a couple of issues [with the pier], I think that if we ignored it, it would not be good,” he said during the meeting on the Oct. 20.

The 337-feet long by 12-feet wide pier is made entirely of timber and was originally built in 1996. It was last modified in 2004, according to the report. The pier remains open for use, with the maximum occupancy restrictions in place.

The Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Taste at Port Jefferson event Saturday Oct. 22 at the Village Center, where visitors sampled local foods, wines and desserts from more than 35 North Shore based vendors.

 

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Mayor Margot Garant, Trustee Larry Lapointe and Trustee Bruce Miller prepare for Rocketship Park renovations with members of Cub Scout Troop 41. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson’s iconic Rocketship Park is getting a facelift this winter. Village board members, mayors past and present, local politicians, community members and donors gathered at the park Oct. 13 to commemorate the kick-off of the project.

From left; Trustee Stanley Loucks, Mayor Margot Garant, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Jennifer Martin, a representative from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright's (D-Port Jefferson) office, help to kick off Rocketship Park renovations. Photo by Alex Petroski
From left; Trustee Stanley Loucks, Mayor Margot Garant, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Jennifer Martin, a representative from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson) office, help to kick off Rocketship Park renovations. Photo by Alex Petroski

“In the seven years that I’ve been your mayor, we’ve done a lot of projects here in Port Jefferson … but of all of those projects, I don’t think one is more important or near and dear to our hearts than this little park, because Rocketship Park is really the heartbeat of the community,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

In all, nearly $275,000 has been raised toward the project, in large part thanks to the efforts of the Village’s Treasure Your Parks campaign.

On Oct. 9, a 15K Run to the Port Jeff Brewing Company hosted nearly 1,000 runners and raised more than $5,000 toward the renovations. The brewery’s owner, Mike Philbrick, said he decided to donate the proceeds from the race toward the Rocketship Park initiative because he has four kids and the cause is very personal to him.

Local Cub Scout Troop 41 held a bake sale and sold candy and popcorn for movie night events at Harborfront Park during the summer to raise money as well, and representatives from the group were in attendance Oct. 13 to hand over a $350 check to Garant.

“It takes a village to rebuild Rocketship Park,” Garant said. “It’s about our children and it’s about the local economy, because parks are critically important to our community.”

Former village trustee and a member of the fundraising committee, Adrienne Kessel, thanked those involved for their hard work.

“No one does this alone — we have a committee that has worked tirelessly for the last four years to get us to where we are today,” she said.

Garant also recognized the long list of private donors who supported the fundraising efforts.

The park will be dismantled beginning in late November, equipment will be ordered and installed, and a ribbon cutting ceremony for the brand new Rocketship Park will be held sometime in late April or early May, according to an estimate from Garant.

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