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Shoreham

In its first year, the Shoreham-Wading River debate team takes part in state competition. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

In a little over a year, the Shoreham-Wading River debate team developed from an idea by two high school students into a fully formed, competing group in the New York State Forensic League championship. And while team members admit they still have a lot to learn following their recent defeat in the state tournament hosted at Hofstra University April 28 and 29, they can’t argue with how far they’ve come.

After success in February’s qualifer, four students from the nine-member team — juniors Mahdi Rashidzada and Andrew Honold, and freshmen Jalal Sawas and Yusra Rashidzada — went up against more experienced debaters from various school districts across Long Island and the state.

“We were all very worried about how the debate would go since we didn’t really know what to expect — after all, it was our first championship debate.”

— Mahdi Rashidzada

With a discussion topic of universal basic income implementation in various countries, Sawas and Yusra Rashidzada won one out of five debates while Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada lost all five of theirs. Every student competed in five rounds on Saturday, and, depending on how well they did, advanced to final rounds on Sunday.

Mahdi Rashidzada said though the team lost, he considers his team’s participation learning experience for the future.

“At first we were all very worried about how the debate would go since we didn’t really know what to expect — after all, it was our first championship debate,” the junior said said, pointing out that the team was assembled at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

In February, the team began preparing for the state competition by meeting after school at each other’s houses two days a week, researching the debate topic, writing speeches and practicing counterarguments in front of adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy.

“We really wanted to go in there and win something, but we kind of knew that we shouldn’t expect a win since everyone we went against were amazing debaters [who have been debating since their freshman year],” Rashidzada said. “We hope to improve our rankings by working hard next year.”

He added that he and the rest of the Shoreham students had great camaraderie with other debate teams.

“We became friends with our rivals, so the atmosphere was very enjoyable,” he said.

Honold, who, during the qualifiers at Jericho High School Feb. 10, nabbed first place in the junior division by winning all four of his debates there, also hopes that last month’s competition will have a positive impact on the club moving forward.

“States was sobering for the team. We realized we have a lot of potential going into the future, but we must work over the coming year to have a chance to do better next year.”

— Andrew Honold

“Frankly, we all learned that we have a lot to learn,” he said. “Our performance at states was disappointing, and we expected to do better. We faced a lot of really talented, experienced and disciplined debaters and, for the most part, they outplayed us. Really, states was sobering for the team. We realized we have a lot of potential going into the future, but we must work over the coming year to have a chance to do better next year.”

And by already reaching this high level of competition within its first academic year, the odds are in Shoreham’s favor, especially with all the state qualifiers returning to the team.

In March 2017, two then-sophomores and later club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick brought their debate team idea to the board of education. They proposed that such a team, which was unanimously approved, would be beneficial to students with interests in political science or law. They said that by their senior year, they hoped to compete with other schools.

The club’s members, who span all grade levels, have said through debate they learn analytical and public speaking skills, and hone speechwriting and teamwork abilities.

“I learned how to better structure my debate, and overall I feel like I’ve learned how to become a better speaker this year,” Sawas said following the state competition. “I found it crazy that I was going up against the best kids in the state with honestly little experience, [but] I found it fun.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River voters have overwhelmingly approved the district’s $74,776,072 budget with 790 voting in favor and 233 against.

Turnout compared to last year’s vote took a significant downturn, as more than 2,000 taxpayers came out to vote last May.

“The district is grateful to the community for their overwhelming support of the proposed budget,” Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Poole said. “With the voter’s approval, this budget will bring a number of educational enhancements and new programs that will continue to prepare our students to achieve great outcomes in today’s ever evolving world. I look forward to our district’s continued progress and welcome our newly elected Board member Mr. Smith and congratulate Mr. Rose on his re-election to the board.”

Rose won back his seat with 772 votes.

“I’m most proud of the bond that was passed several years ago and improvements that have been taking place at all of our buildings,” said Rose, who will be serving his third term. “I’m very fortunate and I’m looking forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the board and the superintendent to continue to make Shoreham-Wading River a great district.”

James Smith ran unopposed and nabbed 767 votes. He will be taking the place of first-year trustee Michael Yannucci, who did not seek re-election.

“I appreciate Mike’s service and the amount of time he has given to the community and the district,” Rose said. “I respect his decision to not run again.”

Yannucci decided to not run again so he could spend more time with his children.

“Despite the fact that we have an uncontested board election this year, residents should continue to stay engaged and attend board meetings,” Yannucci said. His advice to the rest of the board upon leaving was they should look to engage and communicate with district residents. “Even if they don’t have kids in school, their taxes are still affected by our decisions.”

Smith, who ran last year unsuccessfully, has been a Shoreham resident for the past six years and in that time has not hesitated to get involved in the community. The father of four children in the district, he joined the PTA and became its vice president. He has worked with kids as a coach through Sound Beach Soccer Club and Father Joe’s Soccer. Smith said he wants to push for greater psychological and emotional resources for students.

“I’m excited and optimistic — really looking forward to utilizing my professional and personal experience to strengthen our district,” he said. “My goal is to absorb as much as i can especially in the first year. As a district we have a young board of ed who all are very active within our community. I am looking forward to being a part of that for as long as our community stakeholders allow me. This is a way that I can continue to give back to a district that has done so much for my children.”

Eric Swanson and his parents lead the Pleasantville and Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse teams out onto the field during the Lax Out Cancer fundraiser games April 28. Photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

Cindy Swanson, of Shoreham, said she thought she’d never be so closely affected by cancer, but that changed when her 2-year-old son Eric was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease in March 2017.

Eric had a large tumor in his jaw, with additional bone lesions attacking his clavicle, elbow and C7 vertebrae. He was diagnosed as a multisystem Langerhans cell histiocytosis cancer patient — which affects one in 200,000 children — as the disease was attacking his lymph nodes and skin.

Eric was one of four beneficiaries of the Shoreham-Wading River 10th annual Lax Out Cancer event, which features lacrosse games, a dinner and raffle, the proceeds of which are donated to local families struggling as a result of the deadly disease.

The 2018 Lax Out Cancer fundraiser beneficiaries Port Jefferson Station’s Jackson, Miller Place’s Blake and Shoreham’s Eric. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s very heartwarming,” Swanson said of the community support she received, especially at the April 28 event. “You always think that something like this is never going to happen to you, but it does happen to you. Things like this — it’s amazing, just the support for the kids to feel special.”

Eric is currently in the midst of 52 weeks of chemotherapy at Stony Brook University Hospital. Noted as a kind, caring kid with an infectious smile, the Shoreham resident loves playing with trucks and learning about dinosaurs, according to his mother. His favorite thing to do is pretend to be a fireman. He was walked out onto the field by two of them during the opening ceremony.

“I think that it’s a wonderful thing for the community to get together and help families in need, and we all know what these families are going through — they need all the help that they can get,” said Shoreham-Wading River Wildcat Athletic Club President Ed Troyano. “I think that it’s really a testament to this community when they give their time and contribute to the cause. When you look around today, you see the commitment and their time to put an event like this together — I’m grateful for all of the volunteers who do this year after year. I’m humbled by it.”

Blake Doyen, a 15-year-old Miller Place lacrosse player; 11-year-old Jackson from Port Jefferson Station; and 13-year-old Kaelyn McCandless from Lindenhurst were the other beneficiaries of the Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse game against Pleasantville, and the girls lacrosse game against Rocky Point. The boys junior varsity squad also faced off against the junior varsity team from Pleasantville.

“It’s huge to participate in the Lax Out Cancer event,” senior Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse player Tim Cairo said. “Pleasantville is a great team, and for them to come all this way for the cause today is great.”

Blake was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February, an aggressive acute leukemia that progresses quickly and affects the lymphoid-cell-producing stem cells, in particular, a type of white blood cell called T lymphocytes, which make antibodies that help fight infection. He has started intensive chemotherapy at Stony Brook hospital, where he will receive treatment for the next three years. Blake is an energetic and enthusiastic teen who, although not able to return to school or play lacrosse for the remainder of the year, is determined to fight this disease until he wins, so that he can get back to doing all the things that he loves, according to his family.

“You always think that something like this is never going to happen to you, but it does happen to you. Things like this — it’s amazing, just the support for the kids to feel special.”

— Cindy Swanson

Jackson, a second-time beneficiary of the event, taking part in it last year, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia — a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow with excess immature white blood cells — in December of 2013. He finished his treatment and was in remission, but cancer returned. He had to undergo intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, according to his family, and is struggling with complications from graft-versus-host disease, a condition that occurs when donor bone marrow or stem cells attack the recipient. Jackson, noted as a lover of sports, superheroes and video games, was in the hospital from December until March and will continue his chemotherapy treatment for the next two years.

Kaelyn has been fighting brain cancer for the last two years. She has received the maximum dose of radiation and chemotherapy, but her last two scans have shown something has returned at the tumor site. Doctors are in the process of planning their next course of action on the youngest of seven children.

“I’m thankful that I can be a small part of this — to be able to give back to the community,” Shoreham-Wading River head boys lacrosse coach Mike Taylor said. “I am very happy that we are continuing such a significant event. I feel so fortunate to have such a special group of parents, and a supportive community. It is very important to me to have our athletes involved in and understand the importance of being a concerned and productive community member. It is my goal as their coach to develop these young men into strong leaders, students, employees and family members through athletics and community service events.”

Former Lax Out Cancer proceed recipients also attended the event. So far, $1,540 has been raised of the $5,000 goal through a GoFundMe page. Visit to find out more about the recipients and to donate.

Bill Landon contributed reporting

Kenneth Kindler, on right, leads hikers through the new Ray Corwin Trail in the Central Pine Barrens. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new Pine Barrens trail bears the name of Ray Corwin, the first director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. Those who remember him said he was as calm, yet grand as the woods he loved so much.

“Ray Corwin was a friend, but he was also an inspiration,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said. “This trail is an invitation, [like he did], for people to get involved.”

Ray Corwin was the first and 17-year executive director for the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. File photo

The Port Jefferson resident passed away suddenly in 2010 at the age of 56. People who knew him said he worked day and night for 17 years to protect the approximately 50,000 acres of the Pine Barrens core, as well as preserve the natural beauty and resources of the area.

In the late 1980’s, Corwin envisioned a trail that would go from Route 25A in Shoreham all the way down to Smith Point County Park in Shirley, according David Reisfield, president of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference. Corwin was also active for more than 25 years in the greenbelt conference, a hiking and preservation group, and was the group’s vice president at the time of his death.

“We are at this point trying to bring his dream to life,” Reisfield said. “Even as we stop at Yaphank now, we will eventually work our way all the way down to Smith’s Point. We’ll bring his dream to fruition.”

Local officials and environmental advocates came together at the Ridge Trailhead to officially open the new 12.1-mile trail from Rocky Point to Yaphank bearing Corwin’s name April 28.

When years of court battles over Suffolk’s pine barrens resulted in a 1993 state law creating Long Island’s 100,000-acre pine barren preserve, environmentalist Richard Amper said there was only one man both sides trusted to oversee the new sanctuary, and that was Corwin.

“I don’t think we would have advanced the Pine Barrens cause as quickly as we did without someone like Ray Corwin.”

— Ken LaValle

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the knowledge of the jogger and veteran hiker, the first executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, could never be replaced.

“I don’t think we would have advanced the Pine Barrens cause as quickly as we did without someone like Ray Corwin,” LaValle said. “It’s great to recognize such a great man, and even though it took eight years, it’s never too late to recognize someone who gave us so much.”

The Ray Corwin Trail connects to existing trails that start just off Route 25A in Rocky Point. The new walkthrough boasts sights of the glacial erratic boulder known as “Turtle Rock;” the Warbler Woods, which are home to more than 30 species of warblers; a pitch-pine/oak forest; a red maple/black gum swamp; and the colonial-era Longwood Estate.

“We’re a sole source aquifer and it’s so important to protect those lands, because that’s our drinking water,” said John Wernet, forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Reisfield said the project took so long because those working on it had to work with the DEC, local governments and the Town of Brookhaven, much in the way Corwin did when he was alive.

The ribbon-cutting, done by state Sen. Ken LaValle, unveiled the new Ray Corwin Trail. Photo by Kyle Barr

In his past, Corwin was originally responsible for developing a management plan for protecting the 50,000 acres in the pine barrens core, which cannot be built on, and enforcing rules of that plan and state legislation for regulating development in the 47,000-acre compatible growth area. Before taking the helm of the pine barrens commission, he had worked as a computer scientist and mathematician for Grumman Corp.

“This trail epitomizes what Ray tried to accomplish,” said John Pavacic, the current executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Commission. “It’s something that took work across all areas of government, as well as local groups.”

Creating a trail, according to trail advocate Kenneth Kindler, is as much engineering, planning and maintaining as it is using the area’s natural landscape to define the trail’s shape. He said that Corwin brought environmentalists and local officials together to protect the Pine Barrens.

“I remember him telling me once that I was focused too much on ATV’s ruining the trail’s ground,” Kindler said. “He said we couldn’t alienate people — that we needed as many people as we could to get involved. That was just the type of person he was. He was a people person — he could bring people together.”

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

To preserve it, they plan to purchase it.

For years, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and his colleagues have fought tooth and nail to make the scenic stretch of woodland surrounding an abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off-limits to
developers. In January, he co-sponsored legislation to prevent the site from being dismantled for solar farm installation. 

And as of this month, under legislative approval in the state’s recently passed budget, not only has more than 800 acres of the site been added to the publicly protected Central Pine Barrens preservation area, as well as portions of Mastic Woods, elected officials have pushed for the state to buy the parcel of land altogether.

“[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright announced Apr. 4 that, as per an agreement passed by state officials the previous week, roughly 840 acres of the property — made up of rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife — is set to be
purchased from its current owner, National Grid, in increments over the course of a few years, beginning in 2019. He said he and his fellow officials will urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to fund the acquisition, projecting that it could cost between $20-$50 million. But a final price won’t be known until the land is appraised, he said. At this point, he said there is roughly $36 million in the state budget this year for land acquisition, from which funds can be pulled to begin the process. 

He said National Grid has signed an agreement for the sale of the property and, since the acreage lies within the Shoreham-Wading River school district, taxes will be paid by the state on behalf of the school.

By turning the Shoreham land into state property, Englebright, as well as state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), longtime ralliers against ecosystem disturbance, hope to be able to better utilize its “unique natural characteristics” and improve its ground and surface water quality and coastal resiliency, as well as support tourism.

“We’ve recovered the Shoreham property and we’re stepping off into the direction of doing positive things, so stay tuned,” Englebright said. In his announcement at the beginning of the month, he said, “[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting. Preservation of this museum-piece landscape as well as ensuring public access is a triumph for the protection of Long Island’s natural history heritage.”

“I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

— Richard Amper

Last year, Englebright proposed building a state park on the site as an alternative to National Grid’s plan to bulldoze its forest to build a solar farm in its footprint.

Together with the help of LaValle at the beginning of the year, Englebright drafted a bill calling for the expansion of the Central Pine Barrens to protect the Shoreham site and Mastic Woods — a 100-acre parcel also in danger of being deforested for a solar farm.The elected officials argued against “pitting greens against greens,” saying that while solar panels provide an important renewable energy source, they should not be installed “on pristine ecosystems.” Cuomo ended up vetoing that bill, but passed the Shoreham portion of it less than a month later.

The Mastic acreage is still slated for a solar farm installation to Englebright’s dismay, but he said he’s not giving up on saving it.

“My hope is that we can still see some leadership at the state level to provide alternative sites for solar development,” he said, suggesting the state office building in Hauppauge, which includes a large section of parking lots. “We should encourage solar installation, but work to move the project to a more worthy, and less destructive, site.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, commended the purchase of the property.

“This is one of the most important [proposed state] acquisitions in the history of the Pine Barrens and other woodland preservations over the years,” Amper said. “I think that it’s terrific that we are still protecting our woodlands. I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

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File photo

Suffolk County police 7th squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man in Shoreham the morning of Feb. 24.

Michael Austin was driving a 2004 Ford Ranger northbound on William Floyd Parkway, south of Route 25A, when his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree at 6:40 a.m. Austin, 32, of East Moriches, was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the office of the Suffolk County medical examiner.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to contact the 7th Squad at 631-852-8752.

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The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

During a second public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education Tuesday night, a grieving mother pleaded with administrators to “be brave, step out of the box and take a chance” by turning the beloved-but-shuttered school on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham building into a refuge for students that need one.

“We can do something really big here,” said Grace Shea McCarthy, the mother of Remy Kallie Jeanne McCarthy, who, as a 15-year-old freshman at the high school, took her own life Nov. 2, 2016. “My daughter was a very capable, talented, skilled person who, over time, had lost connection with her school and her peers. We need to do more to help these kids sooner.”

McCarthy, an employee at Brookhaven National Lab, asked the board to support a joint proposal by North Shore Youth Council and Tesla Science Center for student-oriented programs and services in the portable units at Briarcliff Elementary School, which was built in 1907 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

She explained that North Shore Youth Council — a Rocky Point-based nonprofit active in communities and school districts throughout the area, including Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai and Miller Place — would be able to host cost-efficient after-school tutoring, recreation, social skill development and summer programs in the space; and provide students of varying ages with professional counseling in the areas of substance abuse, social isolation and depression.

“As a parent watching my child go through this district, I can absolutely tell you this school needs more of these programs,” she said. “We are going through a suicide epidemic — our students need opportunities to build their confidence through buddy systems.”

McCarthy said partnering these students with science and technology programs at the Tesla Science Center would be “incredibly beneficial,” and serve to reignite the passion for science among youth in the community. She addressed the annual costs of $95,000, plus any additional unexpected costs, to operate the school. Board members and residents expressed concerns over the pricey upkeep during the first public discussion about the property last month. Some proposed that the property be sold off to eliminate the costs.

“When I look at that amount of money to maintain such a spectacular building, such a historical landmark in our backyard, I believe we need to fight to keep it,” she said. “It’s not something we should just give away. To have that knocked down to have condos put up or something, that would be a crime.”

Residents spoke up in favor of the proposal.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, urged the board last month to file covenants on the property so the building could never be taken down.

“This way, you can maintain the ownership of the building for future use and defray the costs,” Madigan said.

While Dennis Ryan, a Shoreham resident, said leasing the building was a good idea if the right group came along, he asked the district to not sell, but demolish the school, getting rid of all the extra upkeep costs and turn the 10-acre property into a park for the community.

“We talk about the budget and trying to get a nest egg — the value is in the land itself,” Ryan said. “Hold onto the property. We don’t need the money at this point. If something happens 10 to 15 years down the line and we need that money, then we know we’ll have it.”

At the top of the forum, Superintendent Gerard Poole presented the district’s evaluation and consideration of some of the ideas residents had during the first forum Jan. 9. These included selling the property, moving the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is attached to the high school to Briarcliff,
attaining historical landmark status and redeveloping the building as a residence for seniors.

Board president Robert Rose assured that the district will not be rushing into any
decision, continuing to weigh the options while promising to hold more public forums.

“We want to take our time and make the right decision,” Rose said.

Local government officials at all levels are pushing for the Shoreham woods adjacent to the Pine Barrens be spared from development. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put plans in his preliminary budget despite vetoing a bill to save the trees. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County elected officials learned last week that with perseverance comes preservation.

In a surprising move, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled in his 2018-19 executive budget Jan. 16 that roughly 840 acres in Shoreham would be preserved as part of an expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens. This proposal — which, if the budget is passed, would make the scenic stretch of property surrounding the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off limits to developers — came less than a month after Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) calling for that very action.

A proposal was made to cut down a majority of the more than 800 acres in favor of a solar farm. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We saw that he did a cut and paste of our bill,” Englebright said. “It left in all of the language from our bill for the Shoreham site and now that’s in the proposed executive budget. That is really significant because, with this initiative as an amendment to the Pine Barrens, this will really have a dramatic long-term impact on helping to stabilize the land use of the eastern half of Long Island. The governor could do something weird, but as far as Shoreham goes, it is likely he will hold his words, which are our words.”

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June but was axed by the governor Dec. 18, aimed to protect both the Shoreham property and a 100-acre parcel of Mastic woods from being dismantled and developed into solar farms.

Both Englebright and LaValle, as well as Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), pushed that while they provide an important renewable energy, solar panels should not be installed on pristine ecosystems. They even worked right up until the veto was issued to provide a list of alternative, town-owned sites for solar installation “that did not require the removal of a single tree,” according to Romaine.

In Cuomo’s veto, he wrote, “to sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.” Englebright said he and his colleagues planned to re-introduce the legislation a week or two after the veto was issued and was actively working on it when the proposed budget was released.

The legislation’s Mastic portion, however, was not part of the budget — an exclusion Englebright said he wasn’t surprised by.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, despite Shoreham not being in his coverage area, has been pushing to save the virgin Shoreham property from development. File photo

“During negotiations leading up to the bill’s veto, the governor’s representatives put forward that we let Mastic go and just do Shoreham — we rejected that,” he said. “We didn’t want to set that precedent of one site against the other. So he vetoed the bill. But his ego was already tied into it.”

The 100 acres on the Mastic property — at the headwaters of the Forge River — is owned by Jerry Rosengarten, who hired a lobbyist for Cuomo to veto the bill. He is expected to move ahead with plans for the Middle Island Solar Farm, a 67,000-panel green energy development on the property. But Englebright said he hasn’t given up on Mastic.

“We’re standing still in the direction of preservation for both sites,” he said. “My hope is that some of the ideas I was advocating for during those negotiations leading up to the veto will be considered.”

Romaine said he is on Englebright’s side.

“While I support the governor’s initiative and anything that preserves land and adds to the Pine Barrens, obviously my preference would be for Steve Englebright’s bill to go forward,” Romaine said. “There are areas where developments should take place, but those two particular sites are not where development should take place.”

Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who has been vocal against the veto and proposals for solar on both sites, said Cuomo is moving in the right direction with this decision.

“It’s clear that the governor wants to avoid a false choice such as cutting down Pine Barrens to construct solar,” Amper said. “I think he wants land and water protected on the one hand and solar and wind developed on the other hand. I believe we can have all of these by directing solar to rooftops, parking lots and previously cleared land.”

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Some residents see it as a magical place full of rich history and memories that deserves preservation, others consider it a tax burden that should be sold and disposed of. The future of Briarcliff Elementary School, a shuttered, early-20th century building on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, is currently up in the air as the school district looks to community members to weigh in on potential options.

A dozen voices were heard Jan. 9 during a public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education to decide the fate of the beloved historic school, which has sat vacant for the last three years. The nearly 27,000-square-foot manor was built in 1907, expanded on through 2007 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, pleads his case to the board as to why it should preserve the school building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators made it clear during the meeting that the board has no plans for the property at this time and, due to declining enrollment throughout the district, does not foresee it will be used for instructional use anytime soon — be it a pre-K or BOCES program. Board members said it will determine the best course of action for the building based on input from the community in the coming months.

“The board will not be making any decisions tonight on the future of the Briarcliff elementary school building, we’re only listening to residential statements,” said board president Robert Rose. “We recognize the importance of input from the entire community.”

This year, the annual operating costs for the property are estimated to total $95,000, which are expensed through the district’s general fund and includes building and equipment maintenance; insurance; and utilities, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finances and operations.

A presentation of the pricey upkeep didn’t dissuade several residents from speaking passionately about the school’s place in the history of Shoreham, pleading with the board to neither sell nor redevelop it for condominiums, as one speaker suggested.

“It was such a wonderful place — the children loved the building,” said Bob Korchma, who taught at Briarcliff for a number of years. “To lose such a great part of our community for housing and any other endeavors would be crazy. It has such history and working there was one of the best parts of my life.”

Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher at the school for 10 years, echoed the sentiments, calling the building “special,” and encouraged the board to move the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is currently attached to the high school to Briarcliff.

“If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

—Colette Grosso

“The majority of my teaching career in the district was at the high school, and when they put the public library there, I believe it created several security problems where the general public was on school grounds during the school day,” Lutjen said, suggesting that the freed up space at the high school could be used for classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a fitness center and testing rooms.

Residents also pushed the idea to designate the building a historic landmark and pursue grants, potentially from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), to restore it. David Kuck, whose son went to Briarcliff, said on top of making it a historic site, the district should turn it into a STEM center for students across Suffolk County, as it stands in the shadow of inventor Nikola Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, outlined the building’s history for the board — three generations of the prominent Upham family, including a veteran of the Civil War, built and owned the school in three different phases — and urged that covenants be filed on the property that says the building could never be taken down.

“The exterior must be kept in its historic state,” Madigan said. “It’s a very valuable and historical asset for our village. And it’s the most important thing to preserve as a resident.”

Joan Jacobs, a Shoreham resident for 40 years and former teacher, explained to the board how the building was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road.

Joan Jacobs gets emotional talking about her connection and history with Shoreham’s Briarcliff Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s so rich and having taught there for 14 years, having a daughter go through there, there’s an awful lot there,” an emotional Jacobs said. “It’s a shame to throw away our history.”

Both Bob Sweet and Barbara Cohen, members of Shoreham Village, advocated that the school be redeveloped as a residence for seniors in the area.

“I care about this building and sorely miss when the school buses coming up the road to drop the grade schoolers off,” Sweet said. “I admonish you don’t sell the property and explore the notion of turning this into condos for retired village members.”

But Colette Grosso, a special education aide at Miller Avenue School, said she hopes the community works toward a solution where the building remains an asset within the district for educational purposes as opposed to housing.

“All-day daycare and aftercare services could be done there, and there are other organizations besides BOCES that would love to use the facility to serve special education, which is an underserved population,” Grosso said. “If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

Further discussions with community members on Briarcliff will occur at the next board of education meeting Feb. 13 in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m.

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

Not seeing the forest for the trees is one thing, but a recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to not preserve the forest or trees for the sake of solar installation is causing a major stir among Suffolk County elected officials.

On Dec. 18, Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that called for the expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens to include more than 1,000 acres in Shoreham and Mastic Woods — “museum quality” stretches of open space that should never be developed by private owners, according to the sponsors. Their legislation aimed to pull the plug on solar plans for the sites.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish,” Englebright said. “And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone. I am the legislator that sponsored and spearheaded solar more than 20 years ago — these are not good sites for solar.”

A solar farm is still being proposed near the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Currently, there are plans near the Pine Barrens in Mastic for a solar installation. Photo by Kevin Redding

A large chunk of the Shoreham property — made up of approximately 820 acres of undeveloped vegetable land, coastal forest, rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife on the shoreline of Long Island Sound — was almost demolished last year under a proposal by the site’s owners, National Grid, and private developers to knock down trees, level ridges and scarify the property to build a solar farm in the footprint. This “replace green with green” plan garnered much community opposition and was ultimately scrapped by Long Island Power Authority, leading civic association and environmental group members to join Englebright in proposing to preserve the parcel by turning it into a state park. The assemblyman also pledged that while there is a great need to install solar panels as a renewable energy source, there are ways to do so without tampering with primeval forest.

In Cuomo’s veto of the proposed bipartisan legislation to preserve these properties, which had been worked on over the past year and passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June, he said that it “unnecessarily pits land preservation against renewable energy.” The governor voiced his support of developing solar energy projects on the sites and said the legislation as written prevented environmental growth.

“I am committed to making New York State a national leader in clean energy,” Cuomo said in his veto message. “New York’s Clean Energy Standard mandates 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, to be aggressively phased in over the next several years. … Siting renewable energy projects can be challenging. But it would set a poor precedent to invoke laws meant for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land in order to block projects that should be addressed by local communities or through established state siting or environmental review processes. To sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.”

Among some of the veto’s supporters were the League of Conservation Voters and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Jerry Rosengarten, the Mastic site’s owner and managing member of the Middle Island Solar Farm, a proposed 67,000-panel green energy development on a 100-acre parcel in Mastic which would cut down woods near the headwaters of the Forge River, voiced his support of Cuomo’s decision in a statement.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish. And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone.”

— Steve Englebright

“Gov. Cuomo’s bold leadership today is hope that we will be able to effectively fight Trump-era climate denial and the ‘not in my backyard’ shortsightedness that would otherwise prevent crucial environmental progress at the most critical time,” said Rosengarten, an environmentalist who has been working for six years to place a solar farm on the site, making numerous applications to Long Island Power Authority to obtain power purchase agreements. “We look forward to working with the Town of Brookhaven on the next steps toward realizing a solar farm that we can take great pride in together.”

Englebright took issue with the not-in-my-backyard claims, which were also made by the League of Conservation Voters.

“I find that most unfortunate because it’s a falsehood,” he said. “I don’t represent Shoreham. I live in Setauket, and these sites are nowhere near my district. But, on merit, the properties deserve preservation. To have my sponsorship characterized as NIMBY is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting.”

Those who are against the veto have been championing preservation on both sites, including Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Andrea Spilka, president of Southampton Town Civic Coalition.

“The land is so valuable, environmentally, that it should be preserved,” Amper said of the Shoreham site in the spring when the legislation was first being pushed.

He added that solar is an important renewable energy in combating global warming, but that panels should be installed on roofs and parking lots rather than ecosystems.

“The reality is that once taken, these forest lands will never be recovered,” LaValle said in a statement outlining his disappointment over the veto. “These lands are particularly critical for the ecology of the Forge River. Destroying the forest and the trees to install solar power just does not make sense at either the Mastic Woods or Shoreham Old Growth Coastal Forest properties. … Currently, over 30 percent of New York state’s solar power is generated on Long Island, the majority of which is produced in my senate district. We can continue to expand the green energies where they will benefit Long Island without damaging the environment as we proceed. Destroying the environment is never the direction I wish to take.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on manufacturers to keep harmful chemicals out of child products sold in New York. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a career advocate for the environment who worked tooth and nail alongside Englebright and LaValle to preserve these sites, said vetoing the bill “was the wrong thing to do.”

“[It’s] the reason why Brookhaven Town adopted a solar code that allows for both the preservation of our open space and the development of solar energy,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town was committed to preserving these lands, and worked right up to the hours before this veto was issued to provide the developer with up to 60 acres of alternative, town-owned sites that did not require the removal of a single tree.”

Some of these alternative solar sites, Englebright later explained, were the paved parking lot of the State Office Building in Hauppauge and the nearby H. Lee Dennison Building, each of the Brookhaven Highway Department yards and the roofs of numerous local schools. Englebright successfully pushed for solar panels to be placed on the roof of Comsewogue’s elementary school.

“Regrettably, the developer did not respond to these offers, and the governor did not take these alternative sites into account when issuing the veto.” Romaine said. “I thank the sponsors, Sen. Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and their colleagues for their hard work to preserve these ecologically important woodlands, and urge them to re-submit legislation for this in the coming session of the state Legislature.”

Englebright said he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

“We are going to revisit this, and I hope that the governor keeps an open mind going forward,” he said. “It just requires a little bit of thought to realize that we have a vast amount of the Island where you can place solar panels without cutting down forest. By contrast, there are very few opportunities for preservation on the scale of these two properties. This is a source of some frustration.”

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