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Suffolk County

When two Mount Sinai moms whose sons fall on the autism spectrum noticed a lack of support and resources in Suffolk County to help families affected by the disorder, they took to Facebook to form “a little support group” — made up of 12 moms in a living room.

A year and a half and 1,500 members later, the nonprofit Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information has blossomed into a haven for those dealing with disabilities, enriching the lives of special needs families through essential services and programs, as well as emotional and financial support.

“We’ve literally become an autism family,” said SASI co-founder Priscilla Arena, whose 10-year-old son was diagnosed at a younger age. “We feel a great sense of responsibility to every single parent and child and doing the right thing by all of them. I’m doing this not just for my son, but for everyone’s children because we need to do this.”

Shoreham resident Alonna Rubin, on right, and her son Jack, who has autism, during Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information’s Blue Party fundraiser.Photo by Kevin Redding

While the group grows at an exponential rate, as does autism diagnoses throughout Long Island. Its founders, Arena and Stephanie Mendelson, took their outreach for autism to whole new heights June 8 with their first annual Blue Party fundraiser.

In a grandiose ballroom at The Inn at East Wind in Wading River, hundreds of local residents, business representatives, elected officials and celebrity guests dressed in blue, the official color of autism awareness, danced the night away to live music and took part in casino gaming, raffles and auctions all in the name of SASI and autism.

Sponsors of the gala included Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai, Powerhouse Gym in Miller Place and Investors Bank in East Northport. An international theme was represented by cuisines from different cultures because, as Arena said, “Autism doesn’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomics.”

All funds raised went toward a physical office for the nonprofit, as its members currently meet once a month at Mather Hospital, and the expansion of the nonprofit’s numerous programs for families, including their Life Skills program, a 12-week program that teaches teenagers and young adults how to be independent — everything from tying their shoes to reading off a menu and paying bills.

Mendelson, whose eight-year-old son Jacob struggles with motor skills, speech delay and overwhelming anxiety as a result of his autism, said she realized early on that he wasn’t meeting the milestones his twin sister was. When she and her husband got the diagnosis, she said she felt a mixture of relief and profound sadness.

“We felt alone with everything that was occurring with our son, and heard about the group … he now has friends he can relate to. We’ve learned a lot … it’s incredible and I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

— Lisa Gerstein

“My instinct was to wrap him in a cocoon and protect him,” Mendelson told the room. “I realized at that moment that it was my job to be his advocate, his coach, his teacher, his biggest fan. I felt overwhelmed and scared at the idea of his outcome and future resting on my shoulders … nevertheless, we began our journey and immersed ourselves in the world of autism.”

After she met Arena at a business meeting in late 2015, the two shared a desire to provide families a place to go where they didn’t have to feel as lonely and isolated as they did.

Part of the $7,000 donated to the advocacy program will help parents struggling to get proper services within school districts and raise awareness and acceptance among regular kids. The group does not yet know the grand total raised during the event, but the goal was $50,000.

“We want to be the autism resource center in Suffolk County, a central resource for parents no matter what their issue is,” Mendelson said. “And if we don’t know, we can find somebody who does.”

Monica Nichols, who serves as parent liaison at New York Therapy Sensory Gym & Speech and Language Center in Port Jefferson Station, which provides programs and social skills groups for those with autism, said connecting with other parents helped her most when her own child was diagnosed.

“By far, for me, the most valuable resources have been other parents, because it’s really from other parents where you learn what’s out there in a more meaningful way than what a doctor can tell you — it’s what makes it special,” Nichols said. “[SASI] has been a big shift, they’ve really done a great job at outreach and membership and making each individual family feel part of a bigger family.”

When Lisa Gerstein, of Centereach, first joined the group in its beginning stages, things got better quickly.

“We felt alone with everything that was occurring with our son, and heard about the group … he now has friends he can relate to,” Gerstein said. “We’ve learned a lot in terms of what to do with dealing with the school district and what to ask for … it’s incredible and I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information founders Stephanie Mendelson, on left, and Priscilla Arena, on right, with former World Wrestling Entertainment competitor Mick Foley at SASI’s Blue Party fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Daniel Korcz, a 22-year-old college student with autism, who hopes to mentor young people on the spectrum, said the nonprofit has brought him a lot of happiness. “It’s pretty amazing that there’s an organization to help people like me, who are smart kids that are on the spectrum,” the Islandia resident said. “It provides them support and assistance that they might need.”

Among some of the entertainment of the evening were TKA, a Latin freestyle trio prominent in the 1980s and early 1990s, and former Anthrax singer Dan Nelson, who performed Beatles and Elvis songs with his band “Dan Nelson and The Downfall.”

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Hall of Famer Mick Foley, of Smithtown, showed up to the fundraiser willing to help in any way, as the cause hits him close to home. His 16-year-old son Mickey is on the spectrum.

“This is an issue that kind of chose me, so I readily agreed to be part of this,” Foley said, adding he hopes this is a big success for the group.

Discussing his experience as a parent of an autistic child, he said he wished he’d been more aware.

“I look back at the videos when he was much younger and realize I should’ve known a long time ago,” he said. “I think it’s important that people become aware and acceptance is incredibly important. Learn as much as you can, find a great support group and don’t feel like it’s the end of the world because it’s not. Being the parent of a child with autism is definitely a struggle, but it’s also a great adventure.”

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Commack baseball captains Demetri Mesimeris, Pete Theodorellis and john Pohlman accept the runner-up plaque. Photo by Bill Landon
Pete Theoforellis fires from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Down three runs, Commack’s baseball team dug itself out of a hole in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game, 4-4, but Massapequa added four late runs to pull away with an 8-4 win for the Class AA Long Island championship title at St. Joseph’s College June 3.

The road to the Suffolk title began on May 16, where the Cougars picked off Kings Park Hauppauge a day later and battled Patchogue-Medford in the best of three series. From there, Commack got the better of West Islip, sweeping the series and with it, picking up the program’s first Suffolk County crown in 20 years. The Cougars took a 15-3 record into Saturday’s game.

After singles by senior Pete Theodorellis and junior James Cardinale in the bottom of the fifth inning, sophomore Tim McHugh drew the walk to load the bases. With two outs, it was Jake Krzemienski’s bat that made the difference, as the sophomore ripped a deep three-run, stand-up double to make it a new game.

Tim McHugh drives the ball deep. Photo by Bill Landon

“Awesome season boys,” McHugh wrote on Twitter following the loss. “Good luck to all seniors in college. Happy to say I made another family.”

The Chiefs laid down a bunt to move senior Michael Cottone to second base, and classmate Luke O’Mahony drove him home to put his team back in front, 5-4. Theodorellis got into trouble on the mound, and loaded the bases for the second time in the game. He paid the price when he walked in Massapequa’s sixth run, and the Chiefs plated who more runs before the inning was over.

Massapequa retired all three Commack batters in order in the bottom of the inning to end the game.

“I’ve got a great group of kids who listened to everything I’d say and they gave it their best effort every single day,” Commack head coach Bryan Bonin said. “Competing on every single pitch — they’re a good group of kids who have a never-quit attitude.”

The Commack team celebrates Jake Krzemienski’s three-run double. Photo by Bill Landon

 

In lacrosse, there’s a term “take it to ‘X,’” when a player brings the ball directly behind the goal crease. But Shoreham-Wading River was taking the ball to a different “X” Wednesday.

The X-Man, Xavier Arline, was the Wildcats’ superhero May 30, as the freshman used speed and skill to stymie an Islip surge — the Buccaneers scored four fast goals to pull within one and make it a close game — to lift Shoreham-Wading River to its second straight Suffolk County Class C title with a 13-7 win over Islip. The title marks the 12th in program history.

Arline had a highlight reel play at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter, after Islip opened with four goals in a two-minute span, he stole the ball from the opposing goalkeeper on a ride, and no-look passed behind his back to senior Chris Gray for an empty-netter.

“I was just trying to help my team win,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much, I wasn’t trying to do too little. I was just making the plays to help my team win.”

He said during practice, head coach Mike Taylor lets the team be free and creative, which made the eye-popping play feel routine.

“When I saw Chris out of the corner of my eye, I picked it up and threw it like it was natural,” he said. “I didn’t even think twice.”

Gray said Arline’s play wasn’t surprising to him either.

“Xavier is a beast — he used his athleticism,” he said. “And he’s only a freshman, which is really scary.”

Arline had two goals and two assists before that score that extended Shoreham-Wading River’s lead to 9-7. Senior Kevin Cutinella followed with his hat trick goal on a man-up opportunity, and from there, it was Gray’s turn to step up.

Gray went coast to coast, scored off a pass from Arline after Cutinella carried the ball into Islip’s zone, and added another unassisted goal to cap off the five-goal Wildcats run. Gray finished with five goals and one assist.

“We used a lot of teamwork,” Gray said. “We told ourselves we wanted to jump out on them early, get a fast lead, then kind of take the air out of the ball and let our offense do its thing — because we have one of the best offenses on the Island, I have full confidence to say that. They make me a better player.”

He said the team’s defense doesn’t get a lot of credit, especially being that Gray is second in Suffolk County scoring behind Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone, but it was hard to miss senior James Mirabell locking down a strong Islip offense, and racing to ground balls that led to crucial possession. The defense, also led by Dan Cassidy and Kyle Higgins, helped protect goalie Andrew DePalma, who made five saves.

“I think it’s the best defense we played all year,” Arline added. “We faced some adversity but we buckled down.”

During the lapse that saw Islip pour in four straight goals, Cutinella said his team fell flat.

“We were complacent,” he said. “And getting a penalty drained us.”

He credited Arline’s goal for sparking Shoreham-Wading River to get back on its game.

“You can’t teach that,” Cutinella said of the Arline to Gray play. “He’s making plays, getting everyone rowdy. It changed the game. That lights us up.”

Taylor said the Wildcats closing out the show the way they did was something he expects from his high-powered offense.

“They were resilient — Islip was battling back and I’m so proud of how they stood their ground,” he said. “We bent but we didn’t break.”

The head coach added that his team will celebrate, but just for a short time before getting back to work, because after last season’s state semifinal loss, the team feels it has some unfinished business. Arline said after being a part of the county and Long Island championship-winning team last year getting to that level almost becomes an addiction.

“It’s a feeling you want to get back every single year,” he said. “Our goal is to get a state championship and we’re one step closer.”

Shoreham-Wading River will play Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island championship at Stony Brook University June 3 at 3 p.m.

Mount Sinai edged out Bayport-Blue Point, 9-6, for the program's third consecutive Suffolk County Class C title. Photo by Desirée Keegan

With her team’s early 3-0 lead turning into a 5-3 deficit, Meaghan Tyrrell knew somebody had to take charge.

“I got the ball in our offensive end, and I knew somebody had to do it,” Tyrrell said. “And I just stepped up.”

She had a five-goal performance and two assists to lead Mount Sinai’s girls’ lacrosse team to its third consecutive Class C county crown, with 9-6 win over Bayport-Blue Point May 30. The junior scored unassisted to pull her team within one, 5-4, and assisted on senior Leah Nonnenmann’s game-tying goal less than 30 seconds later. She knew her team was on its way to the Long Island championship as she raised her hands toward the sky following two unassisted goals soon after her assist.

Meaghan Tyrrell moves the ball into Bayport-Blue Point’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We wanted this so bad,” Tyrrell said. “We know Bayport, we’ve seen them before, but each time it’s different. When they started coming back we realized something had to change.”

The key was not only Tyrrell taking charge, but locking down on defense, and the Mustangs had one of the county’s top defenders in senior Emily Vengilio to do just that.

“We never give up,” Vengilio said. “[Bayport-Blue Point has] a great offense, so we knew our defense had to step up. Three years ago when we lost to them [11-9 in the county final] in the last 10 minutes, we knew what it felt like, so we fought hard to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

Phantom Kelsi LoNigro was the target, and Vengilio and twin sisters Meaghan and Kirsten Scutaro made every step the senior tried to take difficult.

“Our kids are tough — they’re all veteran players,” Mount Sinai head coach Al Bertolone said. “We tried to take [Kelsi LoNigro] out of the mix because she’s a catalyst for their offense.

We took their best punches. At the end of the day you have to have kids that fight, and they fought.”

Mount Sinai jumped ahead 3-0 with two goals from senior Veronica Venezia. Tyrrell assisted on the first and scored the second goal of the game. But Bayport-Blue Point picked up steam to tie the game by halftime. Nonnenmann said her teammates were in their own heads, including herself — even while racing toward the circle to grab a pass from Tyrrell for her goal that made it 5-5.

Meaghan Tyrrell scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I was thinking ‘I should get this,’” she said. “I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders. But when it was me and the goalie I knew I had it.”

Mount Sinai’s objective just a couple of years ago was to “prove people wrong.” Now, the Mustangs are synonymous with championship-level lacrosse.

“We’d always been overlooked, but that’s changed now,” Vengilio said. “We wanted to make the full circle. Each win feels great, but this one especially. Now we’re definitely on top.”

It was hammer time for Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega, as the sideline sang her goal-scoring song five times in the girls’ lacrosse team’s 13-3 win over Northport May 30.

“You can’t touch this,” they screamed louder and louder with each goal.

Ortega stepped out on the field Tuesday ready to finish what her older sister Nikki had started more than five years ago — win the program’s first Class A Suffolk County championship. Nikki Ortega had led the Mad Dogs further and further into the postseason over her six-year varsity career until she graduated two years ago, and her younger sister has been steering the wheel ever since.

“I wanted to do this for her,” Jamie Ortega said. “And I wanted to play for all those seniors that didn’t have the opportunity to. We finished it for them. We didn’t want that feeling again.”

That feeling she referred to was the devastation after each loss at the hands of West Islip over the last three seasons — twice in the semis and once in the finals.

This time, although the foe wasn’t as familiar, Middle Country knew it couldn’t take its opponent lightly. No. 5 Northport was fresh off an 8-7 upset over nationally ranked No. 1 Ward Melville.

“We were nervous,” said senior Ava Barry, who scored a goal and had five assists. “It’s hard to beat a team twice. Any team can win on any given day.”

Middle Country is also ranked nationally, featuring the top lacrosse recruit in the nation in Ortega. The senior pulled out a similar showing to when the Mad Dogs completed a 14-5 win over the Tigers May 8. Ortega finished that game with four goals and two assists.

She scored three goals and had one assist at the end of the first half in the final. She completed her hat trick when, after passing to Barry who couldn’t find a clear lane near the circle, sent a pass back to Ortega and who fired her shot home for a five-goal lead, 6-1.

“It’s my last year and I knew that this was the time to step up and play ‘all in,’” the University of North Carolina-bound midfielder said. “I’m so proud of this team.”

The team was “all in” from one end of the field to the other. The defense held Northport to 12 shots, and senior goalie Emily Walsh made nine saves. Jennifer Barry, Ava’s younger sister, led Middle Country to a 13-5 draw advantage, with Ortega also pulling away with some draw wins. The offense had nine assists on its 13 goals.

“Our defense was great, we came up so big on so many stops in goal and had so many extra possessions that we took advantage of,” Ortega said. “We knew if we got the extra possession and made them turn over the ball that we could calm down and make a good play out of it.”

Barry had passed to Ortega for her second goal and dished the ball to senior Rachel Masullo for a 7-1 lead. Ortega and Barry made another pass-back move on the opening goal of the second half, after Ortega forced a turnover behind Northport’s goal.

“My teammates were making great cuts, got open really well and helped me be able to make the passes to them,” Barry said.  “When the sidelines get involved in the game it’s fun, it’s exciting. You always want your sideline to be cheering your team on.”

After a brief second-half hiccup, with Northport’s Emerson Cabrera putting her team’s first goal on the scoreboard since the 11-minute mark of the first half, Middle Country got right back to work. Head coach Lindsay Dolson never slowed down her team, saying the girls like to use their speed, and the team racked up three more goals before Northport scored its final goal of the game. She also said the win gave the team some needed confidence. But Ortega said she told her team they were capable all along.

“I told my teammates we shouldn’t be nervous,” Ortega said. “This was our game, our time. I told them we’re not losing today, everyone believed it and we proved it.”

Twin sisters Rachel and Amanda Masullo added three goals apiece and Jennifer Barry assisted on two goals.

Middle Country will face the winner of the June 1 Massapequa-Port Washington game for the Long Island championship at Adelphi University June 4 at 7:30 p.m.

“Our mentality has been just putting in every ounce of effort and not stopping until we seal the deal,” Rachel Masullo said. “So many of our seasons got cut short. Now, we’re ready to barrel through anybody that gets in front of us.”

Residents participate in a CDC survey to accumulate data on health and diets of Americans. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Suffolk County residents will play an important role in improving the health of their fellow Americans in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention selected Suffolk as one of 15 counties nationwide to participate in its annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a data collection study that is used to draw conclusions about the health and diets of people in the United States.

The CDC is the nation’s health protection agency, conducting research in the hopes of preventing the spread of diseases and tracking their prevalence. The NHANES is a 55-year-old program that tracks health and diet trends in the U.S. by selecting counties based on demographics with the goal of accumulating a set of data representative of the entire population of the country.

Three CDC trailers will spend about six weeks parked in Stony Brook’s Research and Development Park to study Suffolk County residents. Photo from CDC

This is the second time Suffolk was observed as part of the survey since the turn of the century, according to study manager Jacque DeMatteis. The CDC arrived April 29 at Stony Brook University’s Research and Development Park in three mobile trailers outfitted with dozens of pieces of medical equipment, researchers and physicians to begin assessments on the approximately 600 Suffolk residents selected.

“It’s important because right now we’ve got all of these miracles happening with cancer research and things like that, without information that people help us to provide — a lot of it comes from here — [researchers] don’t have anything to draw on,” DeMatteis said of the purpose of the yearly survey during a tour of the CDC mobile facility May 19.

Charles Rothwell, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, reiterated the importance of accumulating the data in a statement.

“The survey is a unique resource for health information, and without it we would lack important knowledge about major health conditions,” he said. “The comprehensive data collected by NHANES has a far-reaching and significant impact on everything from the quality of the air we breathe, to the vaccinations you get from your doctor, to the emergence of low-fat and ‘light’ foods on the shelves of your grocery store.”

A young participant in the study is measured. Photo from CDC

The process for selecting participants within a county begins with about 1,500 addresses, and interviewers scour the area in the hopes of securing about 600 willing participants who also provide a representative sample of age ranges, genders, races and ethnicities and degrees of health. The selected participants who are willing to be examined then visit the mobile facility to be subjected to a variety of tests of blood pressure, diet, dental/oral health, vision and hearing, bone density, liver function and much more using high-tech scans not often available through traditional physicians.

DeMatteis made the case for selected participants making the trip to be studied despite some minor possible inconveniences.

“For the people who participate, they get their results back,” she said. “If anything abnormal comes up they’re contacted immediately. Our national health officer will contact them and we’ve had a couple of situations where it was kind of life-threatening situations and they were totally unaware of it.”

Participating adults also receive $125, reimbursement for travel expenses and the opportunity to receive credit for five hours of community service. Newborns and up are required for data collection, though specific scans and tests are not done uniformly across age groups.

“A lot of people do it for the exams, and in the past even more people had no means to get access to health care, so they came here because they’re going to get a whole lot of data about their health that they otherwise can’t afford to get,” DeMatteis said.

No medical procedures are offered at the site, though on occasion physicians are forced to recommend immediate treatment if anything concerning appears as a result of a test. Patients are also allowed to pick and choose which tests they’d like to participate in of the ones they qualify for. The CDC urges anyone selected to participate in the survey.

Bellone speaks during a town hall at Port Jefferson Village Center. Photo by Kevin Redding

For a few hundred dollars annually, Suffolk County residents now have the option to take a step to improve the quality of Long Island waters.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) urged homeowners at a town hall meeting at Port Jefferson Village Center April 27 to get on board with a new grant and loan program that will help make the installation of state-of-the-art, nitrogen-reducing septic systems more affordable.

Bellone said the new systems, which would replace the 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, are the next step in a years-long initiative to reclaim Long Island’s water.

Brookhaven Town amends nitrogen protection zone law

By Alex Petroski

In June 2016, the Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously to approve a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems, which took effect in January.

At a board meeting last week, an amendment was passed that will allow the board to adjust the former law, which allows for 19 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of water discharged from new septic systems or cesspools. This will come following the release of new technology that will make lowering the amount of nitrogen possible. It is uncertain what the new level may be, but once the town knows what it is, the board will be able to lower the limit immediately with the new amendment. Without the amendment, the limit would have to have waited to be put into effect Dec. 1.

“This law says we’ll meet the standard, but the minute there’s a lower standard, we will go with the lowest possible standard,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during a public hearing on the amendment April 27.

Mary Anne Johnston of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Association commended the town’s actions during the hearing.

When the law was initially passed in 2016, Romaine spoke about the importance of limiting nitrogen in Long Island’s waters.

“We’ve all watched our waters degrade over the last 50 years,” Romaine said after the vote at a town board meeting held on June 9, 2016. “We all know part of the problem is nitrogen…the solutions to this problem are neither easy nor cheap. But doing nothing is not an option; we must act now. Our future depends on us addressing this problem.”

“Water quality is everything to us here — it’s our quality of life, our heritage, our economy, tourism economy, our recreation and what we drink,” Bellone told a roomful of residents in Port Jefferson. “We need to retrofit those homes to protect our environment and reverse decades of water quality decline. We will lose another generation here if this is not done right and we’re very focused on making sure we do this right.”

Under the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, Bellone and Deputy County Executive Peter Scully told attendees individual homeowners can apply for grants administered by the county’s department of health services, which will approve permits, perform inspections and supervise system installations. Loans, administered by the nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Long Island, offer homeowners low-cost financing for up to $10,000.

To cover the $17, 850 total cost of installation, eligible homeowners would be given an $11,000 grant — $10,000 for the installation of the individual alternative on-site wastewater treatment systems and $1,000 for a pressurized shallow drain field. Homeowners would pay the balance with a 15-year, fixed 3 percent loan.

The program primarily targets single-family, owner-occupied residences served by a septic system or cesspool. It excludes employees of the county, including elected officials or officeholders.

Charlie McAteer, a retired Port Jefferson Station resident and a member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said his home’s septic system is among the 360,000 that are a few decades old now. He said he and his wife showed up to the town hall meeting to gain more information on the grant program.

“We want to investigate it a bit more — see if it’s viable and economically feasible,” McAteer said. “We just have to do some numbers-crunching and see if it makes sense in our particular parcel and then see if we would qualify.”

Ed Bram, from Port Jefferson, expressed concerns the county isn’t reaching out to the right group of people, as many in the room were already environmentally aware.

“We all think it’s a wonderful idea…so it’s sort of like preaching to the choir,” Bram said. “The general public out there has a different nature of thinking. I think the county is trying their best at doing something for the environment but going about it the wrong way.”

It’s a legitimate concern, Scully responded.

“There’s an education piece to this that people need to come to grips with,” Scully said. “It’s important for people to speak up.”

The County Executive hopes the project can get underway July 1, with 400 homeowners to be selected to receive funding in the first two years of the program.

Homeowners can contact septicdemo@suffolkcountyny.gov. for more information.

Some debris dumped at the Town of Brookhaven’s Tanglewood Park in Coram. Photo from Legislator Anker’s office

The penalty for illegally dumping on county-owned properties may soon include jail time in Suffolk County, after legislators unanimously approved on March 28 both increased fines and the potential of up to one year’s imprisonment for anyone convicted. The bill, sponsored by Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his signature within the next 30 days. 

A no dumping sign along North Country Road in Shoreham. File photo

Once implemented, maximum fines for illegal dumping of nonconstruction, demolition and hazardous material wastes by a business or corporation will increase to $15,000 from the previous fine of $5,000. The penalty for dumping nonconstruction materials by an individual will remain at $1,000. If an individual is found dumping construction or demolition material, the misdemeanor fine will increase to $10,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a corporation or business. Under the change, both an individual and someone convicted of dumping material on behalf of a commercial entity may be sentenced up to one year in jail. Imposition of the ultimate fine or criminal sentence is within the sentencing court’s discretion.

“For far too long, fines associated with illegal dumping were considered just the cost of doing business,” said Hahn, chairwoman both of the Legislature’s Parks & Recreation and Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committees. “For those who choose to pursue greed over the health of the public and our environment, your cost of business has just gotten a lot more expensive. The one-two combination of increased monetary penalties and potential jail time will hopefully give pause to any person or commercial entity that believes these significant fines and the potential loss of freedom is a cost effective business strategy.”

Illegal dumping on Long Island has emerged as a serious environmental issue and threat to public health following the discoveries of potentially toxic debris within the Town of Islip’s Roberto Clemente Park, Suffolk County’s West Hills County Park and a housing development for military veterans in Islandia. In February, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued approximately 200 tickets for unlawful disposal, operating without a permit and other violations during stings conducted on Long Island and the Hudson Valley that also identified nine dumping sites upstate. 

“Illegal dumping of hazardous materials and construction waste on county property causes harmful chemicals to seep into our water.”

—Sarah Anker

“For decades, Suffolk County has worked tirelessly to preserve land in order to protect our environment and groundwater,” Anker said. “Illegal dumping of hazardous materials and construction waste on county property causes harmful chemicals to seep into our water, which negatively affects our health. It is important we do everything in our power to continue to protect our parklands and to ensure that illegal dumping does not occur. By doing so, we are not only preserving the environmental integrity of Suffolk County, but improving the quality of life for all residents.”

Trotta called the dumping a crime against the residents of Suffolk County.

“I want to make it unprofitable for contractors to dump this material,” he said, “and more importantly, I want them going to jail for this.”

Browning added that the parks are vital assets for Suffolk County residents, and one of the core recreational resources available to them. She doesn’t like seeing the destruction of quality of life. Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) agrees, saying it’s an important step to protecting parks, while giving teeth to all legislation recently passed on this quality of life issue.

“I applaud legislator Hahn for her hard work toward preventing this serious problem,” Browning said. “Aggressively attacking illegal dumping head on will ensure the sustainability of our parks and preserve one of the many reasons Suffolk County continues to be a great place to live.”

The 10-mile route that the Port Jefferson Station to Wading River Rails to Trails project will take. Image from Legislator Anker's office

As hundreds packed the auditoriums of Shoreham-Wading River and Miller Place high schools the same sentiment reverberated off the walls — there’s not only a want, but a need for a safe place for children to ride their bikes.

After the deaths of two local children, the desire for the Rails to Trails project to push forward was prevalent among the Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River residents who live along the proposed 10-mile trail.

“I don’t know if this trail is going to move forward 100 percent, but so far it’s picking up momentum,” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said to the March 29 group in Shoreham. “We need the ability to ride bikes in a safe place, the ability to take a walk or push a baby carriage in a safe place.”

Residents listen to questions and answers during the meeting at Shorheam-Wading River High School. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The legislator, who is propelling the project, brought members the Suffolk County Department of Works and engineering company NV5 to her first general meeting to gather public input and answer questions.

“I need to hear what you want, because I’m here to make it happen,” Anker said.

Steve Normandy, project manager with NV5, discussed the flat surface and location being conducive to a trail.

“There’s over 1,600 rail trails nationwide over 20,000 miles,” he said. “They’re good for biking, hiking, walking, safe travel to school, and studies have shown businesses thrive and home values increase, it improves air quality and enhances sense of community.”

On March 28, the county Legislature unanimously approved a negative New York State Environmental Quality Review Act determination for the proposed 10-foot-wide trail, which would be opened from dawn to dusk. The adoption of negative SEQRA determination means that there is no anticipated environmental impact for the project.

The path will have paver markings and mile-markers for county miles, as well as emergency services to locate those in need. It will also meet Americans with Disabilities Act slope requirements. The design report was submitted to the state Department of Transportation in February. If design approval is received this summer, final design plans will be prepared in the next year in the hopes of received final design plan approval from the NYSDOT in winter 2018.

Currently, the plan is that construction will begin in spring 2019, for a fall 2020 finish.

“We’ve met with quite a few partners and discussed a bunch of different aspects of maintenance, but the biggest issue we anticipate is really going to be cutting the grass,” said county Department of Public Works chief engineer, Bill Hillman. “We’ll be asking the community for help, to pitch in with a lot of the different maintenance aspects.”

The hope is that a not-for-profit like the Friends of Greenway, which maintains the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, will form to beautify and preserve the attraction.

Kaitlin Brown, who moved to Wading River five years ago, said she entered the area because she loved the trees.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker responds to questions from the audience. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I want to pledge my support because I think it’s a wonderful component that our community doesn’t have, and it needs,” she said, adding she is willing to help mow and maintain the piece of property, which is owned by LIPA. “I found my house on the map, and it looks like one day when I have kids, they’ll be able to get from our house through back roads to the trail, and then take the trail to the high school.”

Judy Black, who has lived in the area for 47 years, said she’s been hoping the trail would become a reality from day one, back in 2001 before plans derailed, and again in 2011 when Anker tried to revive the idea.

“I so hope we can come together and make this happen,” she said. “With a son that rode his bicycle all over the place I was always worried about him.”

She explained how she once saw a cyclist fall on North Country Road trying to maneuver around a construction sign. She was in need of medical attention, and when examiners arrived, they asked her why she was riding along a major road.

“But where else do you ride your bike?” Black said. “We need a safe place to ride, to walk with friends, to expand our community connection, and I’m so for it.”

The ideas weren’t without opposition.

There were some like 10-year Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz, who said she’s felt like she’s been kept in the dark.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” she said, although adding she would probably be in favor of Rails to Trials if she didn’t live near it.“This is in my backyard 24/7; you come for an hour-and-a-half walk and then you leave. I’m here all the time.”

Some of her concerns included if the trail will take property from homeowners, if cesspools will be affected and what issues her dogs barking toward the trail could bring.

Hillman and Anker reassured her that she will not be losing property, and cesspools will not be affected. As for dogs barking and noise ordinances, Hillman said it’s an issue Gladysz would have to take up with Brookhaven Town.

The trial currently doesn’t have any guardrails, fences, beautification elements, toilets or lights budgeted into the $8 million plan.

Those who would like to see where the trail will be located in relation to their homes could view individual hamlet maps during the meeting. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Anker said she is working on a plan to protect privacy along the path, and said Eagle and Girl Scouts typically do beautification projects, which could include adding benches and other useful things along the trail.

Others still worried about safety and other crime-related issues, were soothed by Sgt. Walter Langdon of the Suffolk County Police Department, and 7th Precinct COPE officer Mike Casper, who said there has been “little to no crime” at Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, but added that there will still be a police presence along the path.

By the end of the first meeting, those like Rocky Point resident Cory Fitzgerald were heard loudest, and supported by other community members for their opinion of the trail.

Fitzgerald has daughters aged 8 and 6, and both love riding their bikes.

“We take trips to Cape Cod every summer and the rail trail up in Cape Cod is phenomenal,” he said. “My girls ride their bikes more in that one week than during the entire year in Rocky Point. The roads in Rocky Point are very narrow and hilly, so I want to give my girls that opportunity to ride whenever they want. We’ve been waiting for so long — I’ve been told this was coming and I’ve been so excited and the girls really want this to happen. It’s going to be great for our community.”

Residents in favor of the trail, which some like Wading River resident Bruce Kagan are naming the “Tesla Trail,” because it will lead to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, were unanimous on the biggest topic of discussion: kids.

“This is the most deadly county for injuries and deaths for pedestrians and cyclists,” Kagan said. “There’s no place for our kids. Let us do this for our children and our children’s children.”

File photo

Suffolk County Police Sixth Squad detectives are investigating a fatal motor vehicle crash that killed a pedestrian in Centereach March 27.

Gabrielle Gallagher was driving a 2001 Ford Focus south on Mark Tree Road, just north of Linda Drive, when she struck a male pedestrian who was standing on the side of the road. The pedestrian, Dominick Geraci, 84, of Selden, was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the office of the Suffolk County medical examiner.

Gallagher, 27, of Centereach, was not injured and remained at the scene.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing.

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