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Town of Brookhaven

From left, Valerie D. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Richard Baer, Ed Romaine (R), Brian Jablonsky, Neil Foley (R-Blue Point), Kevin LaValle, Dan Panico (R-Manorville), Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) and Town Clerk Donna Lent (R). Photo from Town of Brookhaven

From left, Valerie D. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Richard Baer, Ed Romaine (R), Brian Jablonsky, Neil Foley (R-Blue Point), Kevin LaValle, Dan Panico (R-Manorville), Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) and Town Clerk Donna Lent (R). Photo from Town of Brookhaven

At the April 6 Town Board meeting, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) honored Albert’s Pizza as Business of the Month for March in Council District 3. The award is given to a business deserving special recognition for the positive impact it has on the community.

Owned by Richard Baer and Brian Jablonsky, Albert’s Pizza has been an outstanding community partner for many years, providing jobs for local residents. Baer, who has lived in Ronkonkoma for over 30 years, recently launched his “Imagine the Pizzabillities” campaign. It is a “pay-it-forward” program where people come in, buy a pizza, decorate the box and have it sent to someone in the community to brighten their day.

“Rich and Brian have made a big difference in the lives of so many people, and that is what community is all about. I am happy to recognize them and all the folks who work at Albert’s Pizza as the CD 3 March Business of the Month. It’s a well-deserved honor,” said LaValle. Albert’s Pizza is located at 601-9 Portion Road, Ronkonkoma, in the Lake Shore Plaza. For more information, call 631-467-4674.

From left, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Supervisor Ed Romaine (R); Scott Meiselbach, owner of Sunrise Construction; Councilmen Kevin Lavalle (R-Selden), Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge), Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Neil Foley (R-Blue Point); and Town Clerk Donna Lent (R). Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Town of Brookhaven honors Business of the Month

At the March 2 Town of Brookhaven board meeting, Councilman Kevin LaValle honored Sunrise Construction in Farmingville as Business of the Month for March in Council District 3. The award is given to a business deserving special recognition for the positive impact it has on the community. Owned by Scott Meiselbach, Sunrise Construction has been an outstanding community partner for many years, providing jobs for local residents. He also helped repair numerous homes in the area after Hurricane Sandy. Councilman LaValle said, “Scott has been an outstanding leader in the Farmingville community for many years and he’s always ready to help when needed. I am happy to recognize him and Sunrise Construction as the CD 3 March Business of the Month. It’s a well-deserved honor.”

Greg Drossel outside Holtsville Hal's pen. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Ever since Greg Drossel was young, he’s had a love for the great outdoors. The 64-year-old Ridge resident grew up in Three Villages when it was still a largely wild area and spent most of his days reveling in and examining nature. Whether it was flipping rocks over for in-depth analysis or chasing animals through the woods, Drossel’s upbringing on Long Island laid the foundation for his career as a naturalist, an animal caretaker and, ultimately, the permanent handler of Holtsville Hal, the North Shore’s cherished groundhog and meteorologist, for 21 years.

Greg Drossel with the great prognosticator Holtsville Hal on Groundhog Day this year. Photo by Kevin Redding

From 1979 until 1997, Drossel crossed his passion for nature with a desire to get more kids to appreciate the outdoors as general manager of the Long Island Game Farm, a family-owned wildlife park in Manorville that currently features hundreds of animals and has been a frequent destination for school kids for decades. He currently serves as assistant director of student life at Ross School in East Hampton, where he holds lectures and mentors students on all things nature related and started an archery program, for which he is the instructor.

Drossel also served as a consultant for many zoos across the country and was involved in a lot of animal-related confiscation work with the federal government, retrieving illegally kept mountain lions and alligators from people’s homes. The naturalist has even handled animals for films, like Woody Allen’s “Alice” and the 1993 drama “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” and TV commercials and has appeared on “The Today Show” and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” with renowned zoologist Jim Fowler.

I had the opportunity to speak with Drossel right before Holtsville Hal made his famous Groundhog Day prediction at the Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville on Feb. 2.

Have you always loved animals?

Absolutely. My dad was brought up on a farm in East Setauket up off Sheep Pasture Road, and I’ve always been around the outdoors, grew up hunting and fishing and camping and having a respect for the natural world and it’s just stuck with me all these years. I hate to use the word, but that’s my drug. My kids say “put dad out in the middle of the woods with a pocketknife and a rock and he’ll be fine for the rest of his life.”

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Stony Brook-Setauket-Port Jefferson area and then moved to Lake Grove and now I live in Ridge out in the Pine Barrens.

Did growing up in that area make you the person you are today?

Definitely. Like anything else, I get to go back there quite often because I still have some friends and relatives that still live there. I remember grouse hunting with my dad as a kid where Stony Brook University is now … that was all wild, there was no Nicolls Road [back then]. I remember riding down Nesconset Highway when it was two lanes, one going, one coming, and it’d be nothing to see deer and fox standing on the side of the road in Setauket.

How did you become Hal’s handler?

Just being here. I’ve always enjoyed coming to the Wildlife and Ecology Center. Years ago when I ran the Long Island Game Farm, I used to handle the groundhog Malverne Mel and then when I left the game farm, I was able to spend more time here. This is such a great jewel in the Town of Brookhaven.

Where did Hal come from?

I believe Hal was rescued after being hurt and so that’s why he’s here now. And he’s permanently here [at the Ecology Center.] He’s got his own pen that he lives in.

What’s the life expectancy of a groundhog?

Well, there are understudies and I don’t want to give it all away. Of course, he’s the original Hal and always will be — he’s immortal.

Do you only see Hal on Groundhog Day?

No, I bring my grandkids here a lot and I have a summer camp at the Ross School and twice throughout the six weeks I make a trip out here with a bunch of little five, six and seven-year-olds.

What’s Hal’s personality like?

It depends, we all wake up in the morning in different moods and we’ll find out [today on Groundhog Day] how he’s feeling.

Do you think the little guy enjoys the festivities?

How could he not? I think he does, yeah, but you’d have to ask his agent. I’m just his lowly handler.

Does Hal get any special treats after the Groundhog Day event?

Actually no, he just wants to go back to sleep [like the rest of us], so they bring him back to his pen.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn about wild animals and nature?

It’s part of who we are. We all come from nature and we’re all caught up in technology, and I’m not saying that technology is bad but you got to get outside and really appreciate the outdoors. There’s a book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv about kids having nature-deficit disorder. You want to learn about geometry? Let a kid look at a pinecone. You want to learn about physics? Let them float a stick down a stream and see where it goes and how it gets there. It’s all out there.

A beware of dog sign outside Peter Connelly’s home in Rocky Point. He was the owner of the pit bulls involved in last summer’s attacks. Photo from Matt Tuthill

In the wake of vicious dog maulings in the area, Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new policy that will keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, the message is to dog owners: watch your dogs, protect them, protect them against other pets, and be a responsible owner because if you’re not, the town is putting things in place to act as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the Jan. 24 town board meeting.

Under the new county code amendment, entitled “Dog Control and Animal Welfare,” which reflects the stricter state law for dealing with dangerous dogs, the definition of “dangerous dogs” has been changed to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person who was attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

“I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners.”

—Matt Tuthill

The owners of a dog deemed dangerous who do not properly house their pets will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100, and third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000, and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

“It’s an attempt to place the onus on the owner,” Romaine’s chief of staff Emily Pines, who worked closely with town attorneys to craft the revised law, said during the meeting. “If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

The new policy comes after two incidents in Rocky Point last August wherein three loose pit bulls attacked and severely injured a woman and her boxer on a beach. Just a week later, the same pit bulls jumped over a fence onto a resident’s property and killed two Chihuahuas and injured their owner.

The pit bulls, which were returned following the first attack without penalty, were later euthanized by the town.

Rocky Point resident Matt Tuthill, who lives close to where the attacks occurred, spoke in support of the stricter rules on dog owners during the public hearing on the amendments.

Since the attacks last summer, Tuthill said he and his wife keep a knife in their 9-month-old son’s stroller whenever they take a walk around the neighborhood.

“It’s a huge concern to go outside with our son, and we even stopped going outside for a while,” Tuthill said. “I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners. A loose dog that’s allowed to roam a neighborhood is as much a danger to other children and pets as it is to itself.”

He asked that dog owners in opposition to the proposed policy “please support common sense.”

Colin Goldberg, another Rocky Point resident, who founded the website Brookhaven Bites directly following the attack on his neighbor’s Chihuahuas, echoed Tuthill’s call for enforcement on dog owners.

“Let’s not forget that five dogs were killed,” Goldberg said. “If you care about the welfare of dogs, you will choose to support these changes as well as look more deeply into a real solution to this issue.”

“If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

—Emily Pines

Medford resident Rick Palomo said he’s been dealing with loose pit bulls and their negligent owners for the last few years. A year and a half ago, two pit bulls charged up his front deck and killed his cat, which he said was handicapped and “never had a chance” against the dogs. About two months ago, one of the pit bulls attacked and pinned down another cat of his, but his son was able to save it in time.

He said that with town’s previous policy of capturing dangerous dogs and releasing them back to the owner after a small fine, the dogs are back in the streets running rampant and “terrorizing the neighborhood” within days.

“We don’t know what to do; we finally set up traps in my backyard last Friday and police came and captured the dogs,” Palomo said. “We’re doing everything by the book … I’m afraid they’re going to kill a kid or attack somebody and really mess them up. We have to put a stop to it. I don’t want to see the dogs get killed.”

Palomo’s son, Joseph, said the pit bull owners would just laugh at the old legislation.

“It’s time to get legal action involved, they won’t listen to anybody anymore,” he said. “They said ‘Our dogs don’t bite people, they just don’t like cats,’ and that’s very evil.”

While none of the dangerous dog owners were present at the meeting to make a statement against the proposed codes, Laurette Richin, founder of Long Island Bulldog Rescue, told board members that creating strict laws is not the solution.

“I’ve been rescuing and placing bulldogs and pit bulls in [the Town of Brookhaven] for 17 years and I think people need to be responsible with each other and mind their neighborhood by reporting these things,” Richin said. “I don’t think this should be legislated more.”

In response, Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Middle Island) said that “sometimes you have to pass a law to protect people from themselves, so not only does this law emulate the state’s law but it helps protect the dog owners as well.”

The new policy will be in effect immediately.

Held by Greg Drossel, Holtsville Hal says hello to the large crowd gathered at last year’s event. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Six more weeks of winter or an early spring?

Pennsylvania may have the legendary groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, but New York has Malverne Mel, Holtsville Hal, Sweetbriar Sam and even Staten Island Chuck and Dunkirk Dave.

In the Town of Brookhaven, the great prognosticator of prognosticators, Holtsville Hal will be the star of the day as the Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center Animal Preserve will celebrate with its annual Groundhog Day event on Feb. 2 with the gates opening at 7 a.m. Wayne Carrington will return as the master of ceremonies and Hal will be handled by Greg Drossel.

From left, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro, emcee Wayne Carrington and Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point)) at last year’s event. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

According to tradition, if a groundhog sees its shadow after stirring from hibernation on Groundhog Day, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; if not, spring should arrive early. Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) will serve as Mayor of the Day and reveal Hal’s forecast at approximately 7:25 a.m. “Our annual Groundhog Day celebration is an enjoyable tradition for many local families,” Losquadro said. “While I’m always hopeful Hal will not see his shadow, predicting an early spring, either way this is a much-anticipated event each year in Brookhaven Town.”

“Groundhog Day at the Ecology Site is always fun for families who have made it an annual tradition and for those who come for the very first time,” said Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “I always look forward to Holtsville Hal’s prognostication, but I hope he doesn’t see his shadow and we have an early spring.”

Although he’s sure to be the center of attention, Holtsville Hal will not be the only animal available for viewing on Feb. 2. Following the ceremony, the community is welcome to stay and enjoy some free hot chocolate and visit the more than 100 animals that live at the animal preserve, which will remain open until 3 p.m. at no charge.

The Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center Animal Preserve is located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville. Parking is free. For more information, call 631-758-9664.

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From left, Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Councilman Kevin LaValle, Island Car Wash owner Ron Kass, Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilmen Dan Panico, Neil Foley and Michael Loguercio. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

At the Nov. 17 Brookhaven town board meeting, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) honored Island Car Wash in Centereach as Business of the Month for November in Council District 3. The award is given to a business deserving special recognition for the positive impact they have on the community. Owned by Ron Kass, Island Car Wash has been a successful small business in Centereach for 21 years.

The company has averaged 300 hires per year, and they’ve employed over 5,000 people over the course of their business history; the overwhelming majority coming from the Brookhaven and local Centereach community. “Island Car Wash has been a great community partner for 21 years, including discounts for veterans and working with the local civic association by hosting fund-raising events. I am happy to name them as the October Business of the Month, a well-deserved honor,” said LaValle.

Superstar Beverage was closed following multiple violations and illegal activity. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Superstar Beverage building on Route 112 in Coram has been condemned as a result of illegal activity and safety issues.

Following an investigation, the alcohol distributor, a source of many complaints of drug and alcohol related activities, was cited with numerous State Liquor Authority violations, including sale to minors as well as licensing violations. The Town of Brookhaven building inspector and fire marshals condemned the location for fire code violations and for no Certificate of Compliance and no Certificate of Occupancy.

“You had prostitution here, drug dealing, the sale of alcohol to underage individuals — all of that poses significant public safety risks and degrades our quality of life here,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We’re not going to stand for that.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that the site has been a nuisance to the community for years.

“I have been continuously working with local community leaders, the Suffolk County Police Department and the Town of Brookhaven to collaborate on public safety and revitalization efforts,” Anker said. “It is important that we do everything in our power to support the Coram community and its local businesses to ensure that it remains economically viable.”

A notice is taped to the door of Superstar Beverage siting the condemnation of the building. Photo by Kevin Redding
A notice is taped to the door of Superstar Beverage siting the condemnation of the building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Residents rushed to social media to voice their support for the shutdown.

“This is amazing,” Eric Malmed wrote on Facebook. “This area was being turned into such a dump because of that place, and the shopping center across the street was so unsafe. Thank you.”

Others are afraid it won’t get rid of the problem.

“Do you think closing it down will get rid of drugs and prostitution in the area?” Robert Mindlin of Selden asked. “You are sadly mistaken.”

Tom Hoffman of Yaphank echoed his sentiment.

“Getting rid of the beer store won’t get rid of the problem,” he said. “They will migrate somewhere else within the county. It’s happened before and it will happen again. I cannot take away from the exceptional work of our county’s finest. I just hope relocating the problem does not create a larger one via conglomeration.”

To help cut off the problems though, Anker and Legislator Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) formed the Coram Plaza Revitalization Task Force in the spring in response to quality of life concerns from Coram residents. The task force is made up of many community stakeholders including elected officials from the state, county and town, the Suffolk County Police Department, the Department of Social Services, local civic leaders, property managers and representatives from not-for-profit organizations. The task force has coordinated revitalization efforts including homeless outreach efforts, increased security at the shopping center and the condemnation of Superstar Beverage.

“I would like to thank Commissioner Sini and the Town of Brookhaven on their collaboration, which they have brought to a higher level than we have seen before,” Calarco said. “They recognize that when we all work together, we can produce real effective change for our communities.”

He said local business owners in the Coram Plaza shopping center have said they’ve seen a marked improvement in security and the ability of their costumers to feel comfortable shopping in their stores, especially since the beverage center shut down.

Sini said he intends to keep it that way.

“Town, police and county officials are going to stand with the community, work together, and solve our public safety problems,” he said.

Is it time for a second look at the reclaimed nature preserve?

West Meadow Beach as seen from clear-sky day. Photo by Donna Newman

It’s been 20 years since New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) authored legislation to create a nature preserve at West Meadow Beach, with a guarantee that it would not be a drain on the ongoing Brookhaven Town budget.

Englebright described a grueling and divisive battle that continued for the eight years between passage of the legislation and the eventual reclamation of the beach.

“I wanted to write state law that established, as specifically as I could at the time, the land uses going forward,” he said, adding that West Meadow Beach is now the most valuable asset Brookhaven Town owns.

Brookhaven officials agreed to take responsibility for the preserve, via a “home rule message,” to keep it a town property.

“Home rule message” is a New York State Assembly policy that, if a proposed bill will affect a municipality, before the speaker authorizes it to come out of committee, that municipality must signal its approval, Englebright said. Brookhaven Town, under then Supervisor Felix Grucci, did just that.

The legislation — A 11008-A in the Assembly and S 7829 sponsored by former New York State Senator James Lack (R) in the Senate — included a provision for a segregated account to contain rent money paid into it by the cottage-owners who continued to occupy them during the summers between 1996 and 2004.

In 1996, nearly 100 cottages were on West Meadow Beach. The legislation required all cottage owners to pay an annual rent to the West Meadow Beach Capital Restoration Fund overseen by both the Stony Brook Community Fund and Brookhaven Town.

In 2004, that fund was used to remove the cottages to make way for the preserve, as well as restoration of the beach.

The Gamecock Cottage at the end of Trustees Road, one cottage to serve as a local museum, and two cottages for security/park protection purposes were the only buildings not removed.

Meanwhile, the Stony Brook Community Fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. It has since declined to handle the responsibilities spelled out in the legislation.

According to the Brookhaven Town Department of Finance, these endowment funds are kept in a bank account separate from other Brookhaven Town funds. The current balance in this account is $1.45 million, which generates approximately $2,000 in interest per year to be used at West Meadow. If this interest is not used, it reverts back as an addition to the principal of the fund.

Jack Krieger, public information officer of Brookhaven, confirmed in an email that Brookhaven has been compliant with this law since it was created.

Englebright said he feels it might be time to revisit the management of West Meadow Beach.

“It may be time for a public/private partnership vision to be pursued,” he said. “A not-for-profit operating the Nature Center in conjunction with the town [would be preferable].”

He pointed out that the practice works extremely well for organizations like the Bronx Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History.

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Whether you plunged or supported a plunger, Long Islanders flocked to Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach Nov. 19, dressing up and gathering together with teams to jump in and out of the cold waters as part of the Town of Brookhaven’s seventh annual Polar Plunge.

By registering to plunge, applicants raised money for the athletes of Special Olympics New York.

Special Olympics New York has 67,162 athletes training and competing year-round in 22 Olympics-style sports. Athletes and their families or caregivers are never charged to participate. It costs $400 to support training and competition for one athlete for one sports season.

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

By Kevin Redding

Last month, contractors from PSEG Long Island started work on what’s planned to be an eight-month-long project in Rocky Point that will strengthen the electrical grid and harden the system to better combat extreme weather on Long Island.

The project route covers three miles along an electric main line circuit, with crews working on several streets including Hallock Landing Road and Rocky Point Landing Road.

This project is part of an ongoing effort by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve electrical infrastructure to protect against future storm damage and help restore power faster. Rocky Point is among a long list of routes being worked on in the Town of Brookhaven.

The project’s $729,000,000 in funds was secured in 2014 through an agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, which helps communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a major disaster declaration.

The project will replace existing wire with more weather-resistant wire, install new and more durable poles in several locations, and install or replace switching equipment to help reduce the number of customers affected by an outage, according to the official PSEG website.

“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.”

“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.”

—Elizabeth Flagler

After Hurricane Sandy and the following winter storm in 2013, many of the areas being worked on in Rocky Point were among the longest without power on the North Shore — some homes were dark for up to 10 days. Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who lives in Rocky Point, experienced the extensive power outages firsthand. She said that many people will benefit when the work is completed.

“In a perfect world … we won’t experience another storm like Superstorm Sandy, and we’ll never know if this was needed,” Bonner said. “But the prevailing opinion is that there were a host of reasons why so many people were without power, and PSEG is addressing these reasons. There were major health concerns for people to not have power that long … sanitary concerns; elderly and infirmed people that needed power that don’t have generators; we have concerns with long-term use of generators; so, if we can keep the power going, it’s a good thing.”

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.

He hopes that with these improvements, if and when a next storm were to hit, the damage would be minimal.

“The recovery time won’t be that long,” he said. “And the financial damage will be limited.”

Romaine did, however, suggest that 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.”

Trees that grow near power lines will be trimmed when necessary, as they increase the chances of power outages and pose safety risks. The new poles will be about the same height as existing poles but will have a stronger base and be placed about 2 to 3 feet from the current pole locations.

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.

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