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Town of Huntington

A high majority of people—95% nationwide—support organ donation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, only 29% of adults in New York have actually enrolled in the state's program. Left to right: Mark Cuthbertson, Christian Siems and Michele Martines raise awareness to improve organ and tissue donor rates. Go to Mydmv at dmv.ny.gov to register.

It’s as simple as signing a box on the back of your state driver’s license. Yet, New York ranks dead last in the country for the percentage of residents registered as organ donors, according to LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organization helping New Yorkers live on through organ and tissue donation.

The people in Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson’s (D) office know firsthand how critical it is to participate in the program. Both Cuthbertson and his legislative aide Michele Martines have children that needed transplants. Their ordeal has motivated them to spread the word about the importance of signing the organ donation registry.

“You can save a life,” said Martines.

In 2015, her 21-year-old son Christian received a heart transplant. He was diagnosed at age 18 with dilated cardiomyopathy and suffered cardiac arrest about a year later. Luckily for Christian and his mother, they ultimately received a call that they found a donor. Martines said many are not that lucky and die waiting for a donor.

“We didn’t know at the time that the left side of his heart had failed and if he didn’t get the call for his heart he would have passed away that night.”

Every 18 hours a New Yorker dies waiting for a donor, she said. “In New York it can take up to seven years to receive a kidney or liver transplant.”

Cuthbertson also has been affected personally by organ transplants. His son, Hunter was diagnosed in 2016 with aplastic anemia during a precollege physical. The condition causes a failure of the bone marrow to produce the necessary amount of red blood cells. The chance of finding a perfect match in bone marrow with a relative is only 20 percent, but he found that his brother was a perfect match. In 2017, Hunter received a bone marrow transplant.

“I was elated when I learned he was a match, I dropped to my knees and I was crying,” Hunter said in a May 2018 Times of Huntington article.

Despite efforts in recent years to improve the rate of organ donations, New York still lags behind the rest of the country.  Only 32 percent of New York State residents are signed up as organ donors. The nationwide average is 56 percent.

Since his surgery, Christian has taken up public speaking to local schools and advocating the need for organ donors.

“We need to educate more people about organ transplants,” Martines said. “Christian goes out and talks to kids and tells them his story.”

And the Town of Huntington has moved to the forefront of advocating the need for more donors on the registry. Beginning in 2018, the town began hosting a 5k Run to Save Lives, which highlights the statewide problem. Participants at this year’s event helped raise $11,000. All proceeds went to three nonprofits that handle and advocate organ and tissue donations:  LiveOnNY, Be the Match and Team Liberty.

Dr. Alan Gass, medical director of heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support at Westchester Medical Center oversaw Christian’s transplant surgery. He said there needs to be more education about organ donations.  He wants people to know that transplants work and it’s not just the rich and famous who receive organs.

“Most patients live on for decades after getting a transplant,” he said.  “Being a donor is the ultimate way of giving back.”

Martines said she hopes the work she and others are doing will eliminate misconceptions and help increase the number of people who sign up to be donors. “We’ll continue to try and make a difference here,” she said. “My son is alive because of a total stranger.”

Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena gives a tour of accident-prone sites. File Photo by Kyle Barr

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) decided to postpone voting on the town’s new mooring policy after the May 29 public hearing on the issue at Town Hall. 

“The supervisor felt the board needed additional time to contemplate the code changes and accompanying rate increases,” said Lauren Lembo, public information officer for Lupinacci, in response to an email inquiry.

The Wednesday afternoon meeting attracted a large number of speakers opposed to the changes.  Many complaints centered on the additional fees and insurance requirements.  Residents who spoke thought that visiting yachts should be responsible for absorbing additional costs, rather than taxpaying residents. 

The proposed mooring resolution as currently drafted aims to accomplish the following:

• Prevent irresponsible boat ownership and irresponsible boating.

 • Place liability for all costs incurred by the town in removing, storing and disposing of unseaworthy and wrecked vessels on the owner or person responsible for the vessel. 

 • Increase required insurance limits for vessel wreck removal and pollution mitigation; assure those who have concerns that this will, in fact, not require the Town to be named as an additional insured.

 • Lower the cost of transient commercial mooring permits from $200 to $40 to help the local maritime economy.

• Allow the 40 or so commercial baymen who operate in Huntington’s waterways to have their mooring permit included with the issuance or renewal of their commercial license, making it easier to do business in the Town of Huntington.

• Establish a nominal $40 season permit fee to be deposited into the board of trustees account. Non-residents already pay $200 for the same season permit to help cover the costs of vessel wreck removal, pollution mitigation, and remediation of navigational safety hazards.  The fees would also be used to help fund building a database to help the town identify who owns the boats on town moorings in the harbor, so the town can hold violators responsible for hazardous boating safety conditions.

“Our maritime and harbormaster staff often remove debris from the water—dislodged docks from Connecticut, wrecked and abandoned vessels in our own waterways and other hazards that can cause harm to life and property near our shorelines,” Lupinacci said at the meeting. “The town spent over $50,000 last year removing derelict and abandoned boats in an effort to keep the harbor safe to navigate and protect our water quality. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the consequences of irresponsible boat ownership.”

Northport power plant. File photo

One year ago, the Town of Huntington’s board members considered eminent domain proceedings for the Northport power plant as a potential outcome to LIPA’s tax lawsuit against the Town of Huntington.  

A newly released report on the topic, prepared by the town attorney and several other town departments, now suggests the legal obstacles just may be too great for the town to overcome.

“Let’s take it, let’s take it now.”

— Eugene Cook

The report notes that eminent domain proceedings would render the power  plant property exempt from taxes, a situation that would result in the loss of $55 million in taxes to the Northport-East Northport school district.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) found this aspect of the situation to be unacceptable.

“After reading the thorough report prepared by the town attorney, it is my position that eminent domain of the Northport power plant would not be feasible and would actually harm the Northport-East Northport school district, as well as taxpayers in the Town of Huntington, by making the property tax-exempt,” he said. 

Some board members, however, still support the idea of establishing a municipal utility through eminent domain proceedings.

“Let’s take it, let’s take it now,” Councilman Eugene Cook (I) said in a telephone interview. “We can lower taxes; we can reduce energy costs.” 

Cook estimates that the plant will likely be used for another 20 to 30 years, and he said that it may become a more important part of the state’s energy plan when Indian Point nuclear power plant closes next year. He’s undeterred by the report.

The detailed legal and financial challenges outlined in the report cite a range of laws, legal opinions and case law to support its findings.

“There is no doubt that General Municipal Law Section 360 authorizes municipalities to own and operate a power-generating facility,” the report states. “However, the grant of authority in Section 360 is limited.”

A main sticking point: The town can generate electricity for itself and its residents. But using only a fraction of the energy that it generates — and selling the rest to a public utility — is legally questionable. The report based this conclusion on a 1989 legal opinion of New York State’s attorney general, which reportedly states that a municipality cannot own and operate a power plant for the sole purpose of selling power to a public utility.

Using the current situation as an example, the report indicates the Town of Huntington would use approximately 15 percent of the energy generated by the Northport power plant, leaving a surplus of 85 percent. The courts would need to determine whether or not the arrangement would be legally acceptable, as stated in the report. 

Power of the LIPA statute

Town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town does not need permission to file eminent domain proceedings to acquire the Northport plant, but he added it’s unclear in LIPA’s Power Supply Agreement with National Grid if the town can step into National Grid’s shoes.

Additionally, the LIPA agreement may also prohibit a local municipality from owning, condemning and operating a power plant in any part of the former LILCO’s service area.  

“My focus is on passing legislation that would protect taxpayers across Long Island from LIPA’s nonsensical attempts to destroy communities.”

— Jim Gaughran

“A municipality located within LILCO’s former service area may not establish a public utility service to provide gas or electric power without LIPA’s agreement,” the report states, citing a 1999 attorney general legal opinion.

LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan did not respond to phone calls or questions submitted via email regarding the Northport power plant, but in a May 9, 2018, Times of Huntington-Northport report on the eminent domain proposal, the utility’s spokesperson said that LIPA’s annual $80 million in property taxes for the Northport power plant exceeds its revenue, potentially rendering the decision not in the public’s interest.

If the town board majority remains interested in pursuing the eminent domain option, the next step, as described in the report, would be for the town to hire an accounting firm to analyze the public benefit of operating the power station.  

Financial challenges

The Northport board of education weighed in on the loss and determined that it would have to dramatically reduce staff at all levels, eliminate proposed capital improvements, eliminate extra-curricular and academic offerings and significantly increase class size, among other measures.

“Assuming that the town’s operation of the power plant results in a net profit, there does not appear to be a legal mechanism to make the school district whole,” the report states.

This past spring NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) introduced legislation (§4452a)that aims to supplement school districts and government entities impacted by LIPA’s tax suit with additional state funds. The bills, though, still require support from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

“I stand fully behind the Town of Huntington in their lawsuit with LIPA and I have led the fight in Albany to protect taxpayers threatened by LIPA’s wreckless lawsuits, introducing and passing bills that would do just that,” Gaughran said. “My focus is on passing legislation that would protect taxpayers across Long Island from LIPA’s nonsensical attempts to destroy communities.”

If Gaughran’s bills pass and the board votes to move forward, the report also notes a majority of town voters would still need to approve a public referendum to acquire the power plant. 

“This would be a tall order as the power plant lies exclusively within the confines of the Northport-East Northport school district and voters outside of that school district might deem such an acquisition too provincial and/or not in their best interests,” the report states.

Paul Darrigo, a Northport resident who has garnered more than 4,500 supporters through a Facebook campaign Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA, said he is not yet prepared to comment on the complex idea of taking over the power plant through eminent domain. 

The deal, if it gets the green light from board members, the courts and the community, would also be dependent upon the town’s ability to borrow money or issue bonds to finance a municipal utility. If it all worked out, the project would “at a minimum,” reportedly double the town’s outstanding debt.  

The Northport power plant, the largest power generating station on Long Island, is owned by National Grid, a multinational business located in the United Kingdom. The plant and its four generating units and support facilities sit on 275 acres along Long Island’s North Shore. The town estimates the value of the property at $3.4 billion and receives $84 million in taxes. The plant burns both oil and gas and is regarded as a major air polluter. Both the American Lung Association and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have found its ozone emissions, a powerful respiratory irritant, to be a serious public health concern.

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the appointment of Dr. Antonio Sanchez as the new director of the Northport VA Medical Center. He is taking over for interim director Dr. Cathy Cruise. Sanchez will oversee delivery of health care to more than 31,000
veterans.  

“We are excited to bring Dr. Sanchez on board as the new director of the Northport VA Medical Center,” said Dr. Joan E. McInerney, director of Veterans Integrated Service Network. “His sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for the facility, the employees and volunteers, and most importantly, for the veterans we are honored to serve. We anticipate he will arrive at the medical center within the next 45 to 60 days to begin his appointment.”

Sanchez joined the VA more than 18 years ago and has held positions at the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most recently, he has been serving as the acting medical center director in Puerto Rico, operating 230 hospital beds, 30 psychiatric beds, a 122-bed Community Living Center, among others for a total of 382 operating beds. He has overall responsibility for 3,700 full-time equivalent employees and a $600 million budget.

Sanchez is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and has a board certification as a fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives. He received both his doctor of medicine degree and master’s in healthcare services administration from the University of Puerto Rico Medical Science Campus.  

The VA hospital has been without a full director since Scott Guermonprez left the position in July of last year after only one year at the helm.

The Northport VA has been plagued with staff shortages in recent years, including a federal investigation last year showing a chronic nursing shortage.

A marijuana pipe. Stock photo

A Town of Huntington councilman is planning a town hall to share how the town can be prepared if marijuana is legalized in New York.

On June 4, 7 p.m. at Huntington Town Hall, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) will preside over a discussion titled “The New York State legalization of marijuana: How would it affect us in the Town of Huntington? How can we best be prepared?”

Panelists include professionals from law enforcement, treatment and recovery; health care and prevention specialists; drug counselors; the American Automobile Association; human resource professionals and public policy makers. Panelists are expected to start the conversation on what the impact on Huntington would be if marijuana is legalized, followed by a question and answer section.

“The passing of such an impactful law at the state level requires leadership and commitment from local government policy makers,” Cuthbertson said. “We want to make sure that the Town of Huntington is prepared if this law is passed.”

For more information on the seminar people can call Cuthbertson’s office at 631-351-3171.

The Huntington Town board will consider at its June 18 meeting a plan to convert its Old Town Hall into an expanded hotel. The board previously approved the project, but will be reconsider a revised plan, which entails enlarging the size of the hotel from 55 rooms to  80 rooms. The proposal includes a three-story addition onto the rear of Old Town Hall, where the rooms would be located. The Old Town Hall building would contain the lobby, offices and common areas, as previously proposed. 

The site is located in the Historic Overlay District, a designation that gives owners of historic properties and large residential estates flexibility for use. The expansion means that the board must consider applying that special status to an additional parcel east of Old Town Hall, which the applicant acquired for the expansion.

“It’s important we bring renewed life to this historic landmark, preserving Huntington’s history and boosting our downtown economy,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Huntington village has always been a destination and the idea of a boutique hotel that pays homage to the building’s past life as the former Town Hall will achieve those goals, while bringing added convenience and comfort of an overnight stay.”

The project is being developed by Huntington Village Hotel Partners with George Tsunis one of the affiliated associates. Tsunis, a former partner in Rivkin Radler LLP, a law firm that represents both private clients and municipalities has served the Town of Huntington as special counsel.

Tsunis did not respond to telephone messages. Huntington Hotel Partners, as listed in the the state’s corporate file, uses the law firm Buzzell, Blanda and Visconti as its registered agent. The firm did not respond to telephone messages before going to press.

The plan to convert Old Town Hall into a hotel dates back to at least 2013, when Old Town Hall Operating Co. developed and submitted plans for a $10 million renovation to the town’s planning board. 

Old Town Hall was built in 1910 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It last served as Huntington’s Town Hall in 1979.

Gray skies set the scene for a burst of colorful tulips May 5 in Heckscher Park during the Town of Huntington’s 19th annual tulip festival. More than 20,000 tulips were planted for the event which featured crafts, vendors, music, dance and an art contest.

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer. File photo

By Donna Deedy

Suffolk County Water Authority and Suffolk County Legislator Dr. William “Doc” Spencer, chair of the legislature’s health committee, announced April 11 the imminent construction of a new Advanced Oxidation Process water treatment system to be installed at the authority’s Flower Hill Road pumping station in Halesite. The new system is designed to remove the currently unregulated contaminant 1,4-dioxane from drinking water. It will become the third new processing system for the county, joining the existing advanced system in Central Islip and another soon to be constructed system in East Farmingdale. 

The chemical 1,4-dioxane has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen associated with liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure to contaminated drinking water. 

“Though this compound is not currently regulated at the federal or state level we’re proactively installing AOP treatment at priority locations,” water authority chairman Patrick Halpin said. “This pump station on Flower Hill Road was a priority for us given the levels of 1,4-dioxane detected by our laboratory.” 

The Flower Hill Road well field was selected because it had the third highest detection for 1,4-dioxane of all of the water authority’s well fields. The highest detections were in Central Islip, and the second highest in East Farmingdale. 

“This pump station on Flower Hill Road was a priority for us given the levels of 1,4-dioxane detected by our laboratory.”

— Patrick Halpin

“The emerging contaminant 1,4-dioxane has been a deep concern of mine as a local legislator. I am thankful for the Suffolk County Water Authority’s partnership and willingness to confront this complex water quality and safety issue,” said Spencer. “Their swift action to install this innovative technology at the Flower Hill pump station in Huntington, the third site in Suffolk County, demonstrates their ongoing commitment to protecting our drinking water.” 

The three wells at the Halesite pump station averaged a detection of 2.02 parts-per-billion of 1,4–dioxane, with well #1 having the highest detection at 3.84 PPB. The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council has recommended 1,4-dioxane be regulated statewide at a level of 1 PPB, but the state’s department of health has not yet enacted the  recommendation. 

The advanced process works by introducing an oxidant to the raw groundwater, in this case hydrogen peroxide, and then passing that mixture through an ultraviolet light reactor. The ultraviolet light reacts with the oxidant to destroy the 1,4-dioxane molecules. The water is ultimately passed through a carbon filter to remove the peroxide and any by-products from the reaction. 

Costs to install the new treatment system exceed $1 million, which does not include annual maintenance costs. In an effort to defray these expenses, the water authority filed in December 2017 a lawsuit against the chemical companies responsible for polluting Long Island’s sole source aquifer. 

In its 1,4-dioxane complaint, the water authority named Dow Chemical Company, Ferro Corporation, Vulcan Materials Corporation, Proctor & Gamble and Shell Oil Company, alleging that their products — primarily industrial degreasers, laundry detergents and other household products — are to blame for the contamination. 

 The suit also includes a complaint about two other contaminants, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The PFOS and PFOA claims were filed against the 3M Company; Buckeye Fire Equipment Company; Chemguard, Inc.; Tyco Fire Products LP and National Foam, Inc. and allege the companies knew or should have known that the firefighting foam they made, distributed or sold is dangerous to human health and contains unique characteristics that cause extensive and persistent environmental contamination.

All chemicals are potential carcinogens. The PFOA and PFOS are particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children.

“It’s important that we take a proactive approach to removing these types of contaminants, but our ratepayers should not have to bear those costs,” SCWA board member and Huntington resident Jane Devine said. “They should not have to pay for the reckless behavior of companies who either knew or should have known about the effect this compound would have on groundwater.” 

The water authority is also working with the county and town to connect people with private wells in certain communities with the public water supply to avoid contamination.

The Suffolk County Water Authority is an independent public-benefit corporation operating under the authority of the Public Authorities Law of the State of New York. Serving approximately 1.2 million Suffolk County residents, the Authority operates without taxing power on a not-for-profit basis.

This post has been amended to reflect better who filed the 2017 lawsuit against chemical companies, as well as clarify what the water authority is doing to connect people with private wells.

Northport inn and restaurant is planned. Rendering from Kevin O’Neill

After a nearly two-year site-plan process, the Northport Village Board of Trustees unanimously approved March 26 the proposed Northport Hotel at 225 Main St. 

The hotel project, once complete, will include a 24-room hotel, a 124-seat restaurant with 50 additional seats in the lobby and bar area.

“This is probably the largest investment on Main Street since the [John W. Engeman] theater,” the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Tony Catapano said.

His agency approved in February a $1.3 million payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for the hotel. The 15-year agreement offers the hotel savings on mortgage recording and sales and property taxes.  

Catapano said the agency determined the tax incentives would save the hotel developers about 29 percent over the span of the 15 years. By 2035, the hotel would be paying full taxes estimated at $174,268 a year. Once the hotel is built, the owners will pay about $87,000 in taxes the first year with 3 percent tax increases each following year, according to the agency. 

Catapano said the agency projects approximately 66 jobs will be created during the construction period. Once in full operation, the agency expects the hotel would also create about 40 jobs with an average salary of $34,000. Construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

The executive director noted that while the tax agreement will save the developers money, developers are also spending $1.3 million on the hotel’s parking structure.  

“This will be a positive for Main Street,” Catapano said. “The hotel is going to be a tourist destination for people outside the region and for residents in Northport.” 

“The hotel is going to be a tourist destination for people outside the region and for residents in Northport.”

— Tony Catapano

Despite being a substantial investment for Main Street, many Northport residents have expressed concern about accessibility and how the hotel could exacerbate parking issues in the village. Hotel co-owner Kevin O’Neill — with Richard Dolce — did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Both men own the Engeman theater.

But O’Neill responded to residents concerns at a Jan. 29 village public hearing saying the hotel’s parking lot would be able to facilitate about 150 cars. 

Similarly, a study released in December 2018 determined there are plenty of parking spots if people are willing to walk.

The Village of Northport hired Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid-parking study of Northport. Their survey, which took place from August to October 2018, concluded the village’s 615 parking spaces are sufficient, with a slight exception of summer evenings.

On a typical weekday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Level G Associates found 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and Main Street lots were full as well. However, the study cited roughly 100 available spaces in the waterside lots and Lot 7, located off Woodside Avenue by the American Legion hall.

“These are normal/healthy parking patterns for an active [central business district],” the report stated.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, Level G Associates found most metered parking spots and lots on Main Street were full. However, the study found “ample available parking” in the free waterside and Woodside Avenue lots that are within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.

The only time traffic experts found an issue with the village’s parking was on summer nights, from 5 to 9 p.m. The study found the village’s parking is 95 percent full, often due to concerts and special event attendance, and could be improved through the addition of 72 spaces.

Northport power plant. File photo

The Town of Huntington and Long Island Power Authority have finally made their opening statements in a court trial that has been more than eight years in the making.

Huntington town officials, LIPA and National Grid are presenting their arguments over the proper tax-assessed value of the Northport Power Station beginning Feb. 25 before Justice Elizabeth Emerson at Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead.

LIPA filed its tax certiorari case over the assessed property tax valuation of the Northport plant in 2010 seeking to reduce its annual taxes by 90 percent, in addition to repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently more than $550 million.

It doesn’t differ all that much from when you grieve your property taxes, but this is on a much bigger scale.”

— Nick Ciappetta

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said all parties have agreed to start with the bench trial, decided solely by Emerson, by challenging the taxes paid on the plant in 2014.

“Even though they have filed petitions to challenge every year beginning in 2011, they have to file petitions individually for each year,” the town attorney said.

Ciappetta said that the burden of proof to demonstrate that the Town of Huntington tax assessor’s assessed value of the plant was incorrect lies with the utility company. LIPA will need to provide documents and expert testimony that convinces the judge that Huntington was in error, according to the town attorney.

“It doesn’t differ all that much from when you grieve your property taxes, but this is on a much bigger scale,” Ciappetta said.

LIPA started the trial with its opening statement and by calling on two expert witnesses for testimony Feb. 25. The Huntington town attorney said he expected the utility company to call on two additional expert witnesses to the stand to testify on its behalf before the town responds.

“We feel good about our position and that LIPA will not be able to sustain their burden,” Ciappetta said. “They have an appraisal that makes the plant seem as if it is worthless. That plant is vital to Long Island’s power grid.”

The Huntington town attorney said the town’s legal arguments will highlight how the Northport Power Station is unique given its “ideal location” and several factors, including its ability to operate based on either gas or oil, and is believed to be fundamental to meeting electrical demands during severe weather events.

We feel good about our position and that LIPA will not be able to sustain their burden.”

— Nick Ciappetta

The trial is open to the public and any who wish to observe the proceedings or listen to the arguments are welcome to the Riverhead court room, located at 1 Court St.

LIPA did not respond to request for comment on the ongoing court proceedings.

Ciappetta previously stated although the Town of Brookhaven settled its case with LIPA earlier this year, he does not believe that agreement will have any impact on Huntington’s case.

While six months of mediation between the town, LIPA and National Grid under their hired third-party arbitrator attorney Marty Scheinman has not yet resulted in a settlement, it remains a probable outcome according to Ciappetta.

“There’s always the possibility it will settle,” he said.

The court trial proceedings, if not wrapped up this week, will continue in April.

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