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Town of Smithtown

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials will pay out more than $13,000 in past-due overtime pay and offer training to settle labor disputes involving more than 25 town employees.

The Smithtown Town Board approved settlements at the May 8 town board meeting for two labor grievances with unionized town park employees related to overtime pay and hiring a third-party contractor installing its new playgrounds.

Currently, Gibbs Pond Park in Nesconset, along with Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James are receiving long-awaited renovations including the installation of new playground equipment. When the town bought the equipment in September 2017, it also hired the installation services of Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc. The members of Civil Service Employees Association local union Chapter 852 brought the labor grievance to the town board claiming that said town employees were not notified of the hiring of the third-party company and having an outside company install the playground equipment was a violation of the workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Despite repeated attempts, a representative from the union chapter could not be contacted by press time.

 [I]f somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.
– Ed Wehrheim

Some of the playground work included groundwork and removal of old playground equipment. The town paid Landscape Structures $144,000 for the installation of the Gibbs Pond equipment, $87,050 for Gaynor Park and $94,000 for Veterans Memorial Park for a total of more than $325,000.

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that the notification of hiring the third-party installer was run through the town’s Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds.

“For the type of playground that was purchased, it requires a certified installer from the company,” he said.

Town officials said that the playground equipment required workers who had Certified Playground Safety Inspector licenses, which are the National Recreation and Park Association produced certifications giving lessons on playground safety issues such as hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods, according to NRPA’s website.

“We put that out to bid to furnish and install that equipment,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “The reason we did that is federal standards have changed in what we are required to do for liability purposes in playgrounds. In this case, when [the third party] installs, the equipment is warranteed. So, if somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.”

Under the settlement, Smithtown officials agreed with the union that, starting in 2019, the town will provide an opportunity for any town employee who wishes to get licensed to take the necessary classes and become certified. Wehrheim said the town will cover for any associated expenses.

Officials also agreed that in the future the town discuss whether any new playground equipment or playground maintenance will be done by town employees or a third-party directly with the chapter president or other chapter officers.

The town also reached an agreement with parks employees on overtime equalization.

In 2017, unionized workers brought to the attention of the town board, problems with the equalization of overtime pay of parks department employees in 2016. Under current agreement, member employees are allowed an overtime equalization equal to 80 percent of the employee who received the highest overtime pay. Jakubowski said that a mistake in the parks department meant several employees were not given those funds.

The town will pay out the sum total of $13,775 divided among 25 employees who did not receive their proper overtime wages.

From left, Zoey, Emily Ciano, Lucas, Debbi Haupert and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim watch the rose bush being planted May 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

Five-year-old Lucas Cianci watched Town of Smithtown officials plant a rose bush in front of town hall May 10. He could watch, but he wasn’t allowed to go touch it or play in the dirt. Lucas knew the reason why –he has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Lucas Ciano, 5, enjoys his new Kindle Fire. Photo from Debbi Haupert

“Cystic fibrosis is extremely germ driven, even by bacteria contracted in water and soil, which really is everywhere,” Lucas’ grandmother, Debbi Haupert of Smithtown, said. “[Lucas] knows he’s different. He knows he’s restricted from doing things that other children do.”

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic mutation that causes a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. The mucus traps bacteria inside the organs which leads to infections and extensive lung damage.

Smithtown town officials pledged May 10 to plant 65 rose bushes in the upcoming weeks in honor of National Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month this May with the help of several local civic  and community groups.

The story behind the 65 Roses Project dates back to 1965 when 4-year-old Ricky Weiss, who when he first diagnosed with the disease could not say cystic fibrosis, but called it by the closest approximately he could “65 Roses.”

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) also gave Lucas a bag of superhero toys with a Kindle Fire so he can read books without having to pick up books that might have bacteria on them. When Lucas opened the Kindle, there was a personal message on it calling him a superhero.

“You know who else have genetic mutations? Superheroes,” Wehrheim said to Lucas. “You’re our superhero.”

Every day Lucas, a Merrick resident, has to go for airway clearance treatments that can last 20 to 30 minutes at a time. As people with cystic fibrosis get older, the treatment can take as long as four hours.

“You know who else have genetic mutations? Superheroes. You’re our superhero.”
Ed Wehrheim

“It’s a progressive disease, so as the years go by the need for additional treatments increases,” Lucas’ mother Emily said. “Right now, it’s not overwhelming for us, but it’s hard. It’s hard telling [Lucas] to sit still during treatment – he’s just a kid.”

Approximately one out of every 31 people in the United States are carriers for cystic fibrosis, according to the nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25 percent chance the child will be born with the disease.

Lucas’ mother, Emily Ciano, a graduate of Smithtown High School, said that before she became pregnant she could not imaginethat she or her husband, James, were both carriers for cystic fibrosis.

“I was blindsided with it while I was already pregnant with Lucas,” she said. “It’s overwhelming to find out this information when you could have found out before hand with a simple blood test.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo plants a rose busy in front of town hall May 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

She expressed how important it is for prospective parents to get tested for being cystic fibrosis carriers before they make any decision. The American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that doctors offer pre-pregnancy screenings to all women.

Ciano said she has marveled at the strides that researchers have made in treating cystic fibrosis, and is optimistic that by the time her son needs more extensive treatment that there will be more options offer to help him.

Many area community organizations have pledged to help spread awareness of cystic fibrosis by joining the town in its 65 roses project. Local leaders including Rob Cartelli, of the Smithtown Chamber of Commerce; Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park chamber; Vincent Puleo, of the Nesconset chamber; and Kerry Maher-Weisse, Bill Capurso and Mario Mattera of the Community Association of Greater St. James have all made commitments to planting rose bushes at various plazas and parks in their respective hamlets. Bob Souto and Marie Gruick volunteered the assistance of the Nesconset Civic Association to help with the planting.

Smithtown residents who wish to be part of the 65 Roses project are encouraged to post photos of roses they plant in their yard on Twitter with the hashtag #65RosesSmithtown.

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown might finally be coming together, literally. Town officials are getting appraisals of town-owned property as a first step toward consolidating town departments under one roof.

“We need to consolidate, no doubt about it,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Though how we do it depends on how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer. We’re going to look for the most economical way to do it.”

At a May 8 meeting, Smithtown’s Town board unanimously approved retaining the services of Mineola-based Michael Haberman Associates Inc. to perform appraisals of four town-owned and operated buildings. The cost of the appraisals is not to exceed $10,000, and Wehrheim said it will be a few months before the town has results.

I don’t see [ the New York Avenue building] as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

– Tom Lohmann

The properties to be evaluated to determine their real estate value are: 40 Maple Ave. in Smithtown, where the town comptroller and assessor offices are; 124 Main St. in Smithtown, currently home to the engineering department and department of environment and waterways; 23 Redwood Lane, which houses the building department and its neighbor, 25 Redwood Lane, which contains both the planning and community development department.

Wehrheim said that the properties chosen for appraisal are already costing the town money for annual maintenance.

“Those structures are pretty old buildings,” he said. “They require a lot of maintenance in terms of heating, air conditioning, … etcetera. We’re gonna save that much money right off the bat for the taxpayer.”

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said that one of the big perks that will come with consolidation will be residents will no longer have to travel a good distance to meet with several different town departments.

We need to consolidate, no doubt about it.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“The other part is one stop shopping,” Lohmann said. “You got to go down to the town clerk, you got to go to the town attorney, the tax receiver’s office, you have the tax assessment, it wouldn’t be a big difficulty. If you have all those entities here you’re not running around all over the place.”

Some town-owned properties are not included in the appraisal because they are simply too large to be included or moving their base of operations would be too costly.

“The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate,” Lohmann said. “Public safety you won’t because there is too much money invested just with the telecommunications systems.”

There are currently two options for consolidating, according to Wehrheim. The supervisor said the town is looking again at potentially purchasing the Smithtown school district’s administrative offices, the Joseph M. Barton Building on New York Avenue, for moving town hall. The second option is for the town to build an extension onto Town Hall itself.

The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate.”

— Tom Lohmann

Smithtown United Civic Association, led by President Tim Smalls, presented a proposed plan for downtown revitalization that pushed for Smithtown town government offices being consolidated into the New York Avenue building.

Lohmann said that he believes the school-owned building is not feasible because of its need for extensive renovations.

You’re talking about over $2 million to do cleanup and an abatement there, then a redesign,” he said. “I don’t see that as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

David Flynn, the town’s planning director, said consolidation is not as big a deal for his department in the age of computers and easy telecommunication.

“Of course, it will make some difference, but in the current world where people use phones and computers for communication it means less than it would of 20 years ago,” he said. “Would it be more convenient to meet with somebody, sure.”

Whether or not Flynn and his department moves is all going to come down to comparing the costs of keeping the buildings or consolidating them.

“It all depends on running out the costs for both scenarios, how much the cost is for heat, light, water and other kinds of maintenance,” he said. “I think you estimate it either way and see what the costs are.”

Attorney Philip Butler, an associate of Weber Law Group, explains a puzzle that might be inside one of Puzzle Break's escape rooms. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

A new interactive game center has the green light to excite and perplex Smithtown Main Street shoppers this coming summer after eight months of extensive negotiations with town officials.

Puzzle Break Long Island will offer escape-the-room style games for individuals eight years of age and older in its new Smithtown location. Participants, working in teams of up to 12 people, are stuck inside a room and must work together to solve a number of unusual puzzles in order to make it out of the room within a one-hour time limit.

We got into the escape room business because we wanted to bring people together in a fun, interactive environment.”
– Ian Kelly

“We got into the escape room business because we wanted to bring people together in a fun, interactive environment,” said Ian Kelly, general manager of Puzzle Break LI, said in an email statement. “We’re excited to bring a fun, family friendly establishment to Smithtown that’s good for everything from birthday
parties to corporate team building events.”

Smithtown Town Board members voted unanimously April 26 to give the project a special exception permit to create the 4,432-square-foot game center located in the shell of what once was Cornet Music on Main Street. The building was zoned for retail use only, and the company was required to demonstrate meeting 17 zoning requirement to allow the game center to open as well as a parking variance.

“This was one of the more enjoyable applications because the applicant and the town were on the same page,” said Bram Weber, an attorney with Melville-based Weber Law Group representing Puzzle Break LI. “I know Smithtown is looking for new ways to have vibrant downtowns, and this is a perfect use

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said he is excited to see if this new type of business in the area will help increase traffic to Smithtown’s downtown businesses.

“I think it’s going to be good for the business community.”
– Ed Wehrheim

“I think it’s going to be good for the business community,” Wehrheim said. “I think we have to move toward things like that, that make a destination point for the business district. Generally, once you have them there like this, they’ll use one of the restaurants, ice cream parlor or something like that.”

The company hopes to build four different puzzle rooms, each with its own theme and challenges. In its current Syosset location, the escape rooms themes are modeled after “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” a carnival, exploring inside an ancient Egyptian tomb and one is based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Representatives for Puzzle Break LI said renovations are getting underway, with hopes of opening for business this summer. Their puzzles are harder than your average crossword, according to Kelly, with only a 15 percent managing to successfully escape.

“Our escape rooms are definitely challenging,” he said. “Our escape rooms bring people together without the use of Siri or Google. Yes, that means people actually interact with one another.”

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The former director of the Smithtown animal shelter is suing the town, her former co-workers and Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) who she claims were personally hostile in their actions toward her.

Rocky Point resident Susan Hansen, who served as the supervisor of the Town of Smithtown’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Center for under two years, filed a lawsuit April 25 in United States District Eastern Court. Hansen is claiming her First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was arrested for alleged criminal trespassing at the shelter after she was suspended as director in February 2017.

Former Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter Director Susan Hansen. Photo from Sue Hansen

“They caused criminal proceedings, including arrest and prosecution, to be instituted against Hansen, not for any legitimate concerns to seek justice, but rather for collateral and malicious purposes,” reads the lawsuit.

Hansen, who supervised the town’s animal shelter from August 2015 until February 2017, was arrested for allegedly criminally trespassing at the facility during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 18, 2017.

Upon arriving at the volunteer orientation, Hansen said she was informed by her former co-workers that she was not allowed to be in the building and willingly left. She was later arrested by Suffolk County police March 10, 2017.

The criminal trespassing charges against Hansen were later dismissed upon the Suffolk County district attorney’s request.

Hansen claims she began being harassed by Inzerillo shortly after she was elected to the town board in 2016. Hansen said the councilwoman, who serves as co-liaison to the shelter, inappropriately criticized her management style in front of visitors during a Feb. 11, 2016, tour of the facility. This continued through several emails and confrontations, according to the court records, before Hansen had an attorney reach out to former Supervisor Pat Vecchio to address the situation in January 2017 — weeks before she was suspended.

Inzerillo said she had no comment on the lawsuit, stating that she had not yet been served the papers or a chance to read it. Smithtown Town Attorney’s office had no comment on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit also alleges that the town purposefully “hamstrung” Hansen’s work by not giving her the necessary funds and staffing to improve the heavily criticized conditions at the animal shelter.

“They caused criminal proceedings, including arrest and prosecution, to be instituted against Hansen, not for any legitimate concerns to seek justice, but rather for collateral and malicious purposes.”
– Court Records

“Long after Hansen’s departure from the animal shelter, independent animal rights advocates were expressing their opinions that the animal shelter was not being run properly, thus, it is more likely than not that Hansen was correct that conditions at the shelter (which were abysmal long before Hansen arrived) were caused by upper management’s failure to assist the animal shelter …,” reads the lawsuit.

Hansen had taken over the shelter from former director George Beatty, who stepped down in June 2015, after more than 30 years. His resignation came after heavy criticism from Smithtown residents who alleged he was doing an inadequate job and the conditions animals lived in and how they were cared for at the shelter were unacceptable.

It cites the town increased the shelter’s budget by 14.6 percent in 2017 once Hansen was gone.

As of April 30, town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo confirmed the town has spent $76,086.10 on upgrades to the shelter since February 2017. These upgrades include renovating the former director’s offices into a meet-and-greet area, a complete renovation of the veterinary office, new dog beds and replacement of the cat condominiums. The town has also promoted two part-time animal control officers to full-time positions, according to Garguilo, accounting for some of the budgetary increase.

The town does have plans to replace the water main leading to the town property — also the site of the firematic training grounds and senior citizen center — to improve service. This would allow for future installation of a fire sprinkler system in the animal shelter, Garguilo said. There are also plans to construct a TNR building to house its trap, neuter and return program in 2019.

Surplus funds to be used to redesign Bellemeade Ave parking lot

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A trio of Smithtown parks are finally getting their day in the sun as upgrades are underway for the first time in two decades.

Joseph Arico, Smithtown’s park maintenance director, said town employees are working to finish updates already underway to Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset, and Gaynor and Veterans Memorial parks in St. James before schools let out for the summer. The capital projects are expected to come in at or below the approximately $1 million budgeted, according to Arico, and the leftover funds will go toward town’s redesign of the Bellemeade Avenue municipal parking lot.

“It has been a long time in coming,” he said. “I’m going to say that Gibbs Pond park, the last time work was done there was probably at least 15 to 20 years ago at the minimum.”

It has been a long time in coming.”
— Joseph Arico

Joseph Andreoli Park, commonly referred to as Gibbs Pond park, will be receiving a completely new playground set including one specifically made for younger children. The old rubber matting which covered the play space is being stripped and replaced with Classic Turf, which Arico said looks more like a synthetic grass “shag rug” than traditional artificial turf.

“When [the matting] gets old and you have to repair it, it never looks the same,” the parks director said. “There were patch marks all over the place, you could see the old and the new.

He said his hope is the new Classic Turf will be easier for town employees to fix and maintain in the future. Work at Gibbs Pond is about 80 percent complete, according to Arico, and is anticipated to be finished by mid-May.

In St. James, the construction vehicles sitting in Gaynor Park’s parking lot serve as a clear sign to residents of the nearly $500,000 in upgrades that are underway. The town’s two existing tennis courts are being resurfaced while the adjacent basketball court is getting enlarged from half court to full regulation size. A new playground was in the process of being installed April 20, which must be finished before the grass turf and brickwork can be done. Arico said he hopes construction will wrap up by the end of May.

“We should be close, but it’s hard to say based on how the weather goes from here forward,” he said.

If we are going to make these capital investments, we have to make sure we do it the right way to get the most longevity out of our investments.”
– Tom Lohmann

The town has set aside nearly $310,000 to improve Veterans Memorial Park off Moriches Road in St. James. While the park received updates to its fields recently, it will also be getting a new playground set and artificial grass surface, according to Arico. Construction will be starting shortly, with the aim of finishing by June.

“The water park playground will also be resurfaced so kids don’t get scraped-up knees,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Once all three projects are completed, Arico said there should be several thousand dollars left over to go toward the town’s other capital projects including the redesign of Bellemeade Avenue municipal parking lot off Smithtown’s Main Street. Originally slated only for resurfacing, Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said a quick review of the lot showed drainage improvements and street lighting were needed.

“If we are going to make these capital investments, we have to make sure we do it the right way to get the most longevity out of our investments,” Lohmann said.

Arico and the councilman have pulled several town departments together to engineer plans to redesign the town-owned land to improve conditions and reconfigure the layout of spaces, hopefully, gaining a few.

“I think once it’s said and done, we will have a lot of people taking advantage of the lot,” Lohmann said.

Lake Avenue business district's water main work slated to begin in May will be postponed

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kyle Barr

The assessment for sewers in St. James Lake Avenue business district may be arriving on the town doorstep soon.

It’s only been days since Smithtown Town Board voted April 10 unanimously to pay $24,000 to H2M Architects + Engineers to provide a study of whether installing a dry sewer line is economically viable. Yet, George Desmarais, the wastewater department manager at H2M, said the assessment would be finished in about a month.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A,” Desmarais said.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A.”
— George Desmarais

He went on to explain the study will look at how much sewage wastewater is produced by the commercial business district to determine what is needed, and the cost of installing dry sewer mains at the same time as the water mains.

At a public meeting hosted by the Community Association of Greater St. James, Desmarais and town board members discussed the sewers and other upcoming projects for St. James.

Although the town board has $2.4 million set aside for water main installation from its 2018 capital budget, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) stated that the town is still looking for additional funding for the dry sewer lines.

“What we do not have, what’s not budgeted for is funding for a dry force main for future sewers,” Wehrheim said. “I have been in discussions with higher levels of government to go after some funding methods on how we might possibly come up with enough funding to do that.”

Wehrheim said he had a sit-down meeting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to discuss possible sources.

Wehrheim asked St. James residents to agree with putting off the  water main project, originally slated to begin in May,  for one year so they could install everything, including the dry sewer lines, all at once. He said it would be more economical for the town and better for businesses.

“All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way,” he said.

The planned dry sewer lines will be gravity fed lines using the areas natural slope, according to Desmarais. The pump station for the sewers is planned to be a 30×30-square-foot area, but the exact location of the station has not yet been determined.

All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way.
— Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim previously stated he was looking to negotiate with Gyrodone LLC to use the treatment station it proposes to build on the Flowerfields land, the property off Route 25A in St. James that is often used to host community festivals.

“If we do the concrete and asphalt, we’re just going to spend the money haphazardly and then 10, 15 years again, they are going to come back and say ‘we need more money’” Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy said. “We have to do this smart.”

Deborah Powers, owner of Hither Brook Floral and Gift Boutique in St. James, was concerned that the construction would disrupt her business when work would be done on the roads and sidewalks.

“I’ve been through roadwork before, I know what it’s going to do, and it’s not going to be pretty,” Powers said.

Wehrheim mentioned that the town was looking at means of doing the construction without interrupting daily business.

“We’re looking at the percentage cost for doing the paving at night. I think that’s something that very much will be feasible,” he said. “The other thing that we’re looking at instead of having this be spread out among contractors, is to see if we can come up with enough funding by putting this out as one request for proposal and have a larger contractor come in who can subcontract the work so that would speed up a project like this.”

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than 95 Smithtown-area teens rolled up their sleeves to help ready Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve for visitors.

The Town of Smithtown hosted a volunteer cleanup for high school and middle school students at the Commack park April 21 in honor of Global Youth Service Day, also a day ahead of Earth Day. The teens were put to work helping clean up the pollinator and butterfly garden, clearing fallen branches and debris from the apple orchard and sprucing up the animal pens.

Jeff Gurmin, director of Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, and his staff provided educational lessons on the rescued animals while the students were performing the cleanup. One of these lessons involved learning the importance of Mason bees in the ecosystem and installing new nesting jars for the bees inside the pollinator gardens.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine send joint letter to state representatives

Huntington riders may experience some problems with upcoming station work. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The spark of hope given to electrifying the North Shore branch of the Long Island Rail Road last November convinced local leaders to take up the charge.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has joined with other town supervisors to urge state lawmakers to moved forward with a feasibility study on the electrification of the LIRR service line from Huntington Station east to Port Jefferson Station. Currently, trains on the line east of Huntington run on diesel fuel.

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven,” Lupinacci (R) said. “For the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven, for the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”
—Chad Lupinacci

On April 4, Lupinacci along with Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015.

“For decades this project has been a concept that could not reach the critical mass necessary to become a reality,” reads the April 4 letter. “However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved — including where to site the train cars.”

The letter details the beneficial impacts electrification of the Port Jeff branch would have for each of the townships.

In Huntington, the five stations — Greenlawn, Northport, Centerport, Fort Salonga and Commack — would benefit from additional transportation options and commuters heading east, according to Lupinacci.

Wehrheim stressed in the Town of Smithtown the infrastructural investment is a key pillar in the revitalization of Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James business areas. The town has invested significant funds in this year’s capital budget to these areas.

However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that
prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved.”
— April 4 letter

In Brookhaven, Romaine said electrification of the rails would foster revitalization of Port Jefferson Station and allow for an easier commute to Stony Brook University, which has approximately 40,000 students and staff members. He also noted it would help ease traffic congestion on local roadways in the communities near SBU.

The project has received support from groups such as the Long Island Association in the past, and a more recent push from state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). LaValle met with Metropolitan Transportation
Authority board member Mitchell Paley last November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said, in a November interview with TBR News Media. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

“This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”
— Chad Lupinacci

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

“You are looking at several millions per mile of track,” Lupinacci affirmed. “This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”

There is renewed hope that with a newlyannounced LIRR president, Philip Eng of Smithtown, that a feasibility study willEd be funded.

“New leadership brings in a different perspective,” Lupinacci said. “I think this is a good situation for us to be in with new leadership taking over the helm.”

Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge in Smithtown is a short distance away from Paul T. Given County Park. Photo from Google Maps

As the popularity of vaping products grows, Smithtown officials are considering ways to keep the products out of children’s hands.

Smithtown Town Board has plans to consider changing town zoning laws to restrict any store whose primary purpose is the sale of any e-liquid, vape product or indoor smoking from opening up within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or public parks in an effort to dissuade teens from using these types of products.

“For this age group, it’s very unhealthy and easily accessible,” said Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), who helped sponsor the ordinance. “They kind of market it like candy, and they name the different flavors after candy names. So It’s very appealing to kids.”

If approved, the restriction would not be retroactive, so it won’t  affect any current  businesses near schools, parks or churches. Inzerillo said she hopes that the zoning change will effectively dissuade these shops from opening near commercial districts.

“Lucky for Smithtown, most of our parks, churches and schools all are close to our main streets,” the councilwoman said.

The town is still waiting on an environmental impact study to be completed by the state on the effect of the proposed ordinance. After that, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town attorney may need to look at any adjustments, but he believes the ordinance will go through.

“I think it’s going to pass, yes,” Wehrheim said. “I believe having [vape and hookah shops] in a close proximity to church or a school is problematic.”

We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use.”

— Matthew Neebe

Matthew Neebe, director at nonprofit Horizons Counseling and Education Center, said that while there have been limited long-term studies on whether or not vape products have negative health effects, he believes these products can harm children’s development.

“We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use,” Neebe said. “I think this step a good place to start. Kids tend to participate in things that are convenient for them.”

Amar Patel, owner of Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge near Paul T. Given County Park in Smithtown, has had his own troubles with the town. His business is temporarily closed while they renovate the building to bring it into compliance with Smithtown fire codes, but he plans to reopen soon. Patel said that vape and hookah get an unfair reputation from the rest of the community.

“I don’t think [the Town of Smithtown] supports any tobacco product, smoking or anything” Patel said. “I mean my personal opinion, I would say when it comes to hookah lounges it’s more of a hang out, where you go after dinner. Almost like you are going to a cigar lounge, then go about your day.”

Patel said he believes that cigarette use should be a bigger concern than hookah lounges or vaping, stressing that he does not believe hookah use is addictive unlike
smoking cigarettes
.

The zoning ordinance is expected to be voted on at the April 26 town board meeting.

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