Authors Posts by Donna Deedy

Donna Deedy

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

Smithtown Central School District has prepared a 2019-20 budget of $251.3 million, which represents a 2.66 percent budget-to-budget increase and a tax levy increase of 2.69 percent, which is within the district’s state-imposed cap.

The proposed budget, in addition to supporting the district’s financial goals, maintains the school’s comprehensive academic, athletic and extracurricular programming, as outlined on the district’s website, while increasing funding for security and student mental health services.

The school’s elementary class size stays capped at 25 students, while the math program will add teaching assistants. Two social workers will be added at the elementary and high school levels. The district will also add three guidance counselors.

The district’s three-part budget breakdown provides an overview of spending in three categories: programs, capital projects and administrative costs. For 2019-20, $187.2 million is allocated to programs, $34 million will go toward capital projects and $30.2 million will be used to pay administrative costs.

The Smithtown Central School District is divided into four voting districts and residents can vote at the designated elementary school based on location. The four elementary schools include Smithtown Elementary School, Nesconset Elementary School, St. James Elementary School and the Accompsett Elementary School. Residents can use the Voter Location Tool under the Board of Ed tab on the district’s website: www.smithtown.k12.ny.us. Polls will be open Tuesday, May 21, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Candidate rundown

Michael Catalanotto of Smithtown and Peter Tofu of  Nesconset will be running for board member Daniel Lynch’s seat, who has chosen not to run for re-election. The seat is for a three-year term beginning on July 1.

Board member Michael Saidens will be running for his seat unopposed. Saidens has served on the board since 2017, which includes a tenure as vice president. His seat would be a three-year term beginning on July 1.

Trustee Frank James will be running for re-election unopposed for his seat that will have a one-year term from May 21,2019 to June 30, 2020.

Ralph Michele of Smithtown and Jerry R. Martusciello of Nesconset will be vying for board member Glady Waldron’s seat after she decided to not seek re-election. Her seat will be for a one-year term from May 21, 2019 to June 30, 2020.

As part of the relocation plan, eight-graders were sent to Northport High School. File photo

Three seats are open, and three candidates are running for the Northport-East Northport Board of Education. All three candidates have a range of experience in the education field. One incumbent, Allison Noonan, who is seeking a second term, is among the people on the ballot.

Larry Licopoli

Larry Licopoli, now retired, was a school superintendent for 22 years and has lived in the Northport community for 17 years. Two of his children graduated from Northport High School in 2011 and 2013, and he has two young grandchildren who currently live in the district. 

Licopoli, according to his published statements, would like to see more transparent and easier to understand budget process and strategic plans. He would also like the board meetings to incorporate a more friendly public comment portion that “ditches the timer.” As a board member, he hopes to better engage the community in the district’s schools. 

“As a professional educator for 47 years, I believe my experiences can further serve the Northport-East Northport community as we grapple with revenue and enrollment issues and, more importantly, what it means to educate the whole child,” Licopoli said. “I will be that board member who will collaborate and work with the whole board focusing on our district mission.”

Thomas Loughran

Thomas Loughran works as a federal litigation paralegal for a law firm that represents the interests of school districts, municipalities and police departments. He is currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Fordham University, majoring in organization leadership and political science. He’s been a district resident most of his life. 

Loughran’s published statements on the district’s website explains that one of his goals, if elected, would be for the district to better utilize the committee structure to address issues such as potential declining enrollment. He also would like the board of education to exhaust all options to reduce the tax burden on citizens. 

“I am running for the board of education because I have lived in Northport/East Northport for most of the last 40 years. I love this community,” Loughran said. “I started becoming involved in the school district several years ago, by attending board of education meetings, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the school district is facing some serious obstacles.”

Loughran said that he plans to use his skills and passion for his community to help the school district that he grew up in.

Allison Noonan

Allison Noonan has worked in public education for 25 years and is currently employed as an educator in the Syosset Central School District.  A Northport resident since 2009, She has twin 9th graders in the district. Noonan has previously served as co-president of the district’s PTA council and in 2012 the National PTA Founders recognized her with a life achievement award. Noonan has also been honored in 2014 by the Harvard Club of Long Island as a Distinguished Teacher of the Year. 

Noonan says she is well-versed in the LIPA case. That issue and shrinking enrollment are two matters she considers the most pertinent for the community to address through long-term planning that involves all stakeholders.

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The Smithtown Historical Society hosted a Spring Farm Festival in celebration of the season May 4. The family event included children’s games and crafts, pony rides and a petting zoo. 

Artisans demonstrated traditional farm skills, such as sheep shearing, yarn spinning and weaving, wood-working and ironworking. The barn and carriage house were also open for the public to view. 

All photos by David Ackerman.

Investigators identify and continue to investigate Operation Pay Dirt, New York State’s largest alleged dumping conspiracy. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

Smithtown resident Anthony “Rock” Grazio, the self-proclaimed “dirt broker,” plead guilty in an alleged illegal dumping conspiracy on Long Island.    

Smithtown resident Anthony ‘Rock’ Grazio. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the guilty plea May 2 after digging into the issue over the last 15 months. Thirty people, including Grazio, and nine corporations were indicted in November 2018 in an ongoing investigation called Operation Pay Dirt.

More than 24 Long Island dump sites were involved in the alleged conspiracy.

“As I’ve stated before, we are facing an epidemic of environmental crimes in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “This case was a great first step forward in ending those crimes. This plea, and Grazio’s pending prison sentence, will send a strong message to polluters that crime does not pay.” 

Between January and July 2018, as part of the alleged illegal dumping conspiracy, Grazio would allegedly act as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of solid waste. Grazio posted advertisements on the website craigslist and on OfferUp, a marketplace app, for “clean fill,” or material that could be used for residential landscaping projects. He also solicited homeowners over the phone and in person for locations to use for dumping. Grazio would then coordinate with the owners or operators of trucking companies and solid waste management facilities to have solid waste illegally dumped at those properties.

In February 2018, the District Attorney’s Office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department began an investigation into the alleged Island-wide conspiracy. The months-long investigation involved the use of electronic and physical surveillance, including court-authorized eavesdropping. 

“During their phone conversations, Rock and the owners or operators of the trucking companies would discuss residential and commercial sites and the amount of material that could be dumped at a particular site,” Sini said. “The bigger the property, the better for the defendants, as this scam was all about making money.” 

Sini said that when an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to “hit it hard.” 

“This is a situation where people deliberately skirted the law to line their pockets with money and acted out of pure greed at the expense of the public health of residents of Suffolk County,” Sini said. 

DEC testing of the illegally dumped solid waste found that six of the locations contained acutely hazardous substances and 17 sites contained hazardous substances under New York State Environmental Conservation Law. The acutely hazardous substances included aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor, which are all pesticides. The hazardous substances identified include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc and mercury, which are all metals.

Nineteen of the 24 locations are residential, four are commercial and one is a school. The solid waste dumped at the school was immediately removed.

Grazio, 54, plead guilty to two counts of criminal mischief in the second degree, a felony; two counts of endangering public health, safety or the environment in the third degree, a felony; conspiracy in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor; and operating a solid waste management facility without a permit, a misdemeanor.

Grazio is scheduled to be sentenced by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei July 15. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Grazio faces a sentence of two to four years in prison and a restitution judgment order in the amount of $500,000. This case is being prosecuted by assistant district attorneys Luigi Belcastro, Laura Sarowitz and Adriana Noyola of the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau.

The investigation is ongoing, and Sini convened a special grand jury in November to hear evidence and make recommendations regarding illegal dumping in Suffolk County. The grand jury is still impaneled. 

Residents who believe they are a victim of illegal dumping can contact the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office at 631-853-5602 or [email protected]. They can also contact the NYS DEC’s 24-hour Poacher and Polluter hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS, 1-844-332-3267.

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.

Left, Dr. W. Phelps meets Ted Taranowicz and his dog Rocco at the free clinic thanks to Paws of War.

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) coordinated free veterinarian care for veterans’ pets with Paws of War, a nonprofit organization in Nesconset that supports both ends of the leash through a variety of animal programs for veterans. The three-hour event was held April 27 in a mobile clinic parked behind the legislator’s Commack office where more than 25 animals received care — including a blind poodle named Ebony. 

“As the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Veterans Committee, I have seen first-hand the amazing work Paws of War does for our veterans, which is why I was proud to host their clinic at my district office,” Berland said. “It is well known that having an animal can be a vital tool in helping veterans combat the emotional effects of war.”

Legislator Susan Berland with Central Islip veteran Raymond Bradley and his wife holding Ebony, after Suffolk County declares May Military Appreciation Month. Photo from Berland’s office

Ted Taranowicz, a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era, along with his wife of 39 years Elizabeth, brought their black lab Rocco to the clinic. Taranowicz, a Port Jefferson resident, was diagnosed with throat cancer in January and is still recovering from the last of his 35 radiation and five chemotherapy treatments. He learned about the Vets2Vets program through the local VA hospital and was grateful for the service. He was one of 15 Suffolk County veterans helped by the program. 

Like the other animals seen, Rocco and Ebony received basic veterinary care that included a wellness check, grooming, vaccinations, microchipping, flea/tick protection and pet supplies. 

Dori Scofield, co-founder of the Paws of War, said the nonprofit runs entirely on donations.  

“We were able to do this purely because of people’s generosity,” Scofield said. She added that Petco recently donated $15,000 to help with the mobile clinic. The charity, though, is mostly funded by small donors and local groups that raise money for its cause. 

“The new Vets2Vets program is providing an amazing service for our veterans who may be unable to provide the necessary care for their animal,” Berland said. “I want to thank Paws of War for everything they do to support our veterans, they are truly an asset to our county.” 

For more information about Paws of War, visit its website at www.pawsofwar.org. 

Former Northport Mayor George Doll with Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe. File photo from Tom Kehoe

Northport trustee Tom Kehoe has stepped down from his appointed position as deputy mayor of Northport but will remain in his elected position of trustee. Kehoe began construction on his Northport home, he said, before receiving proper permits. In consultation with the mayor, it was decided to be the best option, since the situation was too much of a distraction.

Kehoe’s home has been boarded up and vacant since it burned down in May 2017. After the town granted permission to demolish the structure, which was in December 2018, Kehoe said that he poured a new foundation in January and started framing the house in March.

“Shame on me,” Kehoe said. “I’m taking responsibility, I’m taking my medicine.” He is waiting now for the proper authorizations before continuing with the work, he said, and his paperwork has been filed with the building department.  

Kehoe attributes the delay in authorizing the demolition of his home to a conflict with the village’s architectural review and preservation board. He said that he had to prove that his home was neither historical nor architecturally significant.  

Kehoe has served as a Northport trustee since 2006 and was most recently re-elected in 2018.

“I have two years and 11 months to fulfill my term,” Kehoe said. He said that he expects to continue to serve village residents.  

Kehoe said that he will need to meet with the zoning board to address issues related to removing a side entrance and correcting an 18-inch error in footing positions.

New state laws and prevention education for parents, children and professionals aim to eliminate childhood sexual abuse. Photo by New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Decades-old records show that North Shore children have fallen prey to sexual predators, whether it’s been while in the Boy Scouts or church groups or perhaps even in a family setting.  But new laws, combined with education, are shifting the social paradigm, and the experts say that people need to take a more active position to prevent childhood sexual abuse.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Child Victims Act in January, which takes effect in June. The law essentially aims to institute more sensitivity toward victims, while holding perpetrators accountable. It raises the statute of limitations for victims from 18 to 23 years of age, so victims can file criminal charges in adulthood. For civil charges, victims have until the age of 55 to file charges against the offender.

Stephen Forrester and Annie Costello are with The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, an organization that is playing a leading role toward change. Forrester, a former prosecutor with 28 years of experience addressing child abuse, successfully lobbied for better laws for the last four years, while Costello has been part of a new evidence-based program, funded by the National Institutes of Health that trains and educates professionals as well as the general public on how to prevent child sexual abuse.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility — adults, organizations, parents, children,” said Costello. “Parents need to teach children how to keep their bodies safe.” 

Assaults thrive in a culture of secrecy, she said, and when adults aren’t talking about it at home it’s harder to prevent. In order to stop child sexual abuse in the future that veil of secrecy needs to be removed.

This often requires that adults overcome their own anxieties about the topic.

Access and opportunity, two factors that underlie abuse scenarios

One in five people, by the time they’re 18 years old, become victims of childhood sexual assault, according to Costello and her organization. Rather than strangers, the society finds that 90 percent of the time the perpetrators are people a child knows and trusts.

“It can be difficult to believe that a beloved uncle, favorite coach, or respected clergy member could abuse a child,” Forrester said. “Perpetrators can be very charming, manipulative and believable.”

Offenses typically occur in scenarios where adults are entrusted with the care of children without the supervision of parents. Whether its music lessons, Scouting groups, sports clubs or schools or churches, parents need to ask up front to review the organizations policies and practices. Every organization, Costello said, should have information available on both its background screening process for its volunteers or workers and its policies for handling abuse.

“Offenders are very skilled at building relationships with kids.”

— Annie Costello

Otherwise, the society has identified red flag behaviors of child molesters known as “grooming.” People should become concerned when adults repeatedly ignore boundaries and single out one child, Costello said. Secrecy or secret conversations are also warning signs to which parents and other adults should respond.  

“Trust your instincts,” Costello said. “Offenders are very skilled at building relationships with kids.”

Prevention education, Costello said, is very nuanced. In general, the society’s motto is: If you see something, say something. Depending on the context of the situation, a person can address the behavior with the person doing the behavior, alert officials at the youth serving organization, report it to child protective services or call the police.

“You want to say something until the behavior is stopped and resolved and the child is safe,” Costello said. “Always err on the side of child safety.”

Removing the veil of secrecy

Parent’s conversation with children on the topic should be casual, routine and centered on body safety.

“Kids should understand about voice and choice,” Costello said. “We teach the children that any part of the body covered by a bathing suit is private.” Her organization has developed age-appropriate programs for children as young as kindergartners.

One step that the society recommends is that parents always use the proper name for genitalia (e.g., penis, vagina) with their children, so if a child discloses being touched sexually, the risk of misunderstanding what the child is saying can be minimized.

The society developed its evidence-based program, entitled Safe Touches: Personal Safety Training for Children, with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Trust and believe a child

It’s very important, both Costello and Forrester said, that children be believed and supported, when they disclose having been abused. It’s also important to never fault a child for the abuse.

“Children may not disclose [sexual abuse] for many reasons including being told by the perpetrator that they won’t be believed, that they will get in trouble, or that the abuse was the child’s fault,” Forrester said. “Children can be ashamed to say anything or may be afraid of the perpetrator.”

Some children immediately disclose abuse, while others don’t disclose it until adulthood; Forrester said many people never disclose the abuse.

Legally, window of opportunity opens

New York is among the first states in the nation to support new childhood sexual assault laws. Victims of any age will have a one-year window of opportunity to file civil charges beginning in August.

Victims can reach out to the county’s bar association for referral to a qualified attorney who can evaluate their case, Forrester said.  The Suffolk County Bar Association website is www.scba.org. The telephone number is 631-234-5551.

“Children can be ashamed to say anything or may be afraid of the perpetrator.”

— Stephen Forrester

For people seeking counseling, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the U.S. and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who — through interpreters — provide assistance in over 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service and support resources. All calls are confidential. The telephone number is 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453. The website is www.childhelp.org/hotline/

To arrange for prevention education, people can contact [email protected].

Stephen Forrester’s name was incorrect in the May 2 edition of the Times of Smithtown and Times of Huntington & Northport. It has been corrected in this version. This post has also been amended to revise the time victims can use to file charges.

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Timothy Boyd, stationed at the COP De Alencar, formerly known as Camp Blackfish, Afghanistan seeks to adopt a dog named Mischa to remove her from the trauma of war. Photo from Paws of War

War is hell, but soldiers find solace in rescuing and adopting scared and abused animals from the battlefields overseas.

Timothy Boyd, stationed at the COP De Alencar, formerly known as Camp Blackfish, Afghanistan seeks to adopt a dog named Mischa to remove her from the trauma of war. Photo from Paws of War

Paws of War, a nonprofit organization based in Nesconset, is dedicated to aiding veterans and their pets through an array of programs. Funded entirely by donations, it’s become a unique charitable cause that has caught the attention of local lawmakers as well as people actively serving in the military.

Tim Boyd is a U.S. soldier assisting Special Forces in the fight against ISIS, stationed in war-torn Afghanistan. He’s heading back to his home in Dallas, Georgia to retire after serving three decades in the military. He’s reached out to Paws of War to help transport a young dog named Mischa that he and his unit befriended, after rescuing the animal from abuse.

Paws of War typically helps reunite four dogs with soldiers each year and Boyd and Mischa are one of this year’s recipients of their altruism. “Humans truly have it backwards. We think we are rescuing the animal,” Boy said via email from an undisclosed location. “That is so much not the case, not with our fur babies. They undoubtedly rescued us.”

Soldiers saw the young animal being dragged by her neck, so they rescued and cared for her. Once stateside and out of “this godforsaken place,” Boyd said the dog can lay on his furniture instead of tearing up her feet running and walking the terrain of Nangarhar, Afghanistan.

When soldiers choose to adopt a dog found while serving the military, the process is intensive. “There’s a lot of red tape involved,” according to Robert Misseri, co-founder of Paws of War. Transporting the dog alone can cost $6,000, his office staff explained. That fee does not include the cost to travel to Georgia, once the dog arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The flight, health certificates, customs fees and boarding along the way are all part of the expense.

Mischa is expected to arrive stateside before  Boyd. His wife, Tara, will welcome Mischa, who already has adopted Mischa’s sister Bella Lynn. “Bella is also a pup that rescued me and our family when I found her washed under some tree branches out in the middle of the woods,” Boyd said.

Once Boyd and his troops return, he said he will be free to send a group photo that he has taken of Mischa with the unit. “I appreciate any and all assistance that people can provide in helping make Mission Mischa a successful operation,” Boyd said. “She needs to come home with me. I can’t imagine it any other way.”

Paws of War also provides service and therapy dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. People interested in knowing more about Paws of War programs or who might want to help with Mission Mischa can visit www.pawsofwar.org.

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.