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Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) cuts the ribbon on the new resource center. Photo by David Luces

Providing former Suffolk County inmates with the tools they need to be productive members of society was the inspiration for the creation of a new facility in Yaphank. At a July 30 press event, sheriff officials said the facility will assist with jobs search, housing and other needs as they head back into the community.

Joel Anderson, of Mastic Beach, speaks at the Suffolk County jail’s resource center. Photo by David Luces

The Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team Resource Center is poised to offer a range of “practical transitional services” for inmates leaving the county jail including employment assistance, connections to housing, treatment and mental health care, among other things. It is staffed by correction officers and human service volunteers from the nonprofit community.

The START Center had a soft launch in February, stayed open during the height of the pandemic and currently serves more than 100 clients. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, previously planned for early April had to be postponed. Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D), District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and other county officials were on hand for the event.

Toulon said creating the facility had been a dream of his. At the event he spoke about his experiences working in law enforcement for more than 30 years and a moment he shared with his father.
“When I was a young child, I asked my father, a warden on Rikers Island, what he did for a living. He said, ‘We rehabilitate people,’” Toulon said.

When inmates are discharged and come into the center, they will be interviewed by one of the resource workers where they identify his or her needs. For example, if an inmate has an addiction problem, the center will connect them with the appropriate nonprofits.

“Whether it be housing, employment, education, SNAP benefits or transportation, we try to start the process as soon as possible,” Deputy Vincenzo Barone said.

He added that all inmates at the Yaphank Correctional Facility know about the program, with the center being a short walk from the jail there. Those being discharged from Riverhead will be picked up and brought to the START Center, where they will begin the intake process.

Joel Anderson, of Mastic Beach, who was released from jail in April, spoke at the press event about how the resource center has helped him get his life back on track.

“I’ve been in and out of prison all my life,” he said. “If I wasn’t a part of this process, being benefited by the program and services I wouldn’t be here to speak today. I’m standing here today because of the men and women who run this program. … I’m glad I made that call.”

Anderson said he continues to better himself every day.

“Rehabilitation is a process and it happens on a daily basis,” he said. “Now I have people I can reach out to — it’s not always peaches and cream. That wisdom, even if it is a little drop, makes all the difference in the world.”

Stony Brook University Hospital

Suffolk hospitals are slowly getting back to some normalcy as the number of COVID-19 patients continue to decrease on Long Island. As hospitals have gotten past the peak of the pandemic, they are now facing the challenge of reassuring the public that their facilities are safe. 

“I think it is incredibly important that people feel comfortable and safe whether it’s seeing their personal physician or coming to the hospital,” said Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director, Department of Infectious Diseases, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. 

Nancy Axelrod, of Old Field, braved post-COVID Huntington Hospital to get knee replacement surgery.
Photo from Axelrod

Donelan said SBU Hospital has implemented a number of protocols to ensure worker and patient safety. For individuals that are going to outpatient centers and physician offices, they are advised to remain in their vehicles and complete their normal check-in process using their cellphones. Waiting rooms are arranged to allow for optimal social distancing. 

The medical director said they hope to quell any fears patients may have. 

“Patients shouldn’t suspend any routine health procedures — I think it is a safe and a good time to come back,” Donelan said. 

For those that come to the hospital for a procedure, patients will have a conversation with a triage nurse over the phone before they come in. They will undergo temperature checks and screened for COVID symptoms. Patients suspected of having coronavirus are separated from other patients. 

“We’ve increased our cleaning frequency, we want to make sure our patients and workers are entering a safe environment,” Donelan said. 

Like other facilities, SBU Hospital has made adjustments to its visitor policy in an effort to limit potential exposure. Currently, only one visitor can visit a patient and are only allowed a three-hour time window. 

Donelan said the feedback they’ve gotten from staff and patients on their safety measures has been positive. 

“We’ve been pleased with the feedback, they have appreciated our aggressive approach and attention to detail,” she said.

Dr. Nick Fitterman, executive director of Huntington Hospital, said they are trying to get word out to the public that its facilities are safe and stressed the need for individuals to seek out medical care. 

“March and April, we were all hands on deck,” he said. “We went from having around 300 COVID-19 cases to now only having six.”

Fitteram understands the public concerns of returning but said they have created essentially a “hospital within a hospital,” where COVID patients are isolated in another section of the building away from non-COVID patients. 

“COVID patients are assigned nurses and doctors that only treat them, they do not see any other patients,” Fitterman said. 

The hospital has implemented thermal cameras used to help check temperatures of staff, patients and visitors. Workers are screened daily for COVID symptoms. Fitterman said that they are limiting visiting hours and allow only one visitor per patient.  

“It is important not only to protect the patients but to protect our staff as well,” he said. 

Nancy Axelrod, of Old Field, said she can attest to the hospital’s safety protocols. With elective surgeries allowed again, Axelrod was able to get right knee replacement surgery last month. She underwent left knee replacement surgery right before COVID hit Long Island. 

“It was something I needed to get done, I’ve suffered from severe arthritis,” she said. “From talking to the doctors, I felt strongly that I was safe.”

Huntington Hospital had about 1,000 surgeries that were put on hold. In an effort to keep patients safe, they have installed a separate “pathway” for them when they get to the hospital. 

Axelrod said she had to go through a number of tests and screening before the surgery. 

“I would tell people not to put off seeing your doctor or getting an important surgery,” she said. “The time to do it is now — I feel that the hospital is doing an awful lot to ensure patient safety.”

The Brookhaven Landfill is set to close in 2024, but while the town has put aside money towards that end, a concrete plan has yet to materialize. Photo from Google maps

The inevitable closure of the Brookhaven Landfill in 2024 looms large on Long Island and the surrounding region. The burden of how to dispose of millions of solid waste still remains unresolved. The Town of Brookhaven has been considering its options, and one of them could be a new ashfill just east of where the current landfill is located in Brookhaven hamlet. 

Ed Romaine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said 500 acres of additional land owned by the town could be used for such a site. 

“There are probably 200 acres that we could take a look at for a regional ashfill,” he said. “We are looking to get feedback from other municipalities, we are in the premature stages.”

The site would handle only ash, and the town would not take any construction and demolition debris. While the money brought in from an ash site would bring in much-needed funds to Brookhaven, Romaine said it still leaves them with the issue of the construction and demolition debris, adding that with the closure of the landfill and no alternative for an on-Island site accepting that refuse, it would cause a crisis in the construction and building industry.

Currently, the Brookhaven Landfill handles over 350,000 tons of ash annually from energy-from-waste facilities, in addition to handling 720,000 tons of solid waste. Each day 2,000 trucks transport waste off the Island

Romaine said he hasn’t had any direct conversations with state officials or the state Department of Environmental Conservation on the idea of a new ashfill site. Though he mentioned some members of his staff may have had conversations on the matter. 

For such a site there would be the need for an environmental impact study as well as DEC approval. The Town Board would also have to make a decision as well. 

Though news about what could be another site of dumping in an area that has already complained about odor issues has not gone well with town critics.

Will Ferraro, activist and a 2019 Democratic candidate for Brookhaven supervisor, has created a petition against the proposed ashfill site. He said an ashfill site does nothing to solve long-term fiscal problems. 

“Instead of making a proposal to solve our long-term solid waste crisis and the serious environmental health issues related to it, this will only exacerbate the threats to our air quality and groundwater,” he said. 

Ferraro created the petition following a Newsday blog post discussing the potential ashfill site. His petition, “Say No to a Second Landfill in Brookhaven,” begs the Town Board to reject any proposals relating to a second landfill or ashfill site, as well as to develop a “comprehensive proposal to deal with our solid waste crisis, that can be brought to our regional partners at the state, county and town levels,” among other demands. 

Romaine reiterated that the town is not considering a second landfill, but only an ashfill. Back in February at a Long Island Regional Planning Council panel, the Brookhaven supervisor called for collaboration to solve what he called a “regional crisis.” 

In a June 15 letter to the council, Romaine reaffirmed his stance by urging it to work with the 13 towns, two counties, two cities and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop solutions. 

“Even if we are able to do so now, it will still take several years to implement any changes,” he said, adding, “If we don’t address this issue now, it is going to be yet another thing that will make Long Island a less desirable place to live and work.” 

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Comsewogue’s reopening plans include students at Clinton Avenue Elementary School will be taught in alternating classes of Blue and Gold, with teachers rotating between classrooms. File photo

Following survey responses from parents and community members, the Comsewogue School District released its kindergarten through sixth-grade reopening plan, ahead of the state’s July 31 deadline. More details of the reopoening plans are available on the district’s website at  www.comsewogue.k12.ny.us.

During two public forums with parents on July 27 and 28, the district outlined the reopening plan and answered questions.

“I’m glad we were able to develop a safe plan to bring our elementary students back,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. 

To deal with the time it would take to implement temperature checks/COVID screening for students and staff, the district will be adjusting the arrival time as well as shortening the school days from eight periods to seven periods. 

“In order to make up for that time we will be doing a districtwide character education program that will be run remotely,” the superintendent said. 

The maximum class size will consist of 15 students socially distanced. A typical class of 25-30 students will be divided into two groups, Blue and Gold. Each of those groups will be placed in a classroom for the entire day. Teachers will rotate three periods in each class, the remaining periods will be handled by other staff members. Aides will monitor hallways/rooms between transitions. Lunch will take place in the classroom. 

Quinn said they will combine reading teachers, librarians and math/Academic Intervention Services teachers to help fill in the remaining periods. 

“We are not just putting in substitute teachers for half the day; they’ll be with certified teachers and in small groups,” Quinn said. 

Transporting students to and from schools will no doubt be a challenge. The district is encouraging parents to drop off their children at school each day, and if they live close enough, consider walking them to school.  

For those coming to school by bus, students will be required to pass a COVID-19 screening and undergo a temperature check at their respective bus stop. There will be monitors at each bus stop.

Once all students are cleared, they will board from the back of the bus and will sit socially distanced and are required to wear a mask. Students will leave from the front of the bus. Disinfecting the buses will occur between school routes. Parents who drop off their children will also be required to undergo a COVID screening and temperature check from their car. Drop-off locations will be separate from the school buses, according to Susan Casali, associate superintendent. 

Parents were concerned of what would happen to their child if they were deemed sick or had COVID-19 symptoms. Quinn said that students would be able to resume class work online and would need a doctor’s note to return to school after having had quarantined. 

In addition, the district will have HVAC systems upgraded with recommended filters, install more custodial staff at each building, use electrostatic sprayers used to disinfect quickly, there will be hand wipes in each classroom as well as hand sanitizers around the building, nurse’s office used for healthy people and an isolation room used for sick people. 

Before and aftercare will be provided at each elementary school. 

“We will be keeping [before and aftercare] in the gymnasium because it is our largest area that won’t be used,” Casali said. “They will be arriving wearing masks and will be six-feet apart.”

All pickups of children will be done in a designated area, parents will not be allowed to enter the building. The gym area will be sanitized each day. In the event students are not able to go outside for recess they will be able to use that space. 

Special education programs will continue. The district is asking all parents to complete a mandatory form to let them know if their child will be attending school in-person or virtually to begin the school year. The decision will be in effect from the first day of school through Dec. 31. The district said it has purchased enough Chromebooks for all students. 

Comsewogue plans to host future meetings to talk specifically about grades 7-12 plan.

More school districts will be releasing their reopening plans in the coming days. Check back at www.tbrnewsmedia.com for the latest on reopening plans.

Northport power plant. File photo

The Huntington Town Board has unanimously voted to hold two public forums on the proposed settlement with the Long Island Power Authority. The decision pushes a vote on the matter to Sept. 29, more than a month after LIPA’s Aug.11 deadline.

The passed resolution calls for a public hearing Sept.16. The Town Board added a second scheduled date Aug. 10, the day before LIPA’s deadline, to be held at Heckscher Park. Both forums will be available on Zoom.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the amendment that would call for a vote on the settlement in late September.

“I think it’s good that we are inviting the public to put their thoughts on the record, this is the most serious court case since 1653,” he said, alluding to the year the town was founded, at a July 21 town meeting. “If we go forward with scheduling these two [forums], we [should] schedule a vote on the settlement offer so LIPA knows we are not disregarding any timetables … that they know all parties involved are serious and we are vetting this agreement out.”

Town Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) supported the move to add a September vote on the settlement.

“We’ll have two bites at the apple to be able to host public forums as the supervisor is suggesting, so that we don’t end up getting this settlement pulled from the table,” she said.

Town Councilmen Edmund Smyth (R) and Mark Cuthbertson (D) both raised questions about LIPA’s deadline.

“I was under the impression that LIPA’s counsel gave us a drop deadline date in August, and that there was not going to be any settlement offer left on the table after that date,” Smyth said. “Has there been any communication with them that they’ve agreed to extend that date?”

Lupinacci said there hadn’t been communication with LIPA but was hopeful that if the authority saw that the town had a timetable for a vote that they would extend the deadline date.

“Hopefully we can go back to them and say, ‘Look, we’re going to vote [on this],’” he said. “By at least setting this date we can go back to LIPA and say we have this August public hearing, we have a September public hearing and a scheduled vote soon after.”

The proposed deal, which was approved by the Northport-East Northport school board earlier this month, would reduce LIPA’s annual tax bill on the Northport power plant from $86 million to $46 million by 2027. The tax impact on residents would be lessened compared to the implications of a verdict in LIPA’s favor.

Owners of a $500,000 house paying $10,861 in taxes would see their tax bill increase to $13,741 in the seventh year of the agreement. Annual increases for residents would go from an additional $288 a year in the first year to $556 a year by year seven, according to John Gross, an attorney for the school district.

Gross said if LIPA was to win the lawsuit and was able to achieve a 75 percent reduction in assessed evaluation “that taxpayer [of a $500,000 home] would immediately have to pay $3,723, in addition to the refund liability that could range from $12,000 to $13,000.” If the authority were able to secure a reduction of 90 percent, those figures would increase significantly.

At the July 21 meeting, the Town Board also approved a measure to retain the Manhattan office of Mercury Public Affairs for public outreach related to the LIPA tax case.

LIPA did not respond to request for comments by press time.

The southern pine beetle has been spotted in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and the county Legislature agreed to withdraw a resolution that would have diverted money from the land preservation program over a three-year period to help to close the county’s budget gap. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25, 2018 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

The ballot measure called for increasing the percentage of sales tax that is allocated to the Suffolk County Taxpayers Trust Fund and decreasing the percentage of sales tax that is allocated for the Suffolk County Environmental Programs Trust Fund. Bellone withdrew the bill an hour or so before the Legislature was set to vote on it in a July 28 special meeting.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said that the decision was a good result for the people of Suffolk County. 

“It took him [Bellone] a long time to reach a simple conclusion,” he said. “It would have killed a program that has been around for over 30 years. It is a commitment to water quality and land preservation.”

In the past month, the county executive has criticized Amper during calls with press for what he said was a misrepresentation of what the bill would do, and that Suffolk County would need to cover budget gaps due to the pandemic or suffer dire consequences. 

The decision comes after the Legislature last week voted 14-3 to approve another ballot measure that would transfer excess funds from the county’s sewer stabilization reserve fund to the general fund in an effort to budget deficits from the coronavirus pandemic. That referendum will come in front of voters Nov. 3.

Amper said he felt the Bellone administration was so concerned with the possibility both propositions could be lost when residents voted on them in November that the administration chose to stick with one instead of being “left with nothing.” 

Bellone confirmed this assessment in a statement. 

“We have come to an agreement to withdraw this resolution in order to focus our efforts on ensuring the passage of the ballot referendum regarding the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund,” he said. “I am also pleased that several key players within the environmental advocacy community have indicated that they will not jeopardize the approval of this pending ballot measure and instead leave it in the hands of the voters.”

Environmental groups were concerned that taking away funds from the drinking water protection program would cause more harm than good. The program was established through a public referendum back in 1987.

Under the program, revenues from a 0.25% sales tax are divided between sewers land preservation, property tax stabilization and water quality funds. 

“This is one of the most important environmental programs in Suffolk County,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “[Water quality] is not a partisan issue, everyone needs clean water and they benefit from this program.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

Still, the loss of this potential referendum leaves Suffolk County in potentially dire straits. A report of both Nassau and Suffolk finances released in early July said Long Island lost 270,000 jobs during the peak of the pandemic. Total job losses could eclipse 375,000 compared to pre-COVID levels. County leaders have constantly petitioned people to reach out to federal representatives to beg for budgetary relief.

The subsequent withdrawal and earlier ballot approval on the sewer fund is the latest instance of the county attempting to divert money from environmental protection funds. 

Back in 2011, the county borrowed $29.4 million from the sewer fund in order to balance the budget under former County Executive Steve Levy. The Pine Barrens Society sued the county, and won. The move was deemed illegal by the state appeals court in 2012 because the county failed to get voter approval. 

The county appealed that decision and lost again. The Appellate Division in Brooklyn ordered the county repay the funds last year.

Amper said the county is using the environmental programs as its piggy bank and sees voters as a way to “legally” take funds away. 

“The county doesn’t manage its fiscal affairs very well, they’re billions of dollars in debt,” he said. “The public put that money aside for a reason.”

Trump Signs Order Discounting Undocumented for Congressional Seats

Stock photo

The effects of COVID-19 have made collecting 2020 census data more difficult. With delays in census operations stalling momentum and despite the census self-response deadline pushed to Oct. 31, advocates have had the tough task of dealing with these and other obstacles. 

Currently, New York lags behind other states responding to the census, ranking 38th according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D). Only 57.8 percent of New Yorkers have responded compared to the national average of 62.3 percent. On the North Shore of Long Island, numbers are better but still are slightly behind from the equivalent date 10 years ago. 

‘These communities are being undercounted and under resourced.’

—Rebecca Sanin

Brookhaven Town, as of July 20, has a total self-response rate of 66.9 percent, Smithtown has a response rate of 75.6 percent and Huntington’s response rate sits at 71.5.

Rebecca Sanin, president of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island which has taken a leadership role in promoting the census, said when the pandemic hit, the organization had to pivot and adjust its strategies. 

“We had to spread awareness and continue to promote the census virtually, as a way to handle the current situation,” she said. “We’re hoping to resume in-person outreach soon.”

The pandemic limited what the council could do, though it did create a COVID tool kit for its partners, which include over 300 nonprofits, religious organizations, business organizations and local governments. In addition, advocates were able to hand out census material and resource packets at Suffolk County’s six testing sites and at area food banks. 

“The census may not be your first priority right now, it is so important that we get an accurate count,” Sanin said. “The current crisis has made it more clear the need for federal and state dollars for emergency response.” 

Due to the 2010 census, New York lost two congressional seats. Some fear this year’s count could lose the state one or two more. Also on the line is billions of dollars annually in federal funds that could be used for road work, school aid, grants and Medicaid funding. 

In Suffolk, some communities are harder to count than others especially those with minority populations and also parts of the East End. The Town of Riverhead, for example, has a response rate of 56 percent. Other areas with a high density of minorities, including a small section of Huntington Station, have a response rate of just 45.3 percent.

The current and past censuses have not discriminated between documented and undocumented residents, as the survey is meant to give a full count to a place’s number of inhabitants. However, President Donald Trump (R) has repeatedly moved to discount undocumented immigrants from the census, including adding a citizenship question on the survey. Those efforts have been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, July 21, Trump signed an executive order that would excluded undocumented immigrants from being counted in congressional districts, data which is used to divide up seats in Congress. The order argues the 14th Amendment’s definition of “persons” in regards the enumeration requirement was not defined, giving the president the authority to determine who counts on the census.

Advocates said this could have grave repercussions for Long Island’s final count.

“We are horrified by the president’s attempt, once again, to prevent an accurate census count, dehumanizing our neighbors in the immigrant community and obstructing the fair distribution of desperately needed funding,” Sanin said in a statement. “Today, the president has launched an attack against our neighbors on Long Island and across the United States who don’t have documented status, claiming that their humanity, their very existence, simply doesn’t count.”

According to data from the state comptroller’s office, small municipalities normally have smaller response rates. The Village of Shoreham, with a population of just over 500, currently has a 50 percent response rate. 

“These communities are being undercounted and under resourced,” the president of the Heath & Welfare Council said. 

An addition to the 2020 census has been the new ways people can respond. Individuals can now fill out the census over the internet, by phone or mailing in a paper survey. Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington have had internet response rates of 55.3, 64.2 and 62.2 percent, respectively. 

The council has been tracking internet/phone response rates in the county and for the most part the results have been positive. Though Sanin stressed that certain communities and groups of people may not have the luxury of responding that way. 

“Lots of communities will not be able to use those methods,” she said. “We will have to escalate our outreach in other ways.”

One of those ways is going to door to door. 

With the expectation of eventually restarting in-person outreach by going door to door or handing out information at public places, the council has continued to recruit census ambassadors to ensure all responses are being tallied. In the past they have given information at parks, summer concerts and other events 

“We’ve had to change our strategy, we still need to spread the importance of the census and our work and keep raising awareness,” Sanin said. “We’re really trying to keep the momentum [going].”

Anthony Amen, back middle, with his emplyees at Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai. Photo from Anthony Amen

As a result of gyms and other fitness centers being taken off Phase 4 of New York State’s  coronavirus reopening plan, owners across the state, including some in Suffolk County, are suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the state attorney general and the State of New York in a class action suit. 

The suit, which was filed earlier this month in state Supreme Court by Syosset-based Mermigis Law Group, alleges that the governor’s shutdown orders violated the plaintiff’s due process. 

“The unequal, random, arbitrary and unfair treatment has continued in the reopening guidance,” the document states. “Tattoo parlors, tanning salons, health spas and dentists are allowed to open their doors, but gyms remain locked down.”

The group of businesses is suing the state for $500 million, for what plaintiffs claim is hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. As a result the businesses have had to lay off at least 70,000 employees statewide. In addition, they are seeking an injunction of the executive order, so they can reopen their gyms. 

A representative from Gov. Cuomo’s office did not respond for comment in time for press time. 

According to court documents, “several hundred members” are a part of the lawsuit, though that number is expected to increase. The primary plaintiff in the case is Thousand Island Fitness Center, based in Jefferson County on the state’s northern border. The suit originated on Long Island with Charles Cassara, owner of SC Fitness, with locations in Hicksville and Farmingdale. Almost 5,000 individuals have joined Cassara’s private Facebook group Fitness Industry Vs. NY Class action lawsuit.

Anthony Amen, owner of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai, is one of the many gym owners represented in the suit. 

“All we’re asking for is a shot, we need to get open, let us follow all the [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines — we are not going to make it [if gyms remain closed],” he said. “You can get a massage, you can get acupuncture, you get a tattoo, you can go to a mall that is all indoors, but you can’t come to do one-on-one training.”

Amen’s gym lost about 80 percent of its clients due to the shutdown. The Mount Sinai gym owner said the last few weeks have been a whirlwind, and at one point he thought he would be able to reopen as he provides a “personal service.” 

“We reopened June 10, because I called the county and I asked them, ‘Hey, we do personal training, can I open as a personal service, do one-on-one training only, we follow all CDC guidelines.’ They told me OK,” Amen said. “Fast forward five days, I get a call from the governor’s office, threatening me with a $10,000 fine and ordering me to close down immediately and saying that I wasn’t allowed to be open. I told them that I spoke to the county, and they said the county lied to you.”

Currently gyms are only allowed to do outside training, though Amen says that for him and other gyms it is just not feasible to do that long term, especially during the summer months. Gyms were expected to reopen July 8 under Phase 4. 

“It was 90 degrees almost every day last week, totally humid,” he said. “I started training people at 9 o’clock in the morning, and even at that time it is a lot to ask of people. They are going to pass out or have a heat stroke.”

Studies on whether gyms are safe are divided. A Norwegian study, cited in the lawsuit, found that individuals who decided to work out at gyms were not at a greater risk of contracting coronavirus. On the flip side, in a paper published by the CDC, researchers in South Korea discovered 112 COVID-19 cases linked to fitness classes in 12 locations. 

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness in Rocky Point. Photo from Facebook

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness Club in Rocky Point, had similar sentiments. He too has signed onto the class action suit.

“These past 18 weeks have been really frustrating — all we want is the ability to reopen again,” he said.

Darcey, who has run his gym for the past 31 years, initially thought that his business would only be closed for a short time. That thought quickly faded as the severity of the pandemic became evident. He said believes he can run his businesses safely.

“Let us open our doors again, so we can get our business flowing,” Darcey said. “Fitness people want to help each other.” 

The Miller Place resident referred to the gyms as a “second family” to people, adding that he misses being around his clients and helping them with their goals.

“A lot of our clients here see the gym as a mental and physical outlet,” he said. “That’s been taken away from them.” 

Darcey said because of the governor’s decision, they weren’t given the opportunity to bounce back like other industries that have been given the green light to reopen, adding that ‘it doesn’t make sense that gyms are left out.

“I might be able to make it through, but some of my peers aren’t [going to],” the gym owner said. “They’ve put their heart and souls into this industry, it’s heartbreaking.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up for Darcey’s gym. At press time, $6,365 has been raised since July 1.

“Ed Darcey has supported every single person that has walked in and out of the door of that gym,” the fundraiser states.

Amen said the situation is bleak for gym owners, saying they are struggling to pay bills with no revenue coming on. 

“Gyms are rent heavy, and payroll light — we are still getting billed,” he said. “We are trying to get the landowners involved in the lawsuit because rent payments are the biggest expense and it is unfair for them too.”

The gym owner feels frustrated being left out in the dark. 

“We don’t get into this business to make money, we do it to help people,” Amen said. “How are we not relevant — it’s unfair, we need to be heard.”

The Suffolk County Water Authority is urging customers to turn off their taps.

SCWA has asked residents to take measures to reduce their water use after it hit an all-time high water pumping figure amid a heat wave in the area. This month, a water pumping figure of 545,726 gallons-per-minute across the authority’s service territory broke a previous record of 542,610 gallons-per-minute set in July of 2016. 

SCWA, which services approximately 1.2 million Suffolk County residents, has sent emails and recorded phone messages to customers in recent weeks in an effort to make sure there is sufficient water supply for emergencies. The authority says customers should adjust their irrigation controllers to water no more than every other day and avoid setting controllers to operate between peak pumping hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.

During the summer months, water usage increases as customers refill pools, water lawns and gardens. 

“We need cooperation from our customers to make sure that firefighters have sufficient water pressure to battle fires and that hospitals have sufficient water pressure to take care of patients,” said SCWA Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Szabo. “We need people to get this message loud and clear — change your watering habits today and help to ensure there is a sufficient water supply for everyone.”

The Long Island Water Conference, which is made up of water providers, has recommended that residents shorten irrigation system watering time by five minutes, check their irrigation system for leaks and consider replacing a standard irrigation with a smart irrigation controller.

For more ideas about how to conserve water, customers are urged to go to ourwaterourlives.com. 

Mike Siderakis and his wife, Sandra, have raised their three children in Nesconset. Photo from Mike Siderakis website

The 2020 race for the New York State Senate 2nd District seat will pit two political newcomers against each other. Mike Siderakis, a retired state trooper from Nesconset, has been tapped by Suffolk County Democrats to run for the vacant seat previously held by former Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). Republicans have chosen Mario Mattera, a St. James resident, local union official and Suffolk County Water Authority board member.

Mike Siderakis

Republicans aim to keep control of a district they’ve had for the last 16 years, while Democrats see a real opportunity to retake the seat and further expand their majority in the state Senate.

Democratic candidate Mike Siderakis believes he is the right man for the job.

“We need someone that will be able to fight for the people of Senate District 2, I believe I am the right candidate,” he said. “I want to continue to serve the community and protect suburban interest [in the district].”

Siderakis said his time spent in Albany meeting elected officials as vice president and legislative director of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers inspired him to run for office.

“I saw the job, and I thought some of these politicians didn’t have the best interests in mind for their constituents,” he said. “I knew I could do a better job than them. I care about this community.”

Siderakis said one of his main concerns is dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on the state and on local businesses.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions on future state and local budgets,” the Democratic candidate said. “We’re going to figure out how we are going to raise revenues.”

Assisting local businesses and attracting jobs to the area is another priority.

“Small businesses play a big part in keeping people in the district,” Siderakis said. “They have faced hardships during this pandemic, some have been forced to close down. We have to support them.”

The Nesconset resident added that he wants to attract industries and other businesses to Long Island to make sure the district is not losing young professionals by providing better-paying jobs as well as affordable housing.

“We need someone that will be able to fight for the people of Senate District 2, I believe I am the right candidate.”

— Mike Siderakis

“I’ve lived in the area for the past 25 years, my daughter also lives on the Island — it’s expensive to live here,” Siderakis said. “I want to make this a great place for people to raise their families and for future generations.”

The Democratic candidate said he also wants to address rising property taxes. He hopes with the influx of new businesses and highly skilled workers they would be able to increase the tax base.

Other issues include continuing to support doctors, nurses and other essential workers. Also, making sure all individuals have access to health care and that frontline workers have the proper equipment and medical coverage to fight coronavirus. Siderakis wants to ensure students and teachers are in a safe environment when schools reopen.

The Democratic challenger said he is someone who can work on both sides of the aisle to get things done for the 2nd District.

“Partisanship is dividing us, there is a need for compromise,” he said. “If we listen to each other and come to a common ground we can get better results. [The district] needs someone who on day one can advocate for the people of SD2 and I feel I can do that.”