Authors Posts by Erika Karp

Erika Karp


A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old. Photo by Erika Karp

With its horseshoe crab population dwindling, Town of Brookhaven officials are calling on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to ban harvesting within 500 feet of town property.

At the Mount Sinai Stewardship Center at Cedar Beach on Tuesday, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced the Brookhaven Town Board is poised to approve a message in support of the ban at Thursday night’s board meeting.

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old is the center of attention at a press conference on Tuesday. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine is calling on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp
A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old is the center of attention at a press conference on Tuesday. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine is calling on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp

Horseshoe crabs are harvested for bait and medicinal purposes, as their blue blood, which is worth an estimated $15,000 a quart, is used in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries to detect bacterial contamination in drugs and medical supplies, due to its special properties.

While there is already a harvesting ban in place for Mount Sinai Harbor, Romaine is seeking to expand the restriction across the north and south shores so the crabs have a safe place to mate.

The crabs take about nine years to reach sexual maturity.

“We think it is time not to stop or prohibit the harvesting of horseshoe crabs … but instead to say, ‘Not within town properties,’” Romaine stated.

Brookhaven’s Chief Environmental Analyst Anthony Graves and clean water advocacy group Defend H20’s Founder and President Kevin McAllister joined Romaine at the Tuesday morning press conference.

Graves said the ban would help preserve the 450-million-year-old species’ population.

Preserving the species affects more than just the crabs: If the population continues to shrink, other species — like the red knot bird, which eat the crab eggs — will suffer.

“They are in some ways an ecological keystone species,” Graves said. “That means that they serve a function beyond their individual existence.”

East Coast waterways are the epicenter for the crabs and, according to McAllister, states like New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia have already enacted harvesting limits. The crabs’ nesting season starts in mid-May and lasts until the end of June. Officials said the crabs are oftentimes harvested at night and illegally.

Romaine said he has asked all of the town’s waterfront villages to support the measure. If the DEC moves forward with the ban, Romaine said the town could help the department with enforcement by establishing an intermunicipal agreement.

A DEC representative did not immediately return a request for comment.

A pumped-up crowd in the Centereach High School gymnasium cheered, clapped and clamored to see which of the district’s elementary schools would come out victorious at Monday night’s STEM Celebration.

The evening marked the district’s first celebration of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and administrators flooded the school to see students use their skills to build paper helicopters, newspaper tables and cup towers, and compete against each other to build a spaghetti tower. In addition, students from the district’s eight elementary schools presented their LEGO engineering creations to judges.

Construction could start in September

Stephen Normandin, of The RBA Group, answers residents’ questions at the Sound Beach Civic Association meeting on Monday. Photo by Erika Karp

Echo Avenue in Sound Beach is getting a makeover.

Brookhaven Town officials presented plans for a revitalization project along the busy street at the Sound Beach Civic Association meeting on Monday. Handicap-accessible sidewalks, new curbs, decorative lighting and ornamental trees are set to line the approximate .3-mile stretch between New York Avenue and North Country Road in the near future, as leaders seek to beautify and make the area safer for pedestrians.

Steve Tricarico, deputy highway superintendent, said the project will “bring that downtown feel like you may have seen the highway department do in Rocky Point.”

Late last year, the department completed a similar project along Broadway in Rocky Point.

In 2013, the town adopted a four-phase plan to revitalize Echo Avenue and received a Community Development Block Grant for the first phase. Last year, officials applied for more CDBG funding, but found out the hamlet no longer qualified for the grant.

Tricarico said the highway department went out to bid for new contracts and was able to get a better deal and was therefore able to match the 2013 grant and fund the project in its entirety — a total cost of about $240,000.

According to Stephen Normandin, director of design and planning for The RBA Group, the engineering group selected to oversee the project, starting at the intersection of New York Avenue, a four-foot-wide sidewalk will be constructed on the east side of Echo Avenue that connects all the way up to Handy Pantry. Then, a crosswalk will be created, by Devon Road and Caramia Pizzeria, that crosses over Echo Avenue and links up to another sidewalk on the west side of the street, ending at North Country Road. In addition, the triangle by Handy Pantry, which houses the civic’s “Welcome to Sound Beach” sign, will be extended in an attempt to slow traffic at the Shinnecock Drive and Echo Avenue intersection.

Normandin said the project does come with its challenges, as there are hills and existing guardrails and trees, and limited space within the public right-of-way.

“We are sensitive to the [private] properties,” he added.

If all goes according to plan, the project will commence in late August or early September and wrap up before the winter season. The road will be paved once the sidewalk and concrete work is complete.

A few residents, including Bea Ruberto, civic president and the driving force behind the project, requested some additional lighting by New York Avenue and Mesquite Tex Mex Grill. Currently, the plans don’t include new sidewalks and lighting on that side of Echo, but Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said her office would look in to it. However, an easement agreement between the town and property owner might be needed, which could delay the project.

“None of this is set in stone; the dollar amount kind of is, so wherever we can … cut from one area and add to another, we are certainly willing to do that,” Bonner said.

Port Jefferson is fighting to keep property tax revenue flowing from the power plant and to prevent restrictions from being lifted on peaker unit output. File photo by Lee Lutz

A clerical item on the Brookhaven Town Board’s agenda regarding Caithness Long Island II, a proposed Yaphank power plant, caused a stir among some Port Jefferson residents on Thursday, as they questioned what exactly the board was voting on.

Earlier in the week, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) predicted the issue at a Monday work session meeting. The item — accepting documentation about covenants and restrictions at the project site — was included under the board’s Communication Consensus agenda. Romaine said the town received correspondence that the information was filed with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, and the board had to vote to accept it. He added that the Town Board was not trying to sneak anything by residents.

“We have to list correspondence that we receive,” he said Monday.

Last July, the Town Board granted Caithness Long Island II a special permit for its proposed 752-megawatt power plant. Romaine and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) remained in the minority and voted against the permit.

Some Port Jefferson residents adamantly oppose the project, as they fear it could negatively impact the chances of the Port Jefferson power plant being upgraded. Critics allege the Caithness project’s environmental impact statement was flawed and didn’t adequately address impacts on the surrounding communities and species living near the property, which is adjacent to an existing 350-megawatt Caithness power plant.

At Thursday’s meeting, standing together in the minority as they did on the special permit vote, Cartright and Romaine voted against accepting the Caithness communication. Cartright said the project should be re-evaluated, as PSEG Long Island has stated there will be sufficient local energy capacity until about 2020, and thus there is no need for Caithness II.

“In light of that fact, it appears to me that the [environmental review] process was based on an erroneous premise, as the original … findings for this project were in part based on an additional need of power,” she said.

During public comment, Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bruce Miller expressed his frustration with the Town Board granting the special use permit and with how backup documents, which officials said are available at the town and county clerk’s offices, weren’t provided with Thursday’s agenda.

Miller said he sympathized with Medford residents, some of whom attended the same meeting to advocate against a proposed casino in their neighborhood.

“Only two people on this board are voted for by the people from Port Jefferson,” he said, referring to the supervisor and the councilwoman, “and yet the rest of the board members can vote with impunity against us and against our interests.”

District Attorney Tom Spota holds up a jar Brittany Ozarowski used while falsely claiming she had cancer to solicit donations. File photo by Erika Karp

The Selden native who tricked Long Islanders into believing she had cancer and used donations to fund her heroin habit was sentenced to prison on Monday, after she violated the terms of a mandated drug treatment program, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said.

Brittany Ozarowski will spend one to three years behind bars after  violating the terms of her drug treatment program. File photo
Brittany Ozarowski will spend one to three years behind bars after violating the terms of her drug treatment program. File photo

In December 2013, Brittany Ozarowski, 24, pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree larceny; 10 counts of second-degree forgery; 10 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing; one count of first-degree scheming to defraud; and one count of petit larceny. While the District Attorney’s office wanted Ozarowski to serve a maximum seven-year prison term, Judge John Iliou instead required her to enroll in the Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program, an alternative sentencing program that includes drug addiction treatment instead of jail. Ozarowski’s sentence included one year of inpatient treatment, one year of outpatient treatment and a year of probation.

On Monday, Spota announced in a press release that she had violated the program’s terms and had thus been sentenced to one to three years in prison.

George Duncan, a Central Islip-based attorney representing Ozarowski, said while Ozarowski received “technical violations” that resulted in her prison sentence, her time spent in the treatment program “literally saved her life,” and she is aware and thankful for that.

Duncan and the DA’s office were unable to specify how exactly Ozarowski broke program rules, as doing so would violate the federal health care privacy laws.

Ozarowski was indicted on 24 counts and arrested in April 2013. According to the DA’s office, she claimed she had bone and brain cancer to solicit donations from customers at supermarkets and shops throughout Long Island, including in Terryville, Miller Place and Sayville. In addition, she got local businesses to hold fundraisers to benefit her alleged treatments and created a website with a PayPal account where people could donate. In reality, she was using the money to fuel her heroin addiction.

At the time of her arrest, investigators discovered more than $317 in a donation bucket. More than 20 locations with donation jars were later found and the DA’s office estimated Ozarowski defrauded more than $6,000.

The 2013 arrest wasn’t Ozarowski’s first. She has other heroin-related charges against her, including a driving under the influence charge from 2011, which is still pending. The DA’s office said the Newfield High School graduate tampered with letters from doctors to say she had cancer and submitted them to her attorney in order to postpone court hearings on the charges.

The pups at Comsewogue Public Library’s inaugural Pet Adoption Fair couldn’t stop wagging their tails on April 25. Community members came out to pet their soft fur and get some kisses on a beautiful spring Saturday.

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School board adopts $78.7 million spending plan

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring. File photo by Erika Karp

Come May 19, Rocky Point Union Free School District residents will take to the polls and vote on the district’s proposed 2015-16 school year budget, which would increase the tax levy by about 1.7 percent over the current year — slightly less than how much administrators previously expected to raise taxes.

Since budget talks began earlier this year, district officials estimated the tax levy increase at 1.97 percent. But at an April 22 school board meeting, district Superintendent Michael Ring announced the lower levy increase, after the district received additional state building aid for next year. According to aid projections from New York State, the district is set to receive a total aid package of more than $27 million.

The district had a difficult budget process this year, as it faces an increase in special education costs.

Between more students being schooled outside of the district and those with high-cost Individualized Education Program plans, the special education budget line will increase by nearly 13 percent. According a recent budget presentation, with BOCES services and tuition for outside and private placements, the district is looking at spending more than $7.3 million.

Assistant Superintendent Deborah DeLuca said officials tried to keep some special education students in-house, but was unable to do so.

“Quite honestly, there was no way of grouping them, with their needs and their IEPs, for us to do that here. … We wouldn’t be able to have nice, clean groups and it would be difficult to support,” she said.

Ring said creating a more robust special education program at Rocky Point to educate the students makes sense, but supporting it over the years could be a challenge.

“If we don’t get people to enroll in our program, what happens?” Ring said.

Because of that budget line’s increase, administrators said there would be a decrease in the district’s Striving for Higher Achievement at Rocky Point, known as SHARP, at the elementary level. The district is cutting the afterschool program, but summer SHARP would continue and other extra help would still be offered.

Ring said that after reviewing the numbers, there wasn’t a strong correlation between placement in the program and a child’s outcome, as students received the services for a brief time — from one hour to no more than four hours a week.

The move will save the district between $150,000 and $170,000, according to Ring.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. on May 5 in the Rocky Point High School auditorium.

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Full-day kindergarten included in spending plan

Mount Sinai’s administration and board — including Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and BOE President Robert Sweeney — will ask taxpayers to weigh in on a capital bond proposal Dec. 11. File photo by Erika Karp

Over the last four years, only an average of 17 percent of registered voters in the Mount Sinai school district came out to the district’s annual May budget and school board election. This year, Superintendent Gordon Brosdal is urging residents to actually show up to the polls.

Prior to making his last presentation on the district’s proposed $56.7 million 2015-16 school year budget, which the school board unanimously adopted, Brosdal took a few minutes to remind the larger-than-usual crowd that every vote matters.

“If people vote yes or no, that’s their issue, but please come out and vote,” he said at the April 22 school board meeting. “All of you. Encourage your friends, neighbors.”

Elected officials, those who decide how much state aid the district gets, will take notice, according to Brosdal.

While the district budgeted for no increase in state aid over the current year, the district received $391,860 more than anticipated. Included in the total $16.4 million aid package, is more than $500,000 in kindergarten conversion aid, as the district plans to transition from a half-day to full-day kindergarten program.

The possible change has been a topic of discussion for a year, with many parents backing the move, as students require additional classroom time in order to keep up with the Common Core Learning Standards.

Last month, the district committed to making the jump and included the full-day program in its budget proposal.

At the April 22 meeting, Brosdal said that after he recently saw Miller Place’s newly implemented full-day kindergarten program he was “kind of elated” by what he witnessed at the school and how much the students were learning.

“We are leaving kids behind in our current program,” Brosdal said.

But school officials have repeatedly reminded residents that the budget just isn’t about kindergarten. There is still a whole K-12 program that the budget maintains and betters.

Under the spending plan, which increases nearly 3.3 percent from the current year, class sizes, class offerings and programs are maintained. In addition, the district will begin following Columbia University’s Teachers College Writing Project, which provides writing curriculum and professional development for teachers, in grades kindergarten through fifth.

A resident with an average assessed home value of $3,500 will see an annual tax increase of $156.

The slight increase in state aid also helps the district’s three-year outlook, as it won’t have to rely as much on appropriating fund balance year after year. In the past, board President Robert Sweeney pointed to the 2017-18 school year as to when the district’s surplus would be depleted. However, according to current district estimates, the fund balance would remain at nearly 2 percent of the operating budget that year.

“We’re now in a position that we can develop our program each year and develop our program positively,” he said.

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In addition to voting on the 2015-16 budget this May, Rocky Point school district residents will cast their votes to fill two seats in the annual school board election. Incumbent school board Vice President Scott Reh is running for his third term, while residents Donna McCauley and Ed Casswell are throwing their hats in the ring for a second time.

John Lessler, who has been a trustee since 2009, isn’t seeking re-election. He did not return calls for comment.

Scott Reh is running for the Rocky Point school board. File photo
Scott Reh is running for the Rocky Point school board. File photo

Scott Reh
After five years on the board, Scott Reh, 48, is proud of the work the board has done but wants to stick around and build upon that work.
In a phone interview, Reh, who became vice president last year, said he is seeking re-election to continue “moving in the right direction.” In addition, he wants to be involved as the board contemplates putting a capital improvements bond up for a vote in the future.
While the bond is a main focus, Reh said he wants to continue making sure that the school district officials and the board are working together. It is especially important to Reh that teachers and staff enjoy going to work every day.
Most important, though: The kids.
His main objective is “trying to afford children everything they need to learn.”
As Mount Sinai school district’s athletics director, Reh spoke of having a unique perspective, as he has interacted with students, teachers, administrators and parents. In addition, the role gives him significant budgeting experience.
With all of the changes happening in the education world, Reh said his job is to listen to the community and make decisions with that feedback in mind.
Reh and his wife, Lisa, have three children. His sons graduated from Rocky Point High School and his daughter is in 10th grade.

Donna McCauley is running for the Rocky Point school board. File photo
Donna McCauley is running for the Rocky Point school board. File photo

Donna McCauley
A frequent attendee of the Rocky Point school board meetings, Donna McCauley is making another go at becoming a trustee after running a year ago.
At this time last year, McCauley, 46, said she wanted to see more board member participation when making decisions and voting on resolutions. McCauley said she’s been pleased to see that happening.
However, more can always be done, and McCauley said she would give everyday, taxpaying residents a voice. While many of the board members have education backgrounds, McCauley does not and she said that is a good thing.
“I think I would offer a different perspective,” she said. “I think it makes for a more well-rounded board,” she said.
Last year, McCauley expressed concerns about the district’s academic plan, known as Next S.T.E.P., which is geared toward improving student performance. Since then, McCauley has taken an active role on the Next S.T.E.P. subcommittee to learn more about the plan and to educate the community.
“I think it is a work in progress,” McCauley said of the plan.
If elected, McCauley said she would like to explore adding more career and technology course offerings so students have a more robust menu of items from which to choose.
A former pharmaceutical company representative, McCauley has lived in the district since 1995. She has a daughter in 10th grade with her husband, Michael. She spends most of her time volunteering and holds leadership roles in and is an active member of St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church and the Suffolk County Girl Scouts.

Ed Casswell is running for the Rocky Point school board. Photo from the candidate
Ed Casswell is running for the Rocky Point school board. Photo from the candidate

Ed Casswell
After unsuccessfully running for a trustee seat in 2012, Ed Casswell said his desire to serve the Rocky Point community has not diminished and he is ready to take on the role.
As principal of Center Moriches High School, Casswell, 50, said he is empathetic and in tune with the needs of the district’s students.
“I live it,” Casswell said in a phone interview. “I live all the changes and trials and tribulations that education brings.”
If elected, Casswell wants to make sure everyone in the district shares a common vision. He said the school board needs a strong voice and advocate in the state legislature, something he would pursue.
School board members must “understand the intricate details of any mandates, but also they need to realize it is quite possible that local communities will lose local control,” he said.
Casswell and his wife, Carrie Ann, have lived in the district for 23 years. The couple has two children — a fourth-grader and an 11th-grader — in the district.
He is a North Shore Little League board member and serves as the Suffolk County High School Principals Association’s president.

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V.P. Donna Compagnone not seeking re-election

File photo

After 12 years, Mount Sinai school board Vice President Donna Compagnone decided her fourth term on the board would be her last.

In a phone interview on Monday, Compagnone reflected on her tenure fondly, describing the experience as “heartwarming and fun” and an “honor.”

“Most of all I got to see the kids, so many of them go from kindergarten to graduation.”

As both of her children have graduated from the district, Compagnone said it was just time.

But her seat won’t stay empty, as four candidates, including incumbent Lynn Capobianco, submitted petitions to run for two open seats on the board. Also running are newcomers Michael Riggio, John DeBlasio and Joanne Rentz.

Lynn Capobianco. Photo from the candidate
Lynn Capobianco. Photo from the candidate

Lynn Capobianco
Running for her second term, Capobianco, 65, said three years serving on the board doesn’t feel like a very long time.
“Lots of exciting things have started and I wanted to continue the momentum that has begun,” she said in a recent phone interview.
One of the exciting items is full-day kindergarten. Capobianco, who is a retired school librarian, said that as an early childhood educator she was happy to be part of the full-day kindergarten forums and felt it was important to discuss the program, which is included in the district’s proposed 2015-16 school year budget.
Having worked in the Mount Sinai school district, Capobianco said she is very familiar with the schools and staff, which is an advantage.
Looking toward the future, Capobianco said she wants to continue to watch Mount Sinai grow and evolve, while remaining fiscally sound.
“I would like to see our high school bring back some of the clubs,” she said.
She has her sights set on adding an in-house robotics club. Her dream would be to have a science research program at the high school.
Capobianco has lived in the district for 25 years with her husband, Kerry, and their three boys — two attending Mount Sinai schools and one who graduated.

Mike Riggio. Photo from the candidate
Mike Riggio. Photo from the candidate

Mike Riggio
After retiring from the New York City Police Department last year, Riggio, who was second in command of the department’s counterterrorism unit, is making his first run for the school board. The 42-year-old father of a Mount Sinai fourth-grader said he is running for a number of reasons, but his focus is on students’ safety.
“There are some serious security concerns and this is what I used to do for a living,” Riggio said in a phone interview.
In addition, Riggio said he would use his background and experience managing $150 million worth of programs that kept New York City safe to make sure the district remains fiscally sound.
“We want more for our school,” Riggio said. “So how do you work on paying for that?”
One solution would be to reach beyond the immediate community and look for other funding opportunities, such as grants, and continue to advocate for his district at the state level. As a department head, Riggio said he worked with local congressmen to help get things done.
“We need to work with them,” he said.
Riggio and his wife, Eileen, have lived in Mount Sinai since 2006. He currently serves as coach for his daughters Infant Jesus basketball team and the Mount Sinai lacrosse team.

John DeBlasio. Photo from the candidate
John DeBlasio. Photo from the candidate

John DeBlasio
As a father to triplets in Mount Sinai schools, DeBlasio said he understands the demands the district is facing when it comes to educational changes and staying fiscally healthy.
“I want to be part of the process to help shape the budget,” DeBlasio, 54, said in a phone interview.
Finances are the Ronkonkoma-based attorney’s main focus in his run for school board. He said that the issue isn’t “black and white,” as districts struggle to budget without state aid numbers and try to project for the future. However, he said that he believes the district has to try to work within budgetary constraints.
“It’s just trying to become more efficient with the money you do have while maintaining school programs,” he said.
As an attorney, DeBlasio said his experiences would help him as a trustee, especially during budget season and when the district is negotiating contracts.
DeBlasio, husband to Kim, has lived in the district for 14 years. He serves as a coach for Mount Sinai lacrosse. He also has two stepsons.
At the end of the day, DeBlasio has just one request for his fellow residents.
“I would hope people would come out and vote.”

Joanne Rentz. Photo from the candidate
Joanne Rentz. Photo from the candidate

Joanne Rentz
Understanding the huge commitment of what it takes to be a school board trustee, Rentz is ready and excited to take on the job.
“We are a small community and a large family-based community,” Rentz, 51, said. “A lot of how we interact and how we relate to one another is through our kids and through the school.”
Rentz said she feels like she would add a good perspective to the board, as she has experience in sales management as a small business owner and in education. Currently, Rentz, who has a fourth-grade son in the district, works as a brand director for a media publishing company. In the past, she owned a FasTracKids center, which provided enrichment programs to young learners.
The programs aim to challenge students while also strengthening their problem-solving skills and making them lifelong learners, she said. The goal may sound similar to that of the Common Core Learning Standards, and Rentz said she supports that idea. However, she questioned how developmentally appropriate the standards are and how they were implemented.
“I think it is a great idea,” she said. “I think that the implementation of the program in its entirety needs to be reexamined.”
If elected, Rentz said she wants to work to see a curriculum that supports the district’s competitive edge and enables students to be successful after graduation, whether they go off to college or start a career right away.
Rentz has lived in the district for six years with her husband, Larry, and their fourth-grade son. She also has four grown stepchildren.