Government

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by David Luces

Residents of both Brookhaven and Smithtown spoke during a Jan. 8 public hearing about the impact of the proposed development of the 75-acre Flowerfield/Gyrodyne site on Route 25A in St. James. While opinions varied, one thing was certain: The project will be the largest development the area has seen in quite some time. 

The proposal seeks to subdivide the land into nine lots, keeping existing businesses and a catering hall while adding a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

During the hearing, Gyrodyne representatives said they are taking a sustainable approach and have come up with multiple alternatives to the original plan that balance out potential impacts to the surrounding communities. 

Kevin McAndrew, a partner at Cameron Engineering, a Woodbury-based firm hired by Gyrodyne, discussed the potential benefits of the project. 

“The project would bring in significant economic benefits — generate over $3.5 million dollars, bring in high quality jobs and no increase to [area] school enrollment,” he said. 

McAndrew said the firm has acknowledged traffic concerns in the area. The proposed plans, he said, such as the assisted living center, would contribute minimal traffic congestion during peak commute hours. The developer pointed out the inclusion of walking trails, bike lanes, green infrastructure and a potential sewage treatment plant at the site, which representatives said could be used for sewering for downtown St. James. 

Despite what they heard from the presentation, many speakers and civic leaders said they were not convinced, including officials from Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation.”

– Ed Romaine  

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven supervisor, said the project would impact the communities of Brookhaven in a devastating way. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation,” Romaine said. 

Romaine and others complained that Brookhaven is being left out of the planning process and their concerns are not being addressed. As the site is just outside their borders, it would impact their roads, particularly Stony Brook Road. 

“I submitted extensive comments on the scope of the project, to this date I haven’t been contacted about any of these concerns,” the supervisor said. “25A is over carry capacity and we are going to add more? I have concerns about Setauket Harbor and water quality as well as this sewage treatment plant.” 

Maria Hoffman, press secretary read a statement from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket):

“Shortcomings of this DEIS include the project’s impact on Stony Brook Harbor, will the onsite [treatment] plant become a regional sewer district? What type of sewer system will be purchased and installed, and will it remove nitrate? These meaningful unanswered questions need to be answered and resolved before the project is allowed [to move forward].”

Stony Brook resident Curt Croley said he’s worried about the project’s impact on property values. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal is opportunistic based on available land,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder if there’s been enough diligence about the sewage treatment plant, the runoff and all the potential impacts that are so close to all these municipalities.”

Joy Cirigliano, chapter president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the nearby harbor and other waterways.

“We already have water quality issues in Stony Brook Harbor and Smithtown Bay with Ecoli and hypoxia, adding more nitrogen to the harbor is significant,” she said. The applicant must analyze these impacts and the repercussions before proceeding with the plan.”

Artists, such as Kevin McEvoy, who had a thriving studio on the Flowerfield site, have already left. The atelier now has limited operations at Gyrodyne. 

 “The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

– Natalie Weinstein

Some Smithtown residents welcomed the project, because the St. James business district on Lake Avenue could tap into the project’s proposed sewage treatment plant. 

Natalie Weinstein of Celebrate St. James stressed the importance of the potential project and how it would finally allow for the revitalization of Lake Avenue as a cultural art district. 

“The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

Following the public hearing and end of the public comment input later this month, the Smithtown Planning Board will await submission of a final environmental impact statement in preparation for a vote on the Gyrodyne applications. 

TBR News Media has previously reported that Smithtown has already received $3.9 million from Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), so it can connect the Lake Avenue business district in St. James to the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant. 

 

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psych Center. Photo by Donna Deddy

A piece of legislation that would have begun the process of creating a master plan for the Nissequogue River State Park was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 1, putting the future development of the park up in the air. 

“The park described in this bill is the subject  of  recent  litigation against  the  park’s office  and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Cuomo stated. “In light of the fact  that  the  litigation  addresses  an environmental review conducted by the State related to uses in this very park, it would be inappropriate to sign this legislation.”

The park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and accessing the local waterways via its marina. But many of the site’s derelict buildings prevent the place from being truly enjoyable. Many people find the old institution creepy. 

New York State lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in June sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would have required state parks officials to begin a master plan for the park. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

– John McQuaid

The introduction of a master plan would have included input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolition of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said he was disappointed to hear of the governor’s decision. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

McQuaid admitted that he believes the veto may have been political, stemming from the foundation’s decision to sue the state park’s office and Department of Environmental Conservation over the siting of a DEC Division of Marines Resources building in the park. 

Smithtown, state and local officials including County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended a rally Dec. 20 in support of the proposed project.  

According to Smithtown and county officials, the state project is expected to be an economic boost that would bring  in approximately 500 construction jobs, 100 permanent positions, plus the added year-round police presence in the state park. 

“We have never been against a DEC building on the property,” McQuaid said. “But we were against the location of the building, if we had the master plan process we could avoid this, everyone would have their say and input.”

The proposed site of the building would be in close proximity to the park’s marina. McQuaid deemed the location “inappropriate.”  

State officials who helped sponsor the master plan legislation were left confused about Cuomo’s decision.  

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan. It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

– Steve Englebright

“I am both shocked and disappointed by this action and feel like our community deserves better,” Flanagan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to veto this legislation instead of joining us in protecting our community, our environment and our way of life.”

Since 2006, Flanagan said his office worked with former Gov. George Pataki (R) to ensure the land is protected by halting the sale of land to developers, adding additional land to the park system. In addition, they secured over $31 million in state funding and worked with local leaders to ensure continued efforts to preserve and remediate the property.

Flanagan said he stands ready to work with all interested parties to see if they can reach an agreeable compromise on this important issue. 

“I continue to be optimistic that we can work out a solution, and will return to Albany in January ready to work to find an amicable solution that protects the residents of Kings Park,” he said. 

Englebright offered similar sentiments and was hopeful lawmakers would revisit this issue. 

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan,” he said. “It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

McQuaid echoed the state officials’ thoughts saying the foundation is anxious to sit down with the parks office and state officials so they come to some type of agreement. 

Previously, there had been discussions about repurposing park land for a sports field, a concert area and a community center.

N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran in Albany with his daughter for the 2020 legislative session.

NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is heading to Albany for the 2020 legislative session, and after a productive first year in office, he said he’s determined to again tackle a long list of issues. With Andrew Raia stepping down as assemblyman as of Jan. 1 to fill the role of Huntington town clerk, Gaughran will be the area’s only representative in the state house unless a special election is held. 

With a state budget of $179 billion and budget deficit of $6 billion, ethical reform and corruption, he said, are at the top of his to do list. 

The Times of Huntington sat down with Gaughran Jan. 12 to get an overview of his agenda. 

In the new year, citizens can look forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) energy initiative. He’s formulating an environmental bond for voter approval in November designed to address climate change. Gaughran doesn’t know how it will work. Details will be unveiled with the governor’s pending budget, he said. 

He plans to support sewage treatment plants and is behind plans to address clean water initiatives for the Long Island Sound and the groundwater, which is the sole source of Long Island’s drinking supply. 

On the topic of taxes, Gaughran said that he’s opposed to raising taxes on the middle class and notes that half of all state revenue comes from the wealthiest 3 percent of residents. Those taxpayers, however, are declaring legal residencies in other states to escape New York’s tax burden. According to President Donald Trump (R), that’s why he declared Florida as his legal residence. That situation is compounding the state’s budget woes. 

Lost Medicaid revenue is also a fiscal concern. Of the $6 billion deficit, $4 billion is lost federal funding to cover Medicaid costs. 

“People are living longer,” Gaughran said. “More advanced technology translates into higher health care costs.”

Overall, Gaughran suggests that citizens pay attention, as many already do, and to demand transparency in government. Toward that effort, he said he will continue to host town hall meetings with constituents. He expects to schedule an upcoming town hall on Long Island Rail Road issues. 

To address ethics issues, Gaughran is supporting a law that limits lawmakers’ outside income to 15 percent of their annual $110,000 salary.

Gaughran is also pushing for election reforms. Last year’s early voting initiative was an initial success. But he said communities need more polling places. One polling place in each town is too few. He’d like to see one voting place for every 50,000 citizens. He said he’s opposed to schools being used for early voting. 

Bail reform is another troublesome issue for Gaughran. If he had not voted for last year’s budget, which included the bail reform legislation, it would have cut state aid to schools. So, this year he’d like to restore judicial reviews for 64 crimes and set bail as needed. Bail should not be waived for hate crimes, he said. He said other senators are supporting his initiative and he continues to get calls about it. 

He also wants to help drug addicts with arrests find treatment and is alarmed that Long Island real estate agents discriminate, as reported in a recent Newsday expose. He is supporting legislation that suspends or revokes a broker’s license when they are found to discriminate against minorities. 

Gaughran has been a proponent of better laws that crack down on unsafe driving for limousines. U-turns, blamed for a deadly crash in Cutchogue in 2015, will soon be illegal. That crash resulted in the death of four young women from Kings Park, Commack and Smithtown. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Gaughran introduced nine bills to address the problems. 

“I so admire these families that have channeled their grief into something positive,” Gaughran said.  

With regards to the Long Island Power Authority, he’s waiting on the courts to see how the case unfolds and is following the Town of Huntington to see what it will do. He plans to reintroduce legislation this session to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax certiorari suits. LIPA’s aggressive lobbying in the assembly derailed the initiative last year, after his senate bill passed with overwhelming support. The costs behind LIPA’s lobbying and public relations campaigns need to be reined in, he said, and need more oversight. 

“Citizens have no consumer protection with LIPA,” Gaughran explained. 

His plan is to authorize regulatory oversight of LIPA to the New York Public Service Commission and require annual audits. Currently, if fraud or misrepresentation is found, he said the state can’t take action. He’d also like to better understand the relationship between LIPA and PSEG. 

Mindy Grabina of Smithtown, who lost her daughter in a 2015 limo accident, speaks in Albany after new limo safety bills pass.

Senator Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), together with the Senate Majority Conference, passed legislation Jan. 14 that will help better protect New Yorkers from limousine crashes. The bills were created together with Assembly Democratic majority colleagues based on testimony from families of victims involved in tragic crashes. This package of limo regulations will better protect passengers, ensure higher standards for professional drivers, improve passenger communication options and increase penalties for bad actors who put public lives at risk.

“Today we are taking action on important limo safety legislation that will protect passengers and drivers alike. These bills, including mandatory seat belts and cracking down on illegal U-turns, are critical safety measures that will prevent tragic crashes like the one just a few years ago in Cutchogue, from happening again. I thank the brave and tireless advocacy of the families of the Cutchogue and Schoarie crashes for being the driving force behind today’s bills and fighting for safety.”

The additional limo regulation reforms passed by the Senate Democratic Majority includes:

▪Customer Service Resources: This bill, S.6185B, sponsored by Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse), requires maintenance of a hotline and website for New Yorkers to report safety issues with stretch limos, and requires the information to be conspicuously posted in vehicles for passengers. 

▪Drug and Alcohol Testing: This bill, S.6186B, sponsored by Sen. Jen Metzger (D-Rosendale), requires pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing in large for-hire vehicles.

▪Commercial GPS Requirements: This bill, S.6187C, sponsored by Gaughran, requires stretch limousines to use commercial GPS devices to assist them in using roads that are best suited for their vehicles.

▪Increased Penalties for Illegal U-Turns: This bill, S.6188B, sponsored by Gaughran, expands the U-turn ban to stretch limousines capable of carrying nine or more passengers including the driver, and increases the financial and criminal penalties for drivers making illegal U-turns.

▪Creation of Passenger Task Force: This bill, S.6189C, sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), creates a passenger safety task force to study and make recommendations on additional safety measures for stretch limousines such as anti-intrusion bars, rollover protection, emergency exits and improved coordination between the DOT and DMV.

▪Seatbelt Requirements: This bill, S.6191C, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), requires stretch limousines to be equipped with seat belts for every passenger for which the vehicle is rated. This includes a requirement for stretch limousines to be retrofitted with seat belts no later than Jan. 1, 2023, and for any stretch limousine modified on or after Jan. 1, 2021 to be equipped with seat belts.

▪Commercial Driving License Requirement: This bill, S.6192A, sponsored by Kennedy, requires limousine drivers operating vehicles capable of transporting nine or more passengers to have a passenger-endorsed commercial driver’s license. 

▪Immobilization of Defective Limos: This bill, S.6193C, sponsored by Kennedy, authorizes DOT to immobilize or impound a stretch limo with an out-of-service defect.

▪Website Requirements: This bill, S.6604B, sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica), requires DMV to update its website regarding motor carrier safety information, and requires annual verifications on stretch limousine driver files with respect to disqualifying offenses, out of service defects and crashes. 

▪Seatbelt Requirements: This bill, S.7134, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-New York City), expands seatbelt use requirements in for-hire vehicles.

Compiled by Donna Deedy

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Valerie Catright have considered running for the state senate district 1 seat.

State Sen. Ken LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson) announcement he would not be seeking reelection has suddenly bolstered both party’s efforts to get a candidate into the 1st District seat.

Several Democrats have already stepped up to run, including Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident Skyler Johnson and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member.

Johnson said he thought it was good LaValle was retiring after so long in office. The young Democrat took a shine to a primary that “allows people to hear what candidates have to say, to help us flesh out our ideas.”

Ahearn thanked LaValle for his years of service, adding that now the venerable senator is no longer running, she “looks forward to continuing meeting and listening to voters of the 1st Senate District.”

Suffolk Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer did not return multiple requests for comment, but has made previous statements to other newspapers that have perked the ears on both sides of the aisle. 

Quickly upon the news of LaValle not seeking another term coming out Jan. 8, rumors quickly circulated who else was on the shortlist. While some rumors pointed to Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant wishing to seek the seat, she strongly put the idea aside, saying she did not want to step into that arena. 

The other person most rumored to be running was Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who has yet to make an official announcement but responded to inquiries by saying, “The county chair indicated that I would be running — his statement is correct.”

On the Republican side, rumors circulated that Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) would look to take up his cousin’s seat, but the town councilman said he currently resides outside the district boundaries and cannot run for the position. 

Suffolk Republican chairman, Jesse Garcia, said he already had a shortlist for Ken LaValle’s seat that included Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and even Brookhaven council members Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point).

Palumbo said while it would be a step-up, his current leadership position in the Assembly, and the young age of his two children, one 12 and the other 15, might make it a tough call. 

“It wouldn’t foreclose a future run,” he said.

When asked about the prospect of running, Bonner said, “There are a lot of people exploring their options. … I’ve been approached by numerous people to consider it and I am. It’s a conversation I’ll have to have with my family and husband. It is a decision that’s not to be made lightly.”

 

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle announced he would not be running for re-election Jan. 10. File photo by Kevin Redding

Why have you decided this term would be your last?

I don’t know, it just feels right. If I can put in place something at [Stony Brook University], then I can retire knowing we’re in a good place. 

I look forward to spending more time with my wife and family, and less time driving on the Thruway.

I would like to do something academic — it’s a way of looking at things through a different lens.

Would you look to work at Stony Brook University?

That would be my choice. I would like to do something that’s always been on my radar — some kind of think tank, look at it in an academic way. My thoughts on generations, what is the difference between one generation to another. We know the events of WWII shaped what was called the greatest generation. But then there are millennials — who are millennials? You’re a millennial [he said, talking to me, a 25-year-old.] How are your thoughts shaped by your generation?

Some have said the climate of partisanship up in Albany has factored into your decision.

My personality has been to not get involved in that kind of stuff, I try to be kind and productive — there’s no doubt things have changed in the Legislature. I think you’ll see more people say it’s not a positive place — that’s how you start to lose good people. People will say, “Who the hell needs this?”

What are your plans for your last year in office?

I want to make sure all the preservation stuff is in place. That’s the kind of thing most near and dear to me. I want to leave things with the university and Brookhaven National Lab in a good place … I’m very focused, it’s always been 1st District first.

Does the preservation you’re talking about include the hundreds of acres over by the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant?

Yes, absolutely.

What other things are you working with on preservation, what about the university are you currently engaged with?

I want to make sure that work we have started over at the Gyrodyne site keeps moving forward, it’s linked to the economic vitality of the area. I’m meeting with union representatives, talking about the sewage treatment plant, talking about the 8-acre parcel that would go on there. We got to have further discussions about that project.

Do you have any misgivings about the Gyrodyne plans?

I’ve got to have further discussions. I want to make sure I have the opportunity to talk to people at the university, I want to make sure where the sewage treatment plant is going is going to be accepted in the community.

Do you have any advice for whoever ends up taking over the district? What qualities do you feel like the new senator will require?

I will work with that person, whoever it is in November, whatever party. I will try to help them, work with them. No. 1, they’ve got to have an understanding of who they’re representing. There is a large group that thinks the environment is very important. Whoever is going to replace me will have to have that mindset or have a background in it. 

It’s a big district, and there have been very few things I have missed. Whoever comes in will have to be very much involved in local events. Just look at Fishers Island, it’s closer to Connecticut, but it’s in the Town of Southold. There are 300 people living there, but you know, those people are just as important as any other part of the 1st District. They need to have an interaction with the people of the district.

I think right now the Senate majority, the Democrats, tend to represent New York City and New York City issues. We need someone who is going to fight for suburban and rural interests.

Though you still have a year left in office, how do you feel the shape of the district is in?

My personality has always been one to get things done. The district will be left in as good of a shape as can be.

 

Legislator Kara Hahn takes oath Jan. 2. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

The new year has seen some shuffling around in the Suffolk County Legislature, and now Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has been named deputy presiding officer.

Deputy presiding officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) was named presiding officer, along with Hahn’s new position, at the Legislature’s Jan. 2 meeting. This comes after previous presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), announced he would be resigning effective Jan. 15. He will be joining the Babylon Town Board.

Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) were the only two to vote “no” on the appointments.

“I have always touted this body’s ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to do the people’s business,” Calarco said at the meeting. “I am thankful to my Republican colleagues for their support today, as it shows that I am committed to working across the aisle with all of my colleagues to ensure we best serve all of the residents of Suffolk County.”

Hahn said she was grateful for the honor.

“I genuinely love my job as county legislator,” she said at the legislative meeting. She also addressed her colleagues. “We make a difference every day in people’s lives. … I look forward to working with all of you in 2020.”

The ceremony was also attended by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

Legislators are expected to vote on a special election for March 10 to replace Gregory. The outcome of that vote was not available by press time.

 

Ken LaValle officially announced he would not be running for reelection Jan 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

State. Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), 80, has been a fixture in New York’s 1st District for more than four decades. At an event held for him at the Village Center in Port Jefferson Jan. 10, the crowd of gathered officials and friends said goodbye to the elder statesman the only way they knew how — in a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute.

Sen. Ken LaValle joined with his wife and daughter Jan. 10 in announcing he would not be seeking reelection. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The best part of the job is the people, those who come into your office looking for help,” the 44-year statesman said in a speech that saw him choked up at several points. “What a thing — to be able to
help people.”

The news broke Wednesday, Jan. 8, that LaValle would not be seeking reelection.

A common refrain of “1st District first,” was shared continuously throughout the Friday gathering, joined by a real “who’s who” of public officials on the East End, including reps from town, county and state, as well as local community and party leaders.

Jesse Garcia, the Suffolk County Republican chairman, said LaValle represented his district so well he will be a hard man to replace. Garcia knew of the senator from the age of 14, he said, and had knocked on doors for the senator along with his father.

“Nobody can really fill LaValle’s shoes,” he said.

Some begged the senator, half-jokingly, to reconsider.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the senior senate member had been one of the hardest workers for his district. LaValle was at the forefront of preserving over 100,000 acres of land in the Pine Barrens, and Englebright has worked with the senator on many projects since then. At that time, Democratic Assembly member Tom DiNapoli, who is now state comptroller, worked with LaValle in establishing the Pine Barrens Protection Act back in 1993.

“Most of his work has been achieved,” DiNapoli said. “Your example we will all continue to point to, which was beyond partisanship.”

Englebright stressed his colleague’s term is not yet over, and he hopes he can work with LaValle on preserving several hundred acres of woodland currently surrounding the defunct Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, land, he said, that is so pristine and ancient it “has never been touched by a steel plow.”

For his past and present role in preservation, the senior assemblyman said it went beyond a partnership.

“I would use the word ‘indispensable,’ but it’s not adequate,” Englebright said.

When speaking on his legacy, local officials mainly pointed to two things: His support of the environment and preservation efforts, and his support of schools, including growing the SUNY system and particularly noting Stony Brook University has been built up over the past several decades under his watch and support. His name adorns the sports stadium.

State Sen. John Flanagan and Ken LaValle Jan. 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

Englebright shared the sentiment that LaValle’s support went down to the most unsuspected, including the building of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center. Other members of the SBU community said they were both congratulatory and sad that the senior senator was set to retire within a year.

“He has been a tireless champion for Stony Brook University and a staunch advocate for higher education support,” said SBU Interim President Michael Bernstein in a statement. “Stony Brook has advanced significantly thanks to his leadership and deep commitment to our students, our patients and our region.”

Port Jefferson Village mayor, Margot Garant, said LaValle has been in office since she was young, and was a consistent aid to Port Jeff. She added that it was with LaValle’s eventual support that the Village Center, which was built under then-mayor and Garant’s mother, Jeanne Garant. The center was also where the senator hosted his official retirement announcement.

“He listened to everyone,” she said. “He shows that things get accomplished with time.”

Other local legislators knew him for his general support of their districts. Brookhaven Town supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), said the senator had gone out of his way to bridge divides and work for the people of the district. He said he hopes the next person to secure the district will “be one who will advocates for the people of [state Senate District 1].”   

“It’s not the barbs or criticism, it’s not the tweets, it’s reaching out to both parties to get things done,” he said.

Mourners march in Iran after Qassim Suleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Photo from Iranian leader’s website

By David Luces and Kyle Barr

The assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq three days into the new year sent shock waves nationally and globally. In response, Iran has threatened to retaliate. 

For people on the North Shore, it has meant a period of uncertainty and anxiety. As the fallout from the attack continues to make headlines, locals are left wondering what will be the outcome to the posturing and threats from both the U.S. and Iran.

The U.S. military recruitment office in Selden. Photo from Google Maps

Bernard Firestone, a professor of Political Science at Hofstra University, said there has already been conflict between the two nations, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordering attacks on American military targets directly, rather than through allied militias, as it has done so in the past.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, Iran launched missiles at two separate U.S. military bases in Iraq, though officials said there were no American or Iraqi casualties. National newspapers reported the Iranian foreign minister said they had “concluded” attacks on American forces, adding they would step back from escalating into a war.

That does not mean that tensions between the two nations have stabilized, nor that there is the possibility for further contention down the road. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump (R) called on other western countries, who have largely condemned the Iranian rocket attacks, to defy Iran, and announced his intent to install new sanctions on the country.

“Over the past two weeks the U.S. has responded more forcefully to attacks by Iraqi militia allied with Iran, including the killing of Soleimani,” Firestone said. “So, we are already in armed conflict with Iran.”

Paul Fritz, an associate professor of Political Science from Hofstra, said the missile strikes were a “somewhat surprising” escalation of hostilities, and appear to be a direct challenge to the U.S. military, and a further escalation of strong rhetoric.

“The Iranian regime can’t be seen as folding to an outside power with an attack like last week and decided it had to do something big to maintain legitimacy, given strong nationalistic feelings following the killing of Soleimani,” he said.

Fritz said there is always a chance, however small, that armed conflict can spark between the two countries, most likely through an unsanctioned expression of military force that escalates into a full-scale war. America’s past wars against Spain and its entrance into World War I started much in that way, specifically when Spain and Germany attacked ships, killing American civilians, though of course there are differences today.

“When the rhetoric is sometimes over the top, what that can do to the other side is the Iranian regime has to respond in kind,” Fritz said.

At home, planning also begun, but for potential attacks to the U.S., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and city police announced they would be going on high alert Jan. 3 fearing any kind of retaliation from Iran.

The Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement that it has a robust and long-standing homeland security program, which now includes our SCPD Shield program in partnership with NYPD Shield. They also said there is currently no credible threat to Suffolk County. 

With the U.S. military at a state of readiness, local recruiting centers on the North Shore said they couldn’t comment to the media about whether they are seeing any change in recruitment numbers. 

‘We are already in armed conflict with Iran’

— Bernard Firestone

Lisa Ferguson, chief of media relations for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said they have not seen much of a difference.

“At this point we have not seen an impact on our ability to recruit, and too many variables exist to draw a comparison to previous situations,” she said. 

The days after the Iranian general’s death have been a roller coaster. Residents opinions are split over whether Suleimani’s killing was a necessary act, or a way of painting a target on America’s back.

“I think it was a necessary evil,” said Lake Grove resident Patrick Finnerty. “The man [Suleimani ] was threatening people, threatening us.”

During a 2019 Veterans Day ceremony in Greenlawn, Lenny Salvo, a Vietnam War veteran had one message he wanted the public to know: “Stop war.”

“For me it’s not about politics,” he said. “All I see is the harm that it is going to do to people.”

In the days that have now passed, with tensions escalating and Iran potentially returning to build nuclear bombs, Salvo said his position has changed. He said he’s supporting the president. 

“If there’s going to be a conflict, it’s better now [than when they have a nuclear weapon],” he said.

Groups nationwide are already planning
protests. On Jan. 9 at 3:30 p.m., the North Country Peace Group is planning a protest at the corner of Route 112 and Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station against any further war in the Middle East. 

If anything, the threat of attack to New York has stirred harrowing memories of 9/11. Almost 20 years later, the memory of that day’s events has filtered down into the blood of those who witnessed it.

Port Jefferson Village mayor, Margot Garant, shared memories of that fateful day at the village meeting Jan. 6. On Sept. 11, 2001, the trains were down, cars jammed the highways and the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry was one of the very few means for people to get off the Island.

Garant said she remembered cars backed up all the way up East Broadway and beyond for days. At the meeting, she said she will speak with code enforcement and the fire department in case any such crisis should happen again.

“It could be a chemical weapon, it could be a bomb, so many things could happen,” the mayor said. “If I’m not thinking about that, I would be negligent … you have a number of people saying they want to take revenge — that’s not normal — you’ve got to be prepared.”

The fear of home terrorism isn’t unfounded, though the experts said any kind of terrorism linked directly to Iran could provoke a full-scale war, something they don’t want. Firestone said that if there were to be terrorist-type attacks, it will more likely be launched at allied or American targets in the home region.

‘The Iranian regime can’t be seen as folding to an outside power with an attack like last week and decided it had to do something big to maintain legitimacy.’

— Paul Fritz

Though statistics say one is more likely to get struck by lightning than be involved in a terrorist attack, people from New York City and Long Islanders have a unique view and anxiety about any such attack.

After the birth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the western world saw a slew of what was considered “lone wolf” terrorists, or people who conduct violence without the direct support and resources of any one group. 

These, Fritz said, are less likely in this case, since there is no one specific ideology such as seen with ISIS calling for such attacks.

Much depends on what Iran’s next step will be, experts said, and though a full-scale conflict is unlikely, Fritz said it begets people to be informed and to ask questions of one’s local elected representatives.

“Stay informed, but don’t turn this into something all-consuming,” he said. 

Leah Chiappino, Rita J. Egan and Donna Deedy all contributed reporting.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during the Jan. 2 press conference. Photo by David Luces

The opioid epidemic has hit Long Island hard over the past few years, but according to an annual county report, fatal opioid-related deaths have decreased significantly over the past year. 

The Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel’s 2019 Report released Jan. 2 found that opioid deaths in 2019 were projected at 283, which was an approximate 25.5 percent decrease from the 2018 total of 380.

“We are moving in the right direction,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the chair of the panel, at the Jan. 2 press conference in Hauppauge. “The opioid crisis is costing Long Island upward of $8 billion a year in medical costs … that’s $22 million a day. Not only do we have to address the addiction issue, we have to also address mental health.”

“The opioid crisis is costing Long Island upward of $8 billion a year in medical costs … that’s $22 million a day. Not only do we have to address the addiction issue, we have to also address mental health.” 

– Sarah Anker

The 127-page report compiled by the 29-member panel highlights that the decreased numbers can be attributed to the increased use of Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of overdoses. 

Other highlights from the previous year includes the panel collaborating to help open a DASH Center, a 24/7 resource center for individuals in search of treatment and resources located at 90 Adams Ave., Hauppauge. The officials also purchased a mass spectrometer, a device that detects and breaks down the chemical compounds of drugs. The device is used to help track where drugs are coming from, making it easier to identify dealers.  

Geraldine Hart, Suffolk police commissioner, said the force is focusing on addressing the drug dealer situation.  

“We have seen a decrease in opiate usage but that is not enough,” she said. “We have a strategy that is taking hold, it involves enforcement, prevention, education and treatment.”

The panel’s report also lists resources for residents, including a number of counseling programs, agencies, drug treatment courts and law enforcement initiatives like Sharing Opioid Analysis & Research (SOAR). 

The panel was created in 2017 in response to the growing opioid and substance abuse epidemic in Suffolk County and across the nation.

While deaths have decreased, the number of overdoses increased 140 percent from 71 to 170.

While members of the panel said the decrease in number of fatal overdoses is a great sign, the increasing number of overdoses not resulting in death is something that requires more investigation.

Jeffery Reynolds, president of the Family and Children’s Association, said the new data is encouraging but stressed that more needs to be done. 

“These gains can sometimes be precarious — it took a long time for opioids to brew in this region, we were slow to respond in the region and nation, and we paid the price for it,” he said. “We gave heroin a 10-year head start. The last thing we want to do is declare victory prematurely.” 

Reynolds said there is still a need for a DASH/recovery center on the east end of Long Island and that panel wouldn’t stop working until “the overdose number is at zero.”  

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Suffolk County legislator and chair of the health committee, said it is also important to make sure the medical community is part of the solution. He mentioned there needs to be more research on genetic predisposition and environmental triggers relating to drug use.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but this is a major step [in the right direction],”Spencer said. 

Going into 2020, the panel will focus on addressing the following areas: the growing vaping epidemic, early education initiatives, childhood trauma intervention, possible marijuana legislation, the effects of recent bail reform laws, establishing a recovery high school, continuing overdose prevention discussions with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Long Island Rail Road, increasing prescriber education, reducing the stigma of addiction and mental illness and collaborating with the Native American Advisory Board and establishing a youth committee. 

Anker said collectively the panel is trying to be as productive as possible. 

“It [the epidemic] is always changing and evolving,” she said. “The ability for law enforcement to work with the medical community, education [professionals] to work with advocates — this cross pollination is so vital in making sure this panel is successful.”

Contact the DASH Center at 631-952-3333