Government

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An aerial view of Smithtown captures the Smithtown Main Street area. Photo from Town of Smithtown

By Chris Cumella

Updates on the Town of Smithtown’s upcoming master plan were at the forefront of discussions during the Town Board meeting held virtually Dec. 15.

The board and H2M Architects & Engineers collaborated during the meeting as a means of addressing the town’s Comprehensive Plan, a development project in the works of improving facilities, outdoor spaces and town amenities.

A draft of the Comprehensive Plan — a town infrastructure revival over several different areas in the vicinity — was presented by H2M planning representative Jeffrey Janota. He said it was “an enjoyable project, and I want to thank all the residents that came during the public outreach.”

He explained that the Comprehensive Plan was designed to revamp specific downtown areas of Suffolk County that the Town Board deemed necessary. Among those locations being considered in alignment with the Comprehensive Plan were Smithtown proper, Kings Park and St. James.

Those downtowns will be the main demographics for new placements of office spaces, increased retail stores and transit-oriented development, according to Janota. The necessity of reviving the downtown areas come in response to public opinion.

In downtown Smithtown, 34% of polltakers see the community as average, 32% below average and 17% thinking it is poor. Downtown Kings Park and downtown St. James saw similar results.

“The public came out and met with us, and want to make sure that their concerns are heard,” Janota said.

When presenting the topic of improving Smithtown’s mobility, a survey outreach was utilized again to receive direct answers from the community. A majority, 75% of those surveyed, said they wish to see improvement in biking and walking conditions. Other major factors in mobility improvement included adding more parking spaces, increasing streetscape amenities, better traffic signals and lights, and more.

As Janota recapped how the town could enhance existing park amenities, he suggested adding additional play elements such as jungle gyms and swing sets while maintaining the current ones to withstand upcoming brutal weather conditions. H2M’s statistics detail that 12% of Smithtown residents use the parks for the playgrounds and swings.

In addition to keeping the youth content, H2M would set their sights on attracting residents who use parks for outdoor recreational activities by improving pathway quality and building new ones. Their data tells that a larger portion of citizens, 17%, make up those who use the parks for walking and running for exercise.

Based on a New York State recreation guide survey, the Town Board’s greatest number of requests were directed toward the need for expanded and modernized amenities along with revamped facilities in parks, such as parking and restrooms.

As well as preserving the existing parks, H2M unveiled their plans to create new ones, and presented a map of five scattered pinpoints soon to be outdoor spaces. On the list were proposed parks at Half Hollow Road in Commack; Donald Drive and Hillside-Gramercy Gardens in Kings Park; also 3rd Street and Astor Avenue in St. James.

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) encouraged Smithtown residents to be active in their board meetings by responding to the board’s outreach programs when possible.

A look at Port Jefferson Harbor from the Village Center during Winter Storm Grayson as blizzard-force winds and more than a foot of snow pound the coast in January, 2018. File photo

As the nor’easter bears down on the mid-Atlantic states, the forecast for Long Island continues to include considerable snow, although the forecast varies by area.

The estimated snowfall ranges from 6 inches to 13 inches.

“We know the storm will be hitting us harder on the west end of Suffolk County, rather than the east end, where we’ll see lower amounts,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a weather update at the Commack Department of Public Works.

The storm will also hit harder in the north, rather than the south shore.

“This is going to be a heavy, wet snow, which is, of course, something that creates its own set of challenges,” Bellone said.

Bellone urged residents to return to their homes as early as possible tonight. The storm is expected to increase in intensity this evening through the overnight hours. During that time, snow could accumulate at the rate of one to two inches per hour.

“You should be off the roads by the latest, at 9 p.m. tonight.

While the east end will get lower snow totals, the area will have higher winds, with gusts of up to 57 miles per hour.

The county is opening its emergency operations center today and expects to have it open through tomorrow at 4 p.m..

The Department of Public Works has 200 vehicles ready, with about 19 tons of salt at their disposal to help clear the snow and ice from the roads.

Bellone urged residents to try to work from home on Thursday, if they can.

“Tomorrow is a day, if you can, to stay home,” Bellone urged.

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron said this type of heavy snow can clog the chute of a snow blower.

“You should never, ever stick your hand” in the chute, Cameron cautioned, even if the device is turned off, because a blade can rotate and severely injure someone’s hand.

Cameron also advised against bringing a barbecue or generator inside the house because they release carbon monoxide, which can be dangerous to homeowners.

At this point, Bellone said there were no changes to the bus schedule. He urged residents to check for any modifications, particularly tomorrow after the snowstorm passes.

To report and receive status updates on an outage Text OUT to PSEGLI (773454) or to report an outage online visit www.psegliny.com

To register, have your account number available and text REG to PSEGLI (773454)

Downed wires should always be considered “live.” Do not approach or drive over a downed line and do not touch anything contacting the wire. To report a downed wire, call PSEG Long Island’s 24-hour Electric Service number: 1-800-490-0075

The Suffolk Plaza shopping center that once housed a Waldbaum’s in South Setauket sits half empty, a far cry from where it was just a decade ago. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has proposed a new zoning that officials said could revitalize vacant or underutilized shopping centers or other structures throughout the town.

At their Dec. 3 meeting, the town voted unanimously to adopt a new floating zoning code called Commercial Redevelopment District, which would allow developers to apply for permission to redevelop aging property into a combination of retail and apartment space.

The old section of the Mt. Sinai Shopping Center that housed the King Kullen has sat empty for months, and is just one of several empty former big box stores on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

“What we’re looking to do is to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned vacant and underutilized commercial shopping centers, bowling alleys and health clubs,” said town Planning Commissioner Beth Reilly. 

She added that this new zoning will “encourage flexibility in sight and architectural design, encourage redevelopment that blends residential, commercial, cultural and institutional uses, and encourage redevelopment that’s walkable, affordable, accessible and distinctive in the town.”

Site requirements would be a 5-acre minimum for such commercial centers and sites that have been previously used but then demolished. It permits uses for all zonings except such things as heavy industrial and auto uses. There would be no setbacks for nonresidential uses, but a 25-foot minimum setback for residential use and 50-foot maximum height.

The special zoning is meant to be kept free of big-box stores and is restricted to anything less than 40,000 square feet of space for commercial properties. Also, the zoning incentivizes certain kinds of development through allowing for increases in density, such as being near the Long Island Rail Road or if a business owner  uses green technology.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) restated that Long Island does not need new development “as much as we need to develop what we have that has fallen into disrepair.”

The proposal did receive a letter of support from the Port Jefferson Station hub study committee. President of the PJS/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Dzvonar, said she was in support, and that she thinks it will create downtown-type areas in places that might not have that sort of downtown already.

“It will encourage commercial property owners to update and revitalize their establishments, which will entice additional local businesses … instead of leaving their locations vacant to become blighted,” she said.

Mitch Pally, a Stony Brook resident and CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the new zoning should benefit developers. 

“Long Islanders no longer have large tracts of land,” he said. “We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way. The ability to know from the code what you can do, and what you’re going to be able to get, allows for better financing opportunities.”

The Town Board left the issue open for comment until Dec. 17. The Three Village Civic Association sent the town a letter Dec. 12 signed by the civic’s land use chair, Herb Mones, with some critiques of the proposed law, saying the language of what was considered vacant or underutilized was unclear, and that the CRD will incentivize some property owners to neglect their structures to get access to the new “generous terms afforded by the new zoning.” 

“We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way.”

— Mitch Pally

The letter also criticized the height allowance under the code, calling it “too high for most hamlets” in the town. The letter also shared the civic’s anxieties of increased density.

“Considering that there were only two speakers at the public hearing on Dec 3, both representing commercial interests, and no community leaders or members of the civic community participating on such an important proposal, we believe that this new zoning legislation to create a new zoning code for commercial property in the Town of Brookhaven would benefit from more input of Brookhaven’s civic community,” Mones wrote in his letter.

The change also repeals the town’s previous Blight to Light code. That code was passed in 2010 under previous Supervisor Mark Lesko (D), which in a similar vein to the current code was designed to remediate blighted properties by incentivizing development through a scoring system. Based on how a developer scored, they could receive incentives such as building permit refunds and an expedited review process.

Officials said that system had issues, and that the code had only been used twice, once in a Coram redevelopment project, and again with Jefferson Meadows, a project designed for Port Jefferson Station that was never built. That planned 96-apartment building met opposition from residents almost a decade ago. The Port Times Record reported at the time that residents disapproved of Blight to Light’s self-scoring system and that such projects did not conform to the Port Jefferson Station hamlet study. 

“This has been a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “Port Jeff Station has a number of abandoned vacant and underutilized properties, and the Blight to Light code was not necessarily addressing that, so we’re hoping that this code can now create a different mechanism to address these types of properties.”

Unlike Blight to Light, there is not a special permit, but applicants would have to come to the Town Board to seek approval. There is also a time limit on these approvals, and they are taken away if the developer does not make good on trying to build.

“This puts the power in the Town Board level,” Reilly said.

The town is holding its next meeting Dec. 17 where a follow-up public hearing is scheduled.

PSEG trucks remove a downed tree in Mount Sinai Aug. 7. For several days, cars had to swerve around the tree that split the intersection of North Country Road and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

LIPA filed a $70 million lawsuit against PSEG-Long Island in State Supreme Court in Mineola against the New Jersey-based power company for breach of contract in response to Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit Aug. 4 and knocked out power for some Long Islanders for over eight days.

The Department of Public Service recommended a lawsuit to the LIPA Board of Trustees.

“Utility companies are beholden to ratepayers, and when that service is inadequate — or as in this case, a complete failure — those utilities need to be held accountable,” Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. PSEG “failed to hold up their end. It’s inexcusable, and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The complaint, filed by attorneys at the law firm Rivkin Radler, alleges breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, based on PSEG’s “failure to prepare for and manage restoration effort during and following Tropical Storm Isaias. LIPA also brings this action for specific performance to compel PSEG LI to comply with its obligations” under the operations service agreement.

The suit also alleges “corporate mismanagement, misfeasance, incompetence, and indifference, rising well beyond the level of simple negligence.”

Immediate Fix Demanded
State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), an outspoken critic of LIPA and PSEG LI’s response to the storm, welcomed the legal action.

“It’s about time LIPA start acting to protect the best interests of Long Island ratepayers,” Gaughran said in a statement. Gaughran urged LIPA to make sure the $70 million is paid by PSEG shareholders and not ratepayers.

“An independent receiver should be appointed to refund this $70 million to hardworking Long Islanders and not dumped into the blackhole of LIPA’s budget,” Gaughran added.

In a statement, LIPA CEO Tom Falcone said PSEG LI must “immediately fix these failed information technology systems and abide by its contract” as LIPA continues to review its legal, contractual and termination options.

“PSEG Long Island has collected nearly half a billion dollars from Long Island customers over the past seven years while failing to meet its basic obligations,” Falcone added.

John Rhodes, Special Counsel for statewide ratepayer protection for the New York State Department of Public Service, asked if LIPA should “find a new service provider?”

In a statement, PSEG Long Island said it was “hard at work addressing recommendations in LIPA’s 30- and 90-day reports. We believe that the current public-private partnership is the best option for Long Island customers and we have remained committed to being the service provider of choice for LIPA.”

PSEG LI is “aware that this lawsuit has been filed and we are reviewing it.”

Lawsuit Claims

In the lawsuit, LIPA describes PSEG LI as demonstrating willful, bad faith and grossly negligent failures.

One of a litany of complaints during and after the storm was the inability for customers to connect with PSEG and to receive a reliable estimate of the time to restore power.

Ratepayers were “left without critical information as adequate telephone lines were overwhelmed with calls and an Outage Management System, selected by PSEG LI as able to withstand a major storm and paid for by LIPA, failed.”

About a million customer calls and 300,000 text messages did not reach PSEG LI, according to the suit.

Calls to outage and billing lines “became overloaded and failed,” the suit alleges, with 75% of customer calls to PSEG LI’s Outage Line not going through on the first day of the storm.

PSEG LI “did not properly monitor whether the calls on the Outage Line were connecting. Calls were dropped without PSEG LI’s knowledge,” according to the suit.

LIPA asserted that PSEG should have known about the inadequacy of the voice telephony system.

PSEG did not perform sufficient tests to determine whether the system would function during a major storm event before or in the 100 days after Isaias, the suit further claimed.

The problems with the telecommunications system predated the storm, as the suit indicated that the “OMS did not crash due to Isaias. It was already failing.”

PSEG LI “must develop a comprehensive integrated set of business continuity plans for every critical IT and communication system on Long Island, plus all repair and recovery activities,” according to the suit.

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced the town has issued a request for proposal for a natural gas supplier for the town’s new Community Choice Aggregation program, an energy program that allows local governments to buy electricity and gas on behalf of its residents.

Brookhaven officials outlined such a program to the town board back in October, 2019. CCA is a municipal energy procurement model that replaces the utility as the default supplier for virtually all homes and small businesses with your jurisdiction. The utility remains responsible for energy delivery and billing. By pooling demand, communities build clout necessary to negotiate lower rates with private suppliers and are able to choose cleaner energy. CCA allows for the bulk purchasing of electricity and/or gas and, if all goes according to plan, provides the ability to obtain more competitive rates from energy suppliers, ultimately saving money for residents and commercial properties.

“Community Choice Aggregation could result in cheaper, cleaner energy use for all of our residents and businesses in Brookhaven and would give them the opportunity to seek an alternative utility provider for the first time,” Romaine said in a release.  “Issuing this RFP for a natural gas provider brings us one step closer to putting in place the first CCA on Long Island.”

After receiving bids for potential CCA electrical/gas rates, officials said the town will examine if there is a cost savings benefit to residents and small businesses and choose whether to sign the contract to begin CCA.  If approved, residents and businesses currently served by the local utility company do not need to do anything in order to be included within the CCA — they will automatically be included, unless they affirmatively opt-out. There is no contract for the resident or small business to sign or enter into. If a resident or business wishes to leave the CCA program, they may terminate at any time with no early termination or exit fee. No taxpayer or public funding is used to run a CCA Program.

The CCA program was created by the New York State Public Service Commission in April 2016. Westchester was the first New York county, through the Sustainable Westchester consortium, to launch the CCA program under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

Other municipalities on Long Island that are in the process of establishing CCA programs include Hempstead, Southampton, and East Hampton Towns. More than 80 municipalities across New York State have enacted legislation to begin the process to adopt CCA.

Port Jeff to Get Sand to Replenish East Beach

Contractors recently finished reconstruction of the Mount Sinai Jetty, and now Suffolk County plans to dredge the inlet, giving all sand to Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s finally happening.

Suffolk County now has all it needs to start dredging the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor between the two newly reconstructed jetties. It is the last piece of the puzzle before the decade-long, multimillion dollar project to repair the beleaguered inlet can be finalized.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) asked for a drum roll over Zoom at the online town meeting Nov. 19, saying she is finally able to exhale as the dredging should mean the finale to an extended saga. The harbor dredging will impact how well the Mount Sinai Harbor flushes, which is a big boon to the marine life inside, including the town’s oysters and clams at its mariculture facility.

“It’s hard to fight Mother Nature,” she said. “Frankly, I’m just happy that
it’s over.”

The town is permitting Suffolk County to complete the dredging with a total cost of $2 million. Because an increased amount of sand will be dredged than originally anticipated, the cost jumped by an additional $1 million compared to before.

“Sand is very valuable,” the councilwoman said.

The project is planned to go from December through January, according to Bonner.

Though the councilwoman said the town was originally set to receive half the dredged sand, a recent decision by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has mandated all the sand will be going to the Village of Port Jefferson to replenish its East Beach. Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich said that the amount of sand will be close to 80,000 cubic yards, provided by the county. In addition, the village is also set to receive hundreds of cubic yards a week from the Stony Brook dredging project, which has already started and is estimated to take five weeks.

Bonner expressed some disappointment that the dredging will not provide some additional sand on the marina side of the Cedar Beach peninsula.

“We’re resourceful, we’ll figure something out,” the councilwoman said, adding she wanted to thank state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) who managed to give the town a $3 million grant toward the jetty reconstruction. 

The Village of Port Jefferson has long said much of the sand that ended up on the bottom of the inlet was from East Beach, which slipped through the broken jetty. Satellite images from the 1990s until now show a dramatic decrease of beachfront lost to storms and erosion over time. 

“The dredging is great news,” PJ village Mayor Margot Garant said. “I can’t confirm it replaces all the sand [East Beach has lost], but it will certainly be a substantial renourishment.”

The jetty project was finally completed in May this year after several months of construction and many years of planning. For close to a decade, both the east and west jetty in Mount Sinai have been largely submerged at high tide, with both water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. Contractors were awarded an $8.3 million agreement in total to reconstruct both jetties.

The West Meadow Beach parking lot might soon see parking meters as part of Brookhaven’s plans to recoup $2 million in annual revenue. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Amongst the hard decisions stemming from approving its 2021 budget during the pandemic-induced economic downturn, the Town of Brookhaven has included a somewhat controversial change to how it will process parking at several town beaches and marinas.

As an offset to pandemic induced losses, the town voted unanimously Thursday, Nov. 19, to no longer have seasonal employees sitting in booths at town beaches. Instead officials are opting for a meter system, though residents who pay for a town parking sticker will be able to park freely.

The 2021 town budget was also approved Nov. 19 without discussion from the board.  

The biggest increases to the $307 million budget are in the form of a $2.34 million general fund property tax increase. This is being offset slightly by highway taxes, leading to an annual tax increase of a little under $9 for the average homeowner. It also remains under the 1.56% New York State tax levy cap. Garbage pickup will be set at $1 a day for a single-family home, or $365 a year.

In addition to the 2021 budget, the board opted to amend the current year’s capital budget to the tune of $900,000 for the new parking system. The town voted to issue new bonds worth $1 million in total to pay to acquire and install the new parking meters.

Meters are expected to be placed at the Holtsville Park, Sandspit Marina in Patchogue, Port Jeff Marina, Corey Beach in Blue Point, West Meadow Beach and Shoreham Beach. Anyone with a parking sticker will not have to pay into the meters. The meters, which aesthetically appear like those in Port Jeff village, are going to be active between May 1 and Oct. 15.

The town is discussing a $25 parking sticker fee per vehicle with a reduced price for additional vehicles in the household. Reduced fees for seniors and veterans parking stickers will still be available.  

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the town is paying millions of dollars for its part-time workers at these parks and beaches to monitor people coming in. Currently people without parking stickers pay $5 for the day at these beaches, but under the new system will only need to pay for the time spent at 50 cents an hour.

Officials said the new meters will work like they do in places like Port Jefferson, though the town did not discuss what the hourly rates will be. 

During the afternoon meeting, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) called for discussion on the parking issue which created a few tense moments between the councilwoman and supervisor. Cartright said she was given very little time to present information about the parking system to her constituents, though she did receive some comments and questions from community members that did require some kind of presentation about the proposal.

“This discussion of having a parking meter system put in place has been a point of discussion over the past few years,” Cartright said. “Every time it’s been brought up, I’ve had my community members … [registering] objections to having parking meters there.”

Cartright did vote “yes” for the parking change, later citing in a letter to constituents that the added revenue from such a parking system will help the town as COVID has played havoc with its finances.

“It is our understanding from Parks Commissioner [Edward] Morris that this system will produce approximately $2 million in revenue annually,” Cartright wrote. “It is anticipated that there will be significant savings in eliminating the need for attendants to take payments and check stickers once this project is implemented. … Additionally, the potential health benefits of no longer exchanging cash for parking fees were also part of my consideration in light of the ongoing COVID pandemic.”

Herb Mones, the land-use chairman of the Three Village Civic Association, wrote a letter on behalf of the civic to Cartright and the Town Board arguing that it is the wrong time to start changing the parking system during a pandemic, especially when more people are seeking places like West Meadow Beach for some respite.

In a phone interview, Mones argued there had been effectively no public debate about the parking change and no notice, save for the letter Cartright sent to civic groups and constituents a few days before the Nov. 19 meeting. 

As a longtime resident and supporter of West Meadow Beach, he said that changing the parking system will affect the character of these parks and beaches. He added that staff manning the booths add a “ruralesque” charm to a public place, and that it also takes away the opportunity for the people at booths to screen incoming cars for things that might not be allowed at a beach or park, such as pets. 

“People in attendance at the beach have been a staple of the rural or suburban ideal,” he said. “The town doesn’t respect the right for easy public access to facilities that we have paid for over generations. … For someone like me, it makes me very weary when the town makes a proposal that impacts one of the services we’ve come to understand and love.”

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James Robitsek, and Setauket Patriot supporters, rally outside Village Hall in Port Jefferson in November. File photo by Julianne Mosher

Right wing Facebook group Setauket Patriots rallied outside Village Hall in Port Jefferson Tuesday night to protest what they claim is a violation of their rights, though officials say they are following the law.

On Sept. 12, the patriots group marched from the Port Jefferson train station down Main Street to gather for a 9/11 memorial across from Village Hall, though they lacked a permit for the march. Earlier in the summer the group hosted a permitted car parade for the Fourth of July following a Black Lives Matter march down main street held in June.

Following the June and July events, the Village of Port Jefferson issued an executive order signed on July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopping the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garant had said it was in response to how many people the events were bringing, and not maintaining social distancing while doing so. The village has not granted a parade permit to any group since the moratorium was enacted.

Setauket Patriots organizer James Robitsek said he received a summons with a $1,400 constable fee and $2,800 fine 30 days after their 9/11 event.

“Because it was 9/11, it’s sacred to us,” Robitsek said. “I personally lost friends in 9/11.”

In previous events, the group that regularly supports President Donald Trump (R) on Facebook was relatively low-key in support of the president. Since then, the group has held multiple car parades down Main Street without a village permit which were explicitly pro-Trump. Such events did draw a few confrontations between counterprotesters and caravan-goers in Setauket. Some comments by leaders of these rallies have specifically mentioned Mayor Margot Garant. (To read about those mentions, click here. To read about the last Setauket Patriots caravan, click here.)

On Nov. 24, the night of their court date at village hall, members and supporters of the patriots protested with flags and music across the street from Village Hall, while in court, Robitsek asked for a full dismissal.

“It’s a violation of our civil rights,” he said. “They can’t just pick and choose who they give permits to, and that’s basically what they’ve done.”

Only 10 people were allowed in the court hearing, where Robitsek, represented by Lindenhurst-based attorney Vincent Grande III, rejected the offer of the fine and plead not guilty.

“The courts offer was to plead guilty with a conditional discharge, and to not hold any future events in Port Jeff village,” Robitsek said. “I’m looking for a dismal because I won’t be able to hold any more events in the village and I don’t want that.”

Deputy Village Attorney Rich Harris said that while Robitsek argued that other events were able to be held, like Black Lives Matter protests, the summons was simply for the one event hosted in September.
“It’s not about any about any other events,” he said. “It’s just about the Sept. 12 march.”

Robitsek said he plans on holding a 9/11 parade every year.

Grande will be filing motions by January, and Robitsek said the next court hearing should be sometime in February or March.

This article was amended to add links to previous caravans hosted by the Setauket Patriots.

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

Brookhaven Town is planning for a potentially long-term project that could have Islandwide impact on residents’ waste.

Advocates protested in front of the landfill Oct. 31. Photo from Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group

On Thursday, Nov. 19, the town announced it has issued a request for proposal for a regional ash processing and recycling facility. The town has two alternatives on the RFP, one that includes an ashfill component and the other a standalone ash-recycling facility without the ashfill. The site would be located just east of the current landfill site at 350 Horseblock Road in Yaphank.

Such a facility would not accept solid waste or construction debris. No full decision has technically been made on constructing any new ashfill, as the town is still awaiting the word on an environmental review.

The town has planned to close and cap the current landfill in 2024 and has been raising millions of dollars in a special fund for that date when it’s finally capped. Officials and experts have said the closing of the Island’s last landfill, combined with the potential closing of twin ashfills in the Town of Babylon, could create a garbage crisis on Long Island. The only options left for solid waste could be trucking it off Long Island, a costly proposition for towns that are likely to be suffering from pandemic-related expenses for years.

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. 

Still, murmurs of the prospective ashfill site have led to controversy over the past year. Some residents and advocates have petitioned and publicly protested against the creation of any new place to dump ash, saying it will cause health issues for residents who live near the landfill. 

On Oct. 31, residents and advocates protested in front of the landfill against such a new ashfill. Activists for the protest organizer, Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, said the location of this new ashfill was especially concerning with more than half the residents of the surrounding community are Black or Latino, according to census data. Those residents have complained about odor and health issues, pointing to the landfill as the culprit.

The group called for a “regional solution” to the solid waste issue. 

“We stand with the African American, Latinx, Indigenous, and working-class communities of North Bellport who refuse to continue bearing the brunt of the Town of Brookhaven’s fiscal mismanagement and lack of environmental planning,” said Monique Fitzgerald, a Bellport activist and leader of the landfill action group, in a release. 

Still, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has also sought such regional efforts, though there is not much in the way of any one person or group stepping up to the plate. 

At a Feb. 27 meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Council about the impending solid waste crisis, business leaders, officials and regional leaders called for potentially finding other ways to ship trash off Long Island. Romaine suggested innovation in ways for residents to dispose of garbage rather than just burning or storing in landfills.

Sheriffs’ offices around the state have said they are not enforcing or it’s difficult to enforce a state executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less. File photo

Last week, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department posted to its Facebook page that it would not be participating in the enforcement of limitations of Thanksgiving gatherings.

The responsibility to enforce the executive order that took effect Nov. 13 in New York state, limiting private gatherings to 10 people or less to help curb the increase of coronavirus infections, will fall on the Suffolk County and East End police departments this holiday. While many commented on the Facebook post that they were thankful to hear of the sheriff’s decision, others felt the department has an obligation to enforce the state’s rules.

Despite nonenforcement on the sheriff’s department’s part, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said in an email that it has been the department’s policy to encourage responsible behavior since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We do that here at the correctional facility in Suffolk County by enforcing mask wearing and social distancing, and advise staff to stay home if they are ill or have come in contact with someone with COVID-19,” he said. “I strongly urge our residents here to do the same. Do not put yourselves or your families at risk.”

Toulon added that law enforcement and military members, as well as other professionals, “sacrifice time with their families during holidays and our residents need to make responsible decisions.”

Several sheriffs’ offices and elected officials across the state have announced they are not enforcing the executive order or have said it’s difficult to enforce. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) addressed the problem of enforcing the 10-person rule at his Nov. 23 media briefing, saying he didn’t understand how they were choosing not to enforce the law.

“I believe that law enforcement officer violates his or her constitutional duty,” Cuomo said, adding the officers don’t have the right to choose what laws they enforce. As an example, he presented the scenario of what would happen if officers decided they didn’t think cocaine should be illegal.

Cuomo added even though many residents believe they can’t be told what to do in their own houses, laws apply both outside and inside of homes such as domestic and drug laws.

“I’m telling you that you are responsible for your actions and here are the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie and this is the increase before any other increase from Thanksgiving, and if you increase social activity then you’re going to see the number go further up,” the governor said.

According to a statement from the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, sheriffs from across the state have responded to thousands of violation complaints since the first COVID-19 orders were issued and have been doing what they can to address the complaints.

“The criminal laws have very limited applicability with respect to those complaints, and in most cases use of the criminal laws would be unwise,” the statement read.

The statement went on to say that most residents have been following the health directives regarding the coronavirus, and the executive order which limits nonessential private residential gatherings to 10 people or less “has caused great consternation among many of our citizens, who envision armed officers arriving at their doors to count the number of people around the Thanksgiving table.” The association said it would also be difficult to determine how many people in a household are guests, and whether or not a gathering is essential or nonessential without violating a citizen’s right to privacy.

“Many sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders have felt compelled to allay those concerns by assuring citizens that officers will not be randomly coming to their homes on Thanksgiving Day to count the number of people inside,” the statement read. “That would be neither practical nor constitutional.”