Port Times Record

Thanks to all the children who entered Times Beacon Record News Media’s Thanksgiving Coloring Contest! The second annual event had creative kids across our coverage area sharpening their colored pencils and breaking out the markers. Congratulations to 7-year-old Emily C. of Port Jefferson Station and 5-year-old Charlee H. of Sound Beach for being this year’s winners. They both received a $25 gift certificate to Chocolate Works in Stony Brook. Special thanks to Chocolate Works for sponsoring our contest! Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Teenagers across the North Shore have been seen playing chicken with motorists by cycling into oncoming traffic, popping wheelies in the middle of the road and more. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County lawmakers are looking to tackle bicyclists who have been intimidating drivers across Long Island. 

There have been several different reports of reckless bicyclists putting themselves and others in danger on the road, which included a group of teenagers who harassed a Terryville gym over the summer. 

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she had a “terrifying” experience first-hand a few years ago. While traveling down Route 25A at night, a person wearing all black began popping wheelies toward her car in the middle of the street.

“I wasn’t going fast,” she said. “I chose to stop in the middle of the roadway. It was really scary, and whoever it was, was recklessly trying to frighten me.”

Back in September, county Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) introduced a “reckless biking” bill, which he advanced from Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) who passed away from cancer that same month.

After talking with other towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, Sunderman said that although he represents the South Shore, the issue is widespread across the Island. 

“Other areas that we spoke to [with a bill in place] have already seen a decline in reckless biking,” he said. 

If Sunderman’s bill passes, it would prohibit cyclists from trick riding or weaving through traffic. Violators could also see their bikes impounded, receive $250 fines, or spend 15 days in jail. 

And on the North Shore, Hahn said she had been receiving complaints from other people from the area regarding similar concerns of packs of children doing similar things on Route 112, Nesconset Highway and Middle Country Road. 

“It’s dangerous,” she said. “The police aren’t able to do very much. They need a tool to confiscate the bike to individuals who do this.”

But along with concerned residents reaching out, Hahn said she was hearing criticism over Sunderman’s bill from bicyclist groups who use their bikes recreationally. 

“The intent is very good, and it is needed to curb this kind of [bad] activity,” she said. “The groups absolutely agree with the fact that anyone who rides in a pack and pops wheelies in traffic, that should happen. But because they’re experienced bicyclists, they see the real danger every day.”

Hahn said she is in full support of Sunderman’s reckless biking bill, but there were a few small pieces to his legislation that she wanted to suggest improvements. Her bill was laid out on Nov. 4. 

“Suffolk County is notorious for not being safe for bicyclists,” she said. “The purpose of my law is just to make drivers aware — give the cyclists the room, close your door when someone is passing you, people are not looking out.”

Her bill, which will go to public hearing on Dec. 1, will help drivers of cars and bikes be more educated of the dangers they both could face if they choose to act irresponsibly. A decision, or amending, of Sunderman’s bill will be decided on Dec. 15. 

Rendering of the planned Sunrise Wind headquarters located at 22 Research Way in East Setauket. Photo by Sunrise Wind

Though it still requires formal agreements with local government, the Sunrise Wind offshore wind farm project is talking specifics on landfall for its electrical lines, adding even more emphasis on Brookhaven town.

Sunrise Wind now plans to make landfall at Smith Point before going up William Floyd Parkway to connect to the Holtsville Substation. Image by Sunrise Wind

Sunrise Wind plans to create a 110-turbine, 880-megawatt wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. During an online community open house Nov. 16, representatives of the project, which is being duel-headed by Denmark-based Ørsted and East Coast-based Eversource, explained plans for having the electrical lines make landfall at the parking lot of Smith Point County Park on the South Shore. Those lines would then feed under the Smith Point Bridge and then under William Floyd Parkway. 

The cables will extend north beneath the William Floyd Parkway for 3.8 miles, crossing under the Long Island Rail Road tracks before going west toward the Holtsville electrical substation.

A complete construction and operations plan will be made available in 2021, according to Sunrise Wind reps. The project could be operational as soon as 2024, as long as current timelines hold.

Ken Bowes, vice president of offshore wind siting and permitting for Sunrise, said they do not currently have a formal agreement with either Suffolk County, which owns Smith Point County Park and William Floyd Parkway, or the Town of Brookhaven for its roadways the underground electrical cables will need to use with the electrical substation. He said they look to have two formal agreements “that will compensate each fairly for the use of the facilities” in the near future.

“The town — we’ll hopefully be partners with them for the next 20 years,” he said. 

The project has touted the Port Jefferson and Setauket areas as its main base of operations once the wind turbines are operational. Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) told TBR News Media last month that Sunrise Wind had purchased a site in East Setauket as its main office space, which is also to be used as a training center for the people who service the turbines. 

This empty building located at 22 Research Way in East Setauket could be Sunrise Wind’s new office site, as well as a training center for those meant to go out on boats to work on the offshore wind project. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sunrise Wind released a statement saying the nearly 60,000-square foot, multi-purpose Research Way facility will house members of the permanent staff of Sunrise Wind and South Fork Wind, among other teams, including positions such as technician, warehouse coordinator, contract manager, head of site, and other offshore and onshore jobs. The facility will be renovated to include custom office and warehouse space to handle marine coordination, contract and site management, as well as spare parts storage, among other activities. 

Workers and equipment will be loaded and unloaded on its over-260-foot repair vessel at a special dock to be constructed in Port Jefferson Harbor.

“The deep-water harbor in Port Jefferson, combined with the talent pool and resources on Long Island, make the area ideally-suited to serve as a regional O&M hub for our Northeast offshore wind farms,” Ørsted Offshore North America’s Head of Operations, Mikkel Maehlisen said. “We’re eager to begin our work there and become members of the local community.” 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who originally proposed to the offshore wind corporations that Port Jeff be used as a home base for Sunrise Wind, said he was “delighted that Ørsted and Eversource have decided to strategically locate their Sunrise Wind Operations and Maintenance center near both the deep-water harbor that is Port Jefferson and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University.”

Matthew Mazza and Jerry Varrichio flank their instructor Walter Vendura as they receive their black belts Nov. 21. Photo by Julianne Mosher

They love coming to their martial arts classes on Saturdays.

“Matt can’t wait to go to karate,” his father Jim Mazza said. “He’s disappointed when he can’t come or if there’s no class that week.”

Jerry Varrichio and Matthew Mazza sporting their new black belts. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Matt Mazza, of Smithtown, and Stony Brook resident Jerry Varrichio are both 19 and on the autism spectrum. They began their martial arts journey a decade ago at Long Island Traditional Tae Kwon Do under the leadership of grandmaster Walter Vendura, owner and head instructor of the martial arts studio. 

On Saturday, Nov. 21, both Mazza and Varrichio earned their first black belts. 

In a three-hour presentation, the two students presented their moves and skills to a small group of family and friends. They’ve been practicing two-to-three times a week, according to Vendura, since they were little kids.

Originally located in East Setauket, Vendura and his team chose to close their doors due to COVID-19 back in March, but that didn’t stop them from continuing the practice of martial arts elsewhere.

Matthew Mazza kicks a wood plant to earn his first-ever black belt. Photo by Julianne Mosher

During the summer, they began renting out space on the third floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center every Saturday. With masks on and limited in number, the students would continue to learn balance, find strength and break wood planks just as they did before. 

Vendura said he has made it his mission to welcome and train individuals of all abilities. Over his 50-year career practicing martial arts, he recently earned his own 8th degree black belt, while also training students at various levels of skills. The instructor has taught people who are blind and deaf, as well as those on the autism spectrum.

“We care about the growth of the student,” Vendura said. “We hope we can encourage them to continue the leadership within themselves, not only in martial arts but in life.”

Both families of the new black belt holders said they originally had trouble finding a studio that was accommodating and welcoming to students with disabilities. 

“They understand him,” Jim Mazza said. “It’s not just about the money — they care.”

Varrichio embraces his dad after receiving his belt. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kathleen Mazza, Matt’s mother, added that the Tae Kwon Do studio was able to reach her son on an entirely different level. 

“They have a unique skill that no one else has,” she said. “They have knowledge, patience and understanding about people on the autism spectrum.”

Josephine Varrichio agreed, saying her son has grown so much during his time practicing martial arts. 

“Despite all the obstacles and his disability, we’re so proud of him and how far he has come,” she said. “No one here ever gave up on him.”

Mazza embraces his mom after receiving his belt. Photo by Julianne Mosher

And that hard work paid off. With the accomplishment of receiving their first-ever black belts, the two had fun all the way. 

“Breaking the board was my favorite,” Matt Mazza said. “I like sidekicks and I like coming to karate.”

A sign of the times outside Smithtown Town Hall. Photo courtesy of Smithtown Library

Even before some family gatherings provide a potential breeding ground for the coronavirus, Suffolk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at rates not seen since the worst of the first wave, in April.

In the last day, 501 people have tested positive for the coronavirus which is the highest number since April. That represents a 4 percent positive test rate, which is also the highest figure since May 18.

“It is unclear if we are plateauing or whether [these numbers] will continue to go up,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. He is concerned about “where we may go after the Thanksgiving holidays.”

Indeed, Dr. Shahida Iftikhar, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Health, said the numbers were likely climbing as a result of smaller gatherings, which is what triggered an increase after the Halloween weekend.

Long Island surpassed 1,000 cases on Tuesday, according to officials. More communities on Long Island are close to being named so-called yellow zones by the state, which might mean more restrictions and the potential rolling back of the phased reopening seen earlier this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during his Wednesday livestream the virus is being spread mainly by bars and restaurants that sell alcohol, gyms and small gatherings. New restrictions have been placed on all three earlier this month. Cuomo also said places like Monroe County, whose officials said cases were mainly due to small gatherings and not places like gyms, were outliers, and stressed people limit gatherings on Thanksgiving.

I give thanks for the intelligence of New Yorkers, but we have to stay safe, we have to keep the infection rate down through the thanksgiving holiday,” he said. ““Don’t be a turkey, wear a mask this Thanksgiving.”

Despite the move away from contact tracing in other regions with widespread community spread, Suffolk County continues to use contact tracers to call people who have received positive tests and to warn anyone they might have infected.

For those residents who have received a negative COVID test and plan to gather with family and friends, Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner in the County Department of Health, cautioned that people can have a negative test and still transmit the virus after they are exposed.

There is a lot of “asymptomatic spread,” Pigott warned.

To limit the spread of the virus, Bellone urged people to follow state guidelines, limiting gatherings to 10 people, washing their hands, wearing face coverings where possible and keeping a distance of at least six feet, particularly from vulnerable members of the population.

In anticipation of gatherings, the Suffolk County Police Department has added patrols and will perform compliance checks with bars and restaurants to ensure that these businesses are adhering to the state requirements that they shut down indoor food and beverage service after 10 p.m.

The SCPD will not go from house to house counting cars, but they will respond to any reports of private residences that exceed the 10-person limit.

New York State has designated Riverhead and Hampton Bays as yellow zones. Bellone encouraged residents living within these zones to get tested. Residents can find testing sites at the web site suffolkcountyny.gov.

Cuomo said New York, among other states, has started adding field hospitals again, much like what was seen during the first wave of the pandemic. The first field hospital has been set up in Staten Island, though more be on the way.

Free testing sites, supported by New York State, are opening Monday at the Northwell Health Dolan Family Healthy Center in Huntington and on Tuesday at Sun River Health in Patchogue.

As the Board of Elections continues to count votes, Bellone said one of the people who worked for the elections tested positive. The county has tested 111 people who worked in the building, with eight people testing positive and 37 quarantined because of close contact.

On the positive side, Suffolk County’s testing in schools in Riverhead and Hampton Bays has demonstrated a low rate of infection. In Riverhead, 12 out of 524 people tested positive, while Hampton Bays had four positive tests out of 417 people tested.

“While we continue to monitor the rise in cases, we are not currently seeing community spread happening in our schools,” Bellone said. “As long as students and faculty are kept safe, schools should remain open.”

Additional reporting by Kyle Barr

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Comsewogue school administrators and the owners and coach at Port Crossfit gather for a donation of 20 turkeys and 51 gift cards to go to residents in the district. Photo by Kyle Barr

Members of Port Crossfit in Port Jefferson Station are giving back to the needy in the local community through the Comsewogue School District.

The crossfit gym delivered a host of turkeys and gift cards to Boyle Road Elementary School Tuesday, Nov. 24. 

Gym members raised money by asking family and friends to donate funds for every pound or inch on their waistline they lost over the past few weeks. As members lost over 100 pounds and a whole lot of inches, the gym acquired close to $2,000, which they used to purchase 20 turkeys and 51, $25 gift cards for Stop & Shop, the total of of which were worth approximately $1,200.

“It’s less about the turkeys and less about the gift cards — it’s always good to feed people in need — it’s more about the support system in the community,” Port Crossfit co-owner Kyle Tiringer said. “You’re inner circle, your family, those are the people that help you push through struggles to reach your goals. If we can pull together our powers to keep families together, maybe they can help accomplish a whole lot more for themselves and ultimately the community will benefit from that.”

Principal of Boyle Road Elementary School Nicole Sooknanan said the district’s nurses and social workers combined their efforts to identify families in need at this time of year. The turkeys will be going to families not just at Boyle Road but throughout the district.

The food and gift cards supplement a food drive hosted by the school where they gather nonperishables to put together  thanksgiving dinners for local families. 

“Comsewogue is really about family and coming together,” Sooknanan said. “Obviously this year has brought on new circumstances for families, and I’m proud to be able to help our community. We help one another — that’s what we do here.”

Mather Hospital changed its visitation policies Nov. 23. File photo by Alex Petroski

This story was updated Wednesday to include Stony Brook University Hospital.

Amid increases in the percentage of positive tests for coronavirus, Northwell hospitals including Huntington Hospital and Mather Hospital have changed their visitor policies.

Effective on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Mather Hospital has suspended patient visitation, including the Emergency Department and Transition Care Unit.

The exceptions for visitors include patients for whom a support person is considered medically necessary, including people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities and patients with cognitive impairments, including dementia.

Additionally, patients in imminent end-of-life situations may be allowed a family member or legal representative as a support at the bedside. The Department of Health defines imminent end-of-life as a patient who may die within 24 hours.

Pediatric visits in Emergency Departments are limited to one parent or guardian. Adolescent psychiatry, meanwhile, is limited to one parent or guardian between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Visitors must meet several criteria at Mather. They have to be 18 years old or older, have not been exposed to COVID-19 and be screened for symptoms. Visitors also have to wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Those who don’t wear such PPE won’t be permitted in the hospital.

Visitors will have to stay in the patient room during the visit. When they leave the room, visitors will remove their PPE, wash their hands and leave the hospital. Visitors should not be in the room during aerosol-generating procedures.

Patients can choose who can and can’t visit and may select priority support people.

A view of the front entrance to Huntington Hospital on Park Avenue in Huntington. File photo

Huntington Hospital

Meanwhile, at Huntington Hospital, all visitation, except for extraordinary circumstances, is suspended, effective Nov. 30.

The hospital has experience an increase in cases, although the total numbers remain low, with fewer than 20 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

“Social Distance and mask wearing by the community is critical,” Nick Fitterman, Executive Director at Huntington Hospital, said through an email.

One support person for patients in the Center for Mothers and Babies may remain throughout the hospital stay.

Outpatient Radiology services are canceled, effective Nov. 30.

Huntington Hospital’s surgical services are fully operation. The staff will take COVID-negative surgical patients through the hospital’s safe pathways.

The hospital strictly enforces universal masking, protective eyewear, hand hygiene and social distancing.

“We remain confident in these practices, and that they will protect our patients from COVID-19 while in the hospital,” Fitterman said.

File photo

Stony Brook Hospital

Starting on Friday, Nov. 27, all visitation is suspended except for patient support persons or family members and/or legal representatives of patients in imminent end-of-life situations.

Hospitals will permit a patient support person at the bedside for patients in labor and delivery, pediatric patients patients with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities or patients with cognitive impairments including dementia.

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.”