Times of Smithtown

Irving Roth, circled, at liberation Photo from Village Chabad

Local residents are invited to the Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning  in East Setauket Feb. 23 to hear the firsthand account of Irving Roth, 90, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Readers of TBR News Media can also receive discounted tickets to the event when ordered Feb. 13 through 16.

“Irving Roth is a true survivor,” said Rabbi Motti Grossbaum of the Village Chabad. “Not only did he physically survive the terrors of WWII, but he lived on with his heart and hope intact. Roth’s presentation is sure to be moving, inspiring and educational for all who attend.”

Roth was just 10 years old when Nazi Germany invaded his native country of Czechoslovakia. He suffered through the horrific conditions of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and miraculously survived, emigrating to the United States in 1947. During the first time he returned to Auschwitz in 1998, Roth realized the importance of sharing his story with today’s generation. He has since devoted all his efforts to educating young and old about the perils of anti-Semitism and prejudice.

The evening is catered to all ages and will include a question and answer session following the main presentation.

“It is an honor for us to host Mr. Roth, and we are so fortunate that he has agreed to come to the Three Village area to share his riveting story,” said Grossbaum. “I encourage everyone who can — young and old — to come hear this remarkable person tell his incredible story of courage, faith, and survival.”

Due to limited space, advance ticket purchase is highly recommended and can be purchased at www.myvillagechabad.com. Tickets fees are $20 for advance tickets and $15 for students. A VIP option is also available that includes a reception with Roth, an autographed book and premium seating. Roth will also have copies of his book on sale.

TBR News Media readers can enter code TBR2020 when ordering tickets Feb. 13 to 16 to get a discounted $10 ticket.

Call 631-585-0521 or visit www.myvillagechabad.com for more information.

 The center is located at 360 Nicolls Road, East Setauket. The event begins at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 

Stony Brook and Smithtown residents are concerned about future traffic problems if developments like Gyrodyne's proposed plans and others are completed. File photo by Jonathan Kornreich

One county committee’s hope to analyze the impact of development along a local road has been dashed for the time being.

At its Feb. 11 general meeting, the Suffolk County Legislature tabled a resolution to study a segment of road in the vicinity of the Smithtown and Brookhaven border.

The resolution, introduced by county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), would allow the county to analyze the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook to determine the regional impacts associated with proposed and planned development projects in this area. It would also identify vacant and preserved parcels as well as existing zoning, amongst other criteria.

The county’s Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee recently passed the resolution, 5-1, with only county Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) voting against it.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist.”

— Rob Trotta

In the vicinity, the proposed development of Gyrodyne, also known as Flowerfield, which would include a hotel, assisted living, offices and sewage treatment plant, has drawn criticism from residents and elected officials in both Smithtown and Brookhaven. While the property sits in Smithtown, many have expressed concerns that additional traffic will impact Stony Brook, and the sewage treatment plant would have a repercussions on local waterways. Other properties with proposed and rumored development have also been cited as concerns.

Trotta, before the Feb. 11 general meeting, said he voted “no” in the committee because while he would like to see preservation of open spaces in the area, he said there is not much the county can do. In the case of Gyrodyne, the property is already zoned for light industrial use.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist,” he said.

Trotta, as well as opposers of the resolution who commented at the Feb. 11 meeting, said Gyrodyne will only be developing 25 acres of their 75 acres and there will be a 200-foot buffer of trees and shrubs. The property is already partially developed with rental space.

Hauppauge-based lawyer Timothy Shea criticized the resolution and said larger projects in Yaphank and Ronkonkoma have not undergone the same scrutiny from the county as the Gyrodyne project. The lawyer said when representing the developers of Stony Brook Square, which is being completed across from the train station on Route 25A, he faced similar opposition.

“The resolution here is designed to wrest control of the Gyrodyne process from the Town of Smithtown,” he said. “The catalyst is the Stony Brook community. They are a very well educated, well-organized community.”

Natalie Weinstein, president of Celebrate St. James, said the sewage plant on the property would help with the revitalization of Lake Avenue. She said there have been a number of government and private studies that have been conducted regarding the roadway, adding the proposed Route 25A analysis would be a waste of money which could be better spent on a traffic circle at Stony Brook Road or to hire experts in street light timing. 

Speaking of Gyrodyne’s plans to include a buffer, Weinstein said, “The plan is actually a beautiful use of space from a design point of view.” 

Cindy Smith, who heads up United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development, spoke in favor of the corridor study that she hopes will take a cohesive look at both sides of the road.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent.”

— Cindy Smith

She said in 2017 the county’s Planning Commission’s superficial review for the Gyrodyne proposal allowed the project to move forward without a traffic study.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent,” Smith said.

George Hoffman, 2nd vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, also spoke in favor of the bill and said there needs to be a balance between smart development and preservation.

“I think it would be helpful to planners,” he said. “It’s not to stop Gyrodyne. It’s just to get a good picture of what’s going on there, and that information will help planners in Smithtown and in Brookhaven make the right choices for the community.”

In a phone interview Feb. 12, Hahn said she was disappointed that the resolution was tabled.

She said when it comes to Gyrodyne she disagrees that the 200-foot buffer would be beneficial. She said it will not block the view of what they want to build. Hahn added that the study is not only about Gyrodyne but also proposed and rumored projects.

She added when heading east on the 25A corridor, the familiar locations around Gyrodyne and BB & GG Farm in St. James make you feel like “you’re home.”

“It’s so bucolic,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It holds a special place in my heart. Just the sense of place it establishes with those open vistas. I would just hate to lose that because it’s on both sides of 25A.”

She said she is concerned that there hasn’t been an adequate traffic study or consideration of a regional sewage plant, adding the amount of nitrogen that travels into the Long Island Sound has to be looked at carefully.

Hahn indicated she is not opposed to revitalization in St. James, but she said there needs to be a longer discussion of a sewage treatment plant and to look at a central location that would be more beneficial to other areas in Smithtown.

“I think there’s a bigger plan that should happen for that so that we’re not talking piecemeal with just one downtown getting what they want,” she said. “There could be something on a larger scale that would benefit multiple communities, multiple business districts and protect our water.”

The resolution will be on the agenda for the county Legislature’s March 3 general meeting which will be held in Riverhead.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. hosted a press conference at the comptroller’s office Feb. 11 saying the IRS has agreed with him about taxing recipients of septic system grants. Photo by David Luces

After nearly a year of waiting, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has ruled that Suffolk County homeowners should pay federal taxes on county grants that were used to upgrade septic systems. 

In a Jan. 15 letter from the IRS, the agency said the grants count as taxable income, regardless of whether homeowners received payments or not. 

Installation of the pre-treatment septic tank at the O’Dwyer’s home in Strong’s Neck. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

The determination comes after Suffolk  County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) requested a private letter ruling on whether the grants should be counted as gross income. Beginning last year, Kennedy’s office sent 1099 forms to program participants, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not the homeowners.   

At the time, the comptroller’s decision led to controversy and political fighting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The executive’s administration has cited the prototype denitrifying septic systems as a key piece of fighting nitrogen overload in coastal waters. Kennedy and Bellone ran against each other for county executive later that year.  

Kennedy said at a Feb.11 press conference that the ruling has upheld their approach to issue tax forms from the very beginning. 

“They [the Bellone administration] have chosen to simply claim that I’ve made an effort to politicize this issue,” the comptroller said. 

He added that while his decision may “not be popular,” Kennedy blamed the tax issue on how the septic program was set up. 

“There may be ways to modify this program but it’s not up to me, it’s up to them,” he said. “We’ll continue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”

Peter Scully, deputy county executive, who heads the county’s water quality programs as the titular water czar, said Kennedy continues to simply play politics with the septic program. 

“This program is too important; we are going to find a solution — this will be a temporary disruption,” he said. “The fact that the comptroller is essentially celebrating the ruling speaks volumes about his motives.”

“We’ll continue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Scully noted that since the comptroller’s initial decision last year, they have altered application documents to make clear to applicants that the grants they were applying for could be subject to income tax. 

While some individuals have decided not to move forward with the program, homeowners are still applying for grants. In January alone 111 homeowners signed up, Scully added. 

Since the program’s inception in 2017, the county has disbursed 293 grants and expended $3 million. In addition, the county received $10 million in state funding for the septic system program.

The Bellone administration has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county. Nitrogen pollution has caused harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

In a statement, Bellone continued to call Kennedy’s decision political. 

“The comptroller’s actions have been contrary to the intent of the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, the legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel, and longstanding practices used by similar programs in Maryland and other municipal jurisdictions,” Bellone said. “He chose to politicize water quality and decimate a program that has been praised by environmental, labor, and business leaders alike … In the meantime, our water quality program is running full steam ahead.”

“This program is too important; we are going to find a solution — this will be a temporary disruption.”

— Peter Scully

The deputy executive said their main focus is protecting homeowners as they may now be exposed to new tax liability. They are also prepared to challenge the IRS ruling. 

Tom O’Dwyer, a Strong’s Neck resident and engineer, has enthusiastically installed one of these systems at his own home. He said while he was aware that the grants could be potentially taxable, he and others had been “optimistic” that they wouldn’t be required to pay taxes on the grants. 

“We got the 1099 in the mail the other day,” he said. “I have a lot of friends who also upgraded, nobody really expected this to happen … this is a blow to everyone.”

Despite the ruling, O’Dwyer still believes that he made the right choice in upgrading and thinks the septic program is still a good cost-effective option. He plans on talking to his tax adviser to discuss what his options are moving forward.  

The Strong’s Neck resident also acknowledged that the ruling could end up hurting the momentum of the program. 

“I think it could affect homeowners who want to voluntarily upgrade their system,” O’Dwyer said. “With the increased tax liability, they’ll have to pay more out of pocket and some might think it’s not worth it.” 

The county executive’s office has plans to work with federal representatives to reverse the IRS decision. They have already had discussions with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3), Scully said.

Suozzi has already sent a letter to IRS Commisioner Charles Rettig, saying he strongly opposes the decision and that it undermines the program’s mission.

Stock photo

By Heidi Sutton

Chocolate, roses, heart-shaped notes — what’s not to like about Valentine’s Day? This sweet celebration, which happens every year on February 14, is all about spreading the love. Still don’t have plans for this special day? Check out these 14 events happening right in our own backyard.

1. Paint Night at Muse 

Muse Paintbar, 134 Main St., Harbor Square Mall, Port Jefferson will host a Paint Night from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Painting of the night will be ‘Lover’s Notch.’ $35 per person. Call 631-938-7800 to reserve your spot.

2. Williams Honor in concert

Join the Northport Arts Coalition for its Starlight Coffeehouse concert featuring Williams Honor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 270 Main St., Northport at 7:30 p.m. Comprised of singer/songwriter Reagan Richards and songwriter/producer Gordon Brown, the group is the Jersey Shore’s first ever country duo. Doors open and open mic sign up is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance at www.northportarts.org, $20 at the door.

3. Beatles love songs

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown welcomes The Cast of Beatlemania in concert at 8 p.m. Enjoy the most famous love songs written by the Beatles. Bring a date for this beautiful Valentine’s Day performance. Tickets are $50. Call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org to order.

4. An evening of jazz

The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Avenue in Stony Brook presents “Here’s to the Ladies!” featuring The Jazz Loft All Stars, with Ray Anderson, on trombone; Tom Manuel on cornet/vocals; Peter Coco on bass; Steve Salerno on guitar; and Chris Smith on drums. Two performances will be held – one at 6 p.m. and another at 8:30 p.m. The venue will supply the live jazz music, champagne and chocolate. You supply the romance. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, and $30 for students. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org.

Photo from CAC

5. ‘Casablanca’ at the CAC

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington invites all lovebirds and lonelyhearts to spend Valentine’s Day with them revisiting a classic, “Casablanca,” at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person, $15 members and includes a reception with champagne and chocolate-covered sweets. Call 631-423-7610 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org to order.

6. WinterTide concert 

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101-A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson presents a groovy Valentine’s Day concert with the Grand Folk Railroad from 7:30 to 9 p.m. as part of its WinterTide series. Free. Questions? Call 473-5220 or visit www.gpjac.org.

7. Grounds and Sounds concert

Grounds and Sounds Cafe, UUFSB, 380 Nicolls Road, East Setauket hosts a concert featuring Martin Swinger at 8 p.m. With a three octave vocal range and a talent for writing award-winning songs, Swinger is a veteran of 40 years of performing award-winning original songs, traditional and contemporary Americana music as well as swing and jazz standards. Tickets are $15 per person, available in advance at www.groundsandsounds.org or at the door. For more information, call 631-751-0297.

8. An evening with Sal ‘The Voice’

The Suffolk Theater, 118 E. Main St., Riverhead presents an evening of wine, song, and the flawless vocals of Sal “The Voice” Valentinetti at 8 p.m. Influenced by the classic crooner sounds of Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, Valentinetti took the nation by storm on America’s Got Talent. Tickets are $65 per person. To order, call 727-4343 or visit www.suffolktheater.com.

Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

9. ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Catch the 8 p.m. performance of “Million Dollar Quartet” at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. The popular show, now extended to March 8, features a treasure trove of hits from Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley including  “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “Walk The Line,” “Hound Dog,” “Who Do You Love?” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Tickets are $75 per person. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

10. Valentine Challenge 

Harmony Vineyards, 169 Harborview Road, Head of the Harbor presents a Valentine Challenge at 8 p.m. Lovers, friends and wine drinkers are invited to join them for a fun night of trivia, charades, puzzles and a whole lot more! No more than 4 to a group. Winners will receive a bottle of wine and a gift card. Photo booth and surprises! Free admission. Email Nita@harmonyvineyards.com or call 631-291-9900 to sign up!

11. HeARTS for ART

Fall in love with art at the HeARTS for ART Valentine’s Day event at the Heckscher Museum, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pick up a heart and explore the art in the Museum. Fall in love with a piece of art! If you like, decorate your heart however you wish — write your name, the name of the artwork or artist, or describe what made you fall in love. Snap a photo of your heart placed beneath your artwork crush, post it to your favorite social media site, and make sure to tag with #heckschermuseum and #heartsforart. The Museum will repost select photos on social media! Free with museum admission. Call 631-351-3250.

12. Comedy with Ron White

Comedian Ron “Tater Salad” White, who first rose to fame as the cigar-smoking, scotch-drinking funnyman from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour phenomenon, heads to the Paramount, 370 New York Huntington at 7 p.m. Over the past 15 years, White has been one of the top grossing stand up comedians on tour in the country. For ticket information, call 631-673-7300 or visit www.paramountny.com.

13. Valentine dinner dance

Time to put on your dancing shoes! East Wind Long Island, 5720 Route 25A, Wading River presents a Be My Valentine Dinner Dance in the Grand Ballroom from 7 to 11 p.m. Enjoy a four hour premium open bar, live DJ music and a four course dinner including heart shaped ravioli and surf and turf. $69.95 per person for table for two seating. For reservations, call 631-929-6585.

14. Tribute to Buddy Holly 

The Bellport Playhouse, 215 S. Country Road,  Bellport presents “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” at 8 p.m. featuring over 20 of buddy holly’s greatest hits including “That’ll Be The Day,” ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘Everyday’, ‘Oh Boy’, ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘Rave On’ and ‘Raining In My Heart’, plus Ritchie Valens’ ‘La Bamba’ and the Big Bopper’s ‘Chantilly Lace’. For tickets, call 631-286-1133 or visit www.thegateway.org.

 

Owl Hill estate is located south of Sunken Meadow State Park in Fort Salonga. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

A historic estate nestled in Fort Salonga for years has been drawing renewed interest from developers who want to build homes on the property.

The Owl Hill estate, located at 99 Sunken Meadow Road, spans 27.63 acres and is the largest parcel of 1-acre residential-zoned land in Suffolk County. In 2017, the property was up for sale for the first time in more than six decades at the price tag of $6.45 million. 

The estate, which is the most expensive property in the hamlet, is owned by Manhattan resident Maya Ryan. Her family has occupied and maintained the house for more than half a century and currently uses it as a summer and weekend residence. 

Peter Hans, planning board director for the Town of Smithtown, said in an email the Town currently does not have any type of application for the property but detailed that they have met with several different prospective developers in the past year about how the estate is permitted to be developed. 

“The property is zoned R-43 (single-family residential, 1 acre min. lot size),” Hans said in the email. “There are steep slopes on the property which would limit yield on future development. Additionally any developer that would like to subdivide the property would be required to cluster a large portion of the property, meaning that lot sizes would be made smaller than 1 acre so that the difference could be preserved as open space.” 

In 2017, the Town and the county raised a $1 million grant to be used to preserve a portion of the Owl Hill property for open space. 

Similarly, in an Oct. 2017 TBR News Media article, Owl Hill’s listing agent Kelley Taylor, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, said she had seen a majority of interest from developers, including one evaluating the property as the site of a 55-and-older community.

Corey Geske, Smithtown resident and scholar, said Owl Hill is a great example of beautiful architecture in the town. 

“In my opinion the estate in terms of historical importance is on par with Sagamore Hill,” she said. 

Geske said Edmund Wetmore, the first patent lawyer in the U.S., commissioned architect Henry Killam Murphy to design the estate home in 1907. Murphy was renowned overseas for his work in China, Korea and Japan. Some notable work includes designing the campus of the University of Shanghai.

“Owl Hill is one of the finest rare examples of Henry Killam Murphy’s early work in the United States and has been a cornerstone of the community,” she said.

The Smithtown scholar said the estate’s history merits recognition to be established as a national historic landmark, as it’s linked to internationally and nationally known figures.

Residents are concerned about increased development in the area as 2 miles to the west sits Indian Hills Country Club, the site of a potential 55-and-over housing development. The proposed project would call for the construction of 98 town houses, a new fitness center and an expanded clubhouse alongside the existing golf course.

John Hayes, president of the Fort Salonga Property Owners Association, said he is worried about what the potential addition of close to 100 homes at Indian Hills and further loss of green space could do to the character of the area.

“[Indian Hills] would no doubt be the largest development in Fort Salonga history,” he said. “I feel like the rural feel of the hamlet won’t be around for much longer. Who knows what will happen but it would be a terrible shame.”

Rocky Point’s Matt Caggiano battles in the paint as Kings Park junior Nicholas Svolos defends Feb. 5. Bill Landon photo

It was a must win for the Rocky Point boys basketball team in order to make post season play, but Kings Park had other ideas, defeating the Eagles in the final game of the regular season 77-27 Feb. 5.

Kings Park Co-Captain Jack Garside topped the scoring chart for the Kingsmen with six field goals, four triples and seven free throws for a team high of 31 points. Nicholas Svolos followed with 12 while Jon Borkowski banked 10.

Gavin Davanzo led the way for the Eagles with 18 points and teammate Will Platt netted 7 in the League V season finale.

The win lifts Kings Park to 15-1 in their division, 18-2 overall and look to carry the momentum into the opening round of the playoffs Feb. 12.

Stock photo

As the number of people infected with the new coronavirus climbs in China and countries limit travel to the beleaguered country, the incidence of infection in the United States remains low, with 11 people carrying the respiratory virus as of earlier this week.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant.”

— Gov. Andrew. Cuomo

American officials stepped up their policies designed to keep the virus, which so far has about a 2 percent mortality rate, at bay in the last week. For the first time in over half a century, the government established a mandatory two-week quarantine for people entering from China’s Hubei Province, which is where the outbreak began. The United States also said it would prevent foreign nationals who are not immediate family members of American citizens from entering within two weeks of visiting China.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the viral outbreak an “unprecedented situation” and suggested that the American government has taken “aggressive measures” amid the largely expanding outbreak.

The actions, Messonnier said on a conference call earlier this week, were designed to “slow this down before it gets into the United States. If we act now, we do have an opportunity to provide additional protection.”

The number of deaths from coronavirus, which has reached almost 500, now exceeds the number for the sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003. The number of infected patients worldwide has reached above 25,000, triggering concerns about a pandemic. More than 1,000 have recovered from the virus.

The CDC, which has been coordinating the American response to the virus, has been testing potential cases of the disease. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

In New York, 17 samples have been sent to the CDC for testing, with 11 coming back negative and six pending. New York created a hotline, 888-364-3065, in which experts from the Department of Health can answer questions about the virus. The DOH also has a website as a resource for residents, at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement.

The CDC sent an Emergency Use Authorization to the Food & Drug Administration to allow more local testing during medical emergencies. Such an effort could expedite the way emergency rooms respond to patients who they might otherwise need to isolate for longer periods of time while they await a definitive diagnosis.

By speeding up the evaluation period, the CDC would help hospitals like Stony Brook University Hospital maintain the necessary number of isolation beds, rather than prolonging the wait period in the middle of flu season to determine the cause of the illness.

As for the university, according to its website,  approximately 40 students have contacted the school indicating they are restricted from returning to the U.S. With university approval, the students will not be penalized academically for being out or for taking a leave of absence.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean.”

— Bettina Fries

Testing for the new coronavirus, which is still tentatively called 2019-nCoV, would miss a positive case if the virus mutated. In an RNA virus like this one, mutations can and do occur, although most of these changes result in a less virulent form.

The CDC, whose website www.cdc.gov, provides considerable information about this new virus, is “watching for that,” said Bettina Fries, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. At this point, there “doesn’t seem to be much mutation yet.”

In the SARS outbreak, a mutation made the virus less virulent.

Fries added that the “feeling with SARS was that you weren’t infectious until were you symptomatic. The feeling with this one is that you are potentially infectious” before demonstrating any of the typical symptoms.

Fries assessed the threat from contracting the virus in the United States as “low,” while adding that the danger from the flu, which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths during the 2019-20 flu season, is much higher.

In the hospital, Fries said the health care staff puts masks on people who are coughing to reduce the potential spread of whatever is affecting their respiratory systems.

While Fries doesn’t believe it’s necessary to wear a mask to class, she said it’s not “unreasonable” in densely populated areas like airports and airplanes to wear one.

Masks don’t offer complete protection from the flu or coronavirus, in part because people touch the outside of the masks, where viruses condense, and then touch parts of their face. Even with the mask on, people touch their eyes.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean,” Fries suggested.

Fries believes the 14-day quarantine period for people coming from an area where coronavirus is prevalent is “probably on the generous side.” Scientists come up with this time period to establish guidelines for health care providers throughout the country.

Fries suggested that the only way these precautions are going to work is if they are aggressive and done early enough.

“Once the genie is out of the bottle” and an epidemic spreads to other countries, it becomes much more difficult to contain, Fries said.

The best-case scenario is that this virus becomes a contained problem in China. If it doesn’t spread outside the country, it could follow the same pattern as SARS, which abated within about eight months.

While there is no treatment for this new coronavirus, companies and governments are working on a possible vaccine. This, Fries estimated, could take about a year to create.

Looking out across the calendar, Fries wondered what would happen with the Olympics this year, which are scheduled for July 24 through Aug. 9 in Tokyo. Athletes who have been training for years certainly hope the virus is contained by then. A similar concern preceded the 2016 Olympics, when Zika virus threatened to derail the games in Brazil.

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

Suffolk County is looking to tackle a pressing environmental issue on Long Island with the creation of a Regional Recycling Assessment Task Force. 

The legislation, sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), was passed at the end of 2019. The task force going into 2020 will lok to address the recycling burden found throughout the county. 

Hahn said towns and villages throughout the county are struggling to handle the increased recycling burden. 

“Recycling and waste management is a global problem not just a regional one,” she said. 

Since China’s 2018 decision to ban the import of most plastics and other materials used by its recycling processors, a number of municipalities have altered programs and in cases have reduced or eliminated recycling. 

Hahn said currently recycling in Suffolk County is handled through a patchwork of programs. 

“We need to come together to help each other, and come up with ideas and encourage other solutions,” the legislator said. 

In Brookhaven as a result of the market crash and the town’s recycling contractor, Green Stream Recycling voiding its contract, the town has switched from single-stream to dual-stream recycling and has asked residents to drop glass off at 21 points in the town instead of picking it up at curbside. 

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven town supervisor, said he applauds Hahn’s and others efforts to solve the current recycling issue. 

“It is a very good idea, we have to do something to solve the solid waste crisis in the near future,” he said.

Romaine said with current plans to close the landfill in 2024, and there being no market to send glass, only compounds the issue the town and municipalities face.  

“I wish the DEC would be more involved but I’m glad someone is looking into realistic solutions to this problem. We look forward to participating [in the task force],” the supervisor said. 

Similarly Smithtown was also affected by the departure of Green Stream Recycling, as it had a recycling contract with Brookhaven. Smithtown had an agreement to sell all its recyclables through Green Stream for a $180,000 annual profit. In January 2019, Smithtown residents were told to separate their recyclables when the town switched back to dual-stream recycling. 

Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, plans to put together a 17-member advisory group made up of municipal recycling professionals, county agencies and environmental advocates. Members have not been officially announced and meetings are scheduled to begin sometime later this year. 

The task force’s aim would be to review existing recycling programs, develop strategies for increasing the efficiency of recycling regionally, and to develop mechanisms to encourage the streamlining of the local recycling process.  

Hahn stressed the continuation of educating the public on the benefits of recycling and reducing plastic waste in their everyday lives. 

The 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, which took effect in January 2018, has been successful — with reports showing a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. Hahn also sponsored a bill that would create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that took effect last month. In addition, the Styrofoam bill bars businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products. 

“They go hand in hand — the success has been apparent in reducing plastic waste in the county,” she said. “I’m hoping we can work with Brookhaven and other municipalities in finding a way to properly handle this and do the right thing for residents.”

But Have ‘Only Scratched the Surface’

Maria Francavilla, left, and Lisa Principe speak about their daughters' experiences Jan. 31. Photo by Kyle Barr

Two mothers, one from Farmingville and the other from Merrick, may live on different parts of Long Island, but both had very similar experiences, watching their daughters abused in sex trafficking schemes that saw men use drugs to keep their children captive.

Photos of Maria Francavilla’s and Lisa Principe’s daughters. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lisa Principe and Maria Francavilla spoke of their experiences Jan. 31 at a Suffolk County Police Department press conference in Yaphank to round off National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. 

Principe said her daughter, Jenna, went to school at Wellington C. Mepham High School in Bellmore. She said her daughter fell in love with a man who ended up taking advantage of her in the extreme. She was gang raped at only 19 years old, as her “initiation.” She was kept in motels with a number of other girls as her pimps used her addiction to drugs to keep her under control. She would spend time in and out of jail, but as soon as she got out the traffickers were there to pick her up and bring her back into the fold. 

“They took her soul,” Principe said. Even after the men keeping her were arrested, Jenna would later die at 27 from an overdose at home. 

Though her hardship remains, she said she hopes new initiatives from the police will help combat the slew of sex trafficking cases happening all across the Island, targeting potential victims on the internet, in public places or even around schools.  

Jennifer Hernandez, the executive director of the nonprofit Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island, which provides trauma services for victims of human trafficking and other abuse, said they have worked with more than 160 victims of trafficking just this past year.

“Most of which were born and raised right here on Long Island — in Suffolk County.” she said.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the biggest misconception about sex trafficking is that it’s men piling people, mostly immigrants, into the back of trucks and taking them away. Modern sex trafficking happens to people of all walks, immigrants and native-born Long Islanders. Traffickers take vulnerable people, mostly young women, and use a combination of drugs, violence and other emotional manipulation to control these women. There’s no single place, police said, whether rich or poor, that sex trafficking isn’t happening. The epidemic is tied to the opioid crisis that still rages in communities across the Island.

Since October of 2017, the police’s human trafficking unit has leveraged 417 charges against individuals, with 186 she said were specifically related to sex trafficking. The police has interacted with and identified over 220 women involved with trafficking since the beginning of the initiative, with the youngest one being only 12 years old.

Still with those numbers, Detective Lt. Frank Messana, the commanding officer of the department’s human trafficking unit, said they have “only scratched the surface.”

On Jan. 25, Kings Park man and alleged Bloods gang member Abiodun “Abi” Adeleke was sentenced to 25 years in prison for multiple counts of sex trafficking. He allegedly participated in this ring from 2014-18.

Last year, Sound Beach man Raymond Rodio III was arrested for allegedly hosting a sex trafficking ring at his parent’s house on Lower Rocky Point Road. Police and the county district attorney said he had preyed on more than 20 women over several years, most from Suffolk, with many floating in and out from the man’s basement apartment as his parent’s home located in a relatively middle-class neighborhood.

Lt. Frank Messana of the police’s human trafficking unit speaks alongside commissioner Geraldine Hart. Photo by Kyle Barr

Rodio’s investigation originally began in 2018 when an officer witnessed a suspected victim of trafficking in the alleged perpetrator’s car during a traffic stop. Hart said such awareness and education, for not only police officers but the general public, is doing much of the job of finding and arresting sex traffickers.

In October 2017, police first piloted its human trafficking program, which then became permanent in 2018. The commissioner said in the year prior to the unit being formed, there hadn’t been any examples of sex trafficking arrests.

In 2019, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office started a human trafficking unit to work inside the county jails. Undersheriff Kevin Catalina said the team of officers look to identify human trafficking victims within the jail. While women are in jail for a stint, officers can get them to “open up.” Many, he said, could not even identify they were victims of trafficking, instead thinking these people were their “boyfriends.”

Francavilla had a similar experience to Principe. Her daughter, Tori, fell in with the wrong people early out of high school. She described it got to the point that her daughter was, “handcuffed to a bed and kept captive.”

She would eventually help put the perpetrator away but, like Jenna, the opioid addiction followed her even after her traumatic experiences. She died when she was 24.

Police said a person is at-risk or is already a victim of trafficking if they start to show behavior of chronically running away from home or having a history of unstable housing, demonstrates inability to regularly attend school or work, exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, signs of drug or alcohol addiction, inconsistencies in their stories, inappropriate dress, a mention of a pimp, “daddy” or being “in the life,” suspected engaging in prostitution, history of pregnancies, abortions or sexually transmitted diseases, and looking as if they worked excessively long hours.

Identifying such a person, a resident should call 911 in an emergency, or contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477). 

People can find more information and resources at the ECLI at www.empowerli.org.

For more information about Suffolk County’s public information initiative, visit https://scatili.org/

Local children and their family members had some fun with plastic building blocks while learning about one of the oldest cities in the world.

Using 70,000 LEGO pieces on a 20-by-20-foot mat, members of Village Chabad in East Setauket created a replica of the Old City of Jerusalem Feb. 3. The LEGO model included many points of interest, such as the gate entrances to the city, the Tower of David, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and more.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, from Village Chabad, said the goal of the program was for those involved to leave the event with an admiration for the holy city.

Village Chabad brought in architect Stephen Schwartz of New Jersey-based Building Blocks Workshops to lead the children, parents and grandparents in constructing the model. On the mat were lines to help guide the building efforts. While some sat on the mat constructing walls and towers, others on the sidelines started putting together the buildings, grabbing LEGO pieces from bins.

During the program, Schwartz was constantly engaged with the children and adults, directing them to the proper location if they went astray.

Cohen said Village Chabad had heard about Schwartz’s work from different schools and institutions. The architect has also offered several programs that focus on the historical buildings in Stony Brook for The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Schwartz said he has been conducting the LEGO projects for 25 years. It began when his daughter, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx, asked him to show her second-graders how a city is designed.

“When I saw that with LEGO you could teach second-graders about zoning, and they understood it, I saw that this was an amazing teaching tool,” he said.

Schwartz said in the past he has worked with LEGO pieces for different Jewish history programs, including Jerusalem, Masada, the Warsaw Ghetto and the world’s tallest LEGO menorah.

The architect said the projects are usually completed in two hours due to working around a school’s schedule. The Village Chabad program ran from 4:30 to around 6:30. Schwartz said after every program he aims for a 15-minute educational tour.

“I am an architect, so everything is exactly to scale,” Schwartz said. “The program gives people a ‘visual image’ of the shape and location of all the important elements in and around Jerusalem. It is a much more dynamic way to teach than just looking in a book or on a screen.”

Smithtown resident Gail Declue said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived for the build.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “The kids are really involved, and they are going to learn a lot about what Jerusalem looks like without even going.”

Elina Rukhlin, also of Smithtown, said her 10-year-old son was among the children building with LEGO pieces, and the family had traveled to Israel last year.

“My son is actually saying I remember we went to the Tower of David light show,” she said. “So, it’s really cool to be able to look back on our experience and then to see this, because we were actually there.”