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Developing Story:

TBR News Media has learned of the remarkable rescue mission of four Mount Sinai-based sailors last weekend.

Early reports indicate that on Sunday, May 8, the sailors aboard the 40-foot C&C  sailboat “Calypso” were approximately 80 miles offshore battling against 16-17 foot waves when the boat was hit by a rogue wave estimated at 30 feet in height.

This blow had destroyed the mast,  rendering the ship inoperable. While much of the equipment onboard was beyond disrepair, the crew managed to send out an emergency distress signal.

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the mayday and members of the Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew located the shipwreck. In a daring effort, battling high seas and strong winds, the helicopter crew successfully rescued all four sailors.

The sailors were later hospitalized and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

If you have any information regarding this rescue mission, please email [email protected]. Tune into tbrnewsmedia.com for more updates to this developing story.

Photo by Raymond Janis

On Saturday, April 23, public officials gathered to formally rename the 107-acre Farmingville Hills County Park after the late Suffolk Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma); it will be known as Thomas Muratore County Park.

The ceremony was hosted by county Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), majority leader of the Legislature. Caracappa succeeded the late legislator by special election less than two months after Muratore’s untimely death on Sept. 8, 2020. Caracappa also sponsored legislation to rename the park in Muratore’s honor. 

“Tom Muratore had a special way about him,” Caracappa said. “He knew how to touch us and mentor us and just be a good friend to us. Anyone who knew Tom knew of his passion for serving his community, his constituents and the residents of Suffolk County. Whether it was talking about politics, talking about his family or talking about the way the Yankees either won or lost, he had a passion that was unmistakable.”

The event included elected leaders from the town, county and state governments. First among these speakers was County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who emphasized Muratore’s unique ability to bring competing parties and interests together. 

“You have people from all walks of life here, people from all across the political spectrum, and I think that speaks volumes about who Tom Muratore was,” Bellone said. “He was always the utmost gentleman and would work with you. There was a way about him that I think was an example and a model for all of us to look at about how we should govern.” The county executive added, “This man was a true public servant his entire life and we need to honor public servants like that. We need more of the way that he conducted himself in public life.”

Elected officials gather at the newly named Thomas Muratore Park at Farmingville Hills on April 23. Photo by Raymond Janis

Discussing what it means to rename the county park after Muratore, Bellone said, “It’s an honor to be here today to be able to help name this park in his name so that forevermore, as we move from here, this will be a place where a man of great honor and a great public servant is remembered always in this county.”

County Legislature presiding officer, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), acknowledged Muratore’s record of public service and his example of quality leadership throughout the county. 

“I got to know Tom when I joined the Legislature in 2014,” he said. “He was truly a mentor to me. He always had my back, never afraid to tell me when I was doing something right or wrong. No matter what role he took, whether it be in government, as a police officer or serving our county … he continued to serve.” McCaffrey added, “He didn’t just serve, he served well.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, commended Muratore for the human touch that he put on his work in county government. “Tom was always invested in you,” Richberg said. “It didn’t matter when it was, he was always walking around, talking to everyone, finding out how their family was doing, what was going on in their personal lives.” The minority leader added, “He really wanted to know how you were doing. Beyond the politics, it was always about you.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) spoke of his experience serving for three years as Muratore’s chief of staff. LaValle said Muratore made little distinction between his public and private responsibilities, treating his staff as though they were family.

“You weren’t employed by Tom Muratore,” LaValle said. “You may have worked for Tom, but when you worked for Tom, you were part of his family and that’s how he always treated us.” Reflecting upon Muratore’s passing, the councilman added, “It hit us all hard because it was like losing your uncle or your dad. He always was around for us no matter what it was. It wasn’t just about government for Tom. It was about you as a person and about your family and how you were doing. It was never about Tom.”

County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) complimented Muratore’s legislative philosophy. According to her, his leadership was defined by his love of his community.

“Tom operated and governed from a base of love,” Kennedy said. “He loved the organizations, he loved the people that he was with. He was a good human being and I know right now that he is sitting in the palms of God’s hands.”

County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) spoke of Muratore’s effectiveness as a labor leader. Kennedy believed that Muratore’s style of representation included both a sense of urgency as well as a sincere conviction and passion for the work he performed.

“Always, always he was about our workforce and about the integrity of our county. He truly embraced that concept of service,” the comptroller said. 

County Clerk Judy Pascale (R) used her memorial address to recite a quote from the late American poet, Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Pascale said, adding, “Tommy, you always made us feel very special. Rest in peace, brother.”

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) suggested Muratore brought to county government a commonsense outlook and an approach guided by practical wisdom. 

“It was commonsense government, that’s what it was when you were with Tom Muratore,” Mattera said. “He cared about a decent wage, a decent health care [plan], a decent pension for all, so that we can live here on the Island.” Sharing his expectations for the park, the state senator added, “We have 107 acres here and when anybody walks these 107 acres at Tom Muratore Park, you’re always going to remember this name. This is an absolutely beautiful park and to have a name like Tom Muratore, I am just blessed to say I knew him.”

State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) emphasized Muratore’s authenticity. “Every time he would talk to you, he was never texting or doing anything like that,” Smith said. “He would be in the moment. I think more of us should live in the moment and genuinely care about each other.” The assemblyman also highlighted Muratore’s creative strategies to solve problems and get work done. “And I really appreciate that kind of relentless attitude. I just loved that about Tom and about how he always wanted to go to bat for people.”

Michael Wentz, president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presents a proclamation to Linda Muratore. Photo by Raymond Janis

Michael Wentz, founder and president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presented Muratore’s wife Linda with a proclamation that the chamber had prepared with Sachem Public Library of Holbrook. It reads: “On behalf of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, we present this proclamation in recognition of Thomas Muratore, whose never-ending support of his community and local businesses will forever live on, and be remembered for generations to come.”

The presentations were concluded with a short speech prepared by Linda Muratore, who used her time to honor Caracappa’s mother, the late county Legislator Rose Caracappa: “I don’t know if Legislator Caracappa knows, but Tom was very fond of his mom, Legislator Rose Caracappa. Every time he saw her name on a building, he said, ‘That must be the greatest honor.’” Linda Muratore added, “Today his dream has come true because of all of you. Thank you again for honoring my husband. I truly know that it was his honor to serve all of you.”

Photo courtesy of Chris Ryon

A flag once flown outside of the post office in the former Echo area of Upper Port has been returned to Port Jefferson and now resides at the Village Center.

The flag is unique in that it contains only 46 stars. It had flown outside the Echo post office between 1908 and 1912. Chris Ryon, village historian, charted the timeline of the 46-star flag. 

“The 46-star flag came about when Oklahoma became a state in 1907,” Ryon said. “The following July Fourth in 1908 produced the 46-star flag, as stars are always added to the flag on July Fourth. In 1912, it jumped from 46 to 48 stars because two more states were added, Arizona and New Mexico. That flag lasted until Hawaii and Alaska were added in the late ‘50s.”

Before the present boundaries, “the post office was right up against the railroad tracks in Upper Port Jefferson,” Ryon said. “That area was called Echo — Echo was a racehorse and that’s what it was named after. The post office was the building on the right when you crossed over the railroad tracks into Port Jefferson Station. That building is still there, but it’s an empty building right now.”

On April 10, Lee Squires Sussman and her son Grayson Sussman Squires met with Ryon to exchange the flag. “This has been in the family and has been passed down through the generations,” Ryon said. “She decided it belonged back in Port Jefferson.” 

A journey through time

Last week, TBR News Media reached out to Lee Squires Sussman for an exclusive interview. Through our correspondence with her, which included a phone interview and an email exchange, she detailed her genealogical background and her family’s place in the local history of Port Jefferson.

“I grew up outside of Washington D.C.,” she said. “My father, Donald Fleming Squires, was the deputy director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History when I was a child. When I was 12, we moved back to Long Island, to Stony Brook, because my dad had decided that he really wanted to get back to his roots, and back to science, not administration.” She added that by returning to Long Island, her father sought “to give back to his home community, so he went to work for Stony Brook University.”

In 1965 Donald Squires helped found SBU’s Marine Sciences Research Center, the predecessor of today’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. A renowned marine biologist, he wrote several books investigating the waters outside of New York City and Long Island. “Interestingly enough, as a sidenote, when we moved back to Stony Brook, we moved into a rental house while we looked for a place to permanently live,” Sussman said. “That house was a house that my other great-grandfather, Harry Fleming, built in Stony Brook.” She added, “We really were going back to our roots.”

Village historian Chris Ryon, left, with Lee Squires Sussman, right, and her son Grayson Sussman Squires, middle. Photo courtesy of Chris Ryon

A family keepsake

“My great-grandfather was Charles A. Squires and he was the original owner of the flag,” Sussman said. “It flew outside the post office at Echo, New York. Following his retirement, my granduncle, Dwight Squires, took over as postmaster. When he retired, my understanding is that my great-grandfather had left it with my Uncle Dwight.” 

At some point in time, Dwight had given the flag to Sussman’s grandfather, Charles W. Squires. Charles W. held onto the flag into his mid-90s and passed it along to her father, Donald. When Donald moved to Tasmania, he gave the family artifacts to her.

“All of the pictures, the certificates, the family Bible, the flag and all of that came to me when my dad moved overseas,” Sussman said. “I’ve had [the flag] stored in my living room in a sea chest that has also been passed down through the family.” 

After years of storing the flag, she started considering what to do with this family memento. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a high school friend had referred her to Ryon. The two got in touch and agreed to meet in Port Jefferson to exchange the flag. 

“I have five Squires-related children,” Sussman said. “I discussed with the kids what to do with some of these possessions. We all agreed that the flag would be best back home where it could be viewed. It really was just a matter of finding the right time to get out to Long Island and get it to Chris so that he can display it for Port Jefferson.”

Squires legacy

At around the time when Sussman began having children, she and her father took up a deep interest in the Squires family history. Her father contacted Tiger Gardiner, author of “The South Fork Squires, Long Island, New York.”

“I would say her life’s work was the genealogy of the Squires family,” Sussman said. “She documents the Squires from really early on in Long Island. When my dad left me all of the photographs and items when he went overseas, that’s when I started getting involved in the Squires family research. It was very easy because I had all of the stuff.”

Sussman described the pride of continuing this Squires tradition, documenting and sharing her genealogy for future generations. When asked how she would like the Squires to be remembered, she said for their hard work, altruism and outlook on education, which she said were central to their system of values.

“The values that the Squires family brought to me were that public service and hard work are the foundations for success,” she said. “There were times when members of my family had money and there were times when members of my family lost all their money. When money was tight, they offered help and shelter to people who were less fortunate.”

Sussman also recalled the renovations made to her grandfather’s house to accommodate and shelter the needy, adding, “During the Depression, the attic had been made into two apartments and the basement had been made into two other apartments where people who were less fortunate lived. Those values really sunk in for all of us and they’re very clearly part of what made my family members click.”

Civic engagement and public service also mattered deeply. “They were very involved in their community and they also never quit exploring,” she said. “Those are things that are a gift to any community, beyond philanthropic gifts — a sense of pride in your local surroundings and a willingness to help.”

Sussman said her family members were acutely aware of the significance of education and passed down this value to their offspring.

“History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house.” — Lee Squires Sussman

Photo courtesy of Chris Ryon

“There was a sign that was printed in my great-grandfather’s printing shop in Echo that we had a copy of in our house,” she said. “I gave one to Chris. It says ‘We study to please,’ which was an old-fashioned way of saying the more modern ‘we aim to please.’” Interpreting the meaning of this sign to her, she said, “To me this was always an indicator of how important study was to my family.”

Today, the Squires family flag hangs inside the Village Center. Reflecting upon her joy in seeing the flag once again on display for the residents of Port Jefferson, Sussman said, “History is so much bigger than us all. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave it in a box in the house. This makes me incredibly happy. I’ve shed more tears over the pictures of that flag hanging in the Village Center than I can believe. It makes me incredibly happy to see it back home.”

On April 17, Easter Sunday, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its 27th annual Easter parade.

Led by the Easter Bunny, dozens of children, parents and community members marched through the village streets. Starting from Theatre Three on Main Street, the parade route cut through East Main, and finally ended at the Port Jefferson Village Center. 

The event was concluded by a massive egg hunt in Harborfront Park, where participants scaled fences and sprinted long distances in pursuit of the precious hidden eggs.

Bonahue, above, entering the inaugural ceremony at the Suffolk Federal Credit Union Arena on the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood. Photo by SCCC

On Friday, April 8, Suffolk County Community College celebrated the inauguration of Edward Bonahue as the college’s seventh president. 

Bonahue, who took office in June 2021, was joined by students, educators, community leaders and public officials at the Suffolk Federal Credit Union Arena on the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood. During the event, various speakers had an opportunity to share their respective visions for the community college under Bonahue’s direction. 

Sarah Kain Gutowski, a professor of English at SCCC, delivered the inaugural poem, “A Shared Relief.” Gutowski’s poem reflected upon the setbacks faced by the Suffolk community because of the pandemic and offered a message of reassurance and hope.

“Perhaps memory serves us best when it reveals this: That after the onslaught of illness, fear, isolation and doubt, privation and poverty, empty rhetoric and tenuous polity, something remains,” Gutowski said. “Being together again, communing in this space whether virtual or real, masked or unmasked, standing six feet apart or three, is the way to recovery. Our eyes reflecting shared relief, it says, ‘Good, you’re still here.’”

Among the group of inaugural speakers was Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who commended Bonahue for his leadership qualities and for his unique ability to generate partnerships throughout the community.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, above, spoke during the inauguration. Photo by SCCC

“We are fortunate now to have a seasoned higher education executive with more than 20 years of experience in community college education leading this great institution,” Bellone said. “If the last 10 months tell us anything, it’s that Dr. Bonahue is a proven leader. Throughout the course of his career, he has successfully implemented creative programs and creative, innovative partnerships.” The county executive added that these are “all talents he has brought with him to his role as our new president.”

Bellone also touched upon Bonahue’s local roots, which he considered vital for the continued connection between residents and the community college: “Dr. Bonahue not only has the experience and know-how to lead this incredible institution, but we know he has a special interest in seeing this region succeed as a native Suffolk County resident and graduate of Ward Melville High School.”

Edward Bonahue (left) and County Executive Steve Bellone (right) share a laugh during the inaugural ceremony. Photo by SCCC

Mary Reid, member of the SCCC Foundation Board of Directors and a tax preparer based in Bay Shore, said Bonahue had met with over 100 community representatives from various organizations throughout the county in September 2021. Since that initial meeting, Bonahue has already strengthened the ties between SCCC and its community partners.

“Dr. Bonahue, you and your staff have kept in contact and have begun to implement the suggestions offered that morning,” Reid said. “You have interacted with library directors, with superintendents of schools, labor leaders, civic groups, religious leaders and mothers wanting to attend college who were seeking day care and financial aid,” adding, “We thank you so much for that.”

Reid said jokingly, “Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot leave without asking for something.” Addressing Bonahue, she said, “Today I ask you to add to your to-do list a program that will meet the needs of persons with disabilities, especially those with Down syndrome,” adding, “Also remember to engage in frequent updates to the community groups.”

Representing the student body was Zachary Frost. He celebrated the appointment of Bonahue as president, arguing that Bonahue intends to bring quality higher education opportunities to low-income families throughout the county.

“The first time I met President Bonahue, we spoke about the many resources made available to students to ensure their success,” Frost said. “President Bonahue wanted to streamline access to these resources and make them more readily available to any student who may be struggling. It was in this meeting that I saw President Bonahue’s passion for driving success, especially for those at a disadvantage.” 

Frost described the challenges of growing up in a single-parent household and of being raised by a parent who struggled to make ends meet. “I remember as a young child, probably six or seven years old, my mother didn’t have the easiest time going through college, whether it be financially or her trying to find someone to watch me while she was in class,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder, had she been a student here at Suffolk County Community College and had access to all of these amazing resources, like our food pantry, writing centers, hardship funds and on-campus day care centers, accompanied by caring professors and a great faculty, she probably would have had a much healthier college experience.” 

Dr. Bonahue, on behalf of our three bargaining units, the Faculty Association, AME, the Guild of Administrative Officers, and the executive leadership team, we welcome you, we welcome your family, to our community.

— Dante Morelli

Representing the SCCC employees and the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees was Dante Morelli, professor of communications. He said AME union members are the engine behind the entire operation at SCCC’s campuses and downtown centers.

“President Bonahue, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that you probably already know,” Morelli said. “If you really want to know who keeps the college running, it’s the members of AME. It’s the members of AME who are often the first voice and/or a face a student sees or hears when they walk onto campus or pick up the phone to ask for assistance.” He added, “Dr. Bonahue, on behalf of our three bargaining units, the Faculty Association, AME, the Guild of Administrative Officers, and the executive leadership team, we welcome you, we welcome your family, to our community.”

To access our coverage of Bonahue’s inaugural address, click here.

Last Friday, April 8, Edward Bonahue was sworn in as the seventh president of Suffolk County Community College. 

During his inaugural address, Bonahue outlined his vision of higher education in Suffolk County and the direction he intends to steer the college throughout his tenure as president.

“It is a career-defining honor to stand with you today and to accept the deep privilege and tremendous responsibility of serving as the seventh president of Suffolk County Community College,” he said. “For this Long Island boy, the child of, and also brother to, lifelong Suffolk County educators, the opportunity to join with all of you in service to Suffolk County is a dream come true and a prayer answered.”

We honor and commend the work performed by generations of caring college employees, faculty and staff who could choose to do anything, who could choose to work anywhere, but who have chosen this work.”

— Edward Bonahue

A place in history

Bonahue detailed the history of SCCC since the time when it was founded in 1959 as just a small college of about 500 students. Back then, classrooms had to be borrowed from Sachem and Riverhead high schools. The president likened the population growth of Suffolk County with the development and advancement of the community college.

“Those first students came from a growing county with about 600,000 residents,” he said. “Today, Suffolk County is home to over 1.6 million residents, representing a far-more diverse population, and our annual college enrollment exceeds 20,000 students.” He continued by saying, “We honor and commend the work performed by generations of caring college employees, faculty and staff who could choose to do anything, who could choose to work anywhere, but who have chosen this work, to work here and to embrace this mission of fostering student development, promoting a culture of lifelong learning, and ultimately serving the community we live in.”

Reflecting upon the resiliency of the campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bonahue said that the college found new and innovative ways to continue the educational process through virtual learning. In a time of profound uncertainty and despair, he said SCCC did not shrink away from its academic mission.

“Especially in the early days of the pandemic, many of us worked around the clock just to manage a virtual continuity of operations,” he said. “We all learned that our community college students were often those most likely to have been impacted by the pandemic.” Discussing ways students and staff responded, Bonahue added, “We worked with a sense of urgency, but also pragmatic flexibility, knowing that our students’ progress, sometimes even their well-being, rested on our ability to adapt to constantly shifting conditions.”

Meeting the community’s needs

We own that the work of education is complicated, but the college embraces this as a critical duty.”

— Edward Bonahue

During the address, Bonahue articulated the important role that SCCC plays within the Suffolk community. He said the institution’s mission is to provide quality, affordable higher education and to promote health and prosperity throughout the county.

“We know that we are a critical part of the formula for supporting our community and changing students’ lives,” Bonahue said. “Specifically, the essential mission of our college, the necessity of providing an affordable, inclusive education, of providing a pathway of opportunity, has never been more critical.” He added, “For all of Suffolk County, I have this simple message: Suffolk County Community College is Long Island’s own pathway to educational and economic success.”

Bonahue considers an educated populace necessary for community wellness. “We own that the work of education is complicated, but the college embraces this as a critical duty because we know that an educated population is an essential good for our society and our nation.”

The president suggests that democracy also requires an engaged citizenry. He said one of the priorities of the college is to keep its students informed and involved in the democratic process.

“One of our commitments to students is to foster a sense of citizenship and civic engagement,” he said. “We acknowledge that teaching about the rights of democracy, its many individual freedoms, the privilege of self-determination, must also be accompanied by teaching about the responsibilities of citizenship, including service to the community and the country, the rule of law, appreciation for the power of diversity, and the willingness to speak and act in defense of our freedoms.” He stressed, “This kind of general education for all students is critical because through it, students come to understand not only the rights and responsibilities of being an American, but also a sense of the world they live in.”

The students’ experience is the reality of the college.”— Edward Bonahue

Serving all students

Bonahue delivered his general vision for the college. He affirmed the college “will continue its commitment to serve all students, regardless of background or previous experience in higher education.” 

He said the college must continue to promote inclusion of all students, regardless of their circumstances: “We know that the future of the college means embracing the part-time student, the working student, the parenting student, as well as those who come to us straight out of high school.” 

Additionally, Bonahue embraced the nonconventional programs of study which complement the curriculum offered by the college. “We affirm that as a comprehensive community college, career training, workforce development and economic development are integral and fundamental parts of our mission,” he said, adding, “We are proud of our thousands of students who move annually through our arts and sciences programs, graduate from our honors programs and often transfer to highly selective universities. We are equally proud of our nurses, our welders, our bakers, programmers, our paramedics, our machinists and our accountants.”

During the speech, Bonahue advanced that student experience is the impetus behind his work: “The students’ experience is the reality of the college, and we will keep that truth at the center of how we carry out our mission of student success from day-to-day, from semester-to-semester and from year-to-year.”

The president touched upon the many financial challenges that students may face while pursuing a higher education. He acknowledged that there are still too many people left out of the education system due to the burden of cost. 

“Because the cost of education still too often puts it out of reach for deserving students, we affirm our commitment that a Suffolk education must remain an affordable education,” Bonahue said. “The work of our college foundation as a vehicle for supporting student scholarships and basic needs allows any of us and all of us to invest in our students.”

To access the full speech, click here.

The fate of the clubhouse at Port Jeff Country Club is uncertain. Photo courtesy of Port Jefferson Village

Debate around the future of the Port Jefferson Country Club intensified on Monday, April 4, when longtime local residents confronted the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees during a public session.

Myrna Gordon and Michael Mart both condemned the board for moving ahead with plans to curb coastal erosion at East Beach without first holding a public forum, arguing that an issue of this magnitude requires greater public input. “The bluff touches every resident … and there should be a public forum for this,” Mart said. Gordon added, “This is an important issue in this village … and on this particular issue, the ball was dropped.”

Responding to these charges, Mayor Margot Garant said the bluff projects are time sensitive, requiring prompt action on behalf of the village before its permits expire.

“This is an area regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the [Department of Environmental Conservation],” Garant said. “The window of opportunity is closing because our permits are not going to be there forever.”

History of the country club

Philip Griffith, historian of PJCC and co-editor of Port Jefferson historical society’s newsletter, chronicled the history of the country club since 1908. According to Griffith, the club originated as a nine-hole golf course designed for the residents of Belle Terre.

In 1953 Norman Winston, a wealthy real estate developer, purchased 600 acres of land in Belle Terre and added nine more holes, establishing the Harbor Hills Country Club. In 1978 Mayor Harold Sheprow leased the Harbor Hills club for $1 and in 1980 village residents approved the purchase of the property for $2.29 million by voter referendum. In 1986 the club was renamed the Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills.

“The club is 114 years old and it is not private anymore,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “Once the village took it over, it opened membership to all residents of Port Jefferson. Membership pays a fee and they operate the club not by using the residents tax money, but by membership dues paid to the country club.”

Due to the erosion of East Beach, the clubhouse, which sits along 170 acres of village property with golf, tennis and parking facilities, is in danger of falling down the slope. Village residents and elected officials are now weighing their options. 

Man vs. Mother Nature

TBR News Media sat down with Mayor Margot Garant in an exclusive interview. She addressed the rapid erosion of East Beach, the precarious fate of the clubhouse and the measures her administration is taking to address this growing problem.

“This is a village asset,” Garant said. “We always say that the country club is one of the five crown jewels of the village and I feel I have to do everything I can — and I will continue to do so — to preserve that facility because I think that’s in the best interest of the community.”

Projects to combat erosion have been ongoing since 2015. Intense storms, such as hurricanes Irene and Sandy, prompted shoreline restoration efforts on behalf of the village. However, as officials addressed the damaged beach, they spotted an even more alarming trend along the bluff.

“We noticed that the bluff started to have chunks of land just kind of detach and start sliding down the hill,” Garant said. 

Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University and distinguished service professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said eroding bluffs have become commonplace for coastal communities along the North Shore.

“It’s a particular problem on the North Shore of Long Island because these bluffs are very steep, they’re very high and they’re made of what we call unconsolidated sand,” Bowman said in a phone interview. “In other words, it doesn’t stick together and it’s only held together by vegetation, which can be very fragile and can be easily eroded.” 

In 2018 Garant filed permit applications with the DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These applications were subjected to multiple rounds of modification, with the approval process lasting over three years. During that period, the bluff continued to wither away.

“Because there’s no protection of the slope, we lost 16 1/2 feet of property in three-and-a-half years, so now the [clubhouse] is in jeopardy,” Garant said.

Man-made efforts to resist erosion do not offer long-term solutions, according to Bowman. Nonetheless, coastal engineering projects can buy valuable time for communities before large swaths of territory get washed away to the sea.

“In the end it’s futile because, basically, you’re buying time,” Bowman said. “You can fight it and you may get another 50 years out of it. And you might say, ‘That’s almost a human lifetime, so therefore it’s worth it.’ The taxpayers of the incorporated village — they’re the ones who are paying for it — might say, ‘It will allow me to enjoy the club for another 50 years and my children, maybe.’” He added, “Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.”

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Trustees approved a $10 million bond on Nov. 15, 2021, to finance bluff stabilization. The entire project will be completed in two separate iterations: phase I to secure the towline of the bluff, and phase II to preserve the clubhouse.

Phase I: Lower wall

“Phase I is going to consist of hardening the toe of the bluff with steel riprap rock and some concrete, as well as the revegetation of the bluff itself,” said Joe Palumbo, village administrator. “We’re basically creating a seawall there to slow down, or prevent, any further erosion.”

In its initial permit application, the village planned to construct a 20-foot-high steel retaining wall that would run approximately 650 linear feet along the toe of the bluff. However, due to concerns about the wall’s length and height, DEC asked the village to scale down its proposal.

“Part of the modification of the permit required us to eliminate the steel wall for the portion of the property behind the tennis courts,” Garant said. “We originally wanted to go in — I’m going to estimate — 650 linear feet and they pulled it back to about 450 linear feet.” The mayor added, “We went a little back and forth with DEC, saying we don’t understand why you’re making us do that, but we’ll do it because I’m trying to get something started to protect the integrity of the bluff.”

Phase II: Upland wall

After a 4-1 vote to approve phase I, the board is now considering ways to protect its upland properties, including the clubhouse, tennis courts and parking lot. Phase II involves constructing an upland wall between the clubhouse and the bluff to prevent any further loss of property. 

“The upland project will consist of driving steel sheets into the ground behind the village’s [clubhouse] facility, extending past the courts on the lower side and the upper side,” Palumbo said. “Some revegetation in front of that wall and behind the wall will also take place. I believe the wall itself will extend out from the ground about 15 to 24 inches so as not to impede the view that exists there.” 

The Board of Trustees is also exploring the option of demolishing the clubhouse, a less expensive option than building the upper wall, but still a multimillion-dollar project due to the cost of demolishing the building and adding drainage atop the cliff. “I’m trying to get all of that information together to put on the table, so that we can make an intelligent decision about the upland plan while we proceed with advancing the installation of the toe wall,” Garant said. 

Weighing the options

Although the village’s acquisition of the country club was finalized by voter referendum, residents have not yet voted to approve phases I or II. Garant believes voters had a chance to halt these projects during last year’s election process.

“When the Board of Trustees voted 5-0 to borrow the $10 million, that’s when the public had an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute,’” Garant said. “I could have put it out as part of the election that’s coming up or had a separate vote, but the clock is ticking on my permits.” She added, “I feel I have the authority — and my board has the authority — to do these kinds of projects.”

During the interview with Garant, she agreed that bluff stabilization was an unforeseen expense when the village purchased the property. Asked whether the country club is a depreciating asset, Garant maintained that the property has been a lucrative investment.

“It’s not just the building [that we’re protecting], it’s all of the country club’s assets,” she said. “The parking lot is a tremendous asset. I’m trying to preserve some of the sports complexes up there and even expand on them.”

One of the central arguments made for preserving the clubhouse is that the country club raises the property values of all village residents, and that to lose the facility would hurt the real estate market. Jolie Powell, owner of Port Jefferson-based Jolie Powell Realty, substantiated this claim.

“What makes us unique here in the incorporated Village of Port Jefferson is that we are one of very few [villages] that offers these amenities,” Powell said in a phone interview. “It adds value to the community and to prospective homeowners because they want to live in a village that has a private beach, country club amenities and pickleball.” She added, “The country club is essential to a prospective buyer who comes to the village. … They’re looking for amenities and the golf course is huge.”

When asked about the potential costs to village residents, Powell offered this perspective: “I don’t know what that cost will be for the residents, but it will be nominal. Our taxes are so low to begin with compared to every other community.”

Another sticking point is the long-term prospect of golf as a recreational activity. Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socioeconomic Policy and author of “Long Island, The Global Economy and Race,” said the popularity of golf has waned in recent decades. He suggests any proposal related to the preservation of the clubhouse should also include a plan to boost recreational activity at the golf course.

“Golf is not as widely played as it was 30 years ago,” Cantor said in a phone interview. “If the village puts up a retaining wall, then it has to also have a development plan or a plan for how it’s going to generate economic activity to pay back the loan for the retaining wall.”

Responding to Cantor, Garant said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to revive interest in the sport. “Prior to the pandemic, I would say that might be right,” the mayor said. “Since the pandemic, the sport is booming. That program up there is so robust that they have not only paid back the money they owed the village to help them run operations, but they’re now exceeding their budget and have money to put up netting.” She added, “Right now golf is the thing.”

Since bluff stabilization is closely linked to the activities at the country club, Cantor suggested that an economic feasibility study may add clarity to this issue, allowing residents and officials to determine whether preserving the clubhouse is in the fiscal interest of the village. 

“In terms of economics to the village, other than the rent, all of the money that gets paid in the golf club stays within the golf club,” Cantor said. “They have to do a feasibility study on the economics of keeping it open.”

Factored into this multivariable equation are also the qualitative benefits that the clubhouse may offer to the community. Griffith packaged the country club with the library, school district, public parks and other amenities that raise taxes but contribute to the character and culture of the village.

“These are things that add not only to the monetary value, but also the cultural and aesthetic value of the village,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see those kinds of things eliminated. Each of these amenities — these assets — are wonderful values that make this village what it is.” He added, “It’s not just a home. You’re buying into a community and a community has to offer something beyond your own little piece of property, and that’s what Port Jefferson does.” 

Griffith added that he would like the issue to be put on the ballot so that residents have the final say. “I am in favor of having a public hearing on the matter and then having a public referendum. Let the people decide, just as they decided to purchase the country club.”

A home on Old Town Road in East Setauket was destroyed by fire Feb. 18. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A tragic fire in East Setauket has left a father and his 10-month-old son in critical but stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Lisa Ostrowski holds baby Leo with Steven Ortner in the background. Photo from Carolyn Ortner

The fire began slightly after midnight on Feb. 18 on Old Town Road, and the home next to the Old Towne garden center was quickly engulfed by flames due to the high winds that night. Steven Ortner, 30, was able to escape with his son, Leo. However, Ortner’s fiancée Lisa Ostrowski, 31, died in the fire.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, both its homicide squad and arson section are investigating the fire. A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be noncriminal in nature. 

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 12:01 a.m. Police officers and the Setauket Fire Department arrived on the scene a few minutes later to find the home engulfed in flames. According to SCPD, Ortner escaped through a second-floor window. While he was on the roof ledge, he handed the baby to a passerby below. A responder then took the baby while Ortner tried to go back into the house to save Ostrowski, according to Dave Sterne, the Setauket Fire District’s manager.

Sterne said when Setauket Fire Department Chief Richard Leute arrived on the scene and saw Ortner trying to go inside the home, he advised the father not to do so. Ortner was told to jump and Leute caught him.

Ostrowski was found dead once the fire was extinguished. There were no other occupants at home, and no other injuries were reported.

Barbara Prass set up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses for Ostrowski and to help Ortner and Leo once they leave the hospital. Prass is a longtime family friend of the Ortners, being a childhood friend of Steven Ortner’s mother Carolyn. Ortner grew up in the Town of Smithtown and Ostrowski is originally from Centereach.

The GoFundMe Page, titled Tragic Fire support for Lisa, Baby Leo and “Steven,” as of Feb. 22, had 1,400 donors and raised more than $90,000.

In a phone interview, Prass said that Orner’s parents, Carolyn and Clayton, returned to Long Island from the Carolinas as soon as they were notified Friday and have been able to see him and the baby. Prass said it’s a painful time and something that one can see on the news but can never imagine going through. 

“There are no words,” she said.

Prass said at first the parents were told they wouldn’t be able to visit the hospital due to COVID-19, but finally were given the go ahead to visit with Ortner and Leo.

She said Ortner was able to speak the first day when his parents called him, but he was hoarse and medicated. The father has third-degree burns on his head, face and back of arms. His head had to be bandaged, and the other day the father was put on a ventilator. At first, he asked the family to come and pick up Leo.

“I don’t even think he knew Leo was admitted.” she said, adding the baby is still in the hospital with second-degree burns to his forehead and hands. He also has a collapsed lung.

Ortner is now on a ventilator and doctors are monitoring his organs, also his vision as it was blurry, Prass said.

She said from what the parents could gather when talking with their son, Ostrowski handed the baby to Ortner. According to the family friend, he told his parents, “I had to save the baby. I couldn‘t get back to Lisa. I tried.”

Prass said she told Carolyn Ortner that she is sure Ostrowski died protecting her baby.

“It’s just the worst nightmare,” she said. “I hope Steven can live through that.”

In addition to the GoFundMe page, Prass said she and others are trying to find a place where people can drop off clothes and baby items as many community members have offered to do so.