Town of Brookhaven

Katrina Denning, Erica Kutzing and Jenny Luca are the three in charge of Brookhaven’s new TNR task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pilot trap, neuter and release program will look to stem the tide of the growing feral cat population in the Town of Brookhaven. Such has been the efforts of local animal activists who for months have advocated for official help in what seemed an insurmountable problem. 

Erica Kutzing, a Sound Beach resident and vice president of North Shore-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said she and others believe it will allow for better outcomes and success rates for feral cats. 

Strong Island Animal Rescue joined with local animal activists and Brookhaven town to set up the new task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It meant a lot to us to help solve this real issue,” she said. 

Kutzing, Katrina Denning, founder of the Jacob’s Hope Rescue, and Jenny Luca, among others attended a number of Town Board meetings from October to December 2019, discussing the need for Brookhaven to provide more assistance to local animal rescue groups in the ongoing feral cat crisis. 

“The TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return] program at that time was broken and needed to be fixed,” Kutzing said. 

At the end of December, the trio were given the opportunity to meet with Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Town Board members to talk about the status of the program. In two separate meetings, animal rescue advocates discussed ways they could improve the program and ease the burden on local rescue groups.

After some weeks of negotiations, town officials agreed to put the trio in charge of the task force. The town also decided to increase the original program’s budget from $40,000 to $60,000, began a partnership with Medford-based veterinary clinic Long Island Spay & Neuter, and will pay professional trappers to help capture feral cats. 

The pilot program was officially announced at the March 12 board meeting, classified as a “Program for the Public Good,” thereby qualifying it for coverage under the town’s public good insurance. 

“We are moving in a direction to reduce the population of feral cats — we believe the best way to deal with this issue is to work with nonprofits, who are extremely committed people,” Romaine said. “Limiting the population is the right thing to do for the community.” 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the feral cat population on Long Island has been increasing drastically over the years, with a significant amount being located in Council District 1. 

“The town was able to develop the pilot program with significant community input from the rescue organizations,” she said in a statement. “We are anticipating success of the pilot program and we appreciate the community groups working collaboratively with the town.”

Denning said they were pleasantly surprised that town officials put them in charge and supported their ideas. She expects to see improved results once the program is set up, especially with Dr. John Berger, a veterinarian at Long Island Spay & Neuter, in place to perform the procedures.

“The way it was done before was just not working,” she said. “We needed someone who was skilled with dealing with a high volume of feral cats. Dr. Berger is trained to do a large number of surgeries.”

In turn, Denning said it will allow them to get more cats fixed and treated than before. 

“We will be doing clinics and specifically have a block of time where Dr. Berger can deal with a mass quantity at once,” she said. “We will be able to treat 20-30 cats and deal with entire colonies.”

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, the group will come up with a list of approved trappers who will “go out and capture these feral cats instead of the homeowners who are not as experienced,” Denning said. “We will be paying them for their work and incentivize them to go out more, now they don’t need to spend their own money on supplies.”

Luca, who has been an independent rescuer for the past 10 years, said the new program will allow them to do more in helping feral cats. 

“Cats are on every block on Long Island — we were very limited in what we could do before,” she said. 

Luca said with added support they will be able to use funds to buy new equipment like drop traps to ensure they’ll be able to capture more feral cats. 

Another aspect of the program is public education. 

“Educating people is huge — we are looking for individuals/volunteers who are interested in learning what we do and help us, it would be great,” Luca said.

Kutzing said surgery appointments will be twice a month at the clinics and they expect the program to be up and running sometime in April. 

In the meantime, the trio is excited for
the opportunity.

“It is incredible what we’ve been able to do,” Kutzing said. “It has been such a rewarding experience.”

Landlord of MS Property Also Owns Historic Derelict House in Port Jeff

The house at 63 Shore Road is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquistions, the same company that owns a historic derelict house in Port Jefferson on Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it is just one of a huge slate of derelict homes the Town of Brookhaven deals with on a monthly basis, one house in Mount Sinai has been causing more issues than others recently.

At the Feb. 27 Town Board meeting, the council members voted to demolish a garage located at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai, though the house would remain untouched.

The garage at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai will soon be taken down if the property owner does not file permits. Photo by Kyle Barr

This set off a press of neighbors angry the Town would not be touching the residential part of the property, which they said has been a problem property for years.

Lynn Capobianco, a Mount Sinai resident and previous president of the school board, said while she appreciates the Town coming in with work crews to keep the property somewhat tame, the issue with the house remains.

“We’ve been saying that for a long time — it’s only in the last year the Town has started to listen,” she said.

In a 2019 report by Hauppauge-based firm Cashin Spinelli and Ferretti LLC, the building was cited as being “in extremely poor condition,” with the inside filled with trash and debris. Additionally, ceilings were collapsing due to water damage, with engineers also suspecting mold. The inspectors cited the property for multiple fire and safety violations. The house was originally boarded up after the report in June 2019. 

Town officials said another reconnaissance of the property was done Feb. 24 of this year. Inspectors did not go into the residential portion of the property, said Brendan Sweeney, who works for the Town, often presenting to the board about these zombie homes. He also said the new analysis by the inspector, “did not certify the house was unsafe.” 

The garage was reportedly collapsing with a building full of debris and garbage. Town officials said inspectors recommended the garage be torn down. The owner has 30 days to file permits showing he’s making an effort to fix the garage before the building is removed.

Some local residents took umbrage with this, citing the 2019 engineering report and their own personal dealings with the property. Several cited issues such as young people exploring the empty structure and animals inhabiting within. 

Kerry Hogan, a neighbor who has worked in and taught construction arts, said on visits to the property the damage was such that the best recourse is to simply tear it down and build something new.

“Once I saw [the] condition, I knew I would not bid on the house when it became available,” she said at the meeting.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) directed all inquiries about the house and plans for demolition to the law department.

Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said the Town senior building inspector went to the house Feb. 24 and saw that the garage was in immediate danger of collapse, while the house wasn’t. 

“This is not the first time we’ve taken down a shed or garage instead of the main residence first,” she said. 

Part of the process, the Town attorney said, takes into account the house is in a transitional historic area. That requires a review from the Historic District Advisory Committee, which meets the second Tuesday of every month. The process is the same whether the building is in the transition zone or the historic district.

Edna Giffen, the recording secretary of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, said the transition zone is basically a buffer between the Town and the main historic district in Mount Sinai. While the rules affecting property are laxer in the transition zone than the main historic district, she confirmed the Town’s advisory committee still has to look at every permit for property in both. 

Still, she said it was a shame to watch it and other houses deteriorate. Two other buildings, one in the main historic and the other in the transition zone, have been taken down by the Town since 2012 and the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s a sad situation it was allowed to deteriorate so much,” she said. “It’s like watching an old poor soul die a slow death.” 

Town of Brookhaven notices of the public hearing and the stop-work order when the owner attempted to repair the roof. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, the Town has been inundated with thousands of these derelict or zombie homes. Brookhaven has taken the unique approach to dealing with the situation by taking care of flagrant properties, mowing the grass and boarding up homes, then putting liens on these properties. If owners cannot be reached or cannot handle reconstituting the property, then the Town will hire contractors to demolish them, putting the cost as additional liens on the property.

However, in this case, Town officials said they have come across hiccups due to the historic nature of the surrounding area. This does not mean the Town would not be able to demolish the full property in the future.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Bonner both said they would like to do an additional engineering report on the property.

Neighbors also said the owner had brought in unlicensed contractors to fix the building’s roof in 2018, but after calls from residents the Town had put a stop-work order on that construction.

The property is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquisitions, an elusive real estate company reportedly based at 63 George St. in Roslyn Heights, according to the Town. Local officials, including from Port Jefferson village and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), have been on the hunt for the company owner as it has also purchased a derelict property at 49 Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson. That house has significant historic worth, according to local historians. The assemblyman interjected before the property could be demolished by the village, and the house has remained boarded up ever since.

Sweeney said the owner of 63 Shore Drive had come to the meeting but left without speaking. He did not get the owner’s name. 

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said TAB Suffolk Acquisitions has bought up a lot of property in Suffolk foreclosures, according to their data from the comptroller’s office. Bonner criticized the company for sitting on such properties and not doing anything with them.

“There’s a lot of money coming out of the city and western Nassau — there’s a lot of property being bought up,” Panico said. “This is one of those companies that buys up a ton of houses.”

Neighbors said they knew the owner only as “Sam.” They said he has been cordial in the past but has largely been absent.

When called, the person on the other end who confirmed he was the owner of the property said they are in the process of getting permits from the Town to fix up the property, “within 30 days.”

He spoke about his prior attempts to fix the roof before the Town put a stop-work order on those repairs. As to residents’ complaints, he said residents have known and stayed silent on the state of the house for longer than recent efforts to demolish it.

“The house has been in this shape for years,” he said.

After he said his name was Sam, he hung up the phone and did not answer further calls for comment. 

Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer points to a chart showing the impact discovery law changes have had on small municipalities. Photo by David Luces

Town supervisors in Suffolk County say recent criminal justice reform has caused “unintended consequences” to municipalities and local code enforcement. They are asking the state to exempt small municipalities from new guidelines, among other things. 

The issue they have is with the state’s new discovery provisions, which require names and contact information for complaints to be turned over within 15 days of arraignment. In turn, it has eliminated anonymity, which many municipalities rely on when it comes to handling code violations. 

“You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

— Ed Romaine

Rich Schaffer (D), Town of Babylon supervisor and chair of the county Democratic committee, said at a March 5 press conference they usually receive a lot of anonymous tips from concerned residents but have noticed many are not willing to come forward with the new changes. 

“They don’t want to put their names down, and quite frankly we don’t want to [either],” he said. “We want to be able to go after the offenders and educate them on how to clean up their act and be a good neighbor.”

A letter signed by all of the county’s town supervisors was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January. The group said with the new standards in how case information is turned over to the courts, it means there are currently no distinctions between a homicide case and a “municipal code violation for high grass.” 

The supervisors said the reform was rushed through the legislature and didn’t give municipalities enough time to formulate a public education campaign. In addition, the changes hurt them on a local level because the state “got involved in things that we didn’t need their involvement in,” Schaffer said.

Supervisors also complained the requirement for after issuing a summons, a court date must be set within 20 days. Officials said it used to take a month to process cases, but now there are four additional “hoops to jump through” to process a complaint. A case could take up to two years to be resolved.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the criminal justice reform has had a “chilling effect on code enforcement.” 

“So now, if you live next to a guy that has a house with two illegal apartments and four or five unregistered vehicles and trash on the property, if you call, we are obligated by state law to tell the guy next door that you called,” he said. “You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

The four supervisors called on the state Legislature to pass a bill that would allow townships to handle their own code enforcement cases and reinstate anonymity.  

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) are proposing bills that would allow anonymity for those reporting local code violations, let municipalities take these cases out of district court and allow them to create their own administrative bureau. 

Chad Lupinacci (R), Town of Huntington supervisor, said many of the problems discussed can be eliminated if municipalities had their own administrative bureau. Huntington is one of three municipalities in the state to have one. 

“The bureau should be up and running sometime in May,” he said. “Code enforcement officers, instead of having to comply with these changes, will be able to just enforce the code and ensure that neighborhoods are safer.”

Brookhaven assistant attorney David Moran said they will work in compliance with the law but called it an “unfunded mandate” with no real direction given how to be in compliance. 

Schaffer said he’s volunteering Babylon to be the guinea pig regarding not following the new law and seeing what comes out of it. 

“I’d like to be the test case to challenge the system,” he said.

Brookhaven’s Landfill Set to Close in 2024, Romaine Says a Plan is Needed Now

The Brookhaven Landfill is set to close in 2024, but while the town has put aside money towards that end, a concrete plan has yet to materialize. Photo from Google maps

About 100 people crowded into the lower level of a Melville office building Feb. 27. All were there to talk about what ends up in the trash bin. Yet, despite the dry subject matter, all knew that garbage will be the talk of Suffolk County and beyond in just a few short years.

New York State DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek-Gallagher speaks about what it will take to impact the looming garbage crisis. Photo by David Luces

The Long Island Regional Planning Council hosted a meeting about what Long Island does with its garbage and, in particular, how the region will dispose of millions of solid waste when the Town of Brookhaven landfill closes in 2024.  

The discussion brought together local elected officials, environmentalists, waste management company representatives and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, among others.  

Michael White, vice chair of the planning council, outlined the issue to attendees in a presentation. 

Currently, the Brookhaven landfill handles over 350,000 tons of ash annually from energy-from-waste facilities, in addition to handling 720,000 tons of solid waste. 

“Solid waste management is achieved through a public and private sector partnership,” White said. “Trash is either burned or exported to four energy-from-waste facilities on the island.”

The facilities in Hempstead, Huntington-Smithtown, Babylon and Islip are all operated by Covanta Energy. The Babylon location handles about 50,000 tons of waste. 

“The remainder of the residential trash is shipped off on trucks to upstate landfills,” the vice chair of the planning council said. 

White said waste from Oyster Bay, the Town of North Hempstead, Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton get driven off the island.  

“We have thousands of tons of waste shipped off Long Island every day, resulting in further stress on our aging and congested highway and bridge infrastructure,” he said. “And this approach is bringing us ever-increasing costs.”

In a panel following the presentation, experts and officials discussed potential solutions and ideas to what was called a “looming crisis.”   

“The amount of waste generated on Long Island is increasing,” White said. “With the current volume at the Brookhaven landfill, that means 720,000 tons a year of waste has to find a home somewhere, and another 350,000 tons of ash from the energy from waste facilities will have to find a home somewhere.” 

Will Flower, the vice president of regional trash carting company Winters Bros., said statistics show each person produces about 4 1/2 pounds of waste a day. Each day 2,000 trucks transport waste off the island. 

An option mentioned was increasing the use of rail cars to transport solid waste. About 6,000 rail cars carry 600,000 tons of waste off the island.  

Other attendees and panelists said stakeholders need to come up with more innovative ways to handle waste. Ideas included turning ash into building materials and pulverizing recyclable glass to use in road materials. 

“It’s not a looming crisis — It’s now.”

— Ed Romaine

Flower showed a piece of landfill equipment damaged by glass as a result of it being put with other waste, adding that glass can be and should be recycled. 

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. Suffolk County has recently created a Regional Recycling Assessment Task Force in an effort to tackle the issue.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) called for a regional effort. 

“It’s not a looming crisis — It’s now,” he said. “Either we get together as a region to resolve this and have a path forward, or this is going to be yet another thing that makes Long Island less desirable to live and work.”

The supervisor stressed that the region needs to act to find ways beyond either burning or storing waste in landfills.

“I can’t believe in 2020 that’s the only two ways to deal with waste; we need to do something now before we run out of time,” he said. 

Officials from the planning council said they plan on forming a subcommittee to look at the solid waste management crisis and asked attendees to help them develop further recommendations.

The Rocky Point Fire Department, including the Shoreham fire station, is soon expected to expand coverage for the Village of Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District will soon extend its coverage area to include the Village of Shoreham. 

Town of Brookhaven officials have already scheduled a public hearing later in the month for the resolution, which is expected to pass. In conjunction, as part of the village merging into the fire district, officials passed a resolution that authorized the tax assessor to consolidate the district’s three separate tax zones into one. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said both the Town and fire district could not get it done without the other. The change in tax zones will essentially make for a more streamlined process for the district.

“After the public hearing, if it was supported by my colleagues, [the fire district] would include the Village of Shoreham,” said Bonner. “It is essentially an easier process and less paperwork for both of them.” 

The two latest decisions come after a months-long process where Shoreham officials requested home rule applications to extend the fire district boundaries to encompass the 0.5-square-mile village. In May 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) that authorized the fire district extension. 

Rocky Point Fire District attorney, the Port Jefferson-based Bill Glass who represents the fire district, said the change wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the fire departments and district.

“Operationally there will be no change at all within the district,” he said. “There will not be a significant change to the amount the village already pays for emergency services.” 

Glass said the process should be seamless as the village has contracted out to the fire district for the past decade. He said he doesn’t expect the tax rates for residents to change that much and would probably be similar to the amount that they paid when Shoreham was contracting them. 

On the subject of the consolidation of the three tax zones, the lawyer said the decision was necessary as there was no point in having three separate tax districts anymore. 

“The tax zones were put in place because at one point there were three different water companies [in the area] who had their own tax rates,” Glass said. “That stopped with the Suffolk Water Authority — this helps streamline a lot of things.”

For Shoreham, being a part of the fire district could allow the village budget to decrease as they are not using funds for fire/emergency services. 

A representative from the village could not be reached for comment.

In addition, bringing the village into the fold would allow Shoreham residents to run for positions like fire commissioner. 

The Town will hold a public hearing for the fire district extension Feb. 27. 

The 2020 U.S. Census could be pivotal for New York, which could potentially lose one or two U.S. reps from a general loss of population. Stock photo

It’s a once-in-a-decade request, and this year’s census could determine just how much local schools, governments and nonprofits get in aid from the federal government. Not to mention, this year’s count could determine if New York could be sending one or two less U.S. representatives to Washington out of its current total of 27.

It has enough officials worried that New York State is funneling money around to different counties to get people to fill in the survey. Suffolk County is expected to receive $1.019 million toward its efforts. Officials have called for additional funds toward the census in this year’s budget, though most don’t expect the money to materialize before the census starts rolling in mid-March. New York State has made $20 million available of a total of $60 million to go toward engagement efforts in local municipalities. $15 million is going to the state’s 62 counties. 

“It’s the principle that we count, and we should be counted.”

— Martha Maffei

This year, galvanizing the populace to take the census has become a phenomenon, with players at the state, county and local level putting a heavy emphasis on this year’s survey. On the line, advocates say, is a correct political representation on a federal level as well as $675 billion annually in federal funds for prioritizing road work, school aid, grants and Medicaid funding.

Due to the 2010 census, New York lost two congressional seats, and some have said this year’s count could lose the state one or two more. Local groups, both small and large, have the task of energizing enough people to gain an accurate headcount. 

Like herding cats, that’s much easier said than done

Suffolk County Complete Count Committee was created in 2019 in part by the nonprofits Health & Welfare Council of Long Island and Long Island Community Foundation to generate engagement for those efforts.

Rebecca Sanin, president of HWCLI, said they have around 300 groups, including nonprofits, religious organizations, business organizations and governments, participating at least to some degree in outreach among 11 subcommittees. The nonprofit has also established guidebooks and graphics for everyone from immigrant leaders to hospitals to senior citizens.

“We’re really trying to build momentum, where the end is a 10-year funding impact to our region,” Sanin said. 

The committee has become a hub for joining up the disparate groups looking to promote the census. The state has its own CCC, and other counties have been encouraged to create their own committees. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was named to the New York State Complete Count Committee by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

“Suffolk County is not only the largest suburban county in the state of New York, but we have the fourth largest and hardest-to-count populations in New York state,” Bellone said during a 2019 meeting with the Suffolk Complete Count Committee. Approximately 40 percent of county residents live in hard-to-count areas, he said.

People will start to see this year’s census mailed out in mid-March, and the census process continues for the next several months. Stock photo

County officials have hosted census job fairs this year and last, with positions paying $17 to $23 an hour.

Governments at both county and town level have started putting notices of the census in official emails and releases. Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had been drafted to partner with the complete count committee. She said the town is working on a project with the tax receiver’s office to send out a reminder in the midyear tax receipts that goes out to every household in Brookhaven. They have also started to include information about the census in town programs hosted this year and had representatives from the census table at town events.

“Undercounting of communities can have a domino or ripple effect on community projects and issues for years to come,” the councilwoman said in an email. “A complete and accurate count of your community can result in improved infrastructure and schools, better community health and programs and much more.”

Steven Collins, who works for the U.S. Department of Commerce as a partnership specialist for the census in Suffolk, said the big game changer this year is the now-four different ways residents are going to be able to respond to the census. People can now respond over the internet, over the phone or using the usual mailed in paper survey. The fourth way is when all other options are exhausted, and when census operators have tried to reach an individual by several other means, an enumerator will knock on one’s door. 

Though not all see the incentivized online component as a good thing. Sanin said there are many who have a general distrust of putting information online, due to the many examples of private companies being hacked to get access to a user’s personal data. There is also a large digital divide, and many still do not have easy access or understanding how to use the online component.

Despite the online component, census promotion still requires boots on
the ground

Stony Brook University has been active in trying to get students signed up for the count but have also started concerted efforts to encourage indigenous groups, especially those living on Long Island’s South Fork, to sign on for the census.

Despite how seriously census takers have been in requesting surveys, that still has not stopped multiple areas coming back with low response rates, some barely above 50 percent. 

In Suffolk County presentations to the complete count committee, some communities are shown as much harder to count than others. While much of the North Shore shows a response rate of 70 percent or better, a large area in Huntington and Huntington Station, with sizable minority populations, have a response rate of 60 percent, at worst. 

At www.censushardtocountmaps2020.usa, researchers have used previous census data to track which areas showed lower census participation.

In Brookhaven, one area with low turnout happens to be around the hamlets of Ridge and Upton and in Selden and Centereach, especially in the area along Route 112 that has a previous response rate of only 60 to 65 percent.

There are portions of Long Island with much worse representation. There are certain parts of West Babylon with a response rate as low as 0 to 60 percent.

SEPA Mujer, a nonprofit immigrants rights advocacy group, has chapters in several of the areas that show low response rates, including Riverhead, Huntington Station and Patchogue. Martha Maffei, the executive director of the nonprofit, said they have formed coalitions at two of their three chapters specifically to energize the community for the census. Many of their organizers and members have advocated for local immigrants to take the census which comes with the task of convincing the immigrant community the information will not be used against them by immigration enforcement.

“It’s the principle that we count, and we should be counted,” Maffei said.

Usually, she said, organizers take the tack of arguing that filling out the census will mean more funding for their school districts and how it will offer them better political representation. 

The complete count committee has organized 13 total groups on the immigration subcommittee who have all pledged to move through these communities. The issue, she said, is money, compounded with the amount of ground these volunteers have to cover, with only the some $1 million to be spread amongst all of Suffolk.

“Fear nurtures an undercount, and an undercount nurtures our continued inequity.”

— Rebecca Sanin

Still, she’s optimistic these hard-to-count areas will be more active than 2010. 

The census is meant to track everyone, including those undocumented immigrants, in order to get a full understanding of total population, but in 2019 the potential for a citizenship question to appear on the census created a tornado of partisan bickering, with opponents saying such a citizenship question would specifically target Latino groups and incentivize them to not respond to the census, thereby limiting the political capital such groups could wield. Officials said the pro-citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, designed to help blacks overcome legal barriers to voting during the Jim Crow era.

In November of last year, The New York Times reported on disclosures from the White House hinting that Republican strategists had political reasons for encouraging a citizenship question, that it would increase Republican influence and political power once totals for the census were drawn by undercounting residents in largely Democratic areas.

Judges ruled the question illegal under Title 13, which states the government can only use data from the census for statistical purposes. Collins reiterated there will be no citizenship question on this year’s census, and all information is kept extremely confidential and secure. 

Yet the idea still lingers in the minds of some residents, and it is something census advocates said they have had to work around.

Sanin and Maffei said the citizenship question has undoubtedly had a cooling effect toward the census, though to what extent is hard to gauge. 

“We feel we are going from one attack to another,” Maffei said. “There is a lot of trauma in this community.” 

The general distrust in government and in government systems is high, and trying to encourage people “living in the shadows,” as Sanin put it, is where much of the past year’s efforts have gone.

“Fear nurtures an undercount, and an undercount nurtures our continued inequity,” she said. 

Chairperson Jennifer Martin presents a proclamation to Hon. Derrick J. Robinson. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

The Town of Brookhaven’s Black History Commission hosted its 29th Annual Black History Month celebration on Feb. 7 at Town Hall. 

This year’s program included presentation of academic achievement awards to more than 77 top African-American high school seniors from 14 school districts who achieved a cumulative grade point average of 90 or higher.   

The commission also recognized its honoree and keynote speaker, Derrick J. Robinson, acting Suffolk County Court judge presiding over Drug Court and Mental Health Court. He is also president-elect of the Suffolk County Bar Association. 

The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebration was African Americans and the Vote. The evening included musical performances by the Brookhaven NAACP, the Faith Baptist Church Choir and Taylor Niles, as well as a dance performance by Eugenia Woods. 

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), the first woman of African American descent to serve on the Town Board, also serves as the Town Board Liaison to the Town’s Black History Commission. 

The Black History Commission’s next event is the 6th Annual Juneteenth Celebration June 20.

Northville Industries is located on Beach Street in Port Jefferson, where barges full of oil come to dock and unload the fuel, which is pumped through pipelines to a location in East Setauket and then to Holtsville. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has renewed leases on two entities in Port Jefferson Harbor, but one of those operations has local environmentalists a little concerned.

The Town voted unanimously Jan. 30 to renew the lease for the Port Jefferson/Setauket Yacht Club (which is more known as simply the Port Jefferson Yacht Club) as well as the Melville-headquartered Northville Industries for use in its underwater and uplands properties on the eastern end of the harbor. The licensee has operated in that location since 1975, according to Town attorney Annette Eaderesto.

The yacht club’s lease has gone up to $35,100 for 20 years with a 3 percent annual increase. The club’s land includes around .892 acre underwater and 2.723 acres upland, including the club facilities.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation.”

— George Hoffman

Northville’s operation has oil being brought in on ship or barge to the Port Jeff terminal, where it is shipped via either of two 16-inch pipelines up to its storage farm in East Setauket before moving on to a Holtsville terminal via a 12-inch pipeline, according to the company’s website. 

The oil transport company’s lease now increases to $77,322 based on a new appraisal, which includes around $40K for the underwater portion and around $37K for the upland portion. The company has agreed to pay slightly more than what the upland portion was appraised for. The 20-year term is set to increase annually by 3 percent. The company has had the lease since 1975, and the Town attorney said the company has not had any claims against the town.

George Hoffman, the co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said he had several concerns over the company’s continued engagement with the harbor. His group has been doing more and more testing of the Port Jefferson harbor in the past two years, having just finished the second season of testing. He asked for strict liability regarding the oil transport company.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation,” he said. “There’s always tiny spills, no matter how hard they work there is always going to be problems.”

Eaderesto said Northville does not post a bond in case of any ruptures, and any spills are handled by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Miller Marine Services, a regional company with a site right next to the oil transport company, is there for immediate response. 

Steven Ripp, the chief operating officer of NIC Holding Corp., the parent company of Northville, denied there has been any leaking or spills into the harbor from their operations, further arguing the company would be able to contain any major spills into the immediate area of their operations on the harbor’s east end.

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon,” he said. “If there is a spillage whatsoever, we have to immediately report it to DEC and take swift action.”

Northville has been previously cited by the DEC. In 1987, Northville notified the DEC of a gasoline leak at its East Setauket site of approximately 1.2 million gallons that had leaked into the ground over a 10-year period. That gasoline had penetrated into the ground and reached the water table 100 feet below the surface. 

The company had settled with the DEC for a $25 million cleanup plan after the spill. In 2006, after a long and complicated cleanup process, the DEC reported Northville had completed all remediation.

In a later interview, Hoffman said he came away from the public hearing with more concerns, not less, especially concerning the overall health of the Port Jefferson Harbor and the age of the pipelines running over into East Setauket.

“This is going to be potentially 30 years — I didn’t feel comfortable about that,” he said.

When asked, the general manager at Northville, Peter St. Germaine, did not relate anything about the age of the pipe, instead saying it is frequently inspected by the state. 

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon.”

— Steven Ripp

A spokesperson for the state DEC said the agency inspects the facilities for petroleum bulk storage and major oil storage facility regulations. Recent inspections were performed in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018. The DEC also conducts a review of the facility license renewal application, testing of certain tanks and secondary containment areas, and groundwater results from 12 monitoring wells at the East Setauket location, as well as two monitoring wells at the Beach Street site. The wells are sampled every six months.

Eaderesto said the town is able to back out of any lease at any time should the need arise. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he is aware of the need for attention paid to Port Jefferson Harbor, especially considering the effluent from both Stony Brook University and Port Jeff treatment plants flows into the harbor as well.

Ripp said the location received hundreds of barges of oil a year, and through their pipelines run hundreds of millions of gallons, “safely” every year. 

“It is a critical facility for the Town of Brookhaven,” he added.

Northville isn’t the only industrial company to work close to the harbor. Along Beach Street in Port Jeff the Tilcon quarry is constantly operating with heavy moving equipment. The area also includes the LIPA power station to the north of both operations.   

Romaine said his concern was the location and that the lease would conflict with plans of a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource to make Port Jeff a hub for planned wind turbines off the coast of Montauk. However, the town attorney said the lease is just an extension of a lease that has been in effect for several years.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she had initial concerns regarding community comments and ensuring proper liability coverage, but those concerns had been assuaged by the town law department, and she thanked the company for, “being a good licensee over the years.”

Both leases for upland and underwater land were set to expire April 30, 2020. The new license terms go 20 years with the availability of two 5-year extension options for the town.

Brookhaven resident and avid hunter John German speaks to the Town and DEC about the need for more places to hunt. Photo by Kyle Barr

With villages like Belle Terre and Port Jefferson taking steps in handling the issue of deer in their municipalities, Town of Brookhaven representatives say there’s things they can do at the Town level to stop the scourge of deer and their impact on the local environment.

At a forum hosted by Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, residents were split on how to handle the overwhelming deer population, but no one questioned whether their impact has been felt far and wide, whether it’s from them simply eating people’s gardens or the mass depletion of saplings and bushes in Long Island forests.

Leslie Lupo, left, a biologist for the state DEC, and DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo speaks on Deer. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have not played an active role in respect to deer management,” Cartright said. “It is an issue within our Town, and we can’t rely solely on our villages. So, it’s a question of how can we work with the villages, or how we can do something on our own.”

Leslie Lupo, a big game wildlife biologist for the DEC, said that, despite some misconceptions, deer do very well living in a suburban landscape such as Long Island, especially since they have no natural predators. They are polygamous and have short gestation periods, which means, unchecked, their population continues to grow.

“No management means more and more deer,” Lupo said.

Despite residents’ constant complaints of deer eating plants and vegetables at people’s homes and gardens, deer have had an even more major impact on Long Island’s forests and biodiversity, the biologist said. Many of the saplings in forests have been eaten by deer, and their favoring of ground plants has meant the loss of habitat for some songbird species. 

“They are a huge changer of their own habitat,” she added. “Deer will just eat everything here and move on to the next property.”

Cartright said the forum was an example of one of the first steps the DEC provides in its deer management guide, originally published in 2012, in starting to make change. Over the last several years, the deer issue has ballooned into near-crisis proportions. While state officials said they cannot give estimates of the number of deer on Long Island, due to migration and other mitigating factors, the total number of deer shot and tagged by hunters in Suffolk County is around 3,200-3,400 in the last five years.

Multiple North Shore villages have gotten ahead of towns in dealing directly with the deer issue. Belle Terre, for example, has been allowing residents to bring in hunters onto their properties as long as they conform to state laws regarding setbacks from other properties. Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak said this has already made a significant impact in the village’s deer population.

What More Can Be Done?

With the need to reduce deer population clear, the two major schools of thoughts are to either encourage recreational hunting or professional culls or by surgical or chemical sterilization. Lupo favored hunting, citing mixed-at-best results from sterilization initiatives.

Lupo called recreational hunting the most utilized tool for the DEC and said it is “safe and effective” with a large bowhunting culture on Long Island. Even with nonlethal alternatives, she suggested it would be more effective combined with lethal removal.

Both Lupo and several hunters who came to the Jan. 30 meeting said, despite areas which have been opened up with cooperative agreements with the DEC, there are many parts of the Island where they are restricted from hunting. 

Not all municipal lands allow access. While the setback for bowhunters between properties was changed from 500 feet in 2012 to 150 feet a few years later, hunters said there are only a few public properties on which they can actually hunt. The archery season, which runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, is much longer than the shotgun season, which only runs from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31 and requires a Town permit or landowner consent form. The DEC’s tagging system essentially allows for “an unlimited harvest of deer,” Lupo said. “The harvest has been increasing and increasing to go along with our increased population.”

Though DEC officials said some harvest years are better than others, and some are worse than others since various conditions can impact harvest rates, such as weather.

John German, of the Brookhaven hamlet and an avid hunter, said that, despite there being a large hunting crowd, the number of deer does not seem to have stymied. He and other hunters complained about Town-owned lands in which they are unable to hunt. 

“There’s more deer now than there ever was,” German said.

Some called for the Town when it buys land for municipal purposes to allow hunters on that property, but Cartright said the majority of space the Town acquires is small and not conducive to hunting.

Lupo said that residents or the Town could start organizing hunts and allow residents to interact with them to allay fears, but other residents strongly supported sterilization initiatives, including Elaine Maas, a board member of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, who pointed to data from Hastings-on-Hudson and its chemical contraceptive program, which from 2014 to 2018 sterilized about 60 deer, which the city described as about 75 percent of the population. 

Maas also said she has had issues with hunters on a neighboring property for years and described being “confined” in her own home during hunting season.

Surgical sterilization can cost as much as $1,000 per deer, while chemical sterilization can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000. At minimum, 75-90 percent of females would need to be treated to see some effect. Lupo also said another issue is that, in an uncontrolled setting, deer often migrate to and away from some areas, meaning that some chemical sterilization techniques that require multiple treatments become that much harder.

“Maybe it will prove to be more beneficial in the future,” she said.

Cartright said the next step is to get the rest of the Town council on board. While the board could form a committee in the future, there’s a few “low hanging fruit,” including doing a survey and speaking with villages and her fellow board members. She also mentioned changing Town code regarding fencing to make more residents able to buy higher barriers on property.

This post has been amended Feb. 13 to correct Lupo’s comment on managing deer, also to change “incubation period” to “gestation period” and add context to another of Lupo’s quotes.

Route 112 was proposed for a bike route connecting the Port Jeff and Fire Island ferry. Photo by Kyle Barr

The New York State Department of Transportation is proposing to establish a bicycle route on Route 112 in partnership with the Town of Brookhaven. The resolution was passed unanimously 7-0 Jan. 16.  

Bicycle Route 112 would be a signed on-road bike route between the Port Jefferson Ferry on the North Shore and the Fire Island Ferry on the South Shore. 

The NYSDOT has proposed to Brookhaven that it would utilize certain portions of Town roadways to maximize the safety of the bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists instead of using segments of Route 112 that are unsuitable for safe bicycling. 

A representative from the NYSDOT declined to comment on the proposed bike route stating that the Town and agency plan to have further discussions later in the year on the matter.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the addition of the bike route, which would begin in her district, will be a positive one. 

“The development of a bicycle route between the Port Jefferson Ferry and the Fire Island Ferry is a positive infrastructure addition to the community for multiple reasons including improved safety for our cyclists,” she said in a statement. “To create greater connectivity between the two ferries and the North and South shores is an added benefit that will increase access and encourage more people to travel between one ferry to the other via bicycle.”

As part of the plan, the NYSDOT would fabricate and install all signs associated with the bike route at no expense to the Town. Brookhaven will periodically inspect the signs and inform the NYSDOT of any replacement signs required and the NYSDOT will fabricate the replacement bicycle route signs. 

Bike Route 112 would utilize Columbia Street from the Town boundary at the Long Island Rail Road to New York Route 25A at Hallock Avenue; Wincoram Way between NY 25 and NY 112; Granny Road between NY 112 and Old Medford Avenue; Old Medford Avenue between Granny Road and Katy Street; Katy Street between Old Medford Avenue and Weidners Lane; Weidners Lane between Katy Street and Shaber Road; Shaber Road between Weidners Lane and Suffolk County Road 83; North Ocean Avenue between the Sunrise Highway South Service Road and the Village of Patchogue boundary line at Lakewood Street.