Town of Huntington

A rendering of the Gateway Plaza development on the left, and on the top right, the envisioned artist residences on the corners of New York Avenue and Church Street. Image from Renaissance Downtowns

The master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization plans wishes it was more transparent with residents outraged by proposed changes it was seeking to Gateway Plaza.

Renaissance Downtowns and developer G2G Development submitted a request April 24 seeking to change the composition of apartments that will make up the Gateway Plaza building to be constructed on the corner of Olive Street and New York Avenue. It sought to construct 11 two-bedroom apartments — not included in the original plans, which called for a mix of one-bedroom and studio units — by decreasing the number of studios.

Huntington Station resident Matt Harris raised his objections at the May 1 Huntington Town board meeting, highlighting the requested changes to town officials.

“The people of Huntington Station have been lied to for 48 years,” Harris said. “Developer after developer after developer has lied to us and now Renaissance is doing it.”

Councilman Gene Cook (R) immediately backed Harris’ opinion, saying he approved the project to construct one-bedroom and studio apartments. He called for the town attorney’s office to launch an investigation into the developer’s request.

“We have been keenly aware of the concerns raised by community members over the last couple of weeks about the Gateway Project,” said Ryan Porter, CEO and president of Renaissance Downtowns in a May 12 statement on a website for the project, Source the Station. “While we don’t necessarily agree with the assumptions being made regarding two-bedroom units of this size and nature we clearly hear the community concerns. We are regretful that our transparency with the community over the last [six] years did not come through in this instance.”

The proposed changes were received by the town’s Department of Planning and Environment after the board approved transferring of the town-owned parcel at 1000 New York Avenue to the developer with a 4-1 vote at its April 10 meeting, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. Councilman Ed Smyth (R) had been the sole objector to the land transfer calling it a “betrayal of public trust.”

The 1000 New York Avenue property was one of the four parcels needed to move forward with the construction of Gateway Plaza. The approved site plan for 1000 to 1026 New York Avenue calls for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and a total of 66 apartments. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

Renaissance Downtowns celebrated the grand opening of its Northridge apartments with a May 7 ribbon cutting and ceremony. The building, located at the intersection of Northridge Street and New York Avenue, is one of the first concrete steps in the town’s Huntington Station revitalization project. Construction of the mixed-use building began in January 2017 by Huntington-based Blue & Gold Holdings contractors. It consists of 6,500-square-feet of retail space on the ground level, with a total of 16 one-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors.

Read Porter’s entire May 12 statement regarding the changes to Gateway Plaza here.

A rendering of the Gateway Plaza development on the left, and on the top right, the envisioned artist residences on the corners of New York Avenue and Church Street. Image from Renaissance Downtowns

A proposed change of plans for a $22 million Huntington Station revitalization project is being met with resistance by community residents.

Huntington Station revitalization master developer Renaissance Downtowns and developer G2G Development submitted a request April 24 seeking to change the composition of apartments that will make up the Gateway Plaza building to be constructed on the corner of Olive Street and New York Avenue.

The original plans for the 61,000-square-foot building called for a mix of 33 one-bedroom apartments and 33 studio apartments in a mixed-used building over restaurant, retail and office space.

A graph showing the redistribution of apartments proposed for Gateway Plaza. Graphic by TBR News Media

Now, the developer seeks to create 11 two-bedroom apartments, increase it to 45 one-bedroom units and construct only 10 studios.

“The pre-approved square footage was redistributed into a new mix based on voiced community requests for two bedrooms, market research and feedback to Northridge realtors on what local residents are searching for,” reads a statement on Source the Station, Renaissance Downtown’s online portal on the revitalization projects for Huntington Station residents.

Renaissance Downtowns and Huntington Town officials celebrated the grand opening of Northridge apartments, the first concrete project of Huntington Station revitalization, earlier this week. The mixed-use building has 16 one-bedroom apartments for rent on the second and third floors.

“When we started leasing [Northridge], the agent got a lot of inquiries from people looking for two-bedroom apartments,” said Ryan Porter, Co-CEO and president of Renaissance Downtowns.

Deborah D’Ambrosio, a Signature Premier Properties agent who is leasing Northridge’s apartments, said Monday at Northridge’s grand opening she had not personally gotten requests for any two-bedroom units, but that her company had marketed the property for one-bedroom only.

Huntington Station resident Matt Harris said he objected to the request to construct two-bedroom units, pointing out that the change is anticipated to bring seven school-aged children into the school district.

A pie chart showing the proposed redistribution of commercial space for Gateway Plaza. Graphic by TBR News Media

“The people of Huntington Station have been lied to for 48 years,” Harris said. “Developer after developer after developer has lied to us and now Renaissance is doing it.”

Porter admitted as public awareness of the requested apartment development has risen, he’s heard out several concerns raised by other community members.

The proposed changes were only received by the town’s Department of Planning and Environment after the board approved transferring of the town-owned parcel at 1000 New York Avenue to the developer 4-1 at its April 10 meeting, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. Councilman Ed Smyth (R) had been the sole objector to the land transfer calling it a “betrayal of public trust.”

“I voted into [Gateway Plaza] for the studio apartments,” said Councilman Eugene Cook (R). “I’m asking the town attorney to look into this and see what’s happening. That to me, is entirely uncalled for.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the town attorney’s office is currently reviewing the developer’s request and market demand is one factor that can be taken into consideration. The town attorney may consult a real estate expert if it is deemed necessary, according to Lupinacci.

Renaissance Downtowns expects to close on the land sale of 1000-1026 New York Ave. properties needed to construct Gateway Plaza this month, according to Porter, with a hope of starting demolition of the existing structures this summer.

Councilman Eugene Cook calls for residents to launch letter-writing campaign to Huntington Town officials

Northport power plant. File photo

Town of Huntington officials are moving toward making a power play against Long Island Power Authority and National Grid to take over control of the Northport power plant.

Councilman Gene Cook (R) has called for town residents to participate in a letter-writing campaign asking Huntington’s elected officials to consider utilizing eminent domain to take control of Northport power plant.

His proposal comes days after LIPA allegedly submitted documents to Suffolk County Supreme Court for its pending lawsuit against the town, in which it disputes the tax value of the plant, claiming the structure only has a fair market value of $193 million, according to Cook.

“Their estimate is so far out of wack on it, they are almost like giving us the plant,” the councilman said. “If they want to give it to us, I want to take it.”

Cook said he thinks the Northport facility is one of the biggest power plants in the Northeast, which will become more valuable with future improvements. He estimated the power station could produce $5 billion in revenue per year for the town if it took over operation of the facility. He suggested the name “Huntington Power Service Company.”

“We want to serve our residents, not be an authority over them like LIPA has done,” Cook said. “They have taken LI Power Authority as ‘we have authority over everyone.’” 

Their estimate is so far out of wack on it, they are almost like giving us the plant.”

— Eugene Cook

The councilman drafted a resolution he said he plans to present at the May 17 town board meeting for Huntington to hold a public hearing. If approved, a hearing will be held June 5 at 2 p.m. for residents to voice their thoughts and concerns on the acquisition of the plant from National Grid, which is the owner of the power station.

“The basis of this acquisition will be for the purpose of delivery to the public of electrical power in a safe and cost-efficient manner,” reads the draft resolution.

Under New York State law, the town must publish its findings and determinations on the proposed acquisition from the public hearing within 90 days. The Town of Huntington is due in court to face LIPA less than a week later June 11.

“We are looking at every facet of possibility here when looking at the LIPA situation because it’s a very serious situation,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Any possibility that comes up we will review with our attorney — we will review it with experts to see if it’s feasible.”

Even if the town initiated the process of obtaining the power plan via eminent domain, it would not resolve the town’s lawsuit with LIPA. In addition to seeking a 90 percent reduction of taxes on the power plant, LIPA is asking for the town to reimburse it for alleged overpayment of taxes each year since it filed the claim in 2010 — totaling more than $500 million.

“Let’s save the consulting and legal expenses of evaluating this idea, which would be fiscally disastrous to the town, its taxpayers and wouldn’t resolve the pending tax certiorari litigation,” LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said in a statement.

Let’s save the consulting and legal expenses of evaluating this idea, which would be fiscally disastrous to the town, its taxpayers and wouldn’t resolve the pending tax certiorari litigation.”

– Sid Nathan

LIPA disputes that the Town of Huntington could turn a profit operating the station, claiming Northport power plant is operated at a loss. The power company said its contract with National Grid requires it to pay all costs to run the plant — including $80 million in annual property taxes leveraged by the Town of Huntington — which exceeds its revenue. LIPA also stressed that if Huntington took control of the plant, all beneficial tax revenue would cease, leaving residents to pay more for their government services.

“We hope the town will join with other local communities on Long Island that are working with LIPA to reach a fair settlement offer that puts an unsustainable property tax situation at the Northport plant back on a sustainable path,” Nathan said.

The Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson both announced they had reached settlements over the tax assessed value of the Port Jeff plant with LIPA in early April.

If the lawsuit is decided in LIPA’s favor, the utility company estimates that Town of Huntington residents would see their taxes increase by $62 a month, with Northport-East Northport school district residents responsible for an additional $210 to $220 per month.

Lupinacci has said the town remains open to bargaining with LIPA, while Cook said the only negotiation he is for is LIPA agreeing to withdraw its lawsuit.

“I will fight to the death on this one,” Cook said. “Either they want to be good neighbors or they don’t. If they don’t, they can hit the road.”

Huntington Town Official and Northridge developers celebrates the grand opening of the mixed-use building May 7. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington officials hope the completion of the first concrete project in Huntington Station’s revitalization plan will pave the way for future success.

Huntington Town officials and more than 50 Huntington Station community members gathered to celebrate the grand opening of Northridge apartments May 7 with a ribbon cutting and tours of the building.

“The wonderful excitement in the air here is testament to how we all feel when we see this building,” said Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D). “It’s standout gorgeous, and it has really set the bar in Huntington Station for more mixed-use development to follow.”

The entrance to the Northridge building apartments. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The Northridge apartment building, located at the intersection of Northridge Street and New York Avenue, is one of the first steps in the town’s Huntington Station revitalization project that is being overseen by master developer Renaissance Downtowns, a nationally renowned development group based out of Plainview. Construction of the mixed-use building began in January 2017 by Huntington-based Blue & Gold Holdings contractors. It consists of 6,500-square-feet of retail space on the ground level, with a total of 16 one-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors.

“This building takes the traditional mixed-used look of the old Huntington Station and modernizes it,” said Ryan Porter, CEO of Renaissance Downtowns. “It adds appropriate uses to increase the vibrancy and walkability of the area.”

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) shared how his grandfather once owned a butcher shop on New York Avenue and how his mother was raised in an apartment above the shop.

“We know Huntington Station is a great place to raise a family with two great school districts,” Lupinacci said. “We want to make sure we continue to invest in the area through businesses and allow more people to live in the area too.”

May’s Gourmet Delicatessen of Huntington is the first and only commercial tenant to be confirmed moving into the Northridge building. It will serve as a second location, according to owner May Ramos, who is expanding her business after eight years. While Ramos admitted to having concerns about adequate customer parking, the close proximity to the Huntington Long Island Rail Road Station makes her confident her shop will succeed.

Interested community members take tours of the newly opened Northridge apartments May 7. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I’m a believer,” she said. “I’m taking it the same way I took the challenge of my first location. I said, ‘It’s not a location, it’s a destination. If people want to get to you, they are going to find a way.”

Ramos will be able to begin setting up shop this summer. She said she hopes to have the Huntington Station deli open for customers before the upcoming holiday season.

Deborah D’Ambrosio, a leasing agent with Signature Premier Properties, offered tours of the apartments to those interested May 7 as approximately 20 percent have been rented within the first week. The cost of one-bedroom apartments start at $2,350 up to $2,475 per month. Each unit has an identical layout, according to D’Ambrosio, with the exception of some second-floor units which have a slightly larger bedroom due to the building’s configuration. All rentals come with one assigned parking spot and buzz-in entry, with first-floor apartments being handicapped accessible.

“As someone who lives in Huntington, who grew up in Huntington, this was a particular moment of pride for our family to build this,” said Grant Havasy, managing partner of Blue & Gold Holdings. “The revitalization has begun. The renaissance has begun, and so it shall continue, and we are happy to set the high watermark.”

The next project slated to begin as part of Huntington Station’s revitalization program is the construction of Gateway Plaza, located just north on New York Avenue, of the Northridge building.

Families enjoy an afternoon of free activities at the 18th annual Tulip Festival

The sun may have been hiding Sunday, but the tulips were out in full bloom in Huntington.

Residents strolled pathways bursting with color at the Town of Huntington’s 18th annual Tulip Festival May 6 in Heckscher Park. Thousands of tulips planted in selected beds throughout the park provided a scenic backdrop as families enjoyed and afternoon of free hands-on activities and live entertainment.

Scroll through our photos above and see if we caught you tiptoeing through the tulips.

Pushing through the early morning cold and rains on Sunday, Huntington residents raced to support organ and tissue donations.

“I think we did fantastic for a first time run,” said Michele Martines, run organizer and mother of a heart transplant recipient. “For the cause, we’re going to save some lives.”

Roughly 130 runners helped to raise nearly $5,000 for LiveOnNY, a nonprofit association dedicated to recovering organs and tissues for transplants in the New York metropolitan region, at the 5K Race to Save Lives held April 29 at Harborfields High School. The event was sponsored by  Simply Fit Health and Wellness gym, which has locations in Centerport and Huntington,  Huntington Hospital and several Huntington Town officials.

The event recognized two donor recipients including Councilman Mark Cuthbertson’s (D) son, Hunter Cuthbertson, who had to receive a bone marrow transplant in 2017, and Martines’ son, Christian Siems,who celebrated the third year after his heart transplant April 25.

A lot of people don’t know about organ transplants, that or they have misconceptions and they just assume things.”
 Christian Siems

Hunter Cuthbertson was diagnosed with aplastic anemia during a precollege physical in 2016. Aplastic anemia is a failure of the bone marrow to produce the necessary amount of red blood cells. Though the chance of finding a perfect match in bone marrow with a relative is only 25 percent, the younger Cuthbertson found that his brother was a perfect match.

“I was elated when I learned he was a match, I dropped to my knees and I was crying,” he said. “But he’s one of the lucky ones. The other 75 percent need to go the unmatched registry. The larger the registry the larger the chance that someone’s going to get saved.”

He underwent a week of chemotherapy before having a bone marrow transplant performed in March 2017.

Siems learned his heart was beginning to fail before he turned 21. He had an external defibrillator installed and tried to move toward college, but after getting progressively more tired and sick he was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center where he was told he would need a heart transplant. Luckily for Siems in just six months he received a call that they found a donor.

“I’ve known [Siems] since I’ve moved here, and it’s been hard watching Christian go through what he has,” Joe Bertolini, Siems’ neighbor and overall winner of the 5k, said. “He’s come to talk to us at our school about what he’s been through. It’s inspirational.”

Siems has taken up publicly speaking about the need for organ donors to local schools and community organizations.

Only about 32 percent of New Yorkers are registered to be donors, in some states its over 56 percent.”
 Karen Cummings

“A lot of people don’t know about organ transplants, that or they have misconceptions and they just assume things,” he said. “I go out there and talk to kids, the next generation and I educate them on what it is, and not to be scared of it. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.”

Despite the two young men’s luck in finding donors, they are not the average case. New York State is currently ranked last in terms of number of residents who are registered as organ donors, according to LiveOnNY’s website. There are currently 9,359 people waiting on organ donations in the state.

“Only about 32 percent of New Yorkers are registered to be donors, in some states its over 56 percent,” Karen Cummings, a public and professional education specialist for LiveOnNY said. “We are the fourth fastest growing registry, but New York is still at the bottom of the list.”

A number of people who raced were the recipients of organ or tissue donations. Huntington resident Hal Strauss, who in August 2017 collapsed as he was doing his regular bike exercise. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital where he learned he needed a new liver.

“You just wait by the phone,” Strauss said. “I was able to get my organ in seven months, but I’m an anomaly. For other people it can take years.”

New York residents can register as organ donors whenever they visit the DMV, register to vote, register for health insurance through the health benefits exchange or
online at LiveOnNY’s website

Event will be held April 29 at 8:30 a.m. at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn

Hunter Cuthbertson, center, with his siblings while hospitalized for his bone marrow transplant in 2017. Photo from Cuthbertson family

Huntington residents are being asked to lace-up their sneakers for a 5K race aimed at raising awareness that April is National Donate Life Month.

Town of Huntington council members Joan Cergol (D) and Mark Cuthbertson (D) are co-sponsoring the first 5K Run to Save Lives April 29 at Harborfields High School along with Simply Fit Health and Wellness gym, which has locations in Centerport and Huntington. The event aims to raise awareness for the importance of organ and tissue donation, an issue that hits close to home for Cuthbertson.

The councilman’s son Hunter said he was surprised when blood tests came back  abnormal during his routine precollege physical in 2016. The younger Cuthbertson said further testing led him to be diagnosed with aplastic anemia, or bone marrow failure, an affliction causing his body to not produce enough blood cells.

“They said I could try to go back to school, but I would need a bone marrow transplant at some point,” he said.

“Nationally, 23 people die every day because they don’t receive an organ.”

– Christian Siems

Luckily for the councilman’s son, his younger brother was tested and wound up being a perfect match, despite just one-in-four odds. He underwent a week of chemotherapy before receiving his bone marrow transplant March 21, 2017.

“My treatment went really well,” the younger Cuthbertson said. “But it was really a perspective changing experience.”

He has since become a strong supporter of bone marrow donor drives, encouraging others to get tested to see if their tissue could be a potential match. Representatives from LiveOnNY, a nonprofit association dedicated to recovering organs and tissues for transplants in the New York metropolitan region, and Be the Match, a 501(c)(3) organization that matches patients with marrow donors, will both be at the April 29 event to encourage people to sign up.

“I think everyone who has the time to get their cheek swabbed, which takes 15 seconds, should do it,” he said. “Even if you are not the match or don’t have the time to do it today, a couple years down the road you might be the match to save someone’s life.”

Cuthbertson is one of the two individuals who will be recognized at the 5K race alongside Christian Siems, a 2012 Harborfields High School graduate. Siems said he considers himself one of the lucky ones. It was during one of the school’s annual blood drives that a nurse detected an issue with his heart.

“When she listened to my chest, she said, ‘You have a heart murmur,” but I hadn’t been diagnosed with a heart murmur; I got it checked out,” Siems said, indicating he later went for testing to St. Francis Hospital. “It was probably one of the scariest days of my life.”

Christian Siems. Photo from Michele Martines

Siems learned that his heart was starting to fail before age 21. He underwent surgery to have an internal defibrillator implanted and attempted to move forward with his plans to attend college.

But when Siems started feeling constantly tired, was pale, struggling to walk and even having difficulty talking, he was rushed to Huntington Hospital. Doctors had him airlifted via helicopter to cardiac specialists at Westchester Medical Center who informed him he would need a heart transplant.

“I was told I had to sit in the hospital and wait for a heart,” Siems said. “It could have been six months; it could have been a year.”

Doctors decided to risk performing an open-heart surgery to install an assistive device that would allow Siems to wait for his much-need transplant at home. He received a phone call after only six months that a donor was found. Siems celebrated the third anniversary of his successful heart transplant April 25.

“Nationally, 23 people die every day because they don’t receive an organ,” he said. “In New York, if you get too far out [on the list] a lot of times a doctor will tell you to move to another state to get an organ faster.”

New York state also has the third-lowest donor registration rate in the country, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, a section of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“There’s no general knowledge about organ donation out there,” Siems said. “A lot of people don’t know what it is, there’s a lot of myths and misconceptions.”

He encouraged local residents to come to the event and learn more about signing up to become an organ donor. Race registration costs $25 for adults and $10 for students. All proceeds will go to LiveOnNY. Register online at www.LivingSimplyFit.com/5k.

Huntington Town officials and historians celebrated the unveiling of a new historic marker April 24. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington history buffs and town officials gathered downtown on Tuesday to commemorate a historic rally turned family feud that played a critical role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Huntington Town officials unveiled a new historic marker sign at the corner of Wall and Main streets April 24 that tells the tale of a 1913 women’s suffrage rally in what’s now Huntington village.

“Here we are now, 105 years later, and this controversial event for women’s rights is going to be commemorated for all to see,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Signs like this show you what a progressive area Huntington was and continues to be, especially when it comes to civil rights.”

Above, Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci unveils the new historic marker. Photo by Kyle Barr

In July 1913, there was a clash in the fight for women’s voting rights in downtown Huntington. It was fueled by a family feud between a mother and daughter over a wagon and whether women should have the right to vote.

Activists Rosalie Jones and Edna Buckman Kearns staged a suffrage rally at the intersection of Wall and Main streets that was attended by more than 1,000 people. There was a wagon named the “Spirit of 1776” used by the women who were upset about taxation without representation. Mary Jones, Rosalie’s mother and a virulent anti-suffragist, stepped in front of the wagon and began to heckle the crowd. She was upset that the suffragists were using a wagon that was once owned by members of her family, all of whom were against giving women the vote.

There were less anti-suffragists compared to women suffragists in the early 20th century according to Antonia Petrash, president of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association, but they were just as adamant and animated as their counterparts.

“They were very vocal and active,” Petrash said. “They used the same tactics as the suffragists such as hosting conventions and calling politicians.”

Women in New York State would be given the right to vote in 1917, three years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed.

The new historic marker commemorates a 1913 women’s suffrage rally. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think it’s so fantastic that we have this monumental placement of the marker,” Jillian Guthman, Huntington’s receiver of taxes, said. “But it does leave me in awe that in this wonderful country that we’re in, that just a short time ago, there was an issue of the right to vote for women.”

The sign was funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, a Syracuse-based foundation that provides grants for historic signs. Petrash and Marguerite Kearns, a historian and granddaughter of Edna Buckman Kearns, helped secure the funding for the historical marker.

Town Historian Robert Hughes said that signs like these are part of an effort to give historical notoriety to minorities and other overlooked groups in Huntington.

“This is the 125th historical marker in the town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “In the early years they would always commemorate Colonial sites, but in more recent years we’ve tried to make a concerted effort to commemorate those unknown parts of our history, such as African American sites like the Jupiter Hammon House, and now with this marker for women’s suffrage.”

The wagon involved in the July 1913 parade was donated by Marguerite Kearns to The New York State Museum in Albany. It will be on display through May 13.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine send joint letter to state representatives

Huntington commuters board train. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The spark of hope given to electrifying the North Shore branch of the Long Island Rail Road last November convinced local leaders to take up the charge.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has joined with other town supervisors to urge state lawmakers to moved forward with a feasibility study on the electrification of the LIRR service line from Huntington Station east to Port Jefferson Station. Currently, trains on the line east of Huntington run on diesel fuel.

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven,” Lupinacci (R) said. “For the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven, for the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”
—Chad Lupinacci

On April 4, Lupinacci along with Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015.

“For decades this project has been a concept that could not reach the critical mass necessary to become a reality,” reads the April 4 letter. “However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved — including where to site the train cars.”

The letter details the beneficial impacts electrification of the Port Jeff branch would have for each of the townships.

In Huntington, the five stations — Greenlawn, Northport, Centerport, Fort Salonga and Commack — would benefit from additional transportation options and commuters heading east, according to Lupinacci.

Wehrheim stressed in the Town of Smithtown the infrastructural investment is a key pillar in the revitalization of Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James business areas. The town has invested significant funds in this year’s capital budget to these areas.

However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that
prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved.”
— April 4 letter

In Brookhaven, Romaine said electrification of the rails would foster revitalization of Port Jefferson Station and allow for an easier commute to Stony Brook University, which has approximately 40,000 students and staff members. He also noted it would help ease traffic congestion on local roadways in the communities near SBU.

The project has received support from groups such as the Long Island Association in the past, and a more recent push from state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). LaValle met with Metropolitan Transportation
Authority board member Mitchell Paley last November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said, in a November interview with TBR News Media. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

“This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”
— Chad Lupinacci

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

“You are looking at several millions per mile of track,” Lupinacci affirmed. “This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”

There is renewed hope that with a newlyannounced LIRR president, Philip Eng of Smithtown, that a feasibility study willEd be funded.

“New leadership brings in a different perspective,” Lupinacci said. “I think this is a good situation for us to be in with new leadership taking over the helm.”

An entrance ramp onto the Southern State Parkway which shows signs warning of no commercial vehicles allowed and the overheight vehicle detector system. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's Office

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The parents of two Huntington teens seriously injured when a coach bus slammed into a Southern State Parkway overpass are suing the driver and transportation company.

Frank and Allison Sgrizzi filed the first lawsuit April 11 seeking $5 million for the traumatic injuries suffered by their 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Samantha Sgrizzi was one of dozens of Huntington High School students coming home April 9 from a spring break trip to Eastern Europe on a coach bus traveling from John F. Kennedy International Airport headed to Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington via the Belt and Southern State parkways. The coach bus slammed into the Exit 18 Eagle Avenue overpass — which has a 7-foot, 7-inch clearance — sheering off the vehicle’s roof and sending debris raining down on students.

The teenager was impaled by a piece of debris and fractured her right femur in the crash, according to court documents. She was brought to a nearby hospital for immediate surgery.


Lawsuit #1
Filed by: The Sgrizzi family, of Huntington
Injured:  Samantha Sgrizzi, 17
Injuries: fractured femur, impaled
Seeking: $5 million

The lawsuit accuses the tour company; the driver, Troy Gaston of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and the transportation company, Journey Bus Lines, of being “negligent and careless in failing to take proper and suitable precautions to avoid the crash herein, not limited to, failing to provide, obtain and/or utilize a global position system suitable and certified for use by commercial vehicles.”

Attorney John Giuffré, who is representing the Sgrizzi family, has requested the case be heard by a jury. Giuffré did not respond to requests for an interview on the case.

On April 13, Huntington father Richard Bonitz also filed a lawsuit against the driver and bus company seeking monetary compensation for the injuries suffered by his daughter in Nassau County Supreme Court.

Erin Bonitz, 17, received a traumatic brain injury, facial fractures and several lacerations as result of the bus crash, according to attorney Robert Sullivan of Garden City. Sullivan said she was treated immediately at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens and has since been released home where she is continuing her recovery.

The lawsuit accuses Gaston of ignoring clearly posted signs warning of Eagle Avenue overpass clearance height and “negligently using a noncommercial vehicle GPS device” which directed him to take a route utilizing the Belt and Southern State parkways, according to court documents. New York state law prohibits buses and commercial vehicles from traveling on these limited-access parkways.


Lawsuit #2
Filed by: The Bonitz family, of Huntington
Injured:  Erin Bonitz, 17
Injuries: head injury, facial lacerations
Seeking: trial by jury for monetary damages

They also seek to hold Journey Bus Lines responsible for the accident for its failure to equip the coach bus with a commercial GPS system. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised transportation companies to install these systems in 2013, as it has the capability to warn truck and bus drivers about the clearance heights of bridges along their planned route.Sullivan said that the Bonitz family will not make a specific demand for compensation.

Journey Bus Lines did not respond to requests for comment on these lawsuits. Gaston could not be reached for comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced last December a $4.3 million project to install overheight vehicle detectors at 13 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Southern State Parkway. These detectors are installed at the top of on-ramps and relay an invisible beam set at the specific height needed to clear the parkway’s bridges. If a vehicle breaks the beam, the device triggers a colored LED message sign to flash a warning to the driver, alerting the truck or bus will not clear the bridge.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed these detectors have been installed at the Eagle Avenue overpass but said they are not yet active due to calibration and testing. Morrissey admitted even if the detectors had been functioning, they would not have prevented the accident. They are not set up to scan for overheight vehicles entering from the Belt Parkway, as the coach bus did.

The National Transportation Safety Board was also notified of the accident, according to police, but it did not meet its response criteria. It will be monitoring the investigation.

The crash remains under open investigation by New York State police. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the state police at 631-756-3300.