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Screenshot from the June 12 trustee meeting via the Inc. Village of Port Jefferson’s YouTube channel.

By Katherine Kelton

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees held a work session June 12 to discuss new plans ranging from parking to funding. Mayor Lauren Sheprow spearheaded the meeting as each trustee brought their issues to the table. 

Parking was one of the major plans discussed throughout the meeting as throughout much of the village parking for residents and nonresidents has not been cohesive. Trustee Drew Biondo said, “The parking committee is ongoing with their work.” Beach parking lots will become resident only and discussions for other lots are largely yet to be decided. 

The parking updates will go into effect by the opening of beaches on June 22. The swimming area ropes were due to be installed June 19. The beaches remain open to all — only the parking is restrictive.

The village firework show on July 3 will be viewable from the East and West beaches. Sheprow announced that the show will have two new additions — a food truck and a DJ. To ensure safety and lawfulness, trustee Bob Juliano attended a firework committee in regards to the event. He shared once again that the event is open to nonresidents, though parking is strictly for residents only. 

Sheprow also touched on difficulties the village has been having in attracting businesses. She believes there is a misconception about the village not having enough foot traffic.

“The village is packed every weekend and many nights of the week,” she said, adding she is hoping to bring in more businesses. 

Juliano also shared that the repairs at Rocket Ship Park are complete, to which the board discussed the possibility of repairing the sidewalks in the area. 

Another major discussion of the meeting was the recession of the East Beach bluff on top of which the Port Jefferson Country Club is located — an issue the village has been facing for years. 

Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay admitted the recession is inevitable and that no amount of funding can reverse it. In the meeting, Kassay suggested making a “strategic retreat” from the bluff. Although the group did not decide what the retreat would look like, the board agreed a comprehensive plan would become necessary further down the line. However, the village will continue to fund the protection of the club for the time being as a new plan is developed. 

The Board of Trustees also addressed the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center’s Whaleboat 1776 Project, which received a grant allowing construction to be completed on the historic boat in 2025.

The next trustee meeting will be held on June 26. 

From left, Nilanjan Chakraborty, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at SBU and IV Ramakrishnan, Professor of Computer Science, demonstrate how CART could hold a cup and move its arm. Photo by John Griffin/SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Caretakers of those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) have an enormous responsibility, particularly as the disease progresses. People in the latter stages of the disease can require around-the-clock care with everything from moving their limbs to providing sustenance.

IV Ramakrishnan, Professor of Computer Science and an Associate Dean in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University, recently received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Army to lead a team that is building a Caregiving Robot Assistant, or CART, for ALS patients and their caregivers. 

The grant, which is for three years, will cover the cost of building, testing and refining a robot that a caregiver can help train and that can provide a helping hand in challenging circumstances.

Using off the shelf robot parts, Ramakrishnan envisions CART as a robotic arm on a mobile base, which can move around and, ultimately, help feed someone, get them some water and help them drink or open and close a door. They are also developing a special gripper that would allow the robotic arm to switch a channel on a TV or move a phone closer.

In working through the grant process, Ramakrishnan emphasized the ability of the robot, which can learn and respond through artificial intelligence programs he will create, to take care of a patient and offer help to meet the needs of people and their caregivers who are battling a progressive disease.

“As the needs evolve, the caregiver can show the robot” how to perform new tasks, Ramakrishnan said.

The project includes collaborators in Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Nursing, the Renaissance School of Medicine, and clinical and support staff from the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence in the Neuroscience Institute at Stony Brook Medicine.

At this point, Ramakrishnan and his team have sent out fliers to recruit patients and caregivers to understand the physical challenges of daily living. 

Ramakrishnan would like to know “what are the kinds of tasks we should be doing,” he said, which will be different in the stages of the disease. They know what kinds of tasks the robot can do within limits. It can’t lift and move a heavy load.

Once the team chooses the tasks the robot can perform, they can try to program and test them in the lab, with the help of therapists and students from the nursing school.

After they develop the hardware and software to accomplish a set of actions, the team will recruit about a dozen patients who will test the robot for one to two weeks. Members of the ALS community interested in the project can reach out to Ramakrishnan by email.

A biostatistician will be a part of that group, monitoring and calculating the success rate.

At this point, the development and testing of the robot represents a pilot study. After the group has proven it can work, they plan to submit a follow up proposal and, eventually, to apply for approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Ramakrishnan estimates the robot will cost around $30,000, which is about the same cost as a motorized wheelchair. He is unsure whether Medicare will cover this expense.

As a part of the development, Ramakrishnan recognizes that the first goal, similar to the Hippocratic Oath doctors take, is to do no harm. He and his team are incorporating safety features that make the robot withdraw automatically if it gets too close to someone.

A key part of the team

Members of the CART team: Vibha Mullick, and her husband, ALS patient Anuraag Mullick, are in the center. Back row, from left: Clare Whitney, Nilanjan Chakraborty, Theresa Imperato, C.R. Ramakrishnan, and Wei Zhu. Front row, from left, are Maria Milazzo and I.V. Ramakrishnan. Photo by John Griffin

Vibha Mullick, a Senior Web and Database Analyst in Computer Science and resident of South Setauket, will be a key team member on the project.

Mullick has been caring for her husband Anuraag Mullick, who is 64 and was diagnosed with ALS in 2016. Anuraag Mullick is confined to a wheelchair where he can’t swallow or breathe on his own.

“My husband also wants to participate” in the development, said Mullick, who spends considerable time reading his lips.

Caring for her husband is a full-time job. She said she can’t leave him alone for more than five or 10 minutes, as she has to suction out saliva he can’t swallow and that would cause him to choke. When she’s at work, a nurse takes care of him. At night, if she can’t get a nurse, she remains on call.

If her husband, who is in the last stage of ALS, needs to turn at night, use the bathroom or needs anything he makes a clicking sound, which wakes her up so she can tend to his needs.

 “It tires me out,” Mullick said. In addition, she struggles to take care of typical household chores, which means she can’t always do the dishes or wash the laundry. She suggested a robot could help caregivers as well as ALS patients.

In the earlier stages of ALS, people can have issues with falling. Mullick suggests a robot could steady the person so they can walk. She has shared the news about the project with other members of the ALS community.

“They are excited about it and encouraged,” she said. 

Origin of the project

The idea for this effort started with a meeting between Ramakrishnan and the late Brooke Ellison, a well-known and much beloved Associate Professor at Stony Brook University who didn’t allow a paralyzing car accident to keep her from inspiring, educating and advocating for people with disabilities.

Encouraged by SBU Distinguished Professor Miriam Rafailovich, who was a friend of Ellison’s, Ramakrishnan met with Ellison, whose mother Jean spent years working tirelessly by her side when she earned a degree at Harvard and worked at Stony Brook.

Ramakrishnan, who developed assistive computer interactions technologies for people with vision impairments, asked Ellison what a robot arm could do for her and mean for her. 

He recalled Ellison telling him that a robot arm would “transform my life,” by helping feed her, set her hair, or even scratch an itch.

“That moved me a lot,” said Ramakrishnan.

While CART will work with one population of patients, it could become a useful tool for patients and their caregivers in other circumstances, possibly as a nursing assistant or for aging in place.

Road to Stony Brook

Ramakrishnan, who is a resident of East Setauket, was born in Southern Tamil Nadu in India and attended high school in what was then called Bombay and is now Mumbai.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology and his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin.

Ramakrishnan is married to Pramila Venkateswaran, an award-winning poet and is retiring this summer after 33 years as a Professor of English at Nassau Community College. The couple has two grown children, Aditi Ramakrishnan, who is a physician scientist at the Washington University in St. Louis and Amrita Mitchell-Krishnan, who is a clinical pediatric psychologist.

As for the work on CART, Ramakrishnan is eager to help patients and caregivers. The ultimate goal is to “reduce the caregiving burden,” he said.

Horseshoe crabs spawn at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Toby Stime

By Mallie Jane Kim

New York’s horseshoe crabs may see new and permanent protections, if a bill in Albany is successful — something local environmental groups are rooting for.

“Horseshoe crabs were once abundant in our local harbors and lined the shores of Port Jefferson and Setauket Harbors during the May breeding season,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force. “They are a big deal with harbor lovers.”

Horseshoe crabs, which are more closely related to arachnids like spiders and scorpions than crustaceans, are considered “living fossils” because they’ve existed, unchanged, for an estimated 450 million years, surviving through multiple mass extinctions. 

But the species has faced a steady decline in the past few decades due to harvesting and habitat loss, which in turn affects species of birds that rely on horseshoe crab eggs as mid-migration sustenance. The crabs are commercially harvested for use as bait by eel and conch fishing operations, and their blue blood is used in biomedical research and for improving vaccine safety.

The new bill, introduced by Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), would amend state law to prohibit the taking of horseshoe crabs for commercial or biomedical purposes from state waters, but would allow for approved scientific or educational uses, like for zoos or aquariums.

The Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation approved the bill on May 14, and it now sits with the codes committee. If the bill passes there, it would face a vote by the whole Assembly. 

On May 21, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) introduced a “same as” bill in the state Senate, and because it counts as a revamped version of a previous horseshoe crab bill that already passed through relevant committees, this bill is ready for a floor vote.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, warned that because Connecticut and Massachusetts recently enacted stronger protections for horseshoe crabs and neighboring states are also eying changes, New York’s population could be at greater risk.

“We’re very concerned that’s going to draw more eyes on New York’s horseshoe crab population,” she said.

According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, a permit holder can currently harvest up to 200 horseshoe crabs per day in New York. The state has an annual harvest limit of 150,000 each year.

A report by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission indicated coastwide harvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait peaked in the 1990s at about 2.75 million crabs, but was down to about half a million in 2022, partly due to more efficient equipment that allows fishermen to use much less bait. 

Still, Esposito said harvesting horseshoe crabs to chop them up as bait is “archaic,” and said commercial fishing enterprises have been talking about finding alternative bait sources for decades. “This will incentivize finding alternative baits for fishermen to use to successfully catch conch and eel,” she said.

For Hoffman, stopping the “rapacious takings” that have lowered horseshoe crab populations is essential.

“We must do all we can to save them,” Hoffman said. “We can’t let them be hunted to extinction.” 

Hope House Ministries celebration on April 22. Photos courtesy Carol Acker

By Samantha Rutt

For 44 years, Hope House Ministries has been a place for the broken and lost. 

Founded in the spirit of St. Louis de Montfort, what started as a neighborhood response to a neighborhood issue, has expanded its service area to include all of Long Island, New England and beyond. 

Hope House Ministries began in 1980 as a 10-bed facility providing crisis intervention for young men aged 16 to 21, and has since expanded to a multifaceted human service agency with housing, counseling and educational assistance for individuals and families in crisis.

On April 22, the ministry hosted a celebration at the Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, featuring a service presided over by founder and executive director Father Frank Pizzarelli. Alumni, volunteers and several members of the community were in attendance. 

Hope House Ministries is located at 1 High St., Port Jefferson (www.hhm.org).

Centereach senior Josh Ortiz drives the ball deep. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Cougars of Centereach looked to make it a clean sweep when they hosted Copiague Saturday morning, April 27, in the last of a three-game series when they notched another win with a decisive 9-1 victory. The Cougars won game one 6-0, and followed it up with an 11-2 victory in game two.

Centereach senior James Krause was credited with the win, pitching five innings and allowing just the one run in the League III matchup.

Seniors Sal Gangi and Joe Desantis both had two hits as did Anthony Gagliardi and Logan Norman.  

The win lifts the Cougars to 8-4 to sit atop the leaderboard tied with Half Hollow Hills East, their next opponent.

Miller Place senior Zoe Weissman battles at the draw. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Royals of Port Jefferson had their hands full when they hosted the Panthers of Miller Place Friday afternoon, April 26, in a home game in a girls lacrosse matchup. The Royals hoped to use the home field — which is grass, not turf — to their advantage. But the game didn’t play out that way in the Division II matchup.

Port Jeff junior Anna Matvya split the pipes midway through the second quarter to break the ice for her team, but it was little consolation as the Royals trailed 11-1 at the half. Miller Place peppered the scoreboard with seven more goals in the second half with Matvya finding the back of the net thrice more for an impressive four goals as the Royals fell to the Panthers 18-4.

Miller Place attack Mirabella Altebrando had three goals and eight assists with teammate Lyla Coffey netting three times. 

Sophia Ingenito and Casey Gilbert both had two goals and an assist for the Panthers and Angie Efstathiou and Hayden Young had two goals apiece.

Port Jeff goalie Emma Batter had 11 saves.

Possession? Bill Landon photo

By Bill Landon

If the Wildcats of Shoreham-Wading River were concerned that they trailed the Comsewogue Warriors by three goals to begin the second quarter, it was senior midfielder Ryan Wilson’s stick that breathed new life into the Wildcats offense by cutting the deficit to 4-2 in the Division II rivalry Wednesday night, March 27. 

SWR’s senior midfielder, Liam Gregorek, rattled off two unanswered goals to make it a new game at 4-4. Both teams traded goals, and retied the game at 6-6 with 2:53 left before the halftime break, which arrived with Shoreham leading 8-6 that became 11-9 after the third quarter. 

Comsewogue senior attack Dylan Rocchio split the pipes to open the final 12 minutes of play for the Warriors to trail the Wildcats 11-10. With eight minutes left in regulation, SWR’s Alex Kershis dished off the ball to Wilson who buried his shot for the insurance goal. Minutes later senior attackman Liam Kershis fired at the cage, hitting the top upright but the rebound hit his stick and he fired off his second shot for the score for Shoreham to lead by three. Comsewogue’s Ryan Meyers answered with five minutes left in regulation, but the Wildcats held on for the 13-11 victory at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.

Topping the scoring charts for the Wildcats was Liam Kershis with nine assists and one goal and Gregorek netted four. Jaden Galfano had nine saves in net.

Senior Meyers led the way for the Warriors with four goals and two assists, and teammates Rocchio, Doug Annicelli and Andrew Krieg each scored two goals apiece.

The win lifted the Wildcats to 2-0 in the early going and Comsewogue dropped to 1-1.                                    

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville civic association with Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich and Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Dan Panico. Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

At the March 26 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting, civic members elected a new civic board and engaged directly with elected officials from the Town of Brookhaven, namely Supervisor Dan Panico (R) and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook). 

As a result of the election, Ira Costell and Carolyn Sagliocca will remain in their roles as president and vice president, respectively. Sheila Granito will serve as the temporary recording secretary, Lou Antoniello as treasurer and Jerry Maxim as corresponding secretary.

Following the election, the floor was opened up between the civic association and elected officials. Costell led the discussion dealing with issues the civic has addressed in recent meetings.

Community beautification projects and Sheep Pasture Road bridge

One of the key topics discussed was community beautification projects, with residents expressing interest in initiatives aimed at enhancing the aesthetic appeal of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville. From antique lighting additions to increased landscaping efforts and an addition of a community park, there was a seemingly shared enthusiasm for projects that would foster a sense of pride and belonging within the community.

Another key mention was that of the dilapidated Sheep Pasture Road bridge. Panico assured the civic that the highway superintendent would be tasked with the bridge construction. 

“The highway superintendent is going to be working on that project almost exclusively in the design, and is supposed to be moving forward in design to take away some of the angles and make it easier for vehicles like buses and oil trucks to traverse the bridge in a manner without starting at the nearly 90 degree angles,” he said.

“That’s the information we have on that bridge … it is over 100 years old. Everyone knows it needs to be replaced, the weight limit was taken down from 5 tons to 3 tons. Hopefully soon you’ll invite the highway superintendent to come here so he can show you the design,” Panico assured.

Following mention of the decaying bridge, Costell brought up the proposed train car park as well as the Kunz property — two locations of community interest. About the Kunz property, formerly a greenhouse business, the supervisor assured the community that the town has an appraisal out for the property.

“Our town attorney has that property out for appraisal. We hope to get back an appraisal that is fair and we hope to acquire that property for the community,” Panico said.

In addition, to efforts to beautify the community, Sagliocca has contacted the town Highway Department regarding the posting of illegal signage and banners along the roadways with a goal to eliminate some of the roadside distraction the signs create.

“We’ve made a priority of getting out there because we’ve been aggressively cracking down on illegal housing and things of that nature to have those same individuals out serving tickets, and serving summonses,” Panico said on the issue.

“We just hired another individual who’s going to be helping along the same lines to clean up the signs along the roadway. All those signs of litter, whether they be feathered flags or Coroplast signs, we just unilaterally, we sweep them up, we take them and the ones that can be recycled, get recycled, the other ones just go in the trash,” Panico added. 

Zoning and development

Proposed developments were also a focal point of discussion, with residents eager to learn more about upcoming projects and their potential impact on the local landscape. 

Concerns were raised regarding issues such as traffic congestion, environmental sustainability and preserving the character of the neighborhood. Kornreich offered insights into the development process and assured residents that their input would be taken into consideration during decision-making.

“Nothing formal has happened yet. There was a public hearing that I and most of you were at, and I think that I’m representing the community correctly by saying we’re not opposed to the project, we think that the area is in need of some redevelopment, but the scale of it is more than what we want,” Kornreich said about the proposed Staller development.

Ultimately, those in attendance were looking for open communication between the developers and the community to best incorporate an accepted plan for the space going forward.

“I think one of the concerns we had in the public hearing was that a decision not be made before some site plan — that might be acceptable to the community — was an issue that we could talk about,” Costell said.

Panico explained further that the site plan still needs to be approved by the Planning Board, now the regular Town Board, which will allow for more direct representation from elected representatives and will create a space for the community to meet before the Town Board as well. 

“This entire community will be back, either here or before the Town Board for ultimately the site plan. They [the developers] still have to go through the entire site buying process before the Town Board, which is different than an appointed Planning Board. So you have more direct representation from your elected representatives,” Panico explained. 

The next civic meeting will be held on April 16.

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Shoreham-Wading River junior Alyssa Bell shoots for the Wildcats in the Suffolk A semi-final. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

A year ago, Shoreham-Wading River ended the Kings Park girls basketball season with an impressive win in the Suffolk County Class A final at Stony Brook University to earn the Wildcats their first-ever county championship. 

At Centereach High School Feb. 28, Kings Park sought redemption in a rematch with SWR in the semifinal round, where the Lady Kingsmen ended the Wildcats season with a 48-34 victory.

Kings Park senior Ryan Currier topped the scoring chart with 13 points with teammates Emily Clemens and Gianna Zawol adding 11 points each.

A pair of sophomores led the way for the Wildcats where Kady Keegan banked 11 points and Leslie Jablonski netted 10.             

— Photos by Bill Landon 

METRO photo

By Hon. Gail Prudenti

Hon. Gail Prudenti

Before this decade is over, about a quarter of New York State’s population will be over the age of 60. Meanwhile, the 85-and-up populace is the fastest growing demographic subset in the state. This is a population that is inherently susceptible to abuse and exploitation, and the type of people who would take advantage of these vulnerable citizens know it.

A common con is the “grandma, it’s me” scam: A hysterical young person calls, pretending to be a grandchild and claiming to be in trouble for driving under the influence of cannabis and begging them not to tell the parents. The “grandchild,” whose voice is a little hard to make out because of the fake crying, puts a fake police officer on the phone, who instructs the victim to quickly wire over several thousand dollars for bail. 

I am aware of an elderly couple — well-educated, intelligent people in their mid-80s — who fell for it, thinking their beloved grandson needed their help. They’re out $5,000.

Although as a group those over 65 are much less likely to become crime victims than younger people, the elderly are increasingly victimized by various forms of abuse — physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment and, most commonly, financial exploitation. Solid statistics, though, are hard to come by since we only know what has been reported and, in many jurisdictions, mandatory reporting laws are either weak or inconsistent.

The federal government’s estimates range from 500,000 to two million incidents of elder abuse annually. In New York, the Office for the Aging cites the incidence of elder abuse at about 300,000 per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contends one in 10 Americans aged 60 and above have experienced some form of elder abuse in the last year alone.

A study by the New York State Bar Association, Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, showed that 14 percent of all older adults in New York State experienced some form of elder abuse since turning 60. What’s more, the Bar Association report concluded that for every incident documented by state agencies, 24 went unreported. Tragically, many elderly victims won’t report because they are embarrassed and that includes the couple I mentioned earlier who fell the “grandma it’s me” scam), or because the abuser is their caretaker—the only person nearby that they can “rely” on.

Researchers and experts can’t seem to agree on what “elder” means — over 60? over 65? or is it a matter of mental capacity rather than an arbitrary age? — let along what all constitutes “elder abuse.” What we do know is that the many, many shapes of elder abuse implicate all sorts of laws, criminal and civil.

Our criminal courts increasingly deal with physical assaults, fraud and other crimes perpetrated against an older population.

Our civil courts deal with such thorny issues as competency: Does the elderly person have the capacity to sign a contract, and if not is the contract enforceable?; does the elderly person have the capacity to consent to or refuse medical treatment?; does the elderly person have the capacity to intelligently change his or her will?; does the elderly person have the capacity to consent to marriage—and what standing has the relative convinced that the suitor is trying to work his way into grandma’s estate rather than her heart? These are thorny legal questions, and oftentimes there is no clear answer.

I think we all need to be on the alert for the signs of possible elder abuse. Are there unexplained bumps and bruises, and does the older person become guarded when you inquire? Does the individual suddenly seem withdrawn or scared? Has their personal hygiene declined noticeably? Is the individual transferring assets or writing checks for cash? Is their cellphone off more than it used to be, or are you getting odd responses to texts that may indicate someone else is “managing” their communications? 

The tricky thing is, all of the above could be evidence of elder abuse. Or not.

A bill pending for years in the New York State Legislature would require the state Office for the Aging to develop elder abuse training and offer that training to senior service centers and contractors. However, experts say that elder abuse most commonly occurs in the home, which puts the onus on family, friends and neighbors to know the signs and maintain a watchful eye.

If you witness abuse, call 911. If you suspect someone is a victim of elder abuse, call the NYS Adult Protective Services Helpline at 1-844-697-3505. As with homeland security, if you see something, say something.

Hon. Gail Prudenti is the Former Chief Administrative Judge State of New York and a Partner at Burner Prudenti Law, P.C. focusing her practice on Trusts & Estates. Burner Prudenti Law, P.C. serves clients from New York City to the east end of Long Island with offices located in East Setauket, Westhampton Beach, Manhattan and East Hampton.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times senior supplement on 01/25/24.