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Ana Hozyainova

Digital payment and a lack of meters has sparked some criticism within the community. Photo by Raymond Janis

The managed parking system in the Village of Port Jefferson has undergone considerable changes this season, prompting debate among some within the community.

Beginning March 15, the village government has incorporated various technologies into its managed parking apparatus, such as automated license plate reading, which village officials say expedites and standardizes parking enforcement.

“We’re looking to make sure that enforcement is more equitable, that there’s less room for a mistake or discretion,” Mayor Margot Garant said in an exclusive interview. “The license plate reader is in at least one of the code vehicles, and when it drives through the parking lot, it scans everything very quickly.” She added, “I think it’s going to be a much more blanketed, equitable process and easier for all parties.”

Kevin Wood, the village’s parking administrator, outlined how the new tech would operate. He said pay-by-plate metering allows for more efficient enforcement of overtime parking and eliminates the need for double payment caused by temporarily leaving and losing a parking space, among other potential benefits.

Wood said digital payment also simplifies parking during future visits as the system remembers one’s plate number. “The next time you come back into town, your plate number is already filled in,” he said. “You can’t say that about a space number because you park in a different space every time.”

The village has also digitized its residential permitting process, supplanting the previous method which was performed by hand. So far, Wood said his office has received nearly 2,000 permits.

Responsiveness questions

The changes to parking procedure have met some opposition, particularly from the business community. James Luciano, owner of PJ Lobster House, has been among the opponents to the changes. 

In an interview, Luciano indicated that many of his older customers prefer the preexisting method of paying at a meter.

The new system “is a hassle for the older clientele,” he said, suggesting older customers often make multiple trips to and from their cars to pay for parking.

“I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you have clientele that are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, it is a lot for them to do that,” he added.

He said he receives daily complaints over digital payment, estimating complications using the system “probably happen 25 times a day — it’s a big problem that people are complaining about.”

Luciano attributes much of the village’s parking adversity to a lack of responsiveness from the village government, suggesting his recommendations to the village have fallen on deaf ears.

“We’ve sat down in meetings, we’ve sent letters over the last two years,” he said. “They say, ‘Thank you for the input,’ and then they do what they want. They don’t want to take any recommendations from anybody.”

Wood suggested his office is actively coordinating with the business community and that no significant changes have been made to the system other than entering a plate number instead of a space number.

“There are no changes to navigate,” Wood said. “The parker himself only enters a plate number instead of a space number, and that’s self-evident. But that being said, my office is always available to answer questions on a one-by-one basis and/or my assistant, Rita.”

Garant said her administration remains committed to working with merchants over any concerns with the system. Nonetheless, she expressed confidence that the new system would prevail over time.

“There are some recommendations that they have and questions, and we’re answering them as we can,” the mayor said. “Obviously, with anything, you’re going to get mixed concerns. I think once everybody settles into this new system, they’ll find that it’s an easier system to use.”

‘The number one challenge is capacity. It accounts for just about everything we are challenged with.’ ­

— Kevin Wood

Capacity: an age-old problem

Parking is a decades-old quandary in Port Jeff, confounding generations of local officials who have struggled to solve the parking puzzle. 

Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, summarized the issue in a word.

“Capacity — hands down, capacity,” he said. “It’s what all the villages on Long Island struggle with. How do you shoehorn in more parking without compromising the very character that people are seeking out?”

Wood concurred with this assessment. “The number one challenge is capacity,” he said. “It accounts for just about everything we are challenged with.”

Former village trustee Bruce Miller regarded the capacity constraints as all-pervasive, compounding other problems, such as traffic congestion. “It creates a lot of traffic that’s needless,” he said. “People are circling and circling and circling to find a parking place.”

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) commented on the generations of anguished parkers pressed to find a space. He regarded Port Jefferson as distinctive for its blend of bustling downtown activity and limited capacity.

“The oversubscription of use is inevitable for a place that is as attractive, and that faces the water, which is such a magnet for this whole sector of the Island,” he said. “You want to go to Port Jefferson because there are businesses, and a vibrant walk along the harbor is exciting.” 

But, he added, “It means you’re always going to have a traffic jam.”

Meanwhile, the Town of Brookhaven, which operates the marina parking lot near the ferry terminal, has set its 2023 parking rates at five times the rate of Port Jefferson’s managed lots. Wood said this could further strain the village’s already cramped lots.

“My common sense tells me that if something is $5 an hour, and they can get that same service for $1 an hour, that tells me they’re going to put more pressure on us,” he said.

Possible solutions

‘Policymakers should begin exploring some more modern, viable options.’ ­

— Richard Murdocco

Murdocco said a natural tension exists between preserving the historic character of an area and expanding parking capacity. He added, however, that the capacity issue would eventually cap the village’s growth potential for its residential and commercial districts.

“Policymakers should begin exploring some more modern, viable options,” the SBU adjunct professor said. The most obvious option, he indicated, would be to construct a parking garage. 

This proposal would come with its own set of challenges, according to Englebright. “I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this because even if you add a parking garage, I think it will be oversubscribed on the first day,” he said.

Wood noted that he gives “daily thought” to this idea, which is also proposed in the village’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan. However, given the natural topography and existing built environment, the municipality remains hamstrung in specific ways.

“Now is the time where I think we would have a serious look at building multidecks [above-ground parking garages], but it’s not so easy because of the landscape of Port Jeff, the depth of the water and things like that,” he said.

Asked whether he foresees the village accommodating a garage in the coming decades, the parking administrator responded affirmatively.

“I’d like to hope that we can come to the point where that possibility could happen,” he said, adding, “If it were in the best interest of the community and residents, I’d like to think we could come to an agreement on that.”

Miller advised the village government to explore underground parking, an option he said would boost capacity without disrupting the area’s historic character.

“A lot of the residents and public do not want an above-ground parking garage — we’re not rural here, but we just don’t see ourselves as urban,” he said. “The advantage of underground parking is that it doesn’t make your town look urban. You don’t have underground structures protruding from the ground.”

Another alternative the village is actively seeking is shared parking, that is, entering into agreements with nearby businesses to facilitate access to their lots during nonbusiness hours.

Wood said he and trustee Rebecca Kassay are working to enter into shared-use parking agreements, particularly with hospitals and medical offices in Upper Port.

“There’s not a lot of commercial activity happening uptown, but that will change,” Wood said, adding that shared parking would offer “immediate parking to people frequenting uptown.”

Kassay, who also serves as the village’s environmental commissioner, said the shared parking proposal would help minimize the need for building new parking lots uptown, as well as the clearings and heightened flooding characteristic of such construction.

Shared parking “would prevent more square footage uptown from being hardscaped, which is a contributor to the flooding because water is not being collected, recharged and filtered in the way it naturally would,” she said. 

The trustee added, “The issue of parking is very real, but the creative solutions, like shared parking, are a way that we as a village can solve parking issues, be environmentally conscious and save taxpayers money by not building and maintaining additional lots.”

Parking committee

Garant, who had coordinated with a parking committee composed of residents and merchants earlier in her tenure, recounted the history and role of that body.

“We had a committee for upward of eight or nine years,” she said. “I think that they brought great concerns, and we heard from them.”

Asked whether the village should reinstitute the parking committee, she responded, “I’m on my way out, so I’ll leave that to the next administration,” adding, “I think Kevin is doing a great job, so I’m going to let the next elected mayor make those decisions going forward.”

Wood emphasized that a committee would not resolve the core issue permeating all parking woes villagewide. “The one thing we all end up talking about is the lack of capacity,” the parking administrator said. “All the committees in the world won’t fix the immediate need for more capacity.”

He added, “We get feedback all the time. We take it under advisement. But again, it usually leads back, after everything is said and done, to lack of capacity.”

‘It would seem to me that some democratization would be logical.’

— Steve Englebright

Wood, instead, encouraged concerned parties to take their concerns to the village board. For him, public comments during village board meetings provide community members the proper forum to be heard. 

Public comment “is the best way to communicate what you are trying to say about any subject,” Wood said.

Luciano, on the other hand, advocated for the reinstatement of the parking committee as a means to properly filter concerns from the greater community. 

“The parking committee needs to exist, and the village needs to take the recommendations from the parking committee,” he said.

Detailing why he believed the committee had disbanded, Luciano again suggested a lack of responsiveness from the village. “They got rid of it because they didn’t want to hear input anymore and because they were going to do what they wanted to do.”

Ana Hozyainova, president of the Port Jefferson Civic Association, has joined the call for resurrecting the parking committee. In an email statement, she said a parking committee would reintroduce debate to the parking decision-making process.

“The Port Jeff Civic Association fully supports the reestablishment of a parking committee composed of representatives from all stakeholders,” she said. “Reinstituting the parking committee would provide a transparent forum for discussion and decision-making.”

The civic president added, “It would also help ensure that we face our parking challenges in a manner that addresses the needs and concerns of all our residents and still preserves the character and appearance of our beautiful village.” 

Englebright regarded the proposal for a parking committee as necessary for promoting public participation.

“If you live in the village, there has to be some sense of being able to participate,” he said. “There needs to be some reasonable balance between the commercialism that dominates parts of the downtown and the needs of the residents, which should not take second place.”

He added, “I don’t know how you do that without some sort of forum other than the regular meetings of the village board. It would seem to me that some democratization would be logical.”

By Ana Hozyainova

We are pleased to announce that the Port Jefferson Civic Association is fully formed and welcomes all village residents.

PJCA was founded to protect and represent residents’ voices in all village matters. Working together, we can identify and amplify concerns that would otherwise get overlooked and help ensure they are brought to the attention of our village representatives.

For example, the board of trustees without any prior notice or public debate voted March 20 to extend terms from two to four years starting in June 2023. The civic association does not have a position on the decision, but believes that term changes are significant and should be debated.

As a civic association, we can pinpoint an issue before it escalates to a crisis and encourage preemptive action. If we had had an active civic association in 2020, perhaps we could have avoided issuing a $10 million bond as the solution to the East Beach bluff predicament. While the erosion needed to be addressed, it was not an excuse for action without debate. The issuance of the bond took many residents by surprise. And although some funds have already been spent, it is not a done deal. Continuing discussions at Village Hall indicate there are other, more cost-effective alternatives still to be explored.

Going forward, the hope is that the civic association can collaborate with local officials to identify solutions that are sustainable, effective and in the best interests of village residents.

Besides the upper wall at Port Jefferson Country Club, PJCA will focus on the overdevelopment of the village. The latter is particularly alarming given the steep slopes, inefficient storm drainage and rising sea levels that make Port Jefferson vulnerable to flooding. That is why a strong focus on preserving open spaces is important. Open space has been proven to mitigate flooding and help purify water to maintain our aquifer — both of which, ultimately, save tax dollars.

 As a community, we will continue to face many issues of urgency and importance. We are committed to working with village officials and residents to find solutions that prioritize both the well-being of the villagers and the sustainability of our environment.

We call on all residents to join us in these important conversations. The PJCA meets at the Port Jefferson Free Library, every second Wednesday of the month. Our next meeting will be April 12 at 7:30 p.m. For more details, email [email protected].

Ana Hozyainova is president of the Port Jefferson Civic Association.

Pictured above, from left to right: Port Jefferson Civic Association’s outreach officer Kathleen McLane; civic president Ana Hozyainova; Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich; civic vice president Holly Fils-Aime; treasurer Marilyn Damaskos; and secretary Carol Macys Fox. Photo by Raymond Janis

Leaders of the newly reconfigured Port Jefferson Civic Association formally entered their posts during a swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, March 8, and went straight to work during the first official executive board meeting.

Ceremony

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) officiated over the ceremony, swearing the newly elected civic leaders into their positions at the outset of the meeting. Kornreich, who had previously served as president of the Three Village Civic Association, outlined the value that civic groups can add to a community.

“I can tell you, as an elected, that the role of the civic is incredibly important because we want to get a sense of what the community thinks,” he said. “Your electeds in the village, and for things related to the Town of Brookhaven, we’re going to come to you.”

He added, “It’s a big responsibility because you have to reach out and be representatives of your community, and I’m very grateful to you all for stepping up to take this important responsibility.”

He then presented each officer with a town proclamation. The executive board is represented by civic president Ana Hozyainova, vice president Holly Fils-Aime, secretary Carol Macys Fox, treasurer Marilyn Damaskos and outreach officer Kathleen McLane.

Priority

Following the ceremony, the board quickly got moving, detailing the local issues it would prioritize. Based on a vote among the body, the most significant priority for the civic will be to advocate for voter input on major construction projects within the village. 

The second will be to enhance walkability and calm traffic while referring to the village’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan to guide new development.

Third on the list is advocating for villagewide oversight and enforcement over planting and clearing. And the final item is creating a close partnership with the village Conservation Advisory Committee to preserve open space.

“Part of the reason why the civic association was created is because we found, as individual citizens, very little traction when engaging with trustees on those individual issues,” said Hozyainova. “Coming together as a formal association, we hope that we can start that conversation in a more fruitful way.”

Strategy

To work toward implementing the civic’s collective goals and vision, the executive board brought in backup. Sal Pitti, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, and Kornreich sat in on the executive board meeting, offering the newly installed leaders techniques for dealing with local government.

Pitti emphasized the value of high turnout and a growing body. “Get numbers on your side,” he said. “The more people you have on your side, the more they’re going to listen,” adding, “There’s always power in numbers.”

Pitti also recommended working to accomplish small tasks to help grow resident interest in the civic. “Get yourself a high school liaison, like we have at our meetings,” he said. “We have one of the kids at the high school telling people about events.” This method, he maintained, fosters interest from parents and boosts turnout at monthly meetings.

One of the core areas of concern among the PJCA body, according to Hozyainova, is the issue of coastal erosion at East Beach, which has endangered the restaurant and catering facility at the Port Jefferson Country Club.

“We are concerned about paying for a wall that might or might not survive the next few years,” Hozyainova said. She continued by saying that the village government has yet to comprehensively consider managed retreat away from the bluff.

Pitti recommended that the civic association establish new connections within the village so that important public announcements do not go unnoticed by residents. “Try to set up a new system working with the village, that they advise you directly when all these things happen,” he said.

Hozyainova suggested many of the decision-making processes and responsibilities within the village government tend to be consolidated within just a few hands. “A lot of decisions are made without extensive consultation, and very few people ask questions,” the PJCA president said.

To rectify this issue, Kornreich advised the board to forge tighter working relationships with village board members to develop more collaborative exchanges between elected officials and the public.

“Building those relationships with trustees is vitally important,” the councilmember said.

He added that educating civic members on local issues is another responsibility to promote a better-informed civic body and public. “Educate your members,” Kornreich said, adding, “You educate your members so that they understand” the local issues at stake.

Kornreich also mentioned that disseminating important information to the village would be another key function of civic leadership. This, he added, is especially important when it comes to advertising the civic to community members.

Pitti said one of the best investments for PJSTCA has been its website, which he said represents a vital organ for getting the message across to the public. 

“That’s how we get our information out,” he said. “People come and join us there all the time. They love to see what’s going on in the community.”

Members of the Port Jefferson Civic Association during a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21. Photo courtesy Ana Hozyainova

The Port Jefferson Civic Association elected officers and voted to set its priorities during a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. 

Elected for one-year terms, Ana Hozyainova will serve as president, Holly Fils-Aime as vice president, Carol Macys Fox as secretary, Marilyn R. Damaskos as treasurer and Kathleen McLane as outreach officer. Each will be formally sworn in at the first business meeting of the civic association.

PJCA was established on Sept. 17, 1990, but it fell dormant in 2006. In 2023, the civic was reconstituted due to concerns by residents about a need for more engagement with local governing bodies. [See story, “Port Jeff civic resurrected, members set their priorities,” The Port Times Record, Jan. 12, also TBR News Media website.]

Fourteen village residents attended Tuesday evening, narrowing the civic’s focus around overseeing village-led construction projects, advocating for public referenda, facilitating green space preservation and promoting pedestrian and public safety initiatives.

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) attended the meeting and shared his experience as a former president of the Three Village Civic Association. He emphasized the importance of having a body that can be a compass for local governments.

All village residents are welcome to join the Port Jeff Civic Association. The civic can be reached at: [email protected].

Screenshot from portjeff.com/opentodayvideo/

Over a decade since disbanding, the Port Jefferson Civic Association was back in action Monday, Jan. 9.

Eighteen village residents filled the Meeting Room of the Port Jefferson Free Library, discussing several pressing local issues and establishing their priorities as a body.

Michael Mart was a member of PJCA under its previous configuration. He shared a history of the organization and why village residents have banded together in the past.

“The history and importance of the Port Jefferson Civic Association, as I recall it, was to serve as a vehicle by which individuals come together,” Mart said. “Its concerns are essentially local in nature: streets, safety, recreation, parks and open government.”

He added the civic association “acts to represent opinions, concerns and agendas of its members to the local governing body.”

Mart said PJCA has functioned in various capacities in the past. At one time, it had produced a regular newsletter, held meet-the-candidates events, offered scholarships to local students and even took the village government to court.

PJCA was “a very active group,” Mart said. “It starts small here, like in this room, and makes itself known to other residents, offering to give voice to their concerns.”

The members of the newly formed civic gave introductions, outlined their reasons for joining and discussed their priorities. 

Ana Hozyainova, a 2022 candidate for village trustee, organized the event. She stated her goals for the civic body.

“I hope that we can have a group that can be a force for discussion and greater transparency in the village,” she said. 

Myrna Gordon discussed communications between the village and residents and other environmental themes. “I would love to see better transparency or communication and more of our village residents getting involved in the important issues that we face,” she said.

Other residents echoed the call for greater transparency within the village government. 

Among them, a 2022 trustee candidate for the Port Jefferson school board, Paul Ryan, identified a supposed divide between the public will and the decisions made by elected officials.

“Since I ran for the BOE last year, I’ve noticed a lot of disconnect between what people want and think is important and what is happening, the decisions that are being made,” he said. “I hope as a civic association, we can channel that voice more strongly and more effectively to make positive change.”

Suzanne Velazquez, candidate for village trustee in 2021, spoke of the “sense of apathy that has crept in” among residents. She also considered the civic association as fulfilling a necessary community end. 

“I have had a lot of good conversations about the need to revitalize the civic association,” the former trustee candidate said.

Holly Fils-Aime, president of the local environmental group EcoLeague, described continual development within the village as among her priorities. 

“We really have to consider how overdeveloped Long Island is,” she said, adding that residents must be vigilant about looking out for their forests, wildlife and the natural environment.

Steve Velazquez echoed this sentiment. He criticized the alleged overdevelopment of Upper Port, arguing that plans for the property that formerly accommodated PJ Lobster House are “not in character with this village.” Velazquez expressed a desire to see a “true historic district” within Port Jeff village.

In common, those in attendance voiced similar concerns over the perceived lack of transparency, environmental issues and the implementation of projects without resident input. Bluff stabilization at East Beach, according to Mart, encompasses each of these themes.

Referencing the $3.75 million the village recently received to construct an upper wall between the East Beach bluff and the Port Jefferson Country Club clubhouse, Mart said the money “is not the issue — the issue is that we didn’t get to vote on it.”

Also in attendance was guest speaker John Turner, conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society. He advocated for a villagewide open-space program along with a sustainability plan.

Turner pinpointed specific examples on Long Island of progress concerning the environment. He cited the novel irrigation system at Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead, which uses wastewater from a sewage treatment plant to irrigate the golf course. 

“That wastewater is no longer dumped in the river and the bay,” Turner said. “The nitrogen is all taken up by the grass,” averting contamination of local surface waters. He suggested the village could explore comparable wastewater reuse opportunities.

He added, “The other beauty about this water reuse, from a water quantity perspective, is that we have water quantity challenges on the Island. … Using that water for the golf course means that 66 million gallons of water stay in the ground.”

Expressing her vision for the civic, Gordon said the organization could prevail so long as its members stay persistent. “You have to stay the course,” she said. “We can’t get tired. We have to support each other, we have to ask questions, and we have to go in front of our village trustees and ask, ‘What is going on?’”

Holly Fils-Aime, above. Photo courtesy Fils-Aime
By Chris Mellides

As a child growing up in New Hampshire, Holly Fils-Aime and her sister would often venture into the wilderness surrounding their rural childhood home to play. The sisters spent much of their time admiring nature and would often canoe, swim and take walks in the neighboring woods. 

Fils-Aime became enamored with the undisturbed woodlands that she would often explore, crediting her mother for deepening her knowledge and understanding of the wildlife that surrounded her family home. 

“We learned a lot about nature,” Fils-Aime said. “My mother was an avid bird enthusiast and she had actually taken a course in that in college. We learned to identify bird songs and identify birds by sight. I just had a pretty good background in nature and identifying different species.”

Beyond birds, Fils-Aime’s mother taught her children how to identify wildflowers and various tree species as well. One of the major actions her family took was helping to preserve a portion of the woodlands she happily spent her time adventuring in when she was still a young child.

“My family did donate 25 acres of woodland to the town where I grew up, which is going to New Hampshire as a conservation easement,” she said. “That’s in perpetuity that that land will not be developed.”

Fils-Aime’s deep appreciation for nature endured and has stuck with her well into adulthood. The mother of two admits that when she moved to Port Jefferson in 2000 to settle down with her husband and children, she was somewhat removed from the environmental field and instead focused her attention on teaching English at the New York Institute of Technology. 

However, following her retirement in June 2021, her passion for environmentalism and nature preservation was reignited. So she connected with like-minded friends to discuss the environmental issues impacting Port Jefferson, Long Island and beyond.

Fils-Aime said her plan was to forge a group of individuals who understood the importance of environmentalism and how nature should ultimately be protected. The group goes by the name EcoLeague and consists of about 10 members with three of them living out of state. 

Before expanding their various initiatives both on Long Island and outside New York, the group came together to focus on the move away from plastics. 

“I had been having these conversations with my friends and it seemed we were always talking about plastic, and was there any better way to recycle it,” she said. “My friends didn’t necessarily know each other, but I thought they would all be compatible.”

On Sept. 18, Fils-Aime and other members of the EcoLeague joined a small group of protesters to call out Mather Hospital’s move to clear the surrounding woods and walking trails to make way for additional hospital parking. 

‘Holly really understands the value that birds and wildlife bring to us as humans.’

— Ana Hozyainova

The protesters were joined by Ana Hozyainova, formerly working in international human rights, who ran for a seat on the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees earlier this year.

Though she was not elected to the village board, Hozyainova used her platform in the fall to draw attention to what she, EcoLeague and the remaining protesters felt was an unjust action carried out by Mather and the village. 

The demonstrators protested these actions because the woods are “crucial in protecting Port Jefferson from further flooding, from even steeper increases in temperatures, but also ensuring that our backyards are filled with birds and insects that protect against harmful pests,” Hozyainova said in an interview.

A lawsuit against the parking lot expansion was filed in August, but this measure proved to be unsuccessful. The woodland was cleared, and the additional hospital parking was paved. 

“I had done the right thing by signing on to the lawsuit,” Fils-Aime said. “We filed the lawsuit in August. We didn’t get what we wanted.” She added, “This was, in our minds, an act of complete disregard for the concerns of Port Jefferson citizens. … This was a part of our habitat. People enjoyed going in there with their kids and so on.”

Hozyainova expressed her concern that the new parking lot at Mather and the predilection to clear out trees to expand backyards and to pave new driveways are all leading to what could be a disturbing situation. 

“The more impermeable surfaces that we create, the more we reduce the capacity of the water to go down into the ground and be absorbed into the ground,” said Hozyainova, who also expressed concern that flooding is only going to get worse with deforestation and a rise in sea levels due to climate change. 

Asked about working with Fils-Aime and the vision that the EcoLeague founder has for Port Jefferson, Hozyainova said, “Holly really understands the value that birds and wildlife bring to us as humans, because it’s a well-documented fact that we need access to nature to be well. Nature is a part of what we try to protect.” 

As for what’s next for EcoLeague and its founder, Fils-Aime is optimistic. A current endeavor is appealing to small businesses and company leaders to make a move away from plastic to aluminum, which is infinitely recyclable. 

Fils-Aime is determined to continue working with EcoLeague and spreading her environmentalist message, with the goal to change some minds and hearts in the village and greater community. 

“We don’t want to make enemies, but if we see something that is not right, that is hurting the environment, that is hurting Port Jefferson, we are going to be doing something right,” Fils-Aime said. “Whatever we need to do, we’re going to be doing something.”

For her passionate environmentalism, TBR News Media is pleased to name Fils-Aime a 2022 Person of the Year.

Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

Mather Hospital has recently come under fire after removing trees, including walking trails, to expand its northern parking lot among other improvements. 

On Sunday, Sept. 18, a small group of protesters gathered near the hospital parking lot, most of whom were from the local environmental group, EcoLeague, founded by Holly Fils-Aime with friends about a year and a half ago. 

Despite receiving objections from EcoLeague, the Audubon Society and multiple citizens, Mather Hospital went through with plans to clear its forest area. “They kind of just plowed ahead because I think they were pretty sure that the [village] planning board would approve it,” Fils-Aime said. [See The Port Times Record’s June 16 story, “Port Jeff planning board approves environmental review of Mather expansions.”]

Feeling that they had no other option, Fils-Aime, along with Ana Hozyainova, a recent candidate for village trustee, decided to sue the hospital and the Village of Port Jefferson. While Fils-Aime and Hozyainova hoped for a class-action lawsuit, they struggled to find others to join their cause, citing fear of consequences among residents. 

EcoLeague is also concerned that the cutting down of the woods will harm local species of animals and that Mather Hospital’s construction of a parking lot will act as a “heat sink,” raising local temperatures. 

Additionally, critics suggest adding impermeable surfaces may exacerbate the ongoing flooding issue in Port Jefferson. 

“As we take away permeable land from all of the hills around the village, the water runoff just runs down into the village harbor,” said Paul Ryan, another member of the protest. “With the combination of heavy rainstorms, along with less permeable land and sea [level] rise, we’re going to end up with more flooding in the village.”

In response to this criticism, Mather Hospital and Northwell Health released the following statement to TBR News Media:

“Mather Hospital and Northwell Health have thoroughly evaluated potential impacts of the project upon environmental resources in coordination with the Village of Port Jefferson as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. Regarding the removal of the trees, the hospital has committed $25,000 to the Village of Port Jefferson to plant trees within the village.

“With the completion of this project, our campus will foster an environment that represents the excellent care our physicians and team members provide. Especially in a pandemic era, we must ensure our infrastructure stays at the forefront of health care innovation and modernization. This expansion allows us to continue to serve our community at the top-tier level it deserves.”

The Village of Port Jefferson could not be reached for comment for this story.

— Photos by Aidan Johnson

File photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

Staff shortages, a growing issue nationally, have made their way to the Village of Port Jefferson.

Earlier this month, the Port Jeff Village Board of Trustees accepted the resignation of Joe Palumbo, the village administrator. This departure comes on the heels of various other vacancies throughout the village government.

Public sector staffing shortages are not unique to Port Jefferson. Americans are voluntarily quitting their jobs at record numbers, likely compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptive effects on the workforce. Climbing quit rates nationwide have given rise to a phenomenon called the Great Resignation. 

In an exclusive interview, Mayor Margot Garant gave her thoughts on the issue of staff shortages, outlining the challenges of keeping positions filled.

Mayor Margot Garant, above. Photo from Port Jeff Village website

‘The challenge we have in general when filling these positions, of course, is competing with the private sector.’ — Margot Garant

“The challenge we have in general when filling these positions, of course, is competing with the private sector, which is allowing for a much more flexible work environment,” she said. 

Garant said the recent departures from the village government are out of her control. The private sector often offers higher pay with a better work-life balance. 

“We cannot do a work-from-home program because people are bound to the collective bargaining agreements, which doesn’t give us that flexibility,” the mayor said.

The civil service system also imposes a set of strict criteria that complicates the staffing of small municipalities, according to Garant. To remediate these concerns, the administration has emphasized hiring and promoting internally, and dispersing responsibilities between multiple offices, a maneuver Garant said can save time and energy.

“Right now, we’re looking to absorb some of the responsibilities of the village administrator between Barbara Sakovich, our clerk; the treasurer’s office; Kevin Wood, who’s in charge of all our technology; and Rich Harris in the Building Department,” Garant said, adding, “We are also bringing on a new deputy clerk. … That is an appointed position, and we’re thrilled to have that happen because she knows us, she’s a resident and it’s a promotion from within.”

Village resident Ana Hozyainova closely followed the issue of staffing shortages during her recent candidacy for trustee. In an interview, she criticized consolidating multiple responsibilities to a single person, arguing that this practice leads to conflicting obligations and confusion for village employees.

“The head of the [building] department, who resigned in March, was replaced with a temporary person who shares a prosecutorial role in the village administration,” she said. “To me, these two positions should not be combined because one role is a prosecutor who addresses negligence or incompatibility with the code, and the other helps to resolve those things.”

Hozyainova said that a growing number of vacancies on various boards are also causing concern, adding that she is most alarmed by the vacancies in the Building Department.

“The Building Department provides permits and helps the village residents and businesses navigate the building code,” she said. “There is no plan reviewer at the moment, no senior planning person, and these are essential positions that help interface between the businesses, the residents and the government.”

Hozyainova believes there may be unnecessary delays for residents and business owners if these positions remain unfilled: “When there’s a lack of those positions on a permanent basis, the communications start to break down and the permitting process is extended unnecessarily.”

Hozyainova fears staffing shortages will result in two principal consequences: a lengthier permit application process and rising costs.

“At the moment, many of the plans are being sent to an external agency for review,” she said. “An external agency generally costs more than an internal agency.” With too many transient agents, she also believes there is less institutional memory within village government, which can be exhausting for permit applicants.

Garant presented a contrasting judgment, stating that the critical positions within her administration are in place. With these spots filled, she maintains that there will still be an effective administration and delivery of village services. 

In areas where diminished services may be of concern, the mayor said outside consultancy firms can operate as a “stopgap” at a reasonable expense to the taxpayer.

“We’re very careful not to give them carte blanche,” Garant said. “Usually, we’re very conscious of making sure that compensation does not exceed the amount we would be spending on the individual employee.” She added, “Nine times out of 10, we’re actually saving money because we’re not responsible for the benefits package for the outside consultant.”

On the whole, Garant suggests difficulties staffing a small municipality are inevitable given growing nationwide economic uncertainty.