Tags Posts tagged with "Assemblyman Steve Englebright"

Assemblyman Steve Englebright

When the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic truly hit home back in March, after businesses were forced closed from state mandates, many turned to their insurance providers and filed for business interruption insurance, which they expected would be used for just this sort of occasion.

Only many received notifications back that their claims were denied. The reason: Insurance companies put in provisions within their policies that excluded coverage due to damages “caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induced or is capable of including physical distress, illness or disease,” according to the Insurance Services Office, an insurance advisory organization.

Though business owners and small business advocates such as The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio pay the premiums year after year, she said they and so many others were denied coverage despite the fact that small businesses didn’t close because they or their shops were confirmed with the virus, but government orders forced them to close. 

“Very simplistically, [business owners] buy themselves a job for the community, and now they’re made to lay off people, keep their business closed, pay all fixed overheads and maybe they don’t have a reserve at home,” Rocchio said. “Everything the government is putting forth is not helping the small businessman — the one who doesn’t have a million in the bank and is paying fixed expenses.”

Efforts on Local and State Levels

The provision in many insurance policies was instituted little less than two decades ago after the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic of the early 2000s. It is only now, almost 20 years later, that owners filing claims learn of the provision despite them having paid premiums for years.

There is a combined bill in the New York State Assembly and Senate to require companies to accept current interruption claims. 

WMHO submitted a public letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 22 requesting he supports the Assembly and Senate bill. 

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable.”

— Steve Englebright

“An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurer that clearly spells out those conditions covered and excluded,” the letter reads. “In recent years, because of severe losses, insurers have added exclusions to their policies, slowly diminishing the very purpose of insurance.”

The state Assembly bill is being sponsored in part by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), and there is a concurrent bill in the state Senate. It would require insurance agencies to cover businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would renew any policy that would have covered businesses during shutdown if they expired in the meantime. New York is just one state of seven which is proposing bills to mandate coverage.

“Insurance is controlling risk, that’s what insurance companies do,” Englebright said. “What we’re saying is risk transfer needs to occur with this type of policy in a more predictable manner and a more eligible manner than the fine print currently allows.”

The bill is still in the Assembly Insurance Committee, but Englebright, a ranking assemblyman, said it is picking up widespread support in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. 

He added he does not believe what insurance companies say when they argue accepting businesses claims would bankrupt their agencies.

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable,” Englebright said. 

Multiple local government and industry groups have come out in support of such a bill. The Long Island Builders Institute released a letter supporting the legislation, saying that if a business has been paying for its insurance, it should honor the claims. 

Mitch Pally, CEO of LIBI, said the insurance companies denying these claims will only create a deeper hole in the economy, which will be an even greater burden to the insurance companies if they go under and no longer can pay their premiums. He also predicted dire consequences to many businesses if claims continue to be denied by June 30 “because the people who bought them didn’t assume their business can be interrupted by something that doesn’t apply [to the insurance].” 

The Brookhaven Town Board and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also signed a letter asking Cuomo to throw his support behind the bills.

Federal Efforts

There is a bill currently lingering in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) that would require insurance companies in the future from denying company’s claims based on a pandemic, but even that has seen “tremendous pushback from the insurance industry,” he said during a Zoom call hosted by Discover Long Island May 19. “It’s very controversial — I’m getting the crap kicked out of me by certain people.”

Suozzi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) to the economic reopening task force, said he did not believe anything regarding interruption insurance will see the light of day in some of the large stimulus bills Congress is currently working on.

Some policyholders nationwide have sued their insurance companies for denying their claims. A barbershop owner in San Diego has created a class action lawsuit against his policyholder, Farmers Insurance Group, for denying his claim under such virus damages provisions. Several other class-action lawsuits have been filed in the past month and a half against several other insurance companies.

Though such lawsuits take months if not years to get going, and especially with many court systems largely shut down from the pandemic, it will be a while before any cases see a judge.

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business,” Pally said.

Insurance Providers Respond

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association has said if governments required the companies process these claims, it would mean companies would have to process over 30 million businesses suffering from COVID-19-related losses. APCIA President David Sampson was quoted on Twitter saying requiring so would “significantly undermine” their abilities to cover such things as wind damage, fire or other losses.

The industry as a whole currently sits on an $800 billion surplus, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That business group released a report May 15 with statements from 50 experts from the Wisconsin School of Business insurance panel that if local governments force insurance companies to accept the claims, it will “threaten the solvency of the insurance industry.” Though the report is sponsored by the association through its independent research division, most experts on the panel largely agreed the private marketplace could not handle all the losses with the current surplus in the industry. 

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business.”

— Mitch Pally

Though in that same study, some experts, 13 percent of the 50, argued the industry could be able to handle the claims, depending on how federal legislation was enacted. 

Industry lobbyists have said the federal government should be providing help, but one example of small business aid, the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to help keep many small shops in business, has been mired in problems since its inception, and many owners are simply refusing to use the funds fearing they will have to pay back the money long term as a loan. 

The Washington Post reported last month that insurance associations and business groups are hiring lobbyists specifically to play out this fight in Washington, D.C.

What some are hoping for is some kind of middle ground, a place where insurers and the federal government’s interests meet. One suggested draft bill, the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020, would pay agencies losses when those exceed $250 million and capped at $500 billion over the calendar year, though that bill would only cover future pandemics, and more insurance companies have come out saying it should be the federal government which needs to handle such calls for aid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Suozzi said he agreed most insurance companies would be “wiped out” trying to cover interruption claims during the pandemic, but also put stock in a public-private partnership, including the possibility of using the infrastructure of the insurance industries to funnel money back into these businesses.

“The bottom line is there’s no relief right now — it’s not going to solve anybody’s problems right now — and I don’t want anybody to get their hopes up,” the congressman said. “But it’s something I’m conscious of and other people are working on it — we just don’t know what the right answer is yet to get it done, because there is so much incredible pushback from the other side.”

In the meantime, Pally said it’s best for businesses to continue writing their state and federal officials. Rocchio suggested that owners, despite the fact some agencies are advising not to bother to file a claim, should apply anyway should anything change in the near future.

The Miller Place Teachers Association along with Tuscany Gourmet Market organized a soup donation to Mather Hospital. Miller Place alumnae, Sammy Schaefer and Nicole Ellis, are among the people on the front lines. Photo from MPSD

By Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr

With so much going on day to day, with people stuck at home and fearing for the future, there are consistent hopes provided by the men and women doing more to help the people most in need. Whether it’s people making masks for essential workers or meals for hospital employees on the front lines, we asked local officials, business and civic leaders who they would like to thank during this time of crisis.

New York State

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) wanted to thank both those on the front lines and the “unsung heroes.”

“I want to thank each and every one in our community who has been on the front lines of this battle,” he said. “Doctors, nurses, first responders and all of our volunteer firefighters have been fighting a war that they never expected. Their efforts are truly heroic, and we owe them a debt we may never be able to repay. But equally as notable is the work of our unsung heroes — retail workers, postal employees, cleaners, truck drivers, restaurant employees, delivery people and every single person who continues to show up every day to help make sure we have food on our table, gas in our cars and electricity in our homes. This is an effort that requires so many to work together and these men and women are the ones who will lead us to victory over this virus. We say thank you for all you do for all of us.”

Rocky Point residents the Palifka family have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high. Photo by Jane Bonner

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is thankful for several local residents.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the members of our community who, week after week, have shown up for their jobs — our health care workers, first responders, grocery workers and all the others who have provided the crucial services we need to get through this shutdown. Through their courageous commitment to service, essential workers have enabled the rest of us to do our part by staying home.”

Englebright was grateful also for those doing their part at home. 

“For those of us at home, it is hard to reconcile that staying put is actually doing something important,” he said. “But by working from home, helping our children with their schooling, social distancing and wearing masks when out in public, our responsible behavior has worked to flatten the curve and slow down the transmission of the coronavirus. So, my gratitude goes to everyone who responded so admirably to the challenge before us. Your collective actions combined with others around the state have literally helped save thousands of lives.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said it’s difficult for him to just name one person or one group of workers.

“Everybody’s different and everybody, in different ways, has done so much incredible work,” he said.

He said in addition to medical and nursing home professionals, it’s important to remember the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

“They’re basically volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way,” he said.

He also credited police officers who have had to assist more so in ambulance calls during the pandemic.

“They are busier than they have ever been before, but it’s less with crime and more with dealing with so many health emergencies,” he said.

Gaughran added that medical calls are more involved than before as additional protocols need to be followed to protect first responders from COVID-19.

He said he has seen so many restaurant owners doing remarkable work too, donating food to nearby hospitals and firehouses.

“Some of these businesses are operating almost on their last dollars, just using it to help people,” he said.

Suffolk County

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) had health care and front line workers as well as residents on her mind when giving thanks.

“I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, aides, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, techs, phlebotomists, dietary workers, custodians, mechanics, grocery workers, restaurant workers, car mechanics, moms, dads, grandparents and daycare teachers and aides who have sacrificed their personal health and safety during this time as essential workers,” she said. “I would also like to thank all of those that continue to wear masks, maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others, sneeze and cough into the crook of their arms and wash their hands frequently. These little efforts protect not only them and their families from COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections, but they protect us all! Stay strong, stay safe!”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) also had an array of people to thank.

Bagel Express employees custom made and donated 50 feet of hero sandwiches spelling out “thank you” to health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from David Prestia

“During this unprecedented pandemic, it has been wonderful to see our neighbors coming together to support and help one another,” he said. “All of our essential workers (first responders, health care providers, postal and delivery people, store clerks and many more) deserve our gratitude for the sacrifices they make each day to do their job to help keep us safe and healthy. It is important to recognize everyone stepping up to make a contribution, from students sending kind messages — to sewing groups and seamstresses making and donating face masks — to restaurants/food establishments donating meals — to the libraries and businesses making PPEs and hand sanitizers — to nurseries donating plants to residents and health workers — and to the newspapers and media outlets keeping us informed. The work of those on the front lines is truly heroic and I can’t thank them enough.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) wished to thank Heritage Trust and the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for their food drives, which each raised thousands of food and toiletries items that will go to those who need it. She also thanked essential workers including law enforcement, health department and Department of Social Services.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she’s grateful for a range of people.

“Like so many others, my gratitude goes first to our health care and frontline workers,” she said. “Their courage and devotion is the brightest star in this dark time. I’m grateful that people in our community are staying home, following social distancing guidelines, and wearing face coverings in public so we can all help slow the advance of this invisible enemy. We all have that essential role to lower the toll COVID-19 takes by being responsible.”

Hahn also pointed out the importance of mental health professionals. 

“I am grateful too for the mental health professionals providing counseling, guidance and emotional support for domestic violence victims, as well as the many among us who are struggling to hold on to hope and the tattered shreds of what was a normal life just a few short months ago,” she said. “As someone with a social work background, I know for certain that these caring individuals are critical to the wellbeing of our community. We need their skills and their caring hearts now more than ever.”

Hahn added that the community has played an important role to help fight the pandemic. 

“From people making masks for others, delivering food to seniors and neighbors in need, to journalists bringing us the facts and stories or the lost and to the families teaching their kids at home, I see bravery and love everywhere,” she said. “It gives me hope that we will come through this stronger than ever.”

Children across the county have been writing and drawing encouraging messages in chalk. Photo by Stefanie Werner

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D- Dix Hills) thanked not only those on the front lines but also her staff members and many others. 

“During this most unprecedented time, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all essential workers,” she said. “You are on the front lines providing us the goods, services, care and protection we need to keep moving forward. A special thank you to the members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees who prove time and time again that their willingness to serve the residents of our county knows no bounds. I would also like to thank my staff for their hard work during long days that often become long nights. Their commitment to serving the constituents of the 16th Legislative District and all residents of Suffolk County is most admirable.”

She also had praise for the residents of the district.

“Thank you for demonstrating what makes Suffolk County the best place to live,” she said. “As a community we have shown that we are in this together, and surely, if we can get through this together, then we can get through anything together.”

Brookhaven Town

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said she has been holed up in her house since the start of the pandemic, only having one kidney and knowing it’s a potential comorbidity. Still, she said she has seen a tremendous amount of community support, such as from Rocky Point residents Quentin Palifka and his mother Alicia who have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high.

Otherwise, both she and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pointed to Lighthouse Mission, which despite all the constant pressure and expanding need has kept up its mission to give food to those who need it. In April, the town gave Lighthouse Mission the green light to start delivering food and toiletries directly to homebound residents. With volunteers which has included a few elected town council members, they have been delivering upwards of 100s of meals a day, Romaine said.

Margaritas Cafe in Port Jefferson Station, along with the owners’ other franchise The Cuban in Patchogue, is just one of many examples of businesses supplying food to hospital workers during the ongoing crisis. Photo from Facebook

The supervisor also looked to thank the town personnel who are delivering close to 425 hot meals to seniors who were in the town’s congregate nutrition program. That is 425 meals each and every day.

“People feel like somebody still cares,” Romaine said.

Along with that, he also thanked all the people who are continuing to operate the many food pantries in the town of Brookhaven. 

“They are doing God’s work — they are helping people in desperate need,” he said. “Nobody should go hungry.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was thankful for many “hometown heroes.”

“I am incredibly thankful for the essential workers who are diligently providing support to individuals and families, including those most vulnerable, in our community during the COVID pandemic,” she said. “Without their commitment, none of us could be safe. In addition to our outstanding health care and medical professionals, I would like to highlight and thank the janitors, custodial, and maintenance staffs that are keeping our essential facilities and businesses running, as well as the grocery workers, the United States Postal Service and the many delivery drivers who continue to ensure that we receive the food, medicine and other supplies that we need during this time. A final thank you goes to all those hometown heroes in our community, too numerous to name, who have stepped up to fill a community need during this challenging time.”

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Huntington

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinaci (R) also had a number of community members to thank.

Susie Owens of St. Charles Hospital delivered a special message to her colleagues in chalk. Photo from St. Charles Facebook

“While it goes without question that all frontline workers deserve our heartfelt thanks, special recognition is due to the volunteers who have come out of the safety of their own homes, out of retirement, or who have traveled to Long Island from less affected areas of our country to put their lives on the line to participate on our front lines,” Lupinaci said. “From fire, rescue and EMS volunteers, to retired volunteers serving alongside our doctors and nurses, and military service members who are supplementing the efforts of our local front lines — our thanks can never be expressed fully enough. As we plan to kick off National Nurses Week on May 6, I’d like to thank Theresa Sullivan, whose Huntington Hospital Meals initiative delivered thousands of meals and raised over $150,000 to thank medical professionals and staff at Huntington Hospital over the several initial weeks of the pandemic, giving a boost to our doctors and nurses, who have found themselves in the difficult position of filling in, bedside, for the families of isolated patients during overwhelming, non-stop shifts. I encourage everyone who is still working and collecting a paycheck to join me in donating to the Northwell Health COVID-19 Emergency Fund to support our amazing nurses!”

Three Village

Jonathan Kornreich, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a member of the district’s school board, said he would like to thank the teachers.

“These people have devoted years to learning their craft and developing the skills to be effective in the classroom, and they suddenly find themselves engaged in a practice very different from what any of us could have predicted,” he said. “And yet, they have risen to this challenge with compassion, with great effort and yes, with newly developed skills.”

Kornreich said that even though school is not in session in the usual ways, Three Village Central School District teachers are working harder and longer than usual “and in ways that have challenged them professionally and personally.”

“I think that many parents have a newfound appreciation for what’s involved in getting developing minds to focus on learning,” Kornreich said. “I’m thankful that the kids of Three Village have a warm, dedicated and professional teaching staff to keep the wheels on this thing as we head into an uncertain future.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said she is thankful for Three Village residents.

“They just keep giving and giving freely,” she said. “It’s just extraordinary.”

Rocky Point community members and the VFW Post 6249 arrive at the Long Island State Veterans Home to show support despite horrible losses suffered inside. Photo from Facebook

Rocchio said she has witnessed a huge number of philanthropic acts during the pandemic that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. The WMHO along with Stony Brook Village Center restaurants created a health care meal program and are currently donating meals to Stony Brook University Hospital. Rocchio has been touched by the number of residents who have been donating funds to help with the mission. More than 9,000 meals have been donated to health care workers.

“It’s such a wonderful place to live,” she said.

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Thank you signs outside Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

North Shore Brookhaven Civics/Chambers of Commerce

Civics have also noticed the massive amount of support generated by local residents. Bea Ruberto, the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, thanked Rose Mayer and her daughter Lily, who as their own organization, The LilyRose Collective, are making masks along with Facebook group Long Island Love for police and other essential personnel. 

“We’re (the Civic) planning to donate to help her do this,” Ruberto said. “We’re also going to be asking the community at large to donate fabric, etc., and she will give us the masks to donate to whoever needs them.”

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital crowd together after the flyover April 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

Chambers also wanted to respect the multiple strides businesses have made in the community despite the strains and stresses from lost business. The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce thanked Dan Reinwald of Tilda’s Bake Shop who donated pastries, donuts, rolls and bread to Mather as well as Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai in appreciation of medical professionals and security staff. 

Tom O’Grady of Tuscany Market, who partnered with the Miller Place Teachers Association and organized soup and food donations for Mather Hospital,wanted to recognize our medical professionals.

Roy Pelaez of Island Empanada donated empanadas to the Suffolk County Police Department to show appreciation for our law enforcement. 

Joe Cognitore and the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, escorted by Peter Oleschuk, Rick Mees and the North Fork Cruisers, took to the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University to pay tribute to the staff and volunteers serving there as well as to remember and honor deceased heroes. 

Eufrasia Rodriguez of Justice 4 Autism has been donating masks to ambulance drivers, nurses at Stony Brook, Good Samaritan Hospital, Pilgrim State and Southside Hospitals along with local businesses like Spiro’s, Fantasia Bridal and Bakewicz Farms.

Tino Massotto of Cow Palace donated complete dinners to St. Charles Hospital’s ER Department and ICU as well as Good Shepherd Hospice.

Michelle LaManno of C.P. LaMannos Have a Pizza in Miller Place donated salads and pizza pies to Mather Hospital, and Michelle and Stelios Stylianou of Studio E hosted free virtual art classes for the community.

The hill going down on West Broadway in Port Jefferson is well known for its potholes and ripped up pavement. Photo by Kyle Barr

A section of North Shore roadway will benefit from new state funding for the renewal of streets impacted by extreme weather events.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Jan. 23 that $151 million in new funding to complement $743 million in direct state aid provided through the PAVE NY Initiative for local road and bridge projects. Of the new allocation, $6.6 million will be used to renew Route 25A from Nicolls Road in Stony Brook to Main Street/East Broadway in Port Jefferson, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

A portion of Route 25A in Setauket will benefit from state aid. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“New York continues to make nation-leading investments in the renewal and modernization of the state’s roads, bridges, transit systems and airports,” Cuomo said in the release. “These investments are laying the foundation to ensure sustained growth throughout the 21st century in tourism, business and workforce development, and economic opportunities.”

According to the release, the improvement will enhance highway safety and reduce the roughness of roads, which in turn will make them more fuel efficient. Work is estimated to begin this spring and be completed in the winter of 2020.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) brought the severity of local road conditions to the attention of the state Department of Transportation last year, according to a press release from his office. The designated areas have been subjected to serious degradation due to water seepage into road seams and large clusters of filled potholes creating rutted, uneven and unsafe surfaces. One of the worse sections is the roadway near the East Setauket Post Office to CVS, but other sections have deteriorated rapidly, including the hill from Poquott into Port Jefferson.

“Last summer, we noticed an acceleration in the deterioration of different sections of Route 25A,” Englebright said in the statement. “So, I met with DOT staff to communicate the urgent need for repair. After evaluation of the road confirmed the urgency, [NYSDOT] regional director, Joseph Brown, indicated that he would do his best to find funds to do repairs. We want to thank the regional director and his staff for working to include the main highway of our community in this funding program.”

Town of Brookhaven Highway Supervisor Dan Losquadro (R) said while he’s always grateful when he hears of state funding coming the town’s way, when he heard the recent news, he was disappointed as to how little aid was coming to Suffolk County. He pointed to the fact that the section of Route 25A is the only one designated in the area. He added there is a desperate need for state funding to be reinstated for work on Route 347, specifically for the Nicolls Road overpass and intersection.

Losquadro said he will continue conversations with state legislators about state roads, also the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, otherwise known as CHIPS, allocation for local streets.

“I really hope that this is a starting point and not an endpoint when it comes to the proposal for funding for infrastructure for Long Island, because paving one road in Suffolk County really isn’t to me an adequate investment on the part of the state Legislature,” Losquadro said.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James in January. Photo by David Luces

Residents of both Brookhaven and Smithtown spoke during a Jan. 8 public hearing about the impact of the proposed development of the 75-acre Flowerfield/Gyrodyne site on Route 25A in St. James. While opinions varied, one thing was certain: The project will be the largest development the area has seen in quite some time. 

The proposal seeks to subdivide the land into nine lots, keeping existing businesses and a catering hall while adding a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

During the hearing, Gyrodyne representatives said they are taking a sustainable approach and have come up with multiple alternatives to the original plan that balance out potential impacts to the surrounding communities. 

Kevin McAndrew, a partner at Cameron Engineering, a Woodbury-based firm hired by Gyrodyne, discussed the potential benefits of the project. 

“The project would bring in significant economic benefits — generate over $3.5 million dollars, bring in high quality jobs and no increase to [area] school enrollment,” he said. 

McAndrew said the firm has acknowledged traffic concerns in the area. The proposed plans, he said, such as the assisted living center, would contribute minimal traffic congestion during peak commute hours. The developer pointed out the inclusion of walking trails, bike lanes, green infrastructure and a potential sewage treatment plant at the site, which representatives said could be used for sewering for downtown St. James. 

Despite what they heard from the presentation, many speakers and civic leaders said they were not convinced, including officials from Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation.”

– Ed Romaine  

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven supervisor, said the project would impact the communities of Brookhaven in a devastating way. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation,” Romaine said. 

Romaine and others complained that Brookhaven is being left out of the planning process and their concerns are not being addressed. As the site is just outside their borders, it would impact their roads, particularly Stony Brook Road. 

“I submitted extensive comments on the scope of the project, to this date I haven’t been contacted about any of these concerns,” the supervisor said. “25A is over carry capacity and we are going to add more? I have concerns about Setauket Harbor and water quality as well as this sewage treatment plant.” 

Maria Hoffman, press secretary read a statement from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket):

“Shortcomings of this DEIS include the project’s impact on Stony Brook Harbor, will the onsite [treatment] plant become a regional sewer district? What type of sewer system will be purchased and installed, and will it remove nitrate? These meaningful unanswered questions need to be answered and resolved before the project is allowed [to move forward].”

Stony Brook resident Curt Croley said he’s worried about the project’s impact on property values. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal is opportunistic based on available land,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder if there’s been enough diligence about the sewage treatment plant, the runoff and all the potential impacts that are so close to all these municipalities.”

Joy Cirigliano, chapter president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the nearby harbor and other waterways.

“We already have water quality issues in Stony Brook Harbor and Smithtown Bay with Ecoli and hypoxia, adding more nitrogen to the harbor is significant,” she said. The applicant must analyze these impacts and the repercussions before proceeding with the plan.”

Artists, such as Kevin McEvoy, who had a thriving studio on the Flowerfield site, have already left. The atelier now has limited operations at Gyrodyne. 

 “The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

– Natalie Weinstein

Some Smithtown residents welcomed the project, because the St. James business district on Lake Avenue could tap into the project’s proposed sewage treatment plant. 

Natalie Weinstein of Celebrate St. James stressed the importance of the potential project and how it would finally allow for the revitalization of Lake Avenue as a cultural art district. 

“The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

Following the public hearing and end of the public comment input later this month, the Smithtown Planning Board will await submission of a final environmental impact statement in preparation for a vote on the Gyrodyne applications. 

TBR News Media has previously reported that Smithtown has already received $3.9 million from Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), so it can connect the Lake Avenue business district in St. James to the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant. 

 

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psych Center. Photo by Donna Deddy

A piece of legislation that would have begun the process of creating a master plan for the Nissequogue River State Park was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 1, putting the future development of the park up in the air. 

“The park described in this bill is the subject  of  recent  litigation against  the  park’s office  and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Cuomo stated. “In light of the fact  that  the  litigation  addresses  an environmental review conducted by the State related to uses in this very park, it would be inappropriate to sign this legislation.”

The park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and accessing the local waterways via its marina. But many of the site’s derelict buildings prevent the place from being truly enjoyable. Many people find the old institution creepy. 

New York State lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in June sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would have required state parks officials to begin a master plan for the park. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

– John McQuaid

The introduction of a master plan would have included input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolition of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said he was disappointed to hear of the governor’s decision. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

McQuaid admitted that he believes the veto may have been political, stemming from the foundation’s decision to sue the state park’s office and Department of Environmental Conservation over the siting of a DEC Division of Marines Resources building in the park. 

Smithtown, state and local officials including County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended a rally Dec. 20 in support of the proposed project.  

According to Smithtown and county officials, the state project is expected to be an economic boost that would bring  in approximately 500 construction jobs, 100 permanent positions, plus the added year-round police presence in the state park. 

“We have never been against a DEC building on the property,” McQuaid said. “But we were against the location of the building, if we had the master plan process we could avoid this, everyone would have their say and input.”

The proposed site of the building would be in close proximity to the park’s marina. McQuaid deemed the location “inappropriate.”  

State officials who helped sponsor the master plan legislation were left confused about Cuomo’s decision.  

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan. It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

– Steve Englebright

“I am both shocked and disappointed by this action and feel like our community deserves better,” Flanagan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to veto this legislation instead of joining us in protecting our community, our environment and our way of life.”

Since 2006, Flanagan said his office worked with former Gov. George Pataki (R) to ensure the land is protected by halting the sale of land to developers, adding additional land to the park system. In addition, they secured over $31 million in state funding and worked with local leaders to ensure continued efforts to preserve and remediate the property.

Flanagan said he stands ready to work with all interested parties to see if they can reach an agreeable compromise on this important issue. 

“I continue to be optimistic that we can work out a solution, and will return to Albany in January ready to work to find an amicable solution that protects the residents of Kings Park,” he said. 

Englebright offered similar sentiments and was hopeful lawmakers would revisit this issue. 

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan,” he said. “It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

McQuaid echoed the state officials’ thoughts saying the foundation is anxious to sit down with the parks office and state officials so they come to some type of agreement. 

Previously, there had been discussions about repurposing park land for a sports field, a concert area and a community center.

Ken LaValle officially announced he would not be running for reelection Jan 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

State. Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), 80, has been a fixture in New York’s 1st District for more than four decades. At an event held for him at the Village Center in Port Jefferson Jan. 10, the crowd of gathered officials and friends said goodbye to the elder statesman the only way they knew how — in a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute.

Sen. Ken LaValle joined with his wife and daughter Jan. 10 in announcing he would not be seeking reelection. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The best part of the job is the people, those who come into your office looking for help,” the 44-year statesman said in a speech that saw him choked up at several points. “What a thing — to be able to
help people.”

The news broke Wednesday, Jan. 8, that LaValle would not be seeking reelection.

A common refrain of “1st District first,” was shared continuously throughout the Friday gathering, joined by a real “who’s who” of public officials on the East End, including reps from town, county and state, as well as local community and party leaders.

Jesse Garcia, the Suffolk County Republican chairman, said LaValle represented his district so well he will be a hard man to replace. Garcia knew of the senator from the age of 14, he said, and had knocked on doors for the senator along with his father.

“Nobody can really fill LaValle’s shoes,” he said.

Some begged the senator, half-jokingly, to reconsider.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the senior senate member had been one of the hardest workers for his district. LaValle was at the forefront of preserving over 100,000 acres of land in the Pine Barrens, and Englebright has worked with the senator on many projects since then. At that time, Democratic Assembly member Tom DiNapoli, who is now state comptroller, worked with LaValle in establishing the Pine Barrens Protection Act back in 1993.

“Most of his work has been achieved,” DiNapoli said. “Your example we will all continue to point to, which was beyond partisanship.”

Englebright stressed his colleague’s term is not yet over, and he hopes he can work with LaValle on preserving several hundred acres of woodland currently surrounding the defunct Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, land, he said, that is so pristine and ancient it “has never been touched by a steel plow.”

For his past and present role in preservation, the senior assemblyman said it went beyond a partnership.

“I would use the word ‘indispensable,’ but it’s not adequate,” Englebright said.

When speaking on his legacy, local officials mainly pointed to two things: His support of the environment and preservation efforts, and his support of schools, including growing the SUNY system and particularly noting Stony Brook University has been built up over the past several decades under his watch and support. His name adorns the sports stadium.

State Sen. John Flanagan and Ken LaValle Jan. 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

Englebright shared the sentiment that LaValle’s support went down to the most unsuspected, including the building of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center. Other members of the SBU community said they were both congratulatory and sad that the senior senator was set to retire within a year.

“He has been a tireless champion for Stony Brook University and a staunch advocate for higher education support,” said SBU Interim President Michael Bernstein in a statement. “Stony Brook has advanced significantly thanks to his leadership and deep commitment to our students, our patients and our region.”

Port Jefferson Village mayor, Margot Garant, said LaValle has been in office since she was young, and was a consistent aid to Port Jeff. She added that it was with LaValle’s eventual support that the Village Center, which was built under then-mayor and Garant’s mother, Jeanne Garant. The center was also where the senator hosted his official retirement announcement.

“He listened to everyone,” she said. “He shows that things get accomplished with time.”

Other local legislators knew him for his general support of their districts. Brookhaven Town supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), said the senator had gone out of his way to bridge divides and work for the people of the district. He said he hopes the next person to secure the district will “be one who will advocates for the people of [state Senate District 1].”   

“It’s not the barbs or criticism, it’s not the tweets, it’s reaching out to both parties to get things done,” he said.

Residents of all ages participate in the annual regatta and barbecue, one of several events that the group coordinates with the help of the foundation’s student board. Photo from Nissequogue River Foundation

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and the marina. 

In 2008, the community formed the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation. Its mission: to enhance and beautify the park for present and future generations. 

Since New York State began incrementally transferring the hospital’s grounds to the park’s office first in 2000 and then again in 2006, the foundation has worked tirelessly to make important improvements to the 521-arce site. 

“I’m proud of the work the board has been able to accomplish, it’s been hard work but we’ve been successful on a lot things.”

– John McQuaid

John McQuaid joined the organization as a volunteer seven years ago and in 2013 became its chairman. He said the non-for-profit has contributed remarkable improvements to the park, like removing buildings, forming youth groups and getting a master plan approved in Albany. 

“I’m proud of the work the board has been able to accomplish,” he said. “It’s been hard work, but we’ve been successful on a lot of things.”

Improvements began back in 2006, when the state demolished a number of buildings, tunnels, roadways, walkways and removed hazardous materials thanks to funding secured by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The objective now is figuring out what to do with the other existing buildings on the old hospital grounds. There have been discussions about repurposing some land for sports fields, a concert area and a community center.

Three years ago, the foundation created a student board and began working with local high school students. 

“It has been terrific on a lot of levels; it has given them a voice on the [foundation] board and real-life experience they can use in the future,” McQuaid said. 

The members of the student board are tasked with helping to fundraise, promote and run a number of events for the foundation including the Regatta on the River, the annual Turkey Trot and 5K Sunset Run. 

“We are very proud of the work they’ve done, they are really passionate about our mission and promoting this ‘diamond in the rough’ to the community,” the chairman said. 

The group has also been backed by Charlie Reichert, owner of five IGA supermarkets in Northport, who sponsors all the foundation’s events. Reichert said the park has the potential to be the Central Park of Long Island. Over the years, the business owner has given his time and resources to the foundation. In 2018 alone, he donated $1 million to the NYS Department of Parks to help complete renovation of the park’s administrative offices.

Residents of all ages participate in the annual regatta. Photo from Nissequogue River Foundation

 Mike Rosato, former chairman and current board member, said Reichert’s contributions over the years have been instrumental to the organization. 

“He has been the anchor of the foundation, we’ve been able to accomplish so much and make a lot of progress on the park,” he said. 

Rosato lauded McQuaid for his efforts to get the younger generation involved. 

“It is great to be able to get young people involved in the foundation and that care about the park in general,” he said.

Rosato also praised the group’s efforts into bringing the community together for its event. 

“[On average] 2,000 people have attended the annual Turkey Trot, it has become a family tradition,” he said.  

While the foundation has made strides throughout the years, McQuaid stressed the need for a master plan for further development of the park. 

In June, New York State lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would require state park officials to begin a master plan for the park. The foundation is still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) signature on the bill. 

The introduction of a master plan would include input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolishing of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

“The master plan is for the next phase and the future of the park,” McQuaid said. 

In the meantime, the chairman is encouraged by the progress the foundation has helped steward at this point. 

“The foundation is a vehicle for the community, it is not just one individual, it takes a group effort to get things done,” McQuaid said.  

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People of all ages enjoy Heritage Park for its sizable number of amenities. Photo by Kyle Barr

A flash of green among the gray, the short hills that roll along the side of Route 25A in Mount Sinai are strewn with people. Men and women jog, kids scream and laugh playing baseball and soccer. Children run up those green hills, then fall and let themselves tumble down the gentle slopes. 

A mockup of what the park would look like upon completion. Image from Lori Baldassare

Some developers have talked about creating a “town square” for the hamlet of Mount Sinai, but for lovers of Heritage Park, there already is one.

“There it is, Heritage Park — it’s one of the most beautiful parks of its kind that I’ve ever seen,” said New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). “It came together from the cooperation of so many wonderful people willing to pull together.”

Nearly 20 years ago, local residents became heated about plans to develop the site for the home improvement giant, Home Depot. The site, which was once a pumpkin farm, joined with other properties like the Davis Peach Farm in an agrarian setting. Decades of home development turned the area into small strips of business sandwiched in between residential neighborhoods.

Heritage Park went in the opposite direction. A successful agreement between Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven meant the county bought the site by using the Community Greenways Fund, while the town built the park amenities like the baseball and soccer fields. The nonprofit organization Heritage Trust continues to operate the park, along with Brookhaven town. The trust hosts multiple carnivals and other events throughout the year as a means of raising money. The trust also rents out the Heritage Center for public events. 

But more than that, the trust has become a lightning rod for Mount Sinai, and even well beyond. 

The history of Heritage

Very few dreams become reality, at least to specific designs.

But original plans for Heritage Park, known also as The Wedge, and mockups bear a striking resemblance to how the park has shaped up 20 years after those original designs. 

A contractor installs the irrigation system just north of where the playground is now located back in early 2003. Photo by Fred Drewes

Fred Drewes, a longtime park volunteer and Mount Sinai resident, originally came to the Mount Sinai Civic Association back in 1988 with the idea of a hamlet study, and the idea was resurrected in the late 1990s, co-chaired with then civic president Lori Baldassare. Within those designs, he proposed a park, one that would become the focal point for the North Shore that had once been McGovern Sod Farm. 

This was during a time when the rural past of the hamlet was being laid over with brick and concrete. One housing development after another changed the tenor of Mount Sinai. The last few farms on the south side of Route 25A started to close and look to sell their property, and a few big names started eyeing those parcels. 

“The development pattern of western Long Island was going to make it impossible for Mount Sinai to escape being visually damaged and swallowed up,” Englebright said.

Among the legal action taking place at the location of the Davis Peach Farm, one of those maligned developments was a potential Home Depot on a plot of land that had been a pumpkin and sod farm.

At the southern tip of The Wedge, a space of only about one acre that had commercial zoning, representatives of Home Depot approached the property owners who were looking to sell. The rest of the property was zoned residential.

Baldassare, who has spent the past 20 years as the on-and-off again Heritage Trust president, has long been in the trenches over the fate of The Wedge. Home Depot would end up the line in the sand for Mount Sinai residents. As civic president, she asked Drewes to revive his hamlet study and plan for a park. She also was a leader among residents campaigning against the home supply chain, getting people to tie green ribbons around their mailboxes all across the hamlet to show their support.

“We ended up competing for them with land,” Baldassare said. “We had thousands of ribbons up all over the place.”

The next task was to make sure, as Englebright put it, “the same thing didn’t come back in some virulent form.”

In 1999, the civic authored a proposal for Suffolk County to buy the parkland. Of course, in government, nothing is ever that simple.

A state, a county, a town, a civic

Rare is it that all levels of government from the top down work together on such a large project as was Heritage Park, and while it wasn’t all easy, the results stand.

Volunteers from Girl Scout Troop 004 help plant a garden in the fall of 2004 in what is now the Butterfly Triangle, though plantings later failed due to not breaking up the compacted soil. The same day, volunteers planted crocuses. Photo by Fred Drewes

Still, the process was grueling at times. Both Brookhaven town and the county wanted active recreation, namely baseball and soccer fields. The town, especially, wasn’t into designing passive space with ingredients of a walking path and playground, but mostly a space for, as Drewes called it, “free play.” He remembers the then town parks commissioner mentioning he would never use such a space for jogging, so close as it was to two major roads.

“The way the greenways program worked is they needed a partner to maintain it,” Baldassare said. “They weren’t willing to develop it, they needed a partner, and the county said they wanted a municipal partner, but the town was not willing to do all the things we wanted in the park.”

Before they were willing to sign on to the county, the town also wanted to have a civic partner.

The assemblyman came into the picture, agreeing with the civic about needing to maintain the heritage of the area. He said he reached out to his colleagues at the state, county and town levels to help open those conversations. 

One difficulty they encountered was finding funds to buy the particular section of The Wedge that was still zoned for commercial.

The property was owned by Vinny Bove, a local entrepreneur and developer. Englebright recalled him as a “rather rugged individual,” and didn’t expect that he would be such a kindred spirit. Speaking with him, he found Bove was more than willing to keep the property up for sale until the state could gather the funds for the civic to buy the property.

“His welcoming attitude and his willingness to embark on the journey of uncertainty that was worthy of the community’s heritage, made it possible,” Englebright said.

This first Smiley Face at Heritage Park was a display of 7,500 crocuses planted in the Fall of 2004. The present Smiley Face is a result of planting 2,250 daffodils in the fall of 2012 with the first daffodil Smiley Face blooming in spring of 2013. Photo by Fred Drewes

Of course, the next issue was that the civic had to be legally able to accept state funds, needing to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, categorized as a land trust. It was then the Heritage Trust was formed, which incorporated in 2000.

The past trust president and now treasurer recalls much haggling over which municipality would fork over the funds for which part of the project. After the section was designated for park, it would be years before the first shovels finally entered the ground in 2003 when it all started to come together.

The county would buy most of the land, with one section now owned by the trust. The town would build the walking paths and baseball and soccer fields, and town lawnmowers continue to maintain the space.

“All the voices were speaking of the green space,” Englebright said. “Just amazing loving work the parks department of the town invested itself into.”

20 years, 20 more

From a few baseball fields and passive green, the park grew. More state assembly grants and loads of private fundraising helped gather the money to build the barnlike structure that has become the Heritage Center, the main headquarters not just for the trust but also for  the civic groups and a gathering spot for other local groups and events.

Amy Satchell was a volunteer since almost the beginning, helping to fundraise for the center and installation of the playground, which went up years after the park was fully built. Every year around the holidays Satchell goes to help decorate the center and the large pine tree just outside its doors.

Heritage Center at Heritage Park is used by the trust for its events. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Many people had an idea that it would be the town center, the town square of Mount Sinai,” she said. “You can see now after all this time all the wonderful amenities that are provided.”

Drewes has seen more and more amenities come to the park, including his own idea for the now-annual parade of flags, a display of flags from nations across the world on the Avenue of America, a stretch of the walkway that encloses the park.

The longtime Mount Sinai resident, now 83, is retired. He can lean back on a park bench and look at all the work he and his civic compatriots have helped accomplish.

“I’m gratified and extremely happy that what we as citizens proposed and volunteers worked tirelessly to create is valued by so many people,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she has seen the effectiveness of the project and has proposed a similar agreement for a spot in Middle Island. The location is the site of a now-demolished K-Mart across from Artist Lake along Middle Country Road. 

“It has inspired me to take the model and replicate it,” Anker said.

Baldassare said that as the park reaches its 20th year, very few things remain as part of the original design, with only a splash pad and a few other odds and ends left. For the trust, it means the end of an era, and the start of a new one.

Fundraising has always been a difficulty, with the trust having an annual budget of around $300,000, the members have to fundraise what they don’t get through sponsorships and grants almost all by themselves. These funds also help to pay the several part-time staffers the trust needs for its ongoing efforts.

“People think it must be taxpayer dollars that take care of the center, and it’s not, we always have to raise money,” Satchell said.

They host events every year like the spring and summer carnivals, but those are dependent on weather. The trust treasurer recalled one year that was incredibly lean because of adverse weather conditions during one of its main fundraising events.

The park always requires more volunteers and is looking for more ideas to take the park through the next 20 years. 

Though many who visit the park assume that it must have always been there, for the trust and its volunteers, that can only be a good thing.

“When people say that, for them, the park has always been there, that’s fantastic,” Satchell said. “We want it to be that anchor in the community that people think it’s always been there. I do hope it always will be.”

This article was amended Oct. 2 to change the captions within the pictures to better reflect what they present. Several pictures were changed to say they were taken by Fred Drewes.

Elected officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at Old Field Farm. The event marked the official opening of a nearly half-mile trail that can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Elected officials have made it easier for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a county property in East Setauket.

At a press conference Aug. 12, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), employees from the county’s parks department and residents were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at Old  Field Farm. The event marked the official opening of a nearly half-mile trail that can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking.

Bellone credited Hahn’s persistence for making the trail happen. The legislator secured $100,000 from the county’s 2018 Capital Budget and Program to fund the path. The trail starts at a pedestrian entrance on West Meadow Road on the eastern side of the farm, runs around the perimeter of the farm and ends on Trustees Road right before visitors enter the Town of Brookhaven’s West Meadow Beach pathway.

“What a wonderful gem this park is for our community and for the county, and what an incredible addition this is for people,” Bellone said. “You think, well is a path that significant, and the answer is yes. It literally changes the whole environment for people.”

Hahn said she knows that trails such as the Old Field Farm are important to the community, because it allows people to be physically active, while enjoying the outdoors without sharing the road with vehicles. 

The nearly half-mile trail can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“I’m a runner, and I run often on West Meadow Road here,” she said. “There are some blind curves. And, this will also function to get people — walkers, runners, bikers — off the dangerous road and on to our public space. Having people have access to these public places is so important for us as elected officials to make sure that these spaces that we invest in — that we spend money to maintain — that people use them and appreciate them, and this is a way that many more people can take advantage.”

Hahn thanked community leaders for their support, including county parks department employees, Herb Mones of the Three Village Civic Association’s land use committee, Larry Swanson from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Englebright, who secured the land for Suffolk in 1985 when he was a county legislator. She also thanked Sally Lynch, president of Old Field Farm, Ltd., who she called an advocate and steward of the property. Hahn said the nonprofit organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years. The funds, in conjunction with county grants, have helped to restore and maintain the historic structures on the property. The farm is also home to horse shows, and the trail will be closed during those shows to avoid spooking the horses.

Old Field Farm consists of 13 acres that adjoin the 88 acres of protected wetlands and overlooks the Long Island Sound and West Meadow Creek. Long Island philanthropist Ward Melville built Old Field Farm in 1931, and it was initially called North Shore Horse Show Grounds. Melville commissioned architect Richard Haviland Smythe to create the equestrian facility, which includes a main barn and courtyard, freestanding stables and a wooden grandstand.

“This property is exquisite, spectacular as you can see,” Hahn said.

Englebright said the property could have been sold to a developer to build a waterfront housing development in 1985. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, who owned it at the time, decided to sell it to the county. The land acquisition was an important one, he said, because it is located right next to West Meadow Beach. The assemblyman described the area as a mosaic of public lands forming a protective encirclement around West Meadow Creek. He called the addition of the trail extraordinary.

“With the access now of this trail, when you add this trail to Trustees Road, you have more than a mile of waterfront-exclusive, non-motorized access,” he said.

In the past, Hahn has spearheaded initiatives for a parking lot and walking path at Forsythe Meadow Woods County Park in Stony Brook and a parking lot at McAllister County Park in Belle Terre.

 

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Jack Raybin, center, on his 100th birthday receives a proclamation from New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright while his wife, Anne Raybin, looks on. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Not many can say a state legislator attended their birthday party, but that’s exactly what happened when Jack Raybin, a 52-year Setauket resident, celebrated his 100th birthday.

Jack Raybin checks out a gift from his grandchildren a few days after this 100th birthday. Photo by Rita J. Egan

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) stopped by Raybin’s party July 4 to present the centenarian with a proclamation. Englebright said it’s a practice of the assembly members to recognize those who distinguish themselves through unique gifts and generosity.

The assemblyman said when Raybin was a young man, he put aside his dreams to become a civil engineer to serve his country in the U.S. Army during World War II. After telling the party guests that the proclamation bears the seal of the State of New York in solid gold, he turned to Raybin to present the certificate and said, “You, sir, are solid gold.”

A few days after the party, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers hat, the centenarian said he had a nice time at the party that featured baseball-themed decorations lining the driveway and a cake shaped like the former Ebbets Field stadium. Like many of his generation, Raybin was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers until the team moved from the borough to Los Angeles in 1957. He then went on to root for the New York Mets.

Born in the East New York section of Brooklyn July 4, 1919, he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School. While he originally studied civil engineering at City College uptown, Raybin said he wound up joining the Army during World War II. He was stationed on the Atlantic Ocean side of Panama. He said he volunteered to join the Army, and at the time there were openings in Fort Tilden and Fort Hamilton in New York, and he expected to serve for a year at either one of them. However, due to there being no volunteers for Panama, names were chosen randomly, and Raybin was selected to serve in that country.

“It was the best thing that happened to me,” he said.

Members of the armed services at Tilden and Hamilton eventually were sent to Europe to fight in World War II; however, he remained in Panama for four years. It was during this time that he met former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was visiting the troops. He was a captain at the time, and Roosevelt had a question for him.

“Captain, which is your best mess hall?” Roosevelt said.

“That one,” he said, indicating a nearby hall.

“I took one look at her, and I guess I must have fallen in love.”

— Jack Raybin, about when he first met his wife

“Captain, they all should be the best,” she said.

When he returned from Panama, he went back to City College but then transferred to Baruch College, where he majored in business administration. After graduation, he got a job in the field working for a wholesale liquor company. After retiring at 65, he began working at his son-in-law’s company which deals with the laser industry until he was 96, helping with the books and the business side of the operation.

“I was in good health, so I kept working,” he said.

Raybin’s wife, Anne, said the couple moved to Setauket 52 years ago due to its proximity to the beach and the Long Island Rail Road. They raised their children Linda and Paul in the Three Village area.

The two met at Banner Lodge in Connecticut in 1947, and eight months later were married. The centenarian said he remembered she came to the lodge visiting a friend.

“I took one look at her, and I guess I must have fallen in love,” he said.

He said he also remembers taking her on the Ferris wheel where he put his arm around her in the hopes of making out with her.

His wife also remembers the encounter.

“He may be quiet, but he makes his moves,” Anne Raybin said.

When it comes to marital advice, Jack Raybin said it’s about give and take.

“You got to treat your partner as a partner,” he said.

Raybin has seen a lot of change in the world since he was growing up in Brooklyn. He said he remembers going to the store for his mother to pick up ice to keep food cold in an icebox and keeping items such as milk outside the window on a platform in the winter. The centenarian said he still calls a refrigerator an icebox. His family would also have to go to a store if they had a phone call, he said, as the neighborhood phone was in a nearby candy store. An employee would run to a person’s apartment to tell them they had a call, and then they would have to walk down to the store.

Raybin is a grandfather to five and great-grandfather to one, and he said he’s always willing to share his stories about the old days with his family.

“If they’re interested, they’ll ask me about it, and I’ll tell them,” he said.