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Assemblyman Steve Englebright

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, center, with the winners, from left, Cassidy Oliver, Eliana Sasson, Katie Zhao and Nicole Freeley. Photo from Emma Clark Library

On April 27, Emma Clark Library, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, local elected officials, representatives from the Three Village Central School district and guests from the community gathered to honor the winners of the third annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award.

First Prize Winner Eliana Sasson (grades 7 – 9 category) accepting her check from Karen Shack Reid. Photo from Emma Clark Library

Library Director Ted Gutmann, along with the family of Helen Stein Shack, presented all of the winners’ books — bound and added to the library’s Local Focus Collection — along with $400 scholarships to first-prize winners Eliana Sasson (“We Can Still Be Friends!”) and Katie Zhao (“Claire and Her Bear”)and $100 check for second-prize winners Nicole Freeley (“Sammy the Sock Monkey”) and Cassidy Oliver (“Color Your World”).

Karen Shack Reid, daughter of the late Helen Stein Shack, explained how the endowment was started. “My brother had suggested we needed to do something in Mommy’s memory … we threw around some suggestions, kind of talked about it, reached out to my nieces and my nephews … got a lot of great ideas. That’s how supportive this family is. My oldest nephew, my sister’s son, is a librarian, and he said, ‘Why don’t we do something at Emma S. Clark Library that Zafta — that’s grandma in Hebrew — loves so much? … that just fit.”

First Prize Winner Katie Zhao (grades 10 – 12 category) accepting her check from Karen Shack Reid. Photo from Emma Clark Library

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) spoke at the event, and the winners also received certificates from Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). Library Board President Linda Josephs, along with Trustees Deborah Blair and Richard Russell, were there to congratulate the winners and Three Village Central School District President of the Board of Education William Connors, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Kevin Scanlon, Ward Melville High School Librarian April Hatcher and Gelinas Junior High School Librarian Nicole Connelly were all in attendance.

The Book Contest called for teens in grades 7 through 12 who live in the Three Village Central School District to create a children’s picture book. Each entry could be the work of a single author/illustrator or a collaborative effort of an author and an illustrator. The contest was divided into two grade categories, grades 7 through 9 and grades 10 through 12, with one first-prize winner and one second-prize winner selected from each group. This award is given in memory of Helen Stein Shack by her family.

Englebright remarked to the winners, “It was an extraordinary level of creativity that you brought to this, and you will continue to show that as you develop your own adult lives and careers, which is part of the genius of this family’s gift: to make an investment into young people like this.”

Under sunny skies on a warm spring day, hundreds gathered at the corner of Nesconset Highway and Patchogue Road in Port Jefferson Station April 29 to make their voices heard in opposition of policies and promises from President Donald Trump (R) that reversed environmental protections.

On March 28, Trump signed an executive order to rescind two actions taken by the Obama administration that sought to establish a climate action plan and reduce methane emissions. It also established a review to determine if the Clean Power Plan, another Obama administration policy designed to reduced carbon pollution from power plants, should remain in place. Trump’s budget blueprint for the 2017-18 fiscal year released in March included significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and he has also publicly stated his intention to consider withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a United Nations convention on climate change. He has said the goal in rolling back measures designed to protect the environment is to relieve the financial burden the measures create for American businesses.

The North Country Peace Group and Long Island Rising, two activist groups who have been quick to break out the poster board and markers to congregate and send a message to Trump and politicians who support his policies, organized a sister march of the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. The Port Jefferson Station march saw several hundred protestors armed with signs and chants line the streets to voice their opinion.

“I knew that the people’s climate march was happening and I wanted us to have a local event for Long Island, for Suffolk County,” Rosemary Maffei, a member of both activists groups and an organizer of the Port Jeff Station march said in an interview during the event. “The reasons being, of course, I believe in climate change. I believe it’s happening and unfortunately we have someone in the White House right now who doesn’t believe in it. I think it’s important for us to come out in numbers and to show our representatives that this is an important topic for us and that we want them to represent us and how we want them to vote.”

A press release advertising the event also stated the two groups’ intentions.

“The rally will be an event for our community to come together and voice our concerns about the policies this administration is enacting which will have devastating effects on our planet,” the statement said. “We rally for our planet because if we don’t stop the insanity who will?”

Other residents from the North Shore shed light on their reasons for attending.

“We protect ourselves in all sorts of ways for the future, and here we are allowing the future of our children and grandchildren to be so jeopardized,” John Robinson from Setauket said.

A Port Jefferson resident shared Robinson’s concerns.

“He’s undoing incredibly important legislation that was designed to save the environment,” Merle Neidell said.

An aerial view of the area designated for sidewalk replacement. Image from Google Maps

What’s old will soon be new again as U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced this week $1.58 million in federal funding would be designated to go towards the construction of new sidewalks and curbs on Old Town Road in Port Jefferson Station and Coram. The funding will cover 80 percent of the total cost of the project. The new sidewalks will span from Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station to Route 112 in Coram along Old Town Road, and some of the improvements included fixes to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

“This is key funding to improve walkability and bicycle access in the Town of Brookhaven,” Zeldin said in a statement. He said the sidewalks in question are in desperate need of repairs. “Last Congress, I proudly helped lead the bipartisan effort to pass the highway bill, which secured funding for the Surface Transportation Block Grant. Our transportation and infrastructure are essential to the Long Island economy, way of life and safety, and I will continue working to ensure that states and local governments have the flexibility and resources necessary to strengthen our infrastructure and improve transportation safety, job creation, and our overall economy and quality of life.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) praised Zeldin for securing the funds because of what it could mean for the environment, as the new paths will create carbon-free transportation alternatives to driving cars, he said.

“Old Town Road connects the communities of Port Jefferson Station and Coram and both hamlets will soon become more pedestrian and bike friendly with the construction of new sidewalks as well as bicycle access along this route,” he said in a statement.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also thanked Zeldin and stressed the importance of infrastructure improvements in the town.

“Infrastructure keeps the town moving forward and upgrading it improves our quality of life and creates jobs that drive the local economy,” he said. “Congressman Zeldin has always been a strong advocate for the people of the 1st District, and I look forward to working with him to help find more ways to make Brookhaven a better place to live and work.”

Brookhaven Town  Superintendent of Highways Dan Losquadro (R) expressed similar excitement for the impending improvements.

“As we work to improve our infrastructure, the construction of bicycle paths and ADA-compliant, accessible sidewalks is crucial in ensuring the safety of our roadways for motorists and pedestrians,” he said.

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Route 25A in Setauket looking east from Woods Corner Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Following public forums, the future of the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area is coming into focus.

More than a year ago, the Brookhaven Town Department of Planning, Environment and Land Management was authorized to create a land use study and plan regarding the state highway from the Smithtown town line heading east to the Poquott Village line. This was after town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D–Port Jefferson Station) co-sponsored land use resolutions at the Jan. 14 and Feb. 4, 2016, town board meetings.

the inconsistent architecture of buildings located at Woods Corner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

After the go-ahead from the town, the Citizens Advisory Committee was formed with co-chairs George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, and Jane Taylor, assistant head of The Stony Brook School. The committee organized a number of community meetings to give business owners, store tenants and residents in Stony Brook, Setauket and East Setauket the opportunity to discuss their concerns and hopes for land use along the state road.

The meetings, led by consulting firm BFJ Planning, culminated with a wrap-up session at The Stony Brook School earlier this month, and the result will be a document that will guide business and landowners when it comes to building and renovating in the future.

Hoffman said he found the process over the past year rewarding.

“We really made a lot of progress pulling together all the groups that make up our community, and I think we have a clearer vision of what we like about it, and what we’d like to enhance as we go forward,” Hoffman said.

At the March 4 meeting, residents were given a summary of the community’s visions for the hamlets based on previous visioning meetings. Frank Fish, Noah Levine and Graham Cavanagh of BFJ Planning informed those in attendance both unique and shared elements along the Route 25A corridor as well as recommended goals and objectives for the future.

Romaine, Cartright and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were among elected officials who attended the visioning meetings. Englebright said he was impressed at how constructive the meetings were, and how Cartright and Romaine made themselves accessible during the process.

The assemblyman said he wasn’t surprised by the concerns and desires raised. Many residents said they did not want to see the road widened, but instead would like it to include more green space. Another hope of many residents is to make the road safer by adding a continuous sidewalk and creating lanes for bicyclists.

“The historic architectural style and character of the Three Village area is something that is a constant reminder of why a lot of us live here.”

— Steve Englebright

“I look forward to doing everything possible to add a sidewalk — the walkability aspect of this and [a lane] for bicycles,” Englebright said.

Both Hoffman and Englebright said Woods Corner at the southeast corner of Route 25A and Nicolls Road was another concern brought up by many at the meetings. Hoffman said people would like to see the buildings located on the corner updated with some sort of consistent architecture “because it’s the gateway to the Setaukets.”

The architectural consistency in all the hamlets was an additional topic raised at the meetings.

“The historic architectural style and character of the Three Village area is something that is a constant reminder of why a lot of us live here,” Englebright said. “We love the architecture. … People indicated how much they value it, and that for any reconstruction or new construction, that should be a benchmark of expectation to be compatible with who we are architecturally.”

According to BFJ Planning’s March 4 visioning report, the flow of traffic where 25A variously intersects Stony Brook Road, Nicolls Road and Main Street were also discussed at hamlet meetings. Roundabouts were suggested for both Stony Brook Road and Main Street, and the New York State Department of Transportation is considering a traffic light at the soft right turn onto Nicolls or removal of the soft right altogether. 

While other transportation issues and wants were discussed, including creating pullover areas for buses and supporting a trolley bus service for Stony Brook students and residents, recreation areas were another concern. The talks included improved civic space for gatherings, picnics and similar recreational activities as well as maintenance of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation-administered Patriots Hollow State Forest.

Hoffman said some of the proposed guidelines have already been a help to Parviz Farahzad, who is constructing Stony Brook Square located across from Stony Brook train station. Development of the shopping center was approved at the March 6 town planning board meeting. Farahzad has agreed to add more trees to the final site plan, will require tenants use signage that consists of wood-base signs with gooseneck lighting among other concessions.  The developer also hopes to install a low nitrogen septic system if he receives a waiver from the county for the new system. According to Hoffman, such systems help to protect the water in local harbors.

Hoffman said BFJ Planning is compiling a final document and, in a few weeks, the CAC will present a report to the town board. The ultimate goal is for the town to take into consideration the suggestions and incorporate them into future land use changes in the area through zoning changes.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), right, faces Steve Weissbard in the race for New York’s 4th Assembly District seat. Photos by Desirée Keegan

There were areas of agreement and points of sharp contrast between incumbent Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and challenger Steve Weissbard (R) when they sat down together at the TBR News Media main office to discuss their qualifications and plans for New York’s 4th Assembly District.

Route 347 and its ongoing reconstruction was high on the challenger’s list of important issues. The traffic and congestion are intolerable and detract from quality of life for area residents, and the redesign has been flawed, Weissbard said.

“New York is known as the least free state, the most regulated state, the highest tax rate state. We’re bleeding industry.”

— Steve Weissbard

“We need to get rid of the lights and add a third lane,” Weissbard said. “There should have been more overpasses.”

The incumbent said he is pleased with the changes to Route 347. Englebright noted the history of the road, which was originally supposed to be leg two of the Northern State Parkway extending all the way out to Orient.

“It never happened and we have a roadway that was confused by historical events,” he said. “The first proposals put forth by the [Department of Transportation] — going back more than a decade — would have recreated the Cross Bronx Expressway. Then Senator Jim Lack and I rejected those proposals and asked for something better. The something better is in the works.”

Weissbard has ideas for improving the state economy, which he said has been contracting for the last 40 years.

“New York is known as the least free state, the most regulated state, the highest tax rate state,” he said. “We’re bleeding industry.”

The answer, he added, quoting President Ronald Reagan, isn’t more government, but less government.

Englebright offered a different perspective.

“I can’t help but notice that the largest employer is government — and the largest entity, in fact, is in this district: the State University of New York — the largest employer in the bicounty region,” he said.

He argued that its presence has helped our community weather deep recessions that have affected other areas on Long Island much more profoundly.

On Common Core, however, they agreed completely.

“I think it undermines the fundamental relationship between teacher and student,” Weissbard said.

His Democratic counterpart was equally critical of the federal program.

“In the past, teaching was seen as an art,” Englebright said. “Now it’s trying to be seen as a quantifiable, robotic-like activity.”

“In the past, teaching was seen as an art. Now it’s trying to be seen as a quantifiable, robotic-like activity.”

— Steve Englebright

They both said they would like Common Core to be scrapped for a system that returns control to local school districts and teachers.

Englebright said he hopes voters will return him to Albany for a thirteenth term. He stands on his record of accomplishment on behalf of his constituents.

“I have made promises [in the past] and I have kept those promises,” he said.

Although his record on environmental issues gets lots of attention, he named other legislation that made him proudest.

“That the pertussis [whooping cough] legislation I sponsored with Dr. Shetal Shah has, according to his data, reduced the incidence of this killer childhood disease by at least 50 percent since the law’s passage in 2012,” he said.

Weissbard said he would like to bring a new perspective to the Assembly.

“As a county attorney, as a prosecutor, I’ve been in charge of both the juvenile drug court and, at times, the adult drug court, so I’ve seen the war on drugs on the Island at point blank range,” Weissbard said. “It’s a lot of first-hand knowledge that I would love to bring to the state level.”