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Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine

A celebration of a local harbor returned Sept. 25.

After canceling last year due to COVID-19, the Setauket Harbor Task Force was able to hold its annual Setauket Harbor Day at the Town of Brookhaven dock and beach on Shore Road in East Setauket.

The free event included boat tours of the harbor, kayaking, marine science exhibits and more.

The local nonprofit, which advocates for improving water quality and protecting and restoring marine habitats, hosts the annual event to help residents reconnect with the harbor.

On June 19, the Town of Brookhaven Black History Commission (BHC) held its annual “Juneteenth” celebration in recognition of the 156th anniversary of the end of slavery in 1865. The event was held at the historic Longwood Estate in Ridge and included a BBQ picnic, games, music, dancing and activities for children. Pictured from left, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn; BHC member Leah Jefferson; BHC member Dr. Georgette Grier-Key; Supervisor Ed Romaine; BHC Chairwoman Dr. Corrinne Graham; Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich; BHC member Myles Green; BHC member Charlotte Pressley; Councilman Michael Loguercio; and BHC member Clayton Hudson.

About the Town of Brookhaven Black History Commission: In 1991, a Black History Month Committee was formed in observance of Black History Month. Two years later, the Town Board established a permanent Black History Commission to provide continuity in planning and organizing a Black History Night celebration every February. The purpose of these celebrations is to acknowledge and honor the contributions of national and local African Americans, nationally and locally, while fostering an appreciation for their culture and heritage. In 2014, the Town board recognized that celebrating African American culture should not be limited to one specific month, so they unanimously passed a resolution expanding and broadening the scope of the Black History Commission. The commission now works on year-round programming to promote black history and culture in the Town of Brookhaven through events and community outreach.

Photo from town

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine recently stopped by the Town’s Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai — the site of a two-day COVID-19 vaccination “pop-up POD” for Brookhaven residents over the age of 50. 

During his visit, there was a continuous flow of residents into the center who were scheduled to receive their vaccine. The senior center has been closed in response to the COVID-19 health crisis.

“The Rose Caracappa Senior Center has been closed for over a year and this was an appropriate reason to open the doors again,” Romaine said. “I am greatly encouraged by the number of people who registered for the vaccine and I thank New York State for working with us to make them more convenient for residents. We hope to assist New York State with distributing more of vaccinations soon.”

For more information, eligibility, COVID-19 vaccine registration and more, call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4827) or go to covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov. There is no charge for the vaccine.

Photo from LI Cares

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine will take part in Long Island Cares 10th Annual Legislative Pet Food Drive Challenge. This drive is focused on collecting and providing food for the family members most vulnerable to hunger: our pets. This drive will take place at from March 22 through April 23 at the following drop off locations:

  • Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville
  • Brookhaven Animal Shelter, 300 Horseblock Road, Brookhaven
  • Coram Fire Department, 303 Middle Country Road, Coram
  • College 101 Resource Center, 290 Main Street, East Setauket
  • Brookhaven Town Highway Department, 1140 Old Town Road, Coram
  • Brookhaven Town Parks and Recreation Administration, 286 Hawkins Road, Centereach
  • Brookhaven Town Vehicle Control, 550 North Ocean Avenue, Patchogue

Suggested donation items include canned dog and cat food, five to ten-pound bags of dry food and treats.

“Many families are struggling to put food on the table, and this means it is also a struggle to feed their beloved pets,” Supervisor Romaine said. “I want to thank Long Island Cares for holding its Annual Legislative Pet Food Drive Challenge and I look forward to seeing how much food is collected.”

For more information, call 631-451-TOWN.

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

The Town of Brookhaven has entered into a $108,000 contract with a telehealth company for monitoring town employees’ health for COVID-related symptoms.

The town board unanimously agreed Dec. 3 to enter into a contract with Radish Health, Inc, a Manhattan based company that helps monitor employee health data using an app. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said there will be an app that employees will have to check in with every day. If anyone is feeling sick, there will be opportunities for videos with doctors or to get tested. The company will also handle all contact tracing. 

The agreement is good for six months, and will be used with 900 town employees.

“Radish gave us the best deal and the best agreement in terms of the safety of our employees,” Romaine said during the Dec. 3 meeting. “We have to do all we can to contain his virus.”

Town officials again complained that while Suffolk County has received around $260 million in federal CARES Act funding, towns like Brookhaven haven’t received “a dime” for government operations. 

“The town is doing this to protect our employees … we still have not received dollar one,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said. “This is what the money was intended for.”

Romaine said the pandemic has continued to hurt town finances, though this move is important as “a number of our employees have been inflicted with this virus.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said despite those infections, “government needs to continue to operate.”

The Suffolk Plaza shopping center that once housed a Waldbaum’s in South Setauket sits half empty, a far cry from where it was just a decade ago. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has proposed a new zoning that officials said could revitalize vacant or underutilized shopping centers or other structures throughout the town.

At their Dec. 3 meeting, the town voted unanimously to adopt a new floating zoning code called Commercial Redevelopment District, which would allow developers to apply for permission to redevelop aging property into a combination of retail and apartment space.

The old section of the Mt. Sinai Shopping Center that housed the King Kullen has sat empty for months, and is just one of several empty former big box stores on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

“What we’re looking to do is to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned vacant and underutilized commercial shopping centers, bowling alleys and health clubs,” said town Planning Commissioner Beth Reilly. 

She added that this new zoning will “encourage flexibility in sight and architectural design, encourage redevelopment that blends residential, commercial, cultural and institutional uses, and encourage redevelopment that’s walkable, affordable, accessible and distinctive in the town.”

Site requirements would be a 5-acre minimum for such commercial centers and sites that have been previously used but then demolished. It permits uses for all zonings except such things as heavy industrial and auto uses. There would be no setbacks for nonresidential uses, but a 25-foot minimum setback for residential use and 50-foot maximum height.

The special zoning is meant to be kept free of big-box stores and is restricted to anything less than 40,000 square feet of space for commercial properties. Also, the zoning incentivizes certain kinds of development through allowing for increases in density, such as being near the Long Island Rail Road or if a business owner  uses green technology.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) restated that Long Island does not need new development “as much as we need to develop what we have that has fallen into disrepair.”

The proposal did receive a letter of support from the Port Jefferson Station hub study committee. President of the PJS/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Dzvonar, said she was in support, and that she thinks it will create downtown-type areas in places that might not have that sort of downtown already.

“It will encourage commercial property owners to update and revitalize their establishments, which will entice additional local businesses … instead of leaving their locations vacant to become blighted,” she said.

Mitch Pally, a Stony Brook resident and CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the new zoning should benefit developers. 

“Long Islanders no longer have large tracts of land,” he said. “We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way. The ability to know from the code what you can do, and what you’re going to be able to get, allows for better financing opportunities.”

The Town Board left the issue open for comment until Dec. 17. The Three Village Civic Association sent the town a letter Dec. 12 signed by the civic’s land use chair, Herb Mones, with some critiques of the proposed law, saying the language of what was considered vacant or underutilized was unclear, and that the CRD will incentivize some property owners to neglect their structures to get access to the new “generous terms afforded by the new zoning.” 

“We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way.”

— Mitch Pally

The letter also criticized the height allowance under the code, calling it “too high for most hamlets” in the town. The letter also shared the civic’s anxieties of increased density.

“Considering that there were only two speakers at the public hearing on Dec 3, both representing commercial interests, and no community leaders or members of the civic community participating on such an important proposal, we believe that this new zoning legislation to create a new zoning code for commercial property in the Town of Brookhaven would benefit from more input of Brookhaven’s civic community,” Mones wrote in his letter.

The change also repeals the town’s previous Blight to Light code. That code was passed in 2010 under previous Supervisor Mark Lesko (D), which in a similar vein to the current code was designed to remediate blighted properties by incentivizing development through a scoring system. Based on how a developer scored, they could receive incentives such as building permit refunds and an expedited review process.

Officials said that system had issues, and that the code had only been used twice, once in a Coram redevelopment project, and again with Jefferson Meadows, a project designed for Port Jefferson Station that was never built. That planned 96-apartment building met opposition from residents almost a decade ago. The Port Times Record reported at the time that residents disapproved of Blight to Light’s self-scoring system and that such projects did not conform to the Port Jefferson Station hamlet study. 

“This has been a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “Port Jeff Station has a number of abandoned vacant and underutilized properties, and the Blight to Light code was not necessarily addressing that, so we’re hoping that this code can now create a different mechanism to address these types of properties.”

Unlike Blight to Light, there is not a special permit, but applicants would have to come to the Town Board to seek approval. There is also a time limit on these approvals, and they are taken away if the developer does not make good on trying to build.

“This puts the power in the Town Board level,” Reilly said.

The town is holding its next meeting Dec. 17 where a follow-up public hearing is scheduled.

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced the town has issued a request for proposal for a natural gas supplier for the town’s new Community Choice Aggregation program, an energy program that allows local governments to buy electricity and gas on behalf of its residents.

Brookhaven officials outlined such a program to the town board back in October, 2019. CCA is a municipal energy procurement model that replaces the utility as the default supplier for virtually all homes and small businesses with your jurisdiction. The utility remains responsible for energy delivery and billing. By pooling demand, communities build clout necessary to negotiate lower rates with private suppliers and are able to choose cleaner energy. CCA allows for the bulk purchasing of electricity and/or gas and, if all goes according to plan, provides the ability to obtain more competitive rates from energy suppliers, ultimately saving money for residents and commercial properties.

“Community Choice Aggregation could result in cheaper, cleaner energy use for all of our residents and businesses in Brookhaven and would give them the opportunity to seek an alternative utility provider for the first time,” Romaine said in a release.  “Issuing this RFP for a natural gas provider brings us one step closer to putting in place the first CCA on Long Island.”

After receiving bids for potential CCA electrical/gas rates, officials said the town will examine if there is a cost savings benefit to residents and small businesses and choose whether to sign the contract to begin CCA.  If approved, residents and businesses currently served by the local utility company do not need to do anything in order to be included within the CCA — they will automatically be included, unless they affirmatively opt-out. There is no contract for the resident or small business to sign or enter into. If a resident or business wishes to leave the CCA program, they may terminate at any time with no early termination or exit fee. No taxpayer or public funding is used to run a CCA Program.

The CCA program was created by the New York State Public Service Commission in April 2016. Westchester was the first New York county, through the Sustainable Westchester consortium, to launch the CCA program under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

Other municipalities on Long Island that are in the process of establishing CCA programs include Hempstead, Southampton, and East Hampton Towns. More than 80 municipalities across New York State have enacted legislation to begin the process to adopt CCA.

The West Meadow Beach parking lot might soon see parking meters as part of Brookhaven’s plans to recoup $2 million in annual revenue. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Amongst the hard decisions stemming from approving its 2021 budget during the pandemic-induced economic downturn, the Town of Brookhaven has included a somewhat controversial change to how it will process parking at several town beaches and marinas.

As an offset to pandemic induced losses, the town voted unanimously Thursday, Nov. 19, to no longer have seasonal employees sitting in booths at town beaches. Instead officials are opting for a meter system, though residents who pay for a town parking sticker will be able to park freely.

The 2021 town budget was also approved Nov. 19 without discussion from the board.  

The biggest increases to the $307 million budget are in the form of a $2.34 million general fund property tax increase. This is being offset slightly by highway taxes, leading to an annual tax increase of a little under $9 for the average homeowner. It also remains under the 1.56% New York State tax levy cap. Garbage pickup will be set at $1 a day for a single-family home, or $365 a year.

In addition to the 2021 budget, the board opted to amend the current year’s capital budget to the tune of $900,000 for the new parking system. The town voted to issue new bonds worth $1 million in total to pay to acquire and install the new parking meters.

Meters are expected to be placed at the Holtsville Park, Sandspit Marina in Patchogue, Port Jeff Marina, Corey Beach in Blue Point, West Meadow Beach and Shoreham Beach. Anyone with a parking sticker will not have to pay into the meters. The meters, which aesthetically appear like those in Port Jeff village, are going to be active between May 1 and Oct. 15.

The town is discussing a $25 parking sticker fee per vehicle with a reduced price for additional vehicles in the household. Reduced fees for seniors and veterans parking stickers will still be available.  

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the town is paying millions of dollars for its part-time workers at these parks and beaches to monitor people coming in. Currently people without parking stickers pay $5 for the day at these beaches, but under the new system will only need to pay for the time spent at 50 cents an hour.

Officials said the new meters will work like they do in places like Port Jefferson, though the town did not discuss what the hourly rates will be. 

During the afternoon meeting, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) called for discussion on the parking issue which created a few tense moments between the councilwoman and supervisor. Cartright said she was given very little time to present information about the parking system to her constituents, though she did receive some comments and questions from community members that did require some kind of presentation about the proposal.

“This discussion of having a parking meter system put in place has been a point of discussion over the past few years,” Cartright said. “Every time it’s been brought up, I’ve had my community members … [registering] objections to having parking meters there.”

Cartright did vote “yes” for the parking change, later citing in a letter to constituents that the added revenue from such a parking system will help the town as COVID has played havoc with its finances.

“It is our understanding from Parks Commissioner [Edward] Morris that this system will produce approximately $2 million in revenue annually,” Cartright wrote. “It is anticipated that there will be significant savings in eliminating the need for attendants to take payments and check stickers once this project is implemented. … Additionally, the potential health benefits of no longer exchanging cash for parking fees were also part of my consideration in light of the ongoing COVID pandemic.”

Herb Mones, the land-use chairman of the Three Village Civic Association, wrote a letter on behalf of the civic to Cartright and the Town Board arguing that it is the wrong time to start changing the parking system during a pandemic, especially when more people are seeking places like West Meadow Beach for some respite.

In a phone interview, Mones argued there had been effectively no public debate about the parking change and no notice, save for the letter Cartright sent to civic groups and constituents a few days before the Nov. 19 meeting. 

As a longtime resident and supporter of West Meadow Beach, he said that changing the parking system will affect the character of these parks and beaches. He added that staff manning the booths add a “ruralesque” charm to a public place, and that it also takes away the opportunity for the people at booths to screen incoming cars for things that might not be allowed at a beach or park, such as pets. 

“People in attendance at the beach have been a staple of the rural or suburban ideal,” he said. “The town doesn’t respect the right for easy public access to facilities that we have paid for over generations. … For someone like me, it makes me very weary when the town makes a proposal that impacts one of the services we’ve come to understand and love.”

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

Though Brookhaven Town has a structured financial path through 2021, much of it depends on where the pandemic goes in the opening months of next year. The town is also hoping for federal reimbursement of millions of dollars spent in both pandemic and storm response.

The town held a public online Zoom hearing for its $307 million budget Nov. 5. During the hearing Tamara Branson, commissioner of finance, said the biggest increases are in the form of a $2.34 million general fund property tax increase. This is being offset slightly by highway taxes, leading to an annual tax increase of a little under $9 for the average homeowner. It also remains under the 1.56% New York State tax levy cap. Refuse and garbage will remain at $1 a day for a single-family home at $365. There is also a 3% contract increase for ambulance districts as with the pandemic “we felt they needed a little extra money this year above and beyond the 1.56% property tax cap,” Branson said.  

The new budget also has to assume the government will resume normal operations starting the second quarter of next year, though that remains subject to any future surges of COVID-19.

The town did not use any 2020 fund balance to fill in the gaps of the 2021 budget, as “we have a lot of risk to the fund balance already,” she said.

Matt Miner, chief of operations, said the town has focused on not using any fund balance to balance the budget, saying they want to “live within their means.”

“We do have fund balance should there be an unexpected emergency,” he said.

The town laid out the costs to deal with the pandemic, along with other natural disasters. The town anticipates a cost of $4 million to retain certain employees at full salary during the pandemic, namely those who were unable to work because of the mandated 50% workforce reduction. Another $1.5 million was used for contractual expenses related to the pandemic, which includes mitigation efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. 

In terms of storm response, Brookhaven expects a cost of approximately $14 million to both prepare for Tropical Storm Isaias and remove debris from people’s homes on practically every residential street within the town. Another $15 million is approximated for tree stabilization after the storm had passed.

Branson said COVID contractual expenses are ineligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid. Miner later clarified there was still a question of what other expenses the town can expect to get reimbursed by FEMA.

There is another near-$30 million for other grant awards that the town has to advance, though those funds are expected to be reimbursed by the granting agencies.

In addition, the town is reducing its snow removal budget by $1.2 million, saying it has another $5.4 million left in the snow removal reserves for any major winter issues. 

“Preservation of fund balance from a budgetary point of view was not an option, given these risks that we have to fund balance as we move into 2021,” she said. 

Still, the 2021 budget does maintain constituent services through some reorganization. Department revenues are being reduced by $9 million compared to 2020, though some is offset by $5.5 million in spending reductions. The rest has to come from property tax increases.

Other revenues, including from the landfill and recreation fees, are down across the board. 

Brookhaven is set to vote on its 2021 budget at its Nov. 19 meeting.

This empty building located at 22 Research Way in East Setauket could be Sunrise Wind’s new office site, as well as a training center for those meant to go out on boats to work on the offshore wind project. Photo by Kyle Barr

A potentially huge economic boost for Port Jefferson, Setauket and the whole North Shore could soon be down the pike as more details of a regional wind-power project takes shape.

Sunrise Wind, a combined venture with U.S.-based Eversource and Denmark-based Ørsted, plans to create a 110-turbine, 880-megawatt wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. Announced back in 2019, project managers and local officials touted Port Jefferson as the new home base for the project, with offices located nearby and a repair ship to be stationed within the harbor itself.

The more than 260-foot service operation vessel will operate out of Port Jefferson Harbor.

Things are moving forward in a big way, according to Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who confirmed in a phone interview that Eversource has landed a new office space, specifically at a 59,525-square-foot office/warehouse located at 22 Research Way in East Setauket.

Romaine, who recently was on a Zoom call with company representatives, said while the front part of the space is likely to be an office, the back portion of the property is to be a training center for the people who will go out on the ship to work on and repair the massive turbines in the ocean. What’s more, since these offshore wind projects are still progressing with an ever-increasing demand for renewable energy, the supervisor suggested such a facility could gain national significance.

“You’re seeing offshore wind energy far more accepted, particularly with this crisis of climate change,” Romaine said. “This is a shot in the arm to the area, and wind energy will benefit the economics of all northern Brookhaven.”

Sunrise Wind reps have previously talked about their plans to work with Suffolk County Community College for a training program, but in response to questions Eversource and Ørsted reps said in a statement they will have more details in the coming weeks about this new property.

“This facility will serve a major role in our plans to make New York a leader in the U.S. offshore wind industry,” the statement read.

What those in the facility would be training for is to go out on a new 260-plus foot service operations vessel. The ship is planned to hold 60 passengers, and then take trained technicians back and forth to take care of the turbines on the basis of two weeks on and two weeks off. 

Sunrise Wind is also boasting that the chartered vessel is Jones Act compliant, a law that mandates new ships be manufactured in the U.S. The point, company reps said in an email to Romaine, is that offshore wind projects “can drive domestic jobs, manufacturing and investment growth.”

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said she has a meeting scheduled with Sunrise Wind representatives Thursday, but that the idea of the area becoming a nationally recognized hub for such technology would be a “home run.”

To help operate this vessel, Eversource and Ørsted reps have previously stated they would come into Port Jefferson Harbor for a 24-hour period in order to take on crew and resupply. 

The Town of Brookhaven has also sent a letter of support for both the facility improvements in Port Jefferson Harbor. In a letter to Doreen Harris, the acting president of the state Energy Research and Development Authority, Romaine supported the Ørsted/Eversource grant application for a custom pier in Port Jeff Harbor in connection with NYSERDA’s 2020 Offshore Wind Solicitation.

“The arrival of the [Service Operation Vessel] in the harbor, together with the use of the training facility both inland and on the pier, would bring a unique spectacle and new commerce to the area that will have positive ripple effects throughout the community,” Romaine wrote in the letter dated Oct. 7.

Garant said there are multiple benefits for some kind of update to the pier, which is owned by the town. Such improvements could also, in effect, make the Port Jeff power plant property more valuable, something village officials have been aggressively arguing with the Long Island Power Authority, which buys the plants power under contract with plant owners National Grid. 

She said project managers of Sunrise Wind have already done work to try and minimize the impact to the surrounding community, as the vessel will only be offloading people and resources once every two weeks.

“It’s a win-win for so many reasons: Our harbor is being utilized, and wind power is where I think we have to go on a global national scale,” the mayor said.

The project was originally slated to finish in 2024, but company reps have experienced some degree of opposition from those on the South Fork regarding, among other things, where the company can place the high-voltage cables. Instead of having the cables come in through that area, Romaine has proposed the cables come in at Smith Point, come up through Shirley and north up William Floyd Parkway. The town, he said, wouldn’t have the same hiccups as the South Fork had since major cables already run underneath the length of William Floyd, and there are existing buildings that Sunrise Wind can use as substations.

Negotiations are still ongoing, though the Brookhaven supervisor said there will be a hosting fee that will go toward benefiting the local community.

This version of the article corrects the ownership of the Port Jefferson power plant and adds information of the letter Romaine sent to NYSERDA.