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Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine

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.

Ed Romaine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lacking any kind of financial aid from county, state or federal sources, Brookhaven town is having to do a lot of the heavy lifting themselves in its 2021 budget, despite the pandemic.

In a Zoom call with reporters, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said their 2021 budget will be losing out on thousands from New York State they annually receive due to the pandemic.

Under the new budget, the average resident could be paying just under $8.93 more than they did in 2020 in town taxes, though that may not include the taxes from those living in special districts, and it is likely less for those living in an incorporated village. That includes an increase of around $14 in regular town expenses but is offset by $4.75 for highway-related property taxes. Town taxes represent approximately 5.67% of a resident’s own total tax bill. The highest percentage, at over 70%, remains local school districts.

The state’s stay at home order resulted in residents producing 13% more garbage than last year, town officials said. The new budget has an annual fee for a single-family home of $365 a year.

The Town of Brookhaven’s $307 million spending plan is contending with a loss of funds from landfill revenues, building department revenues, fire marshal revenues, just to name a few. The town also has to deal with a reduction in state aid, an example being a 20% cut to the $1 million Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit, equivalent to $200,000.

The only positive this year, it seems, is that mortgage taxes have increased more than normal thanks to an influx of new residents from New York City.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during a budget briefing Thursday, Oct. 1, that despite everything, they are staying within the New York State tax cap of 1.56%. He also boasted that the 2021 planned budget is not using any fund balance, or the town’s rainy day funds, to balance the budget. The town will likely have to dip into the fund balance this year, according to town Director of Operation Matt Miner, due to expenses not just from COVID-19 and subsequent shutdowns, but from Tropical Storm Isaias.

Through an incentive program and other staffing cuts, the town is less 42 full-time employees compared to 2020, as well as several part timers, many of whom were in summer programs which never came online due to the pandemic. The exit incentive program offered full-time staff the opportunity to retire early with $700 in their pocket for every year they worked for the town. Though because of benefits increases, the town is only saving $700,000 from staffing cuts.

“The one thing that I can’t do that the federal government can is I can’t spend money I don’t have,” Romaine said. “When you can’t do that, we could see our revenues were going down precipitously … their retirement at this time in a very difficult year for us was very helpful.”

The town is making the assumption that COVID-19 will be here to stay for the next several months and has set the tentative date for services and recreation spots, such as the Centereach pool complex.

“It does allow for some return to normalcy with some of our summer programs,” Miner said.

In terms of the highway department, Isaias did a number to their finances to the tune of approximately $5 million, including around $3 million in overtime payments, as well as contractor payments and equipment rentals. The town had offered all town residents the opportunity to get rid of their plant storm debris, but more residents also used it as an opportunity to get rid of plant debris that had not come down from the storm.

The town will have to eat those costs, Romaine said, as they have received no Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, and they do not expect any to be coming their way.

The reduction in highway property taxes are due to a decline in the 2021 snow removal budget, having not spent all the money budgeted for the past several years and carrying over a $5.4 million snow reserve. Road resurfacing, Miner said, is remaining fully funded in the capital budget at around $15 million. The town does anticipate a 20% loss in state CHIPS funding, which helps with local road repair, so the overall road repair budget is likely much less than last year.

“If anyone did that to the state budget, I’d figure they’d have problems, but I guess they figure they can do it to towns and villages … it’s too bad,” Romaine said.

This year, elected officials’ salaries are staying the same.

Suffolk County officials, meanwhile, have been frantically urging the federal government to provide additional aid to local municipalities. Though Suffolk received $283 million in CARES Act funding, Romaine said the county did not relinquish any to help town governments despite their pleas. Brookhaven itself did not receive any aid because it did not meet the minimum resident population to qualify.

Whether or not Republicans and Democrats on the federal level will come together to pass a new aid package, which the supervisor did not hold out much hope for, how it may impact the budget comes down to how much they get. Top of the list for Romaine, however, could be paying down debt.

“I’m not going to be supervisor forever, and I want to keep reducing the amount of debt the town has,” he said.

Local legislators joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) at a press conference Sept. 14 in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.

He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”

— Lee Zeldin

“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”

The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.

Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.

During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!” 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”

“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.

“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”

New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.

Lifeguards at West Meadow Beach made a quick save of one of the North Shore's most beautiful local hawks. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Lifeguards at West Meadow Beach recently proved their willingness to protect any living thing in distress.

Town of Brookhaven said in a release that lifeguards stationed at West Meadow Beach spotted a large bird in the water that appeared to be in distress. As the lifeguards approached, they realized the bird was not a waterfowl, as originally suspected, but a much larger Osprey that had become entangled in thick fishing line with a weighted sinker. The bird could not fly and was on the verge of drowning as it panicked to stay afloat in the water. 

Town lifeguards maneuvered a rescue surfboard underneath the bird, which allowed its head to remain above water and provide it with something firm to grasp. Brookhaven’s Environmental Educator, Nicole Pocchiare, was called to the scene to aid in the rescue and was able to get the bird into a box for transport to the Middle Island Save the Animals Foundation location with the help of lifeguards on duty. The veterinarian at STAR handled the large, taloned bird while clearing the wire, flushing the wound and checking for injuries. The bird was released back near his nest at West Meadow Beach after being cleared by the veterinarian. 

“I commend the lifeguards for their quick action to save this beautiful bird’s life,” said Brookhaven town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “Please remember not to leave fishing line, lures, or wire on the beach or in the water. Litter and debris pose a threat to the health and safety of wildlife and marine life that call our beaches home.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) was also impressed by the lifeguards’ quick thinking.

“Thank you to the lifeguards who came to the rescue of this osprey,” Cartwright said. “I am impressed by their quick thinking and ingenuity. Osprey are a valued part of the West Meadow Beach ecosystem, and I appreciate that these lifeguards went above and beyond to save the life of this important species. I also want to extend my thanks to our Environmental Educator, Nicole Pocchiare, and those at STAR for playing a part in this rescue. I encourage everyone to use fishing line recovery receptacles to properly dispose of this material that can cause devastating consequences to our cherished wildlife.”

 

PSEG trucks remove a downed tree in Mount Sinai Aug. 7. For several days, cars had to swerve around the tree that split the intersection of North Country Road and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

PSEG Long Island plans to restore power to the remaining 400 Long Island customers by midnight who haven’t had electricity since last Tuesday, when Tropical Storm Isaias hit.

“We remain committed to getting all customers related to last Tuesday’s storm restored by midnight tonight,” PSEG President and Chief Operating Office Daniel Eichhorn said on a media call Wednesday.

PSEG has 6,500 line workers and tree trimmers who are working to restore power from a host of states and continues to accept any other workers who are available.

This morning, PSEG moved workers from New Jersey, where it is headquartered.

Eichhorn assured residents that their bills would reflect the energy they used, which means that they won’t have to pay for electricity during the time their power was out.

The total number of outages in Long Island, including those who have been without power since the storm hit, stands at 10,500, which is a number that might increase this evening amid the predicted thunderstorms. Of those who are out, approximately 7,500 have lost power related to the storm, although Eichhorn said they are unlikely to have been without power for over a week.

Amid concerns about the pace of restoring power, the number of homes and businesses who were out and a communications problem on the day of the storm that made it difficult for residents to connect with their power company, Eichhorn said PSEG plans to use this experience to improve on the company’s storm-related processes.

Once the company restores power, PSEG will do a self assessment, which will include a “deep dive” into “lessons learned,” at which point the company will make immediate and long term changes to makes sure they are ready for the next storm.

Indeed, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined a growing chorus of politicians who expressed their concerns about the company’s readiness for the remainder of the hurricane season, which extends through the end of November.

“As we move towards the fall, we could be struck with a much more significant storm than this tropical storm,” Bellone said on a separate media call. “If that is the case, these issues need to be fixed. They need to be resolved before then.”

Eichhorn said PSEG hasn’t given much thought at this point to making the company’s assessment about its performance during the storm public.

Meanwhile, New York State Senator James Gaughran (D-Northport) called for the resignation of Eichhorn and Long Island Power Authority President Thomas Falcone.

Asked about the call for his resignation, Eichhorn said he was “aware of that” and the response of the company to the storm will be “part of our lessons learned and review. I’m pretty proud of the restoration efforts from our team. People have worked extremely hard and are very dedicated.”

Eichhorn added that PSEG would look into the IT issues that caused the frustration from customers and would “get better” and “make sure, for the next storm” they are “fully prepared.”

Eichhorn said he recognized the frustration people have been feeling, especially during a pandemic. Amid a discussion of residents in Cold Spring Harbor who blocked in a utility crew, preventing them from leaving until they restored electricity, Eichhorn said he understood that it’s a tough time to lose power, especially when so many people are working from home.

Still, he urged residents not to limit the ability of crews to react to the order of jobs. When crews are blocked in, they might help one or two homes or families at the expense of 100 or 200, he said.

PSEG wasn’t prepared today to discuss the possibility of reimbursing families for lost food during the outages, even as several politicians, including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) requested that the company provide $500 to each household that lost power for more than two days.

“Our plan is to really focus on making sure we get customers’ [power] back today,” Eichhorn said. “Tomorrow, we’ll start looking at those other decisions.”

A tree lies across Old Post Road East in Mount Sinai after Tropical Storm Isais. Photo by Kyle Barr

While crews from several states continued to restore power this week after the outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, frustrated residents and politicians expressed their dismay at PSEG for the pace at which they were restoring power and for the communications problems from a storm that passed more than a week earlier.

Indeed, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) characterized PSEG’s response to the storm as “underwhelming” and “disappointing.” He expressed further frustration at the moving target PSEG had for restoring power.

Romaine called on PSEG to give families and businesses that lost power for more than 48 hours $500 to cover the cost of lost food. He also said he plans to send Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) a letter calling for the appointment of an independent arbitrator who could hear the claims of businesses in a “swift” and proper manner.

President and Chief Operating Officer of PSEG Long Island Dan Eichhorn said the company is still discussing any possible reimbursement to customers and hasn’t made a final assessment.

Meanwhile, State Attorney General Letitia James (D) launched an investigation of PSEG in connection with their response to a storm that knocked out power to 420,000 customers.

As of mid-day Tuesday, a week after the storm hit, 3,800 homes were without power directly from the storm. At the same time, PSEG Long Island reported 25,142 total customers without power, which includes new outages after the storm.

Eichhorn acknowledged the call for accountability from local and state leaders.

“We know there’s been a couple of agencies that want to come in and do an investigation and audits,” Eichhorn said in a press conference Sunday night. “The way I would characterize this storm [is that we] did a very good job of preparing for it. Our communications were not up to our expectations. We know that created a lot of angst.”

PSEG, which has operated under the direction of LIPA since 2014, planned to conduct its own internal analysis.

“We do recognize that our communications channels did not meet our customers’ expectations. We’re going to look at that immediately, make fixes” and will improve those processes, Eichhorn said.

PSEG has maintained during the aftermath of Isaias that the communications problems did not impede the company’s ability to restore power and that it brought in numerous additional crews and continued to request additional staff even on Tuesday.

Over the weekend and into the beginning of the week, PSEG Long Island brought in close to 2,000 more lineworkers, tree trimmers and other personnel, bringing the total to over 6,000,

That compares with the Long Island crews and contractors the company operates on a daily basis of about 600 people, bringing the response teams to about 10 times the usual operating staff levels.

Eichhorn said the crews were practicing safe social distancing protocols and were also polled prior to the start of work about how they were feeling. The PSEG executive recognized the frustration residents have felt during the outage.

“We know customers have waited a long time,” Eichhorn said.

Several politicians have threatened consequences for PSEG’s storm response, including Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) who floated the idea of revoking the franchise. Eichhorn suggested the company’s legal team would consider Cuomo’s comments.

Romaine said PSEG sent in four crews to Brookhaven, the largest town by area in the state, the first day and 10 the second. Given the number of downed trees, Romaine said he believes that should have been closer to 30.

Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said the area was fortunate this wasn’t a bigger storm because a larger hurricane, with more rain and more intense winds, could have caused more of the population to lose power for a longer period of time.

Residents were upset that they couldn’t talk to somebody at PSEG to get answers.

Starting in 2015, PSEG received $729 million secured by Cuomo over a three-year period to strengthen the resiliency of the electric grid.

Eichhorn said that investment protected many of the customers who would otherwise have lost their power during this storm.

Local leaders, however, didn’t feel so fortunate.

“This is something that was not supposed to happen again,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Seatuket) said.

Englebright further said his office has heard of numerous problematic situations in restoring power, including in the S section of Stony Brook, where one side of a street had power and the other didn’t. When residents saw a repair truck and expressed their appreciation and excitement about power returning, the crew told them they were “here for the other side of the street” and drove off, Englebright said.

Englebright recognized the context for solutions to the ongoing problem of restoring power after major storms, including hurricanes that could come during this active season later this year.

He urged a short term plan, in which the area could return to the way things stood the week before last, and a long term plan, which could include more than cutting overhanging branches before storms wreak havoc.

Englebright and Romaine urged the area to consider burying some vulnerable lines. Romaine suggested burying one to two percent of the lines for the next several decades, increasing the resilience of the grid.

This storm serves as a wake-up call for the area, said Englebright, who lost power for four days and whose mother in Stony Brook lost power for five days.

To prepare for the storms that may come later this year, Long Island should have fuel depots with generators that are fitted for gas stations to prevent a shortage of gas, which occurred in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Englebright said. He also urged greater preparation for people who are home bound and who need special medicine.

The Brookhaven Landfill is set to close in 2024, but while the town has put aside money towards that end, a concrete plan has yet to materialize. Photo from Google maps

The inevitable closure of the Brookhaven Landfill in 2024 looms large on Long Island and the surrounding region. The burden of how to dispose of millions of solid waste still remains unresolved. The Town of Brookhaven has been considering its options, and one of them could be a new ashfill just east of where the current landfill is located in Brookhaven hamlet. 

Ed Romaine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said 500 acres of additional land owned by the town could be used for such a site. 

“There are probably 200 acres that we could take a look at for a regional ashfill,” he said. “We are looking to get feedback from other municipalities, we are in the premature stages.”

The site would handle only ash, and the town would not take any construction and demolition debris. While the money brought in from an ash site would bring in much-needed funds to Brookhaven, Romaine said it still leaves them with the issue of the construction and demolition debris, adding that with the closure of the landfill and no alternative for an on-Island site accepting that refuse, it would cause a crisis in the construction and building industry.

Currently, the Brookhaven Landfill handles over 350,000 tons of ash annually from energy-from-waste facilities, in addition to handling 720,000 tons of solid waste. Each day 2,000 trucks transport waste off the Island

Romaine said he hasn’t had any direct conversations with state officials or the state Department of Environmental Conservation on the idea of a new ashfill site. Though he mentioned some members of his staff may have had conversations on the matter. 

For such a site there would be the need for an environmental impact study as well as DEC approval. The Town Board would also have to make a decision as well. 

Though news about what could be another site of dumping in an area that has already complained about odor issues has not gone well with town critics.

Will Ferraro, activist and a 2019 Democratic candidate for Brookhaven supervisor, has created a petition against the proposed ashfill site. He said an ashfill site does nothing to solve long-term fiscal problems. 

“Instead of making a proposal to solve our long-term solid waste crisis and the serious environmental health issues related to it, this will only exacerbate the threats to our air quality and groundwater,” he said. 

Ferraro created the petition following a Newsday blog post discussing the potential ashfill site. His petition, “Say No to a Second Landfill in Brookhaven,” begs the Town Board to reject any proposals relating to a second landfill or ashfill site, as well as to develop a “comprehensive proposal to deal with our solid waste crisis, that can be brought to our regional partners at the state, county and town levels,” among other demands. 

Romaine reiterated that the town is not considering a second landfill, but only an ashfill. Back in February at a Long Island Regional Planning Council panel, the Brookhaven supervisor called for collaboration to solve what he called a “regional crisis.” 

In a June 15 letter to the council, Romaine reaffirmed his stance by urging it to work with the 13 towns, two counties, two cities and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop solutions. 

“Even if we are able to do so now, it will still take several years to implement any changes,” he said, adding, “If we don’t address this issue now, it is going to be yet another thing that will make Long Island a less desirable place to live and work.” 

People in Port Jefferson line up to eat at Prohibition Kitchen, doing their best to stay six feet apart. Photo by Kyle Barr

After two months of shutdown, area businesses were given the go-ahead to restart operations when Suffolk County reached Phase One of the state’s reopening process. It is the first of four phases as state officials slowly lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

For many storefronts, it is the first step on the path to recovery. Here’s how things are going for a few retailers in Port Jefferson. 

Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, said it’s been a delicate balance of making sure they are operating safely and trying to make some revenue again. For select retailers like hers, they are limited as of now to only curbside pickup. 

“We’ve encouraged our customers to check out our online store and if they like a certain item they can email, and we’ll have it ready for them at the door,” she said. “It’s been difficult because we are very hands on, we want the customer to be able to try on a piece but we’re limited on what we can do.”

Goldfarb hopes owners can eventually make up for some of their losses. But she also took issue with how the state handled big retailers remaining open.  

“Do I think it was implemented the right way? I don’t think so,” she said. “I understand Walmart and Target sell essential products, but people were also able to buy nonessential items. That completely puts mom-and-pop shops at a disadvantage. They should have closed that area off [to customers during the shutdown].”

Abby Buller, who runs the Village Boutique in Port Jefferson, said sales have been slow the first few days open. On Memorial Day weekend, a time when the businesses thrive with the influx of people, Buller said she only saw about six people walking the streets. 

“There was no one on the streets, why should they come to a town where they can’t go shopping. This is a shopping and eating town,” she said. “The bars are closed; the restaurants are only allowing pickup. Right now, there is no reason for the Connecticut people to come and take the ferry — there’s nothing to do once you get here.”

With eight weeks of no income coming in, the boutique owner is glad she can start bringing in some sales. She was also frustrated with how the state handled the initial shutdown restrictions and agreed with Goldfarb.. 

“What they’ve done to small businesses is ridiculous,” she said. “From the beginning they allowed Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s to sell nonessential products,” Buller said. “The fact that they were allowed to stay open during this time and make more money is disgusting, small businesses have been suffering.” 

Brookhaven officials have spoken out on the issue. 

“I am very concerned about the prospects for the future of our small businesses,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), at a recent press conference. “We need to be safe and we need to be smart, but we don’t need rules that work against mom-and-pop businesses when there’s no reason to do that. I ask the governor and county executive to take action now and help our small businesses and downtowns fully reopen again.”

The comments came after recommendations from the town’s post-COVID-19 task force looking at economic recovery. Members of the committee said the state’s plan has favored big box stores.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had similar sentiments. 

“We are asking the state to take a different approach when reopening businesses and use a more objective standard, such as the square footage recommendation made by the town a few weeks ago,” she said. “This will place our small businesses on more equal footing with the other larger and big box businesses.”

With Phase Two close by, owners will have to continue to obey social distancing guidelines. Retailers will be required to limit capacity. Patrons and workers are also required to wear masks.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and owner of East End Shirt Company is trying to make the best of their current situation as they look towards phase two. 

“Sales have been near zero, though we’ve had some customers,” she said. “But it’s important right now to be open, present and let people know we’re here.”

Going into phase two, Pipe will be changing the interior of the store to meet social distancing guidelines. Masks and the use of hand sanitizers will be required. 

“I think many of us look forward to starting a on a new page, looking back is painful,” she said. “We’re grateful to the community, they’ve had us in their minds and we feel that.”

In addition, once Phase Two begins, Goldfarb may implement an appointment-only model where up to six people can be in the store at a given time. She is also considering private shopping experiences. 

“My store is 700 square feet, we’re in a confined space. I’ll be requiring customers to wear masks until I feel it is comfortable to stop,” Goldfarb said. “I may lose customers but it’s our responsibility to be safe.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine during his State of the Town address. Photo by Kyle Barr

Brookhaven town has announced they are now accepting applications for COVID-19 Social Distancing Accommodations, which would allow businesses to expand outdoor seating and sales. This includes some retail establishments as well as houses of worship.

The permits are being fast tracked by the town and all fees are waived. This would immediately allow businesses to open up as Long Island enters Phase Two of reopening. All permits expire on Nov. 1.

The permits were partially formed thanks to the work of the Brookhaven Recovery Task Force, which Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said “we have implemented this strategy to allow businesses to expand their operations beyond the confines of their four walls so that they can maintain distancing and keep their customers and employees safe without drastically reducing their operation.”

Types of eligible businesses include:

• Restaurants

• Retail sales establishments

• Personal service shops

• Places of worship

• Health clubs

• Delicatessens

• Assembly and social recreation halls

• Offices

• Movie theatres

• Non-degree-granting instruction/program except those associated with manufacturing or driver training

• Tasting rooms as an accessory to a permitted principal farm brewery, cidery, distillery, or winery use

• Large commercial retailer, except those deemed essential business

The application is available on the Town of Brookhaven website at www.BrookhavenNY.gov/RestartBrookhaven. For more information, call 631-451-6400.

Amazing Olive in Port Jefferson village is just one of many businesses which has turned to online orders as nonessential shops have been closed. Photo by Kyle Barr

As Long Island continues to take steps toward reopening and some sense of normalcy, municipalities are aiming to help small businesses and their financial futures. The Town of Brookhaven has created a post-COVID-19 task force for economic recovery in an effort to revitalize the downtown areas and help small businesses affected by the pandemic, many of which are receiving no income at all during this time.

The Small Business Recovery Task Force is made up of business owners, chamber of commerce representatives, business experts and other officials. 

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said the task force gives them the opportunity to come together and be on the same page on how to help these small businesses. 

“We all have similar concerns and it’s important that we rally together and have a unified plan,” she said. 

The task force has continued to comply with feedback from local business owners. A complaint they have brought up is the state’s process of phasing in business reopenings.

“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures.”

— Barbara Ransome

Ransome said the state’s plan favors big box stores. While large retailers like Target and Walmart have been able to stay open, smaller merchants, who sell many of the same products, have been forced to close. =

“Those businesses don’t have that ability right now [to reopen],” she said. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association has sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) calling on him to come up with a consistent way of judging businesses. 

“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures,” she said. 

The group has also called on elected officials to help with insurance coverage issues.

Educating business owners, merchants and customers on social distancing and other best practices is another area the task force is focusing on. 

“It’s all our responsibility to make sure we are on the same page,” said Charlie Lefkowitz, the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce,. 

One idea they’ve proposed is creating a public service announcement in coordination with the town. Lefkowitz said it would inform the public on safety measures, social distancing compliance and other information. They would also use it as an opportunity to send out a positive message of unity. 

“The hardest thing we will have to figure out is how we are going to social distance,” he said. “We are trying to help these main street and small businesses.”

In addition, the task force is looking at ways to ease the reopening process for owners. Capacity and the number of customers a business can serve could play a huge role in how they do so, given the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. 

Lefkowitz said he has been working with the town officials on a way to allow business owners to temporarily extend their store space either by permits, tweaking town code or drafting new legislation. 

“Some businesses might be able to use walkways and put merchandise outside, or they could set up a tent outside in the parking lot,” he said. 

The chamber of commerce president has a draft legislation proposal that would increase the floor area ratio of a business, which would help in making more selling space. 

Lefkowitz said restaurants were just one type of business that could benefit from increase in space. 

“They can be more efficient with indoor and outdoor space,” he said. “Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.” 

Long Island has taken steps toward reaching Phase 1 of Cuomo’s New York Forward plan for reopening its economy, meeting five of seven benchmarks required by the state. The governor’s plan to reopen consists of four phases which include different categories. Restaurants are in Phase 3. 

“Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.”

— Charlie Lefkowitz

Michael Ardolino, a past president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be facing different challenges when they reopen. 

“How will places like beauty salons and barbershops fare when everyone is in close proximity to each other?” he said. “These owners will want to be able to get their business going.”

Ardolino said he could envision a scenario where those types of businesses take a certain number of customers by appointment only.  

“We will continue to monitor all businesses and may have to plan for what might be a new business climate,” he said.  

Owners hope business reopens sooner rather than later, with summer close by. 

“As the warmer weather gets closer it will be challenging to keep people at bay,” Ransome said. “We have to continue to push government leaders, need to continue to make these phases and hit these benchmarks so we can reopen. We don’t want to be going backward instead of going forward.”