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Bruce Miller

MTA: All Projects on Standby, All Contracts in Jeopardy Without Federal Aid

Morning commuters at the Huntington station where many switch trains to go both east and west. Photo by Donna Deedy

As the MTA prepares its budget for the next few years, potentially reducing a massive amount of service due to the pandemic, local officials are saying some of that money earmarked for the Port Jefferson Branch line can get put to better use.

Though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a $12 billion cash shortfall in its 2021 budget, its 2020-24 capital plan still includes plans to purchase new dual-mode (electric/diesel) trains for $150 million to replace older locomotives on several Long Island Rail Road lines, including Port Jeff.

PJ Village Trustee Bruce Miller says commuters to NYC have stayed away from the PJ line without electrification. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A representative of the MTA could not give any fresh updates on these new trains or other initiatives as all of them are on hold due to economic uncertainty, but whether or not the $16.7 billion annual-expenditure entity gets the aid it needs in time, officials are still against any new diesel trains without electrification first.

For years, area officials from all levels of government have been promoting electrifying the Port Jeff rail line, transforming it into a system like that of Ronkonkoma for faster, greener public transport. That initiative has been ongoing for years.

In March this year, the environmental advocacy group Sierra Club Long Island held a kickoff event for its green transportation initiative, holding one of its events at the Stony Brook train station. Village, town and county officials have stood behind them at this and past events.

Sierra Club Green Issues chair, Mayer Horn, is also a Dix Hills-based transportation consultant and has worked with Port Jefferson Village before. He said purchasing new diesel trains was “a very foolish thing to do.”

Back in December of 2018, Horn published a report on behalf of Port Jefferson about the North Shore rail line which described a general lack of full-time direct service between Port Jeff and Penn Station, and how current dual-mode could be used to provide such service now.

Village trustee Bruce Miller, who has also long advocated for electrifying the Port Jeff line, said replacing the diesel engines was “anathema” to what has long been proposed. It would effectively make it that much harder to argue for modern technology if the old line suddenly had new trains.

Miller has often used the refrain that people all across the North Shore, even as far east as Calverton and as west as Greenlawn, take the longer drive to places like Ronkonkoma rather than catch the closer train, only because it is both less reliable and efficient.

“Basically, you’re not entirely eliminating vehicles or cars when you have these two diesel lines on the North Shore and South Shore,” Miller said. “People aren’t factoring in pollution.”

On Sept. 17, the MTA put out a press release saying all its contracts are in jeopardy if it does not receive the $12 billion stimulus from the federal government. Some of these multibillion-dollar contracts are for companies that create and sell train and rail parts.

The September 2019 presentation of the LIRR’s capital improvement plan had included 160 new electric cars, nearly 20 coach cars and over 10 new locomotives. 

Plans have changed due to the pandemic, as the MTA looks to close a $5.8 billion budget gap for 2021. Rail lines like Port Jefferson to Huntington will still run hourly at peak periods, but others with lower ridership will not likely be so lucky. Fares are also expected to increase beyond the anticipated 4% for 2021 through 2024, and riders who are taking trips to the city will feel it in their wallets the most.

Yet the new diesel engines remain on the docket, making local advocates and officials severely question if they are still coming when so much service is getting cut.

In the MTA’s July preliminary budget presentation, it stated that a reduction or delay in the 2020-24 capital program will have a limited impact on the operating budget because, for one, the MTA’s portion is back ended, having already been funded from several tax sources. Using those sources to fund the operating budget instead would “consume cash and reduce liquidity.”

Still, there has been talk of removing some parts of the capital plan. Newsday has reported the MTA has plans to put the $230 million north/south link between the Ronkonkoma and Babylon branches on pause.

There is no money in that capital plan for Port Jeff electrification either.

The 2018 Port Jeff report by Horn notes that the Ronkonkoma line, once the LIRR expanded electrification from Hicksville to Ronkonkoma in 1987, jumped daily trips from 6,200 to 16,000 by 2007, a result of people no longer taking the Port Jeff or Montauk branches to both north and south. Less local traffic also meant a decline in the economic vitality of Upper Port.

These new diesel trains are just another factor of what Horn calls “a real lack of planning.” He lamented why the MTA, or America in general, doesn’t try to learn from countries with much better, faster and more efficient train systems like South Korea or Japan.

The greatest need, however, has been the addition of a third rail for the Port Jeff line, something that has been trumpeted and sometimes praised to be coming soon. 

“It looks to me like LIRR is basically telling us that they are going to proceed as if exempt from CLCPA, which is outrageous.”

— Steve Englebright

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has long been a proponent of electrification. As the chair of the Assembly environmental conservation committee, he said he, along with his state Senate counterpart Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Centre), met with Phil Eng, the head of the LIRR, late last year to talk about these new trains. 

“Quite frankly, he was not able to give us any assurance he was going to do anything but plow ahead,” Englebright said. “That was a couple months before COVID crisis basically created a whole new set of distractions.”

New York State, in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, has set the lofty goal to limit statewide greenhouse gases to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030, and 85% by 2050.

“It looks to me like LIRR is basically telling us that they are going to proceed as if exempt from CLCPA, which is outrageous,” the local assemblyman said. He added these trains could have a lifespan of 50 years.

In a letter sent to Englebright in March 2019, MTA president, Patrick Foye, said that the LIRR had been reviewing proposals for a $4 million study on Port Jeff electrification and other projects, and that it could be awarding a contract for the electrification study in early summer 2019. That study has not yet materialized and, with the MTA saying it has no updates, it’s likely it won’t any time soon.

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Port Jefferson Village Board Trustee Bruce D'Abramo attends the Port Jefferson Dragon Boat Race Festival in Harborfront Park in 2016. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Liam Cooper

The Port Jeff Village elections, which take place Sept. 15, will elect the trustees for the Village Board. Trustees’ terms, which usually last two years, have been extended a few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two seats open, meaning that newcomer Rebecca Kassay, the owner of the Fox and Owl Inn, and current Trustee Bruce Miller will both be running uncontested. Nine-year Trustee Bruce D’Abramo will not be seeking reelection this year.

Rebecca Kassay, the owner of the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jeff, announced she would be running for village trustee. Photo from Facebook

As a child, Kassay said she used to visit Port Jefferson, and has been in love with the shops and waterfront ever since. Now a Port Jefferson resident of seven years, she decided to run after attending several of the recent public meetings, and wanted a voice in their decisions. 

“We have such potential here as a small government,” Kassay said. 

She said she’s most excited about Upper Port development and working with developers.

“[I’m excited to] step into the next phase of Port Jefferson — be proactive about Upper Port development — reaching out to these developers and trying to work with them to get what is best for the village,” Kassay said. 

She said she believes that, as a business ownerm who has felt the wrath of COVID-19, she can add an interesting perspective to the board of trustees. On her Facebook page, she says she has experience obtaining COVID-19 relief grants and will advocate for outdoor dining at restaurants beyond COVID-19. Kassay said she is excited to be a trustee and make lasting decisions with the Board.

“I want my decisions to be good for the next 50 years, not just the next two years,” Kassay said. 

Current Trustee Bruce Miller, who has been on the Board for over eight years and has been a Port Jefferson resident for 45 years, is running again for his 4th term. Before being on the board of trustees, he was on the Port Jefferson school board for 12 years. 

“I like being able to contribute to the community — It’s fulfilling for me,” he said. “I’m trying to give back,” Miller said. 

Like Kassay, he is excited about  Upper Port development. Specifically, he’s looking forward to working with the architectural and parks departments. 

“There’s a new project close to approval, and I’m concerned with the architecture on it,” Miller said. “..It’s important to do it right. It will benefit the people who produce the buildings, rental potential, and the image of the village.”

Along with Upper Portdevelopment, Miller has plans with the Port Jefferson power plant.

“We want to get new green energy on the Port Jefferson power plant site,” Miller said. “A very long time ago, I saw we were going to have problems with the power plant.”

Bruce Miller is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Miller said he is excited to continue to work with the board.

“I give my time because I love my community and it’s rewarding to me — I have a vision for a better community,” Miller said.  

Current Trustee Bruce D’Abramo is not running for reelection. He has been on the board since he was appointed by Mayor Margot Garant in November of 2011.

“I’ve decided not to seek re-election as a trustee and I do it with a heavy heart — I’ve really enjoyed being here,” D’Abramo said at the Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 3. 

He has decided not to run to focus more time on family, specifically his granddaughter, his business, and to travel with the Port Jefferson Lions Club. 

Kassay and Miller will both be running for  uncontested seats. 

Voting takes place at the Village Center Sept. 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Incumbents Bruce Miller and Bruce D’Abramo won new terms on the board of trustees. Photos by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Village residents cast their ballots in favor of the status quo June 19.

Incumbent trustees Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller won their seats back in an extremely tight race Tuesday, leaving challenger Kathianne Snaden the odd-candidate-out in a three-way battle for two positions.

Miller lead the way garnering 382 votes. The margin between D’Abramo and Snaden was just four votes — 345 for the incumbent to 341 for the challenger. Village Clerk Robert Juliano said the count included all absentee ballots, and as of Wednesday morning he had received no notice of a request for a recount. Snaden said in a phone interview she intended to request a hand count of the ballots in the coming days based on the slim margin.

“I’m ready to get back in the harness and keep pulling on the rope,” Miller said in a phone interview, thanking the community for supporting him. He also congratulated his colleague D’Abramo and thanked Snaden for running what he called an energetic and clean race.

He secured his third term on the board, after previously spending 12 years on Port Jefferson School District’s board of education. Miller ran on his willingness to advocate for residents of the village, especially regarding the potential property tax implications of an impending settlement with Long Island Power Authority to handle a years-long legal battle about the plant’s property tax assessment, which the utility has contended is too high based on current energy output and demand at the power station. He has also been a staunch opponent of financial assistance packages being awarded by the Suffolk County and Brookhaven Industrial Development Agencies, which have led to the construction of multiple large-scale apartment complexes in the village during the last several years.

D’Abramo earned his fifth two-year term as a trustee with his narrow victory.

“Couldn’t be happier,” he said in an email. “I love this village and love being a trustee. I’m looking forward to the next two years.”

During the campaign, he touted his experience as a buildings and grounds superintendent for two East End districts, in addition to his years as the board’s liaison to the village Building and Planning Department, all part of his 35 years of municipal experience, he said.

“I think I bring an important talent to the Village of Port Jefferson,” he said of his experience in overseeing large construction contracts and projects, making sure they were completed on time and on budget, D’Abramo said during a meet the candidates event.

Snaden said in a phone interview she still intends to be engaged in trying to improve the community despite the defeat.

“It was a close race,” she said. “The fact I was [four] votes away only shows there is a need for what I can bring to the village. I definitely plan to stay active and involved in the community. I’m not going anywhere.”

Village of Port Jefferson board candidates, from left, Bruce Miller, Kathianne Snaden and Bruce D’Abramo at the Village Center for a meet the candidates event June 12. Photo by Alex Petroski

The future of the Village of Port Jefferson was on the minds of those at the Village Center June 12.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted a meet the candidates event Tuesday to help taxpayers get a feel for their options on the June 19 ballot. Three candidates are vying for two open seats to serve on the board of trustees, positions that carry two-year terms. Incumbents Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller are each seeking re-election, while village resident Kathianne Snaden is making her first bid for the position.

D’Abramo is looking to secure a fifth term on the board, having first been elected in 2011. He touted his more than 35 years of municipal experience as an asset to the village, specifically his time as a superintendent of buildings and grounds for two East End school districts.

“I think I bring an important talent to the Village of Port Jefferson,” he said of his experience in overseeing large construction contracts and projects, making sure they were completed on time and on budget.

He has served as the village board’s liaison to the Building and Planning Department during his tenure on the board, and said he had a vision for improving uptown Port Jeff when he first took office, and is looking forward to finally seeing construction get started. The village has obtained several grants and completed the necessary steps to get a handful of concurrent revitalization efforts underway in the
near future.

On one of the more pressing issues facing the village, the prospect of decreasing future revenue as a result of a pending settlement in a legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s contention its
property taxes are overassessed on the decreasingly necessary power plant in the village. D’Abramo said he has supported settling the case, rather than fighting it out and risking a loss in the dispute, which would require back pay from taxpayers to LIPA. He also said he supported the idea of building new apartments both uptown and downtown, as they replaced blighted structures, and cited their occupancy as evidence of demand.

Others, like Miller, have taken issue with the tax arrangements reached between the developers of the apartment projects and the town- and county-run industrial development agencies. The agencies are municipal arms that help fund building projects in areas deemed in need of economic development in exchange for decades-long tax breaks.

“I must emphasize that oversized zoning and almost complete lack of tax revenue because of the Brookhaven and Suffolk County Industrial Development Agencies’ giveaways will deny Port Jefferson revenue when we need it the most,” Miller said.

Miller is seeking his third term on the board, after spending 12 years on the Port Jefferson School District board of education. He touted his aversion to IDA deals and his organizing of a grassroots committee to galvanize support for repowering the plant, as a means to increase its value, as evidence of his willingness to
fight for residents. He said the issue has been on his radar for more than 20 years. He said he ultimately supported settling the case.

“I have been aggressive and smart in supporting Port Jefferson’s tax base,” Miller said.

Snaden has lived in the village for 13 years and sends three kids to the school district. She identified herself as a homemaker while also running a freelance photography business, and previously worked as a litigation paralegal. She shed light on why she decided to make a run for a trustee seat.

“I have a deep appreciation for small-town life, family-owned small businesses, and a safe and very welcoming community where children and families can flourish, and older folks can feel secure in their future,” she said.

Snaden added that she was initially inspired to run in the aftermath of a safety scare at the high school earlier this year, during which rumors and innuendo ran wild. She said she helped organize a town hall meeting that produced comprehensive feedback, which she later presented to the school district.

Snaden said she was supportive of settling the LIPA case as well. She said she’d like to see the village have more of a voice in discussing IDA tax breaks for development in the village, but like D’Abramo, said she was in favor of apartments if the other choice is blighted properties.

Polls will be open June 19 at the Village Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson Village taxpayers will have the opportunity to hear from the three candidates seeking seats on the board of trustees Tuesday,  June 12 at 7 p.m. in the Wayfarer room at Port Jefferson Village Center, located at 101 East Broadway. The candidates at the event, hosted by The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, will give opening and closing statements and take part in a question-and-answer session.

The election will take place June 19 and will feature incumbents Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller as well as challenger Kathianne Snaden.

PJ Village Trustee Bruce Miller says commuters to NYC have stayed away from the PJ line without electrification. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Two village trustees are unopposed for re-election this month, each with his own goals for improving Port Jefferson.

Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller are seeking a fourth term and a second term on the village board of trustees, respectively.

Bruce Miller is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Bruce Miller is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Miller wants to keep up his work to get the Port Jefferson power plant upgraded, known as repowering. The aging power plant runs on outdated technology and many residents and officials fear the loss of its significant property tax revenue if it were to shut down without being rebuilt.

“It’s something that I’ve been doing for about 20 years,” he explained, between his work on the Port Jefferson school board and with the local group Grassroots Committee to Repower Port Jefferson. “I want to try to see this thing through. I think it’s very important to the community. I have other interests but I have I think significant expertise in this area and think that I can benefit the people of the village.”

Miller is also interested in environmental issues, and said he has been working with the village’s conservation committee on making the village more energy-efficient and on strengthening the power grid in Port Jefferson to better withstand storms. He is helping put together a proposal to receive grant funding for a microgrid, which would be independent of the regional grid and rely on its own power-generating resources — and thus keep the community, which includes two hospitals, going during power outages.

For those who may vote for him, Miller said he strives to “keep in mind [the idea of] a small maritime New England village.”

Bruce D’Abramo is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Bruce D’Abramo is running for re-election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The other candidate, D’Abramo, is running for two more years because “I love what I’m doing in Port Jefferson and I love the difference that we’re making.”

He said his top priority in the past and in a new term is to “turn uptown port Jefferson around into a community that we can all be proud of.”

One thing he is particularly proud of accomplishing in his third term, however, is in the downtown area: the beautification of Old Mill Creek.

The polluted creek winds through the west side of lower Port, including under Barnum Avenue and behind Village Hall, before flowing into the harbor. In addition to being contaminated by chemicals that had been dumped at an industrial site in Port Jefferson Station and had traveled through the groundwater, it was plagued by invasive plant species. But in the last year, the village put a plan into action to clean up the creek, improve its flow and remove the invasive species and replace them with native ones.

Another project he is proud of is using money left over in last year’s budget to pave additional streets in the part of the village referred to as the “poets section,” which includes Emerson Street, Longfellow Lane, Hawthorne Street and others.

“Every time we can put some money into the infrastructure, we’re doing something that’s going to last for a while; that’s going to make a difference,” D’Abramo said.

To the voters going to the polls later this month, the trustee said, “If they’re interested in seeing upper Port Jefferson change, then consider voting for me.”

Voting is at the Port Jefferson Village Center on June 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is also a village judge seat on the ballot, to complete the three years remaining on the term of Justice Peter Graham, who died in office in October, a few months after being re-elected. Graham, who was known for his colorful personality, had served the village for more than 30 years.

Bill Glass was appointed to replace him in the interim, and the lawyer is running for election to stay in that role. He faces challenges from Tara Higgins and Scott Zamek.