Local officials gathered for a press conference on Friday, March 3, at Brookhaven Town Hall to call for the Metropolitan Transit Authority to replace the Sheep Pasture Road Bridge in Port Jefferson with a span that can adequately handle increased motor vehicle traffic on the top roadway.
‘My constituents are calling for a more consistent and substantial commitment to local rail service.’
— Jonathan Kornreich
The new bridge construction would also allow for future third rail electrification expansion below on the LIRR right-of-way and reconfiguring the roadway above to reduce the severe traffic angle.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R), Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) and New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) attended the press event.
The railroad bridge, constructed in 1906, is the responsibility of the MTA, while the town is tasked with maintaining the vehicle roadbed.
The town has applied for a $15.8 million grant to repair the roadway structure through the BridgeNY Program. The LIRR is also interested in developing a second track along the existing railroad, according to town officials.
“At 117 years old, the Sheep Pasture Road Bridge needs to be replaced with a new one that can handle the vehicle traffic load of today, not 1906 when it was built,” Romaine said. “This is the type of project that the MTA should be spending money on.”
Losquadro decried the lack of public investment from the MTA in the local area. “Long Island, specifically Brookhaven Town, has been repeatedly shortchanged by the MTA when it comes to capital infrastructure investment,” he said. “It is imperative that the MTA expend the necessary funds required to replace the Sheep Pasture Road Bridge.”
Kornreich expressed similar sentiments. He stated that MTA should go further than maintaining existing infrastructure, advising the agency to explore electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch line.
“Unfortunately, for many people in my community, it feels like the MTA is taking us for a ride,” he said. “We pay an increasing share of the burden and don’t see it coming back in terms of improvements in service and infrastructure.”
The councilmember added, “Public transportation is incredibly important, and although we are hopeful we’ll receive this major grant from New York state, my constituents are calling for a more consistent and substantial commitment to local rail service. We want the MTA not just to repair and maintain structures like the Sheep Pasture Road Bridge but to move forward on electrification and improve schedules on the Port Jefferson line.”
The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met Tuesday, Feb. 28, for an evening packed with local business.
Sarah Lansdale, the Suffolk County economic development and planning commissioner, updated the body on the proposed conceptual layout of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.
“We have come up with a plan of three basic uses of the property,” she said. “One is a light-industry use … for a proposed solar development. The property south of the Greenway is proposed to be for open space … and then a railyard, or railroad usage, on the northeastern section of the property.”
Lansdale also reported that the U.S. Department of Justice recently approved language within a global settlement agreement between 11 claimants, adding, “Now we’re getting them to sign on to the agreement. Of the 11, we have three remaining that have yet to sign on.”
The county is working to finalize a bid package to demolish the remaining buildings on-site during the warmer months.
County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) thanked Lansdale for continuing her efforts on behalf of county residents.
“Very few people want to deal with difficult, complex projects like this,” Hahn said. “This was very difficult, we are so close, and I’m just grateful.”
Civic member Ira Costell objected to a Feb. 23 op-ed in The Port Times Record, “Village elections and Port Jeff’s rapidly changing challenges,” in which former Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller suggested expanding the limits of the village to derive tax revenue from the Superfund site.
“I think that’s something we need to discuss and take a position on shortly,” Costell said, adding that such a proposal “impacts our community and a potential tax base to the Comsewogue School District.”
Civic president Ed Garboski and vice president Sal Pitti objected to the annexation proposal. Corresponding secretary Charlie McAteer said a discussion on the matter would be appropriate during next month’s meeting.
Deputy County Executive Peter Scully delivered a presentation outlining the county’s clean water initiative, remarking that a comprehensive sewer plan has eluded county officials for decades.
“Most of Suffolk County is without sewer infrastructure,” he said. “Sewers throughout Suffolk County have not happened for a variety of reasons,” namely the enormous costs associated with their construction.
Cesspools remain the only waste treatment technology available to many county residents, which Scully indicated can impair the sole-source aquifer upon which residents depend for their drinking water. Leakage associated with septic tanks, Scully said, can contribute to brown tides, rust tides, algal blooms and fish kills throughout the county’s waterways.
To address the problem, the administration is pitching the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan, which includes a one-eighth of a penny per dollar sales tax, to create a local match program for federal and state subsidization of sewer infrastructure.
“Right now, there are tremendous funding sources available on the federal and state levels,” he said, noting the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021 and the recently passed New York State $4.2 billion environmental bond act.
“Those are the two sources of funding that we’re all anxious to make sure our communities get a fair share of, and to do that we need a local match,” the deputy county executive said. “The [clean water plan] funding source that we’re talking about provides that local match.”
Andrea Malchiodi, assistant director of Comsewogue Public Library, announced that the library’s budget vote and trustee election would take place Tuesday, April 4.
Comsewogue High School students Kylie and Max updated the body on the news from the Comsewogue School District. Kylie reported that the high school’s business academy and work-based learning program were both approved career and technical education pathways by the New York State Education Department.
Max noted Comsewogue’s recent athletic achievements, with the Warriors girls and boys basketball teams advancing to the postseason. The wrestling team vied for the county final, while the varsity cheerleading team competed at the national tournament in Florida.
Suffolk County COPE officer Casey Berry said the vehicle theft crime surge throughout the local area remains unresolved. “Lock your cars in your driveway and when you’re going to Starbucks,” she told the body. “Don’t leave the fob in the car.”
Berry also reported that officers within the department are being more active. “I think COVID affected law enforcement as well as the rest of the community in many ways,” she said, adding, “Our leadership is saying, ‘We really need to protect our community.’”
This boost in police activity, Berry added, is reflected by rising numbers of summons written by police officers, along with the department’s ongoing body camera initiative.
Garboski reported the results of the nominating committee created last month after he and Pitti declared they would be leaving the hamlet before the year’s end, thereby vacating their posts.
Christine Allen and Costell were each nominated for the position of civic president, and Carolyn Sagliocca was the sole candidate nominated as vice president. The three candidates publicly accepted their nominations.
Additional nominations will be accepted from the floor during the next meeting March 28, on which date a vote will take place. The newly electeds will formally enter their posts in April.
During the meeting, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented proclamations to Garboski and Pitti for their long service to the Comsewogue community.
“You cannot put a price on the time, effort, energy, knowledge and dedication they have brought to this task,” Romaine said. “They have worked around the clock to improve the quality of not their lives, but the quality of life of everyone in this community.”
Municipalities throughout Suffolk County will undergo significant leadership changes in 2023.
Three-term incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) cannot run for reelection due to 12-year term limits for county offices. Bellone’s absence at the top of the ticket has triggered a game of musical chairs across local governments, with an Election Day picture coming into focus.
Two major party candidates have emerged to fill Bellone’s seat. Businessman and former federal and state prosecutor Dave Calone entered the race last summer and has since gained the backing of the county’s Democratic Committee.
Between increasing economic development initiatives and expanding transportation options, Calone regarded Suffolk as a place of growing opportunities.
“I felt like we needed someone with a private-sector background to help capitalize on those opportunities for our region,” he said, adding that his prosecutorial experience could help alleviate the issue of crime throughout the area.
Calone said he would connect law enforcement personnel with new technologies if elected. “I come from the technology sector and feel we can do more when it comes to law enforcement, giving police the tools and training they need to fight crime and help prevent crime,” he said.
He emphasized county support in promoting small business sectors and encouraging those wishing to start a new business.
Calone may have a tall task ahead as recent election results suggest county residents are moving toward the right, with Republicans gaining a majority in the county Legislature in 2021 while flipping the district attorney’s seat.
To counteract these trends, Calone pledged to focus on local issues, which he suggested are matters of personal qualification rather than party affiliation.
“I think Suffolk County is less about left versus right, but who is going to have the vision to move Suffolk County forward,” the Democratic nominee said.
Opposing Calone is Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). He received his party’s nod during a nominating convention held Thursday, Feb. 23, in Ronkonkoma. Before becoming supervisor, Romaine was county clerk for 16 years starting in 1989 and did two separate tours in the county Legislature, one before and the other after his tenure as clerk.
“I’m running to work for the future of our county and its residents,” he told TBR News Media. “This is an opportunity to move Suffolk forward. And, quite honestly, nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”
The town supervisor added that he intends to campaign on the issues and policies he has overseen at the town level. He offered that fiscal responsibility and public trust in government remain top priorities.
“I’m looking to hold the line on taxes,” he said. “I’ve done it five different times with our budget, and I would like to do that with the county, reduce the county debt and improve the county bond rating to AAA.”
Romaine also addressed his environmental concerns, such as water quality and quantity. He proposed modernizing information technology systems, filling critical posts within the police department and resisting Albany’s development agenda for Long Island.
“I’m not a fan of the governor’s plan to urbanize our suburban communities,” he said.
Despite recent electoral history, a Republican has not occupied the county executive’s chair since Bob Gaffney left office in 2003. Asked why 2023 should be any different, Romaine suggested the coming election offers county voters a new direction.
“I think this is an opportunity to chart a new course,” he said.
In declaring for county executive, Romaine vacates his post as town supervisor. Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant (D) have stepped forward to fill the seat, securing their parties’ respective nominations last week.
Panico, whose 6th Council District consists of the town’s southeastern hamlets, was first elected to the Town Board in 2010 following the untimely death of Councilman Keith Romaine (R), the supervisor’s son. Panico had previously served on the Brookhaven Planning Board and as a senior deputy Suffolk County clerk.
“I believe in the power of town government to have a dramatically positive effect on the lives of the people that we represent and the communities that make up Brookhaven,” Panico said in an interview.
The deputy supervisor emphasized fiscal stability and open space preservation as two signature campaign positions.
“My record on open space preservation and the environment, I believe, is unmatched in this race,” he said, adding, “I am also fiscally conservative, and I have been able to work effectively with the town boards that I’ve served on … to accomplish meaningful goals in this town.”
Republicans currently hold eight of the 10 elected positions within the town government, with one council seat vacant. Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (Stony Brook) is the lone Democrat.
To replicate its success at the ballot box, Panico said his party “must continue to listen to the people whom we represent.”
On the opposite side of the aisle, Garant seeks to become the first Democratic town supervisor since Mark Lesko resigned midterm in 2012. In early February, she announced her retirement from the Port Jeff village government after serving 14 years as mayor.
“There was no intent or forethought that I was retiring to put my hat in the ring,” she said. However, plans for her run came together shortly after the announcement when town Democratic leaders asked for a meeting.
“It was believed at that time that Romaine would be going up to the county executive level, which kind of left an interesting opening,” Garant said.
The outgoing village mayor said she plans to apply the lessons learned at the village level to town government.
“The [Brookhaven] landfill fees represent 42% of the overall revenue in the town,” she said.
Given her background negotiating with the Long Island Power Authority in a tax grievance dispute settled in 2018, she considers herself uniquely qualified to tackle the loss of public revenue.
She added, “A self-sustaining waste management plan that speaks to utilizing the current infrastructure without expanding the carbon footprint, that’s something I’m very interested in grappling with.”
Along with the landfill closure, Garant said she would continue to focus on development, arguing that the town must “balance the quality of life and get some development done.”
While acknowledging that her party has “a lot of work to do” to be competitive this November, she remained optimistic.
“We have a very awesome slate” running for Town Board, she said. “I’m enthusiastic about what the slate brings, and I think the message we’re bringing is going to resonate.”
Port Jeff mayor
With Garant taking herself out of the running, Deputy Mayor and trustee Kathianne Snaden is the first declared candidate in the race for Port Jefferson Village mayor.
“When I first ran in 2019, my reason for running was to be the voice of those who never thought they had a voice,” she said. Since then, Snaden has gradually assumed greater responsibilities with more committee assignments, saying, “I think I’m in an even better position now to do that for the community.”
As the village’s public safety commissioner over the last four years, she considered the issue a paramount policy concern. “That has always been my number one concern in the village — to keep the community and the residents safe,” Snaden said.
More recently, she was assigned trustee liaison to the building and planning departments. “Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing a lot of work up there to help streamline and make the process easier for anybody looking for an application,” she said. “That’s something that I want to continue to work on.”
Snaden also mentioned that close coordination with the school district, greater parking opportunities and improved resident mobility would be areas of focus if she were elected mayor this June.
Snaden is currently alone in the mayoral contest. Whether others step forward to run, she said she remains “focused on the work that I’m doing now and [that’s] what I will continue to do in the future.”
It is shaping up to be a big election season for the residents of Suffolk County. It may be early in 2023, but we’re already thinking about Election Day. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is termed out, triggering massive turnover across levels of local government.
As local Democratic and Republican committees put forward their slate of candidates for county executive, town supervisor and various legislative positions, it is time for We the People to do our homework.
County, town and village officials have a different set of responsibilities than those serving on the state or federal levels. Their duties locally include making decisions about land use, law enforcement, roadwork, waste management, recreational facilities and matters that affect our everyday lives.
Preserving open space, treating our garbage and paving roads are not issues of Democrat versus Republican. These matters impact every resident, which is why it’s important to put aside party affiliation when we enter the voting booth this year.
Before you vote, take a look at the candidates’ respective backgrounds. Does a candidate have relevant experience in the public or private sectors that will aid his or her decision making? Here at TBR News Media, we will take a deep dive into these candidates over the coming months, introducing our readers to their professional backgrounds and policy positions.
We know all the candidates will have much to say in the months ahead, and many will back their goals for our future with concrete plans.
As journalists, it is our job to provide our readers with the information necessary to make informed decisions on Election Day. We take this responsibility seriously and look forward to following these elections closely.
In the meantime, we remind our readers that you play a part in this as well. By writing letters to the editor about the various local races, you have the opportunity to interpret and contextualize our election coverage. Letters are your chance to influence the shape of our democracy, so don’t squander it.
Before voting, remember to research your ballot thoroughly, check your party affiliation at the door and keep an open mind. We will be here to help along the way.
Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant will represent the Democratic Party in this year’s race for Brookhaven town supervisor, confirmed by a Facebook post from the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee.
The news comes less than a day after the Suffolk County Republican Committee tapped incumbent Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) for county executive. In the general election, Garant will square off against Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville).
Public officials and first responders gathered Wednesday, Feb. 15, at the Terryville Fire Department Station 2 in Port Jefferson Station, announcing the recent injection of federal funding to support roadway safety in the Town of Brookhaven.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program was established by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Under this law, $5 billion will be spent over the next five years to limit roadway deaths and serious injuries.
U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) announced that the Town of Brookhaven was awarded $380,000 through the grant program.
“The average homeowner here on Long Island pays $14- or $15,000 in [property] taxes,” he said. “What people expect in return are safe streets, good schools and smooth roads.”
The congressman also touched upon the perceived imbalance between taxes contributed and funds received from the federal government.
“For every dollar we send to Washington, Long Islanders get a mere 93 cents back in return investment,” LaLota said. “This infrastructure law is one of the ways that we can make that wrong right,” adding, “We can send money back to our local governments to ensure that we lower the tax burden and improve the quality of life.”
Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked LaLota for facilitating the additional infrastructure money. He said reducing roadway deaths is a matter of securing the necessary investment.
“For us to be successful, we have got to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease,” he said.
There are “3,700 miles of roads in Brookhaven Town,” the supervisor said. “We’re concerned about our roads, and the federal dollars will help us maintain [and] make them safer.”
Town of Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) also attended the event. He thanked LaLota on behalf of the Town Board.
“We have six council districts here in the Town of Brookhaven, and we want to thank Congressman LaLota for bringing this money home and let him know to keep that money coming,” he said.
Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) called the press conference, saying the location was decided based on a recent nearby traffic fatality. According to him, the federal funds will go toward the town’s plan to reduce traffic fatalities on town roads to zero.
“Grants like this, programs like this … are part of a larger effort to make sure that we make our roads as safe as possible,” he said. “We know we can’t legislate morality. There are always going to be people who don’t obey speed limits or drive distracted or impaired.”
However, the highway superintendent added that local governments “can design roads safer — we can use proven traffic-calming measures.”
Losquadro said the highway department uses several measures to identify problem roadways, such as the number of accidents, fatalities and other traffic-related incidents that occur upon them. When asked which roadways the $380,000 would target, he responded, “There are a number of criteria that go into examining that.”
Representing the Terryville Fire Department was 1st assistant chief Ray Kolb, who said the department responded to approximately 4,300 calls last year, “most of which were ambulance calls.”
Regarding the investment, he said the potential for more roadway repairs would support the work of the various first responder units within the area.
“We have paid 24-hour ambulance people, medical people, and they do a lot of our work for us,” the assistant chief said. “Anything we can get to help the safety of the roads is great.”
The decades-long proposal to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road is nearing yet another derailment.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, public owner of LIRR, is expected to unveil its 2025-2044 20-Year Needs Assessment in October. Larry Penner, a transportation analyst and former director for Federal Transit Administration Region 2, considered that document pivotal for the project’s future advancement.
“If the project is not included in that 20-year document, then none of us are going to be alive to see electrification,” he said, adding pessimistically that electrification “is not on the radar screen” of senior MTA or state-level officials.
Requests for comment submitted to the press offices of the MTA, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) went unanswered.
A cry unheard
‘It’s appalling that they’re using diesel in this day and age.’
— Bruce Miller
Generations of North Shore residents and community leaders have called upon the MTA to electrify the Port Jeff line to no avail.
Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has been among Long Island’s loudest and most prominent proponents of electrification in recent years. In an interview with TBR News Media last summer, he said public investment has shifted away from the Island.
“Our voice has not been raised,” he said. “There hasn’t been an investment in providing modern technology” to this region.
Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant voiced similar frustrations. According to her, a fully electrified rail would boost local and regional economies, expediting travel to Manhattan and between North Shore communities, namely transit to and from nearby powerhouse Stony Brook University.
The project “would incentivize people being able to take the train not only into Stony Brook but into the city in a really timely manner,” she said.
From an environmental perspective, former Port Jeff Village trustee Bruce Miller decried the existing railway infrastructure as “ludicrous.”
“It’s appalling that they’re using diesel in this day and age,” he said, adding, “Everyone is making every effort for green energy in all fields except for the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road.”
State legislators join the cause
Local leaders are not alone in their disappointment over the long delay. State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) condemned what he considered an imbalance between the state taxes Long Island spends and the infrastructure dollars it gets from Albany.
“Long Islanders already contribute greatly to the MTA and deserve better access to more reliable and dependable rail service,” he said in an email, referring to Port Jefferson Branch electrification as a “critical project.”
At the western end of the branch, state Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport), whose district includes travelers from Huntington, Greenlawn and Northport stations, expressed dismay over the state’s billowing budget yet few returns for North Shore residents.
He noted the apparent contradiction between Albany’s green energy priorities and the MTA’s continued use of diesel locomotives, which are due for replacement in the coming years.
Referencing the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which targets an 85% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, Brown regarded the continued dependence upon diesel technology as inconsistent with state law.
“They can’t really replace the existing fleet with diesel trains,” he said. “At the same time they’re calling to stop the use of gas in homes, the MTA and LIRR can’t be purchasing diesel locomotives.”
The Empire State Passenger Association is a transit advocacy group that aims for improvements in public transportation services throughout New York state. ESPA president Gary Prophet said the passenger association has endorsed Port Jefferson Branch electrification over the years, referring to the project as necessary and justifiable given the volume of commuters along the line.
“That is a heavily used branch of the Long Island Rail Road that should be electrified,” he said. “It probably should have been electrified in the past, but it just hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.”
A history of inaction
The original concept of Port Jeff line electrification dates back over half a century. However, planning began in earnest in the early 1970s when electrification of the North Shore line extended up to Huntington.
Derek Stadler, associate professor and web services librarian at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, has closely followed historical developments along the Port Jeff Branch.
He attributes the failures to electrify the line to a combination of resistance from property owners near the tracks, engineering challenges, financial setbacks and bad luck.
“In the ‘80s, they had money set aside to start working on it though they hadn’t secured the funds to complete it,” he said. “Then in 1985, the president of the MTA postponed that indefinitely.” Stadler contends this was the closest the project ever was to moving forward.
In the ‘90s, the MTA launched a fleet of dual-mode locomotives which are still in use today. Despite the good intentions, Stadler maintains that this fleet has not adequately substituted for electric service. Given the high costs to repair and replace outdated train cars, Stadler regarded this effort as a poor long-term investment.
“They have spent more money on that new fleet and repairing them than if they would have done the electrification way back in the ‘80s,” he said.
‘If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.’
— Richard Murdocco
The current cost estimate of Port Jeff Branch electrification is $3.6 billion, though that figure will almost certainly climb. To secure these dollars, however, the North Shore is competing against other project proposals across Long Island and New York state.
Throughout LIRR’s history as a public railroad company, North Shore riders have lost out consistently to their inland counterparts traveling along the Ronkonkoma line. Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at SBU, chronicled this pattern, saying the pursuit of Port Jeff Branch electrification continues running up against the hard realities of the MTA’s prioritization scheme.
“The question is: Is electrification really the priority on the North Shore, or should you electrify east of Ronkonkoma?” Murdocco said. Given the spur of recent growth in Yaphank and new developments in the Town of Riverhead, he added, “If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.”
Further hampering investment into the Port Jeff Branch is the topography along its route. Given the large hills and frequent bends, the flatter main line may win the day for its comparably simple engineering logistics.
Murdocco said the MTA could either electrify the Port Jeff Branch, which “meanders along the hilly terrain, or you get a straight shot through the Pine Barrens, where there’s already talk of them doing it, where they’re welcoming it and where there are no neighbors to disrupt.”
‘Suffolk County does not have the political clout that it used to.’
— Larry Penner
Political and financial distress
Penner claims the political and financial currents are also working against North Shore residents. Suffolk County’s state representatives are increasingly in the legislative minority in Albany, leaving mere “crumbs on the table” for infrastructure improvements.
“Suffolk County does not have the political clout that it used to,” he said.
Even so, the MTA is encountering a systemwide economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily ridership hovering around 65% from pre-pandemic levels. Murdocco insists that many of the labor trends unleashed by COVID-19 will likely linger indefinitely.
“There’s no denying remote work is here to stay,” the SBU adjunct professor said, adding, “We don’t know how long the ramifications of the pandemic will last.”
Meanwhile, the MTA is facing even greater fiscal strife over looming labor negotiations. With recent inflation, Penner said the agency could lose potentially hundreds of millions from renegotiated union contracts.
“All of this plays into the bigger picture of MTA’s overall health,” Penner said, which he considered dismal based on state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s (D) most recent analysis. “They’re barely staying afloat maintaining existing service, systems and repairs,” the former FTA official added.
Penner, Stadler and Murdocco expressed collective pessimism about Port Jefferson Branch electrification getting underway within the next decade. “As of right now, I do not see this project happening within 10 years because I do not see a fiscal way for anyone to pay for it, given the MTA’s current financial status,” Murdocco said.
Looking for answers
Given the hefty $3.6 billion price tag, Miller proposed exploring alternatives to electric service. He cited examples in Germany, where zero-emission hydrogen-powered train cars recently went online.
“Hydrogen technology is new but they’ve developed it, and it’s working in Germany,” the former village trustee said. “I don’t think they’re exploring enough options here.”
But implementing high-tech propulsion technologies may be out of reach for the MTA, which uses a late 19th-century fuel source to power the Port Jeff line. When asked about these potential innovations, Brown expressed skepticism.
“As far as hydrogen is concerned, that’s all it is right now — experimental,” the state assemblyman said. Rather, he favored pursuing electrification in a piecemeal, station-by-station fashion, dispersing infrastructure funds for the project over several annual budgets.
Penner implored community members to adopt a policy of maximum pressure upon their elected representatives.
“I wouldn’t give a dime to any elected official unless, with your campaign contribution, there’s a little note in your check [that says] you have to promise me that electrification of Port Jefferson will be your number one transportation priority,” he said.
Stadler emphasized executive support, arguing that several system expansions during the administration of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) were made possible by the chief executive’s commitment to seeing them through.
“A lot of money has to be budgeted for it,” he said. “State leaders have to be involved in it, and pressure from the governor” can be a reliable instrument.
To make the electrification dream a reality, Garant said all levels of government should pool their energies around this cause. “It’s certainly going to be a long-term plan for the region,” she said. “You need partners on every level, from the federal and state levels to the town and county.”
Prophet said megaprojects, such as the $11 billion East Side Access extension into Grand Central Madison, have taken up much of the political and economic capital in New York state.
“I think there’s a lot of emphasis on large projects that make a big splash,” the passenger association president said. “Politicians need to spend a little more time on smaller projects that may not make a big splash but may help commuters and people looking to travel between cities.”
Setting the stakes, Penner returned to the 20-year capital needs assessment. He equated the North Shore’s present predicament to a baseball game.
“You’re in the ninth inning with two outs,” he said. “The last at-bat is the 2025-2044 20-year capital needs assessment.” He concluded by saying, “If this project is not included in that document, then the ball game is over.”
Public officials of all levels of government, business and civic leaders, and community members gathered Monday, Jan. 9, before a derelict building at the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.
Once a dumping ground for toxic waste, policymakers are now plotting a course of action for this 126-acre property. After taking decades to rid the site of harmful contaminants, officials and community groups are working toward an ambitious proposal to convert the site into a multipurpose community hub, accommodating a solar farm, a railyard and open space for local residents.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the press conference to announce the injection of $450,000 in federal funds secured through the recent omnibus budget. This money will be used to help demolish the remaining buildings at the property.
“We’re here today to showcase one of the final puzzle pieces needed to demo 14 dangerous buildings here,” Schumer said. “I am here today to say that the train that is on this journey is ready to leave the station.”
The Senate majority leader added that these funds would advance three community goals. “One, a railroad-use project to help the LIRR with logistics; industrial redevelopment of a 5-megawatt solar farm,” and lastly, add 50 construction jobs to the local economy.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) described the considerable intergovernmental coordination and logistical obstacles to get to this stage.
“This project, as reflected by all of the people that have come together and all the levels of government, is critically important to the community,” he said.
Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) discussed the long and arduous road to revitalizing the site and the decades that have passed as this community blight lay barren.
“These buildings have been condemned for over 25 years,” he said. “This has been a Superfund site for almost 25 years. Finally, we will see these buildings come down.”
Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also attended the press event. During his time in Albany, he championed the site’s conversion for environmental and community purposes.
“We have a plan that will enhance our community and create new jobs,” he said. “This property stood out as a place in peril of a potentially bad decision,” adding, “Instead, we have a very thoughtful plan.”
Englebright, a geologist by trade, also touched upon the environmental impacts that redevelopment will offer through these plans. He said local harbors, groundwater and surface waters would benefit as this dark episode in local history concludes.
“The harbor, which is the beginning of our town, has been poisoned by the solvents that were poured into the ground here,” the former assemblyman said. “That is a thing of the past because of the federal involvement with the Superfund cleanup.”
He added, “All the levels of government are working together here, which is a beautiful thing. It’s a model for what government should be able to do all the time.”
Jen Dzvonar, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, also offered her perspective. She said public improvements such as these indirectly support and promote local businesses.
“Any improvement in Port Jefferson Station is major,” she said. “By getting the blight away from the area, we will increase businesses. A solar farm is coming. They’re creating 50 construction jobs. It just heightens Port Jefferson Station and the desire to come here.”
Representing the Village of Port Jefferson were Mayor Margot Garant and Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. Both stressed the importance of this undertaking, conveying their support for neighboring Port Jefferson Station in its community aspirations.
Garant viewed the plans as an opportunity to improve the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road. “We’re really in support of this because of the MTA portion of it,” she said. “To clean up this site, to put it back to public use, to not have the county paying taxes on it, is good for everybody.”
For Snaden, the project will bolster the village’s neighbors, representing a vital regional investment. “I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s a cleanup of the site. It’s knocking down these falling buildings, adding to the betterment of the entire community and the region at large.”
Schumer said the next step would be to ensure that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expedites these funds, ensuring the prompt demolition of the buildings and swift redevelopment of the site.
Hundreds of courageous community members plunged into the icy waters of Cedar Beach on Saturday, Nov. 19, during this year’s rendition of the Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge.
The Town of Brookhaven puts this annual event together to raise money for the Special Olympics New York organization. Proceeds from the event support training for athletes, equipment, health supplies and attire.
Saturday’s event has raised over $128,000, according to the nonprofit’s website which proclaims that it “provides inclusive opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to discover and unleash the champion within.”
Hundreds of plungers from across the region participated in the plunge, with many more spectating warmly from afar. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), a perennial “plunger,” made the daring plunge again.
In an interview with Bonner, she was asked what motivates her to take the cold water dip year after year. Her response, jokingly: “We ask ourselves that every year,” she said.
Bonner, who took the plunge this year with Special Olympians Daniel and Joey, said she finds renewed joy and optimism through her involvement in the activities.
“When you meet all those Special Olympians and interview them … it’s impossible not to get caught up in the adrenaline and momentum of supporting them and other athletes,” she said. “It’s about $400 to $500 per athlete per sport, and no family is ever charged,” adding, “These plunges … help out so many athletes and families.”
Plunging with Bonner was Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R). Before making his plunge, the district attorney expressed some apprehensions, joking, “Unlike Jane and the rest, I am a coward so I’m trying to figure out what brought me to this stage.”
Despite his self-professed reluctance, Tierney did take the plunge. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), on the other hand, also made an appearance though avoiding the frigid waters.
During a speech, the town supervisor described the plunge as a meaningful sacrifice in serving the greater good. “At the end of the day, you may be a little cold, but this world is going to be a lot happier for what the people are going to do plunging today,” he said.
This year’s polar plunge brought together hundreds of athletes, students and community members who suffered in unity. Bonner said an event such as this makes the community a better place.
“Regardless of political affiliation, color, economic status — there’s no barrier,” the town councilwoman said. “We’re all doing this same thing for the same cause, and it’s hard not to feel good about it at the end of the day.”
The Town of Brookhaven’s controversial redistricting process concluded on Thursday, Sept. 29, after the Town Board voted unanimously to approve the latest proposed map.
The Town Board, which has a 6-1 Republican majority, took over the redistricting process after an appointed redistricting committee failed to find agreement on a draft proposal. Days after the committee formally disbanded, Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented his own map. For more on this story, see “Brookhaven officials react to latest redistricting proposal” (TBR News Media website).
Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) kicked off the public hearing with a forceful line of questioning of the town’s designated mapmaker, David Schaefer of Schenectady-based firm Skyline Consulting.
Kornreich pressed Schaefer on a range of subjects, such as his familiarity with the hamlets throughout the town. He also inquired about how Schaefer arrived at an original determination to split Port Jefferson Station and Terryville between Council Districts 1 and 2, and why he decided to move most of Ridge into CD4.
Responding, Schaefer said that he created the initial maps solely to bring the six council districts into roughly equal populations. “The first draft that I submitted is all population driven,” he said.
Following Kornreich’s line of questioning, residents pressed their representatives on the Town Board repeatedly over concerns that arose throughout the redistricting process and the alleged inequities in drawing the district lines.
Ira Costell, a resident of Port Jefferson Station, argued Schaefer’s approach was unproductive, reducing redistricting to an analytic method while ignoring its impact on communities of interest.
“There’s more than just standard deviations and numbers at play here,” Costell said. “There’s people, there’s communities, there’s interests, and there’s fairness at stake here, and I don’t see a lot of it in what the mapmaker initially did.”
‘Despite the hideously flawed process that led here, I think in the end we’ve created a map that’s got some compromises, and it’s got a little something for everyone to be unhappy about.’
— Jonathan Kornreich
Costell further railed against the committee process, saying, “The hearings were poorly advertised, they were chaotic, they were confusing, they were marked by a lack of support information from the town, which resulted in maps that just appeared out of thin air.” He continued, “What does seem transparent, however, is the majority on this board seems poised to ignore the clear will and desires of the voters who did speak out.”
Terryville resident Lou Antoniello suggested Schaefer was not being truthful during his remarks. He added that tampering with district boundaries may affect future redistricting procedures.
“While the map that this board put together is light-years better than the original map, which cut out a huge chunk [of Terryville from CD1], it’s still cutting — cracking — Council District 1,” he said. “That sets a dangerous precedent for the future.”
Members of the redistricting committee also attended the public hearing. Among them was Gail Lynch-Bailey, who had served this year and in 2012. She referred to the two initial maps which split Port Jefferson Station and Terryville as a ploy to divert the public’s attention away from alleged gerrymandering in Council District 4. This district includes the racially and ethnically diverse communities of Coram, Gordon Heights and North Bellport.
“Once the public realized the commission had had no input into them, the maps were readily recognized by many for what they were: diversions, bait-and-switch tactics, ‘pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain’ maps intended to focus attention on the northern CDs instead of what was going on for CD4,” she said. “This ruse was, and still is, unconscionable.”
Also making an appearance was Ali Nazir, the Republican co-chair on the redistricting committee. He defended the movement of mostly white Ridge into CD4, citing the hamlet’s longstanding ties to the Longwood community.
“Despite rhetoric of the contrary, Ridge has always been in Council District 4,” Nazir said. “Ridge has a long history with the Longwood community, and to arbitrarily excommunicate them from the Longwood community is quite frankly wrong.”
Port Jefferson Station and Terryville, however, remain mostly united within the boundaries of Council District 1. Kornreich, who voted with the majority, justified his vote, saying this map would not split minority communities or dilute their votes.
“We negotiated in good faith, and the supervisor fulfilled his promise to keep Gordon Heights and North Bellport together, not to dilute the minority vote, and in good faith, I will support the agreement we made,” Kornreich said. “Is it an ideal map? No. Is it a map that I were to draw? Of course not. But when you’ve got one Democrat and a row of Republicans, you tell me what level of political power you have.”
In concluding his remarks, the CD1 councilmember said the final map reflects a series of compromises. “Despite the hideously flawed process that led here, I think in the end we’ve created a map that’s got some compromises, and it’s got a little something for everyone to be unhappy about,” he said, adding, “I hope that we can get to work and solve the real problems that face our town.”
No other board member spoke during the hearing. Following the vote, a droning cry rained from some in the audience, the dissidents shouting, “Shame on you, shame on you.”
It remains unclear whether the map will face challenges in court or whether those challenges could hold up given the bipartisan outcome.