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editorial

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Across the North Shore of Suffolk County, our roads are dangerous, and the public safety risks seem to multiply.

Statistics from the county website indicate that 546 of our fellow residents died while walking, bicycling, riding a motorcycle or driving in our county between 2017 and 2021. That startling figure is higher than any other New York county during the same period.

Some traffic fatalities and injuries are likely unavoidable. In a country that constitutionally protects the sale of alcohol and a state that legalizes recreational marijuana, some instances of intoxicated driving seem inevitable. For those who drive drunk or high, there should be stricter penalties.

But other traffic fatalities and injuries are preventable.

Many communities around the TBR News Media coverage area lack extensive sidewalk networks, meaning those who wish to walk, jog or bike do so along public roadways.

The glaring problem with this arrangement is that many of our roadways, such as state Route 25A, are far too narrow to accommodate lanes for vehicular traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists simultaneously. Poor street lighting further complicates the situation.

Earlier this year, the New York State Department of Transportation painted share markings onto 25A, signaling to drivers that they must share the roadways with bicyclists. We find NYSDOT’s striping efforts deeply counterproductive, suggesting the agency lacks familiarity with our dire roadway realities.

Especially along the North Shore, with its beautiful active-use transit options — such as the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway and the North Shore Rail Trail — pedestrians and bikers should be discouraged from using the roadways for leisure purposes. Why risk a fatal injury when there are miles of paved surfaces designed to offer a safe alternative?

We find most frustrating the numerous pedestrians who exercise little or no caution while walking at night. These reckless pedestrians add another unnecessary burden to our already overtaxed roads.

These nightwalkers, often wearing dark clothing without a flashlight or reflective gear — place too much responsibility on drivers, who have enough to worry about while behind the wheel. These are merely terrible accidents waiting to happen — and they recur week after week.

We encourage walkers to use the available hike-bike trails whenever possible instead of walking on the streets. If we must walk on local roadways late at night, we can, at a minimum, wear bright colors, use reflective gear for our dogs and ourselves, and shine the flashlights on our smartphones.

All these actions help alert drivers of our presence, reducing the risk of a traffic tragedy.

We encourage NYSDOT and our county, town and village officials to continue advocating for and promoting walkability by constructing new sidewalks while expanding and connecting linear parks. And we advise all drivers to stay on high alert — and respect speed limits. 

Let us take the appropriate safeguards to make our streets safe for all — because even one pedestrian fatality is one too many.

Photo by David Ackerman

This week, TBR News Media has embarked upon a pilot project we’re calling News Flash.

It’s a first-of-its-kind journalistic endeavor to integrate artificial intelligence technologies into our newsroom operation. Using ChatGPT, a popular chatbot developed by OpenAI that launched in November 2022, we believe News Flash can aid us in our mission to inform our North Shore readership.

The concept here is simple. We are feeding some of our original content into ChatGPT, directing the chatbot to extract the most interesting or insightful news nuggets within a given article.

While AI generates the bullet points, we assure our readers that our staff retains complete editorial control over the end product. We are committed to subjecting AI-produced content to the same rigorous standards we use for content by human writers. 

There are several motivations behind this effort. We are acutely aware and deeply concerned our digital technologies have diminished our attention spans and impaired our faculties for processing large chunks of information. Reading proficiency scores in the U.S. are declining, and in an electoral system demanding a well-informed citizenry, this rings of deep trouble for our republic.

Presenting noteworthy or insightful points up front may make one more inclined to read the entire article. But even if a reader opts not to read the article, News Flash will have delivered some of the necessary material, informing even the nonreader.

There is also a broader philosophical objective behind this project. Artificial intelligence may be the defining technological innovation of our lifetimes. Our staff is in uncharted waters, with no precedents to guide us on properly synchronizing AI and local journalism.

With the awesome power of AI comes an equally awesome responsibility to harness its power appropriately. We believe trained journalists must guide AI, using this tool to enhance and augment the reader experience. Without strict human oversight, we risk irreversible disruption to a vital American institution, with the potential ramifications still unknown.

Scanning the local media landscape, we see alarming trends all around us. Each year, more local news outlets shutter. Others consolidate under large conglomerates. And most disturbingly, more and more Americans live in news deserts, or places without a local newspaper. These are trying times that should trouble journalists and citizens alike.

Without the local press, we naturally gravitate to larger, national media outlets whose contents are increasingly polarized and politically charged. Reading only about higher levels of government, whose centers of power are far away from Long Island and interests often unaligned with our own, we become disillusioned and disconnected from the democratic process.

For the first time ever, local journalists have a powerful tool to help advance their mission to inform democracy. If used properly, AI can help counteract these downward trajectories in our industry, restoring local journalism to its central place in American life.

At TBR News Media, we pledge to use AI technology responsibly. Like generations of pioneers before us, let us plunge forth into the Great Unknown. May this adventure prove fulfilling for both local journalism and democracy — and our readers.

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Sideshows, also known as street takeovers, are an increasingly pervasive crime phenomenon within Suffolk County and a critical public safety risk.

A sideshow is an informal and illegal public demonstration involving automotive stunts, often at vacant lots or public intersections. These gatherings usually are among young men, who illicitly schedule and promote these activities through social media.

During a recent community meeting at Hauppauge’s main firehouse, Suffolk County Police Department 4th Precinct Inspector David Regina shared alarming footage of recent nighttime gatherings and dangerous auto races at Hauppauge Industrial Park.

While sideshows may be afflicting Hauppauge and its surrounding communities for now, Regina noted that this trend is gaining traction regionally and nationally.

Here on Long Island, our roadways are dangerous enough as is. Just a week ago, Regina told the Smithtown Town Board that motor vehicle crashes of practically every variety were up within the 4th Precinct. We don’t need to add another safety hazard to our roadways, especially one as preventable as street racing.

Like many fads, our laws and criminal penalties have not yet caught up with this crime phenomenon. Officers alerted to these sideshows are often hamstrung, requiring two signed affidavits from separate business owners before initiating enforcement measures.

Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Steven Flotteron (R-Brightwaters) are currently exploring changes to county law that would close this loophole.

We advise each incumbent and prospective county legislator within our coverage area to take this matter seriously. There are plenty of vacant lots throughout the North Shore, and this issue could soon be heading to our own backyards.

To those who may report a sideshow event, remember to stay out of the line of harm. These are raucous, dangerous gatherings. They should be handled by experienced law enforcement professionals, not private citizens.

We do sympathize with the young and adventurous auto racers who may wish for an outlet for their natural inclinations and energies. So often, our society shames and punishes this demographic without considering root causes or potential solutions.

If these young men seek the thrill of auto racing, then we should make alternative means available to them. The East End, for example, has long offered sanctioned auto racing at the Riverhead Raceway, located on Old Country Road near Tanger Outlets in Riverhead. This quarter-mile oval track is the only one of its kind on Long Island, providing sanctioned auto racing to local residents.

A similar venue in western Suffolk could provide the necessary outlet for the beleaguered racers among us while promoting public safety. We ask our county officials to explore such an alternative, perhaps siting the raceway at an existing county property.

Still, public awareness of this issue is crucial. If you see or hear of an illegal sideshow event, please notify SCPD immediately. And remember always to be vigilant when getting behind the wheel.

A biker enjoys a section of the Greenway Trail.

Generations ago, the pioneers of suburbia planned our region with one mode of transportation in mind. Cars.

Our forebears, led by urban planner Robert Moses from the 1920s onward, developed our region around the automobile, viewing the car as the mechanical embodiment of core American values: individualism, autonomy, freedom and progress.

To accommodate their automotive aspirations, they built elaborate networks of roads and bridges, connecting every home to every school, supermarket, shopping mall and office park along a continuous stretch of pavement.

Generations later, we now know this thinking was profoundly short sighted. Modern realities of endless traffic congestion painfully extinguish yesterday’s fantasies of limitless open road.

Today, we exist in a decidedly auto-focused, auto-dependent context whereby every essential activity in our lives is mediated by — and requires access to — a motor vehicle.

While cars are indisputably an important component of our transportation ecosystem, they cannot be the only mode of transportation available to us.

Many seniors or people with disabilities cannot operate a car. Young people entering the workforce often cannot afford the high costs of car ownership and maintenance. It should come as no surprise that these demographics are fleeing our region in droves.

A recent AAA report estimates the average annual cost of car ownership is now over $12,000 per year — up more than 13% from last year. For our residents, cars represent a growing liability, disrupting our finances and hindering our quality of life.

Hiking and biking trails are a possible remedy to our transit woes. While creating valuable recreational opportunities, these amenities fulfill an even greater need by opening an alternative to our cars.

For example, the North Shore Rail Trail extends from Mount Sinai to Wading River, running parallel with state Route 25A. For nearby residents, the trail facilitates access to every storefront, parkland and local institution along that highly trafficked corridor — without an automobile.

Unlike the road, that confines us to the interior of our cars, the trail places us outdoors and in relation with nature. Trails restore that vital connection to the land severed long ago through auto-focused regional planning.

The time is now to expand and interconnect our existing trails. Like our roads, we must connect every community on Long Island along one continuous greenway.

The North Shore Rail Trail and the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway are separated by just over a mile. Planning must commence now to link these trails together. 

But we cannot stop there. We must plan and construct new hiking and biking routes, introducing these trails to communities currently without them.

Unlike past decision-making, our plans for new trails must be done purposefully. Greenways should not be limited to parks and open spaces — they must also extend into our neighborhoods, our commercial districts and our schools.

Still, an integrated transportation network must account for all modes of transport — private and public. A more agile and efficient bus system is in order. We call upon Suffolk County Transit officials to explore shorter buses that can better maneuver and adapt to meet the needs of riders.

Our commuters require faster, more frequent rail service. The electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road would satisfy this end. We call upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) and our New York State delegation to advance this plan more aggressively.

With creative thinking, community-based planning and bold vision, we can revolutionize our transit network, rectifying decades-old faults and counteracting our regional decline. Together, let us blaze new trails ahead. Suffolk County’s new GEAR Up program is a step in the right direction.

The LIPA Power Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

In recent years, Long Islanders have grown increasingly frustrated and alienated by our state government in Albany. This dynamic must change to move our region forward.

New York State has failed to meet our needs or fulfill our aspirations on various local issues. From stonewalling modernization of the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road to lackluster maintenance of our state roadways to blatant negligence in protecting nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, our state government has come up short constantly.

While geographical proximity may make it difficult for Albany to be attuned to all of our needs, the state government has not made a proper effort to listen to and address our concerns.

Though the connection between Albany and Long Island remains decidedly frayed, one 2022 development should give our citizens hope: the Legislative Commission on the Future of the Long Island Power Authority.

Given the complexity of restructuring LIPA as its contract with PSEG-LI nears expiration in December 2025, a team of state legislators has moved around our Island to gather public feedback on the matter — and the people are speaking up.

At TBR News Media, we are committed to a bottom-up policymaking approach. The citizens of our communities should be guiding our state government toward representative policy outcomes — not the other way around, as is currently practiced. And our elected representatives in the state Legislature are the necessary agents to convert our collective will into sound policy.

This legislative commission on LIPA is a rare opportunity to see our state officials at work, generating local feedback that they will then share with the remainder of the Legislature. This commission is opening up meaningful conversations about a critical state policy that affects all of us.

Questions surrounding our electrical grid are complicated, and many of them will likely remain unresolved regardless of the commission’s final recommendations. Yet, for once, our citizens have been given a voice.

The promise of this legislative commission is its ability to give our residents a platform to help guide state policy. We need such legislative commissions to explore better relationships with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the NYS Department of Transportation and various other state agencies.

With this style of bottom-up democracy, we can begin to decentralize the power of Albany, restoring a connection between Long Island and New York State that has for years been severed.

We ask our state delegation to begin holding more commissions, and may we all start participating in a more representative legislative process moving forward. If we make our voices heard, we cannot be ignored.

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As Election Day nears, it is becoming increasingly evident that our local elections here in Suffolk County will hinge upon the people’s vision for wastewater treatment.

The state of our wastewater systems is a crucial policy concern for residents and environmentalists alike. Our existing system of disparate sewer districts and individually operated septic tanks is inadequate, impairing our environment, drinking water and quality of life.

Responsible wastewater treatment countywide can ensure our communities remain clean, healthy and safe. However, as years pass, our county’s wastewater infrastructure will continue showing its age — and the consequences could be devastating.

The first and most immediate impact of deteriorating wastewater infrastructure is public health. A failure to address these issues could result in an uptick in health crises, increasing the demand for health care services and leading citizens to question the competence of local governments to meet even their most basic human needs.

Residents expect their elected officials to take proactive approaches in maintaining critical infrastructure. If this does not happen, it can erode trust in government.

Our people ask for clean drinking water. We desire fewer fish kills and algal blooms in our local surface waters. Perhaps above all, our citizens long for political representation that actually advances their needs over the wants of powerful, monied interests that finance political campaigns in this county.

Money talks in Suffolk County, as elsewhere. Powerful special interest groups here — notably developers and organized labor — often curry favor with politicians. For developers, sewers allow for increased building height and density. For labor unions, sewers produce lucrative government contracts.

As we inch closer to November, we remind prospective officeholders that they must be careful not to allow campaign contributors to drive policy, that the people are the prime movers of our democracy.

The paramount stakeholder group in this election is the taxpaying citizens of Suffolk County. Though not cutting large campaign checks, this group will be the ultimate judge deciding who ascends to county office.

Shamefully, the county Legislature failed to put the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act on November’s ballot. So, this election season voters must listen carefully to candidates from both major parties. Only those who demonstrate a firm commitment to the popular will should earn our votes.

Candidates must develop a plan for modernizing our wastewater infrastructure. They should be prepared to answer difficult questions on this most critical issue, demonstrating their commitment to the betterment of our county.

To our fellow residents, listen closely during this election cycle, especially to conversations surrounding wastewater.

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The opioid epidemic in Suffolk County remains unresolved among local families, policymakers, resource providers, drug prevention advocates and victims. Fortunately, for once, we see some reasons for hope.

Opioids remain a major killer, particularly of youth, in Suffolk. Hundreds of our fellow residents die each year from opioid overdoses, with a growing number of these deaths brought on by synthetic opioids — notably fentanyl.

While our community and society continue to grapple with the devastation of the drug epidemic, we are encouraged by several developments taking place here at home.

Last week, Suffolk County opened a second round of opioid settlement payments from a projected $200 million lawsuit won by the county government against opioid manufacturers, retailers, distributors and other entities that had compounded the problems and contributed to deaths. [See story, “Suffolk County opens application portal for second round of opioid settlement,” Aug. 31, TBR News Media].

We encourage all qualifying, interested parties and organizations to write an application for this money. While the $200 million cannot undo the damage inflicted upon our people, it can hopefully bring our citizens and nonprofits together around the common cause of ending the opioid epidemic here in Suffolk.

It is also necessary to consider recovery options for addicts. Prevention is critical, but recovery resources are an equally vital side of this conversation. With growing local concerns over a potential lack of space in treatment centers, those who ask for help should receive the necessary care.

Caught in the daily and weekly news cycles, we can sometimes forget that people among us are dying from opioids far too regularly. We are encouraged by the various demonstrations this week — namely at Brookhaven Town Hall and Northport Village Hall — for Opioid Awareness Month.

Still, we acknowledge that so much work must still be done. When September ends, this issue won’t go away.

Therefore, we must use this month as an opportunity to learn about the drug phenomenon here in Suffolk, educate ourselves and others, and apply those lessons during the remaining months of the year.

Public awareness combined with public funds can be a powerful deterrent to help combat the spread of addiction in our community. The actions we take today will impact generations to come.

To apply for opioid grant funding through Suffolk County, please visit www.suffolkcountyny.gov and search under “Opioid Grant Application.”

Sundown on the Bluffs, Kings Park Bluffs, Kings Park

New York State is preparing to distribute $4.2 billion to communities statewide, and Long Islanders must begin to make an aggressive push for that money.

Voters statewide approved the 2022 Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act by a more than 2:1 margin. Here in Suffolk County, our residents approved the referendum 64-36%.

During a listening tour event on Thursday, Aug. 24, state officials outlined their plans for dispersing the funds. Qualifying projects include flood mitigation, marshland restoration, stormwater infrastructure, farmland protection, open space preservation and much more.

Here in Suffolk County, we are experiencing all of these issues.

Vulnerable waterfront properties along the North Shore are increasingly at risk from harmful erosion at our bluffs. Low-lying areas are at ever-greater risk of flooding, compounded by more frequent and intense precipitation events and outdated stormwater infrastructure.

Too often, commercial corridors are developed with little or no community giveback. Consequently, communities along major state routes — such as 25 and 347 — are suffocated by overcommercialized lots with limited access to parks or recreation space.

Meanwhile, the few remaining farmlands and open spaces are in constant danger of deforestation, development and displacement.

This $4.2 billion state bond package represents a much-needed pool of cash that can help offset these regional trends. And while the state has committed to directing 35-40% of the pot to disadvantaged communities, competition for the remaining chunk of the pie will be even fiercer.

Residents and officials across Long Island have grown increasingly frustrated and alienated by our state government in Albany. Getting our hands on some of these funds could begin the path toward reconciliation.

Throughout the Aug. 24 meeting, the state officials present emphasized the collection of public input as a necessary component for identifying new projects. That is why we must all take the time to scan the code above and share the climate challenges we face. The survey remains open until Sept. 13.

Whether our particular hamlet or village is experiencing worsening flooding, heightened coastal erosion, limited open space or any other environmental hardship, we must take the time to alert the state and request funding.

The potential to tap into $4.2 billion doesn’t come around often. This money represents a generational opportunity to remediate some longstanding issues and counteract our regional decline. We cannot afford to squander this moment.

Let’s scan this code and share the extent of our challenges here at home. Let’s scan the code and tell our state government how desperately our community cares about and needs this funding.

Let’s all scan this code because our community’s future welfare and prosperity depend on how we act today. From the North Shore to Albany, may the voices of our people ring loudly.

METRO photo

When we shop, we often bring our valuables, which total hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars, with us.

Cell phones, wallets, purses and credit cards represent valuable commodities. They can be stolen to score sweet profits. And throughout our community, that is happening right now.

On Aug. 8, Suffolk County Police Department 4th Precinct Inspector David Regina informed the Smithtown Town Board of a pernicious crime happening across Suffolk County retail spaces.

“Criminals and thieves take the opportunity when someone is shopping at Costco or any of these other stores, and they walk by an unsuspecting victim’s shopping cart,” he said. “What they’ll do is they’ll just take out the credit cards or the wallet.”

A criminal can be out the door with our credit cards in the few seconds we may step away from our shopping carts.

At first, victims of this kind of theft do not know they have been victimized. In the time it can take for victims to discover they were robbed and cancel their accounts, the damage has already been done. For law enforcement, Regina noted, this kind of theft is “a very hard crime to target.”

Fortunately, we can all take some simple steps to protect our possessions. We should always keep our valuables in sight and within reach when we shop.

We also encourage our readers to shop lightly, leaving their possessions inside their locked vehicles or — even better — leaving their valuables at home.

If one shops with a handbag or purse, ensure these bags have secure closures. For purse thieves, an open handbag in a public space invites theft.

At TBR News Media, we helped to pioneer the Neighborhood Watch program in Suffolk County. We now advocate for a similar crime watch program for retail centers. As the adage goes, “If you see something, say something.”

Tell a store manager or similar authority about the nefarious activities you witness. Failure to report these incidents of purse theft signals to criminals our tacit approval of these behaviors, incentivizing recidivism. If we wish to see larcenies begin to drop, we must do our part.

Aware of the risks, we can and should shop without fear. Please take care to ensure that shopping can be a safe experience.

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By Judy Patrick

Citizens have a right to know who they’re dealing with, whether it be in government or private enterprise. But that’s not the case when it comes to limited liability companies, or LLCs, which for example can own property, apply for grants, operate as landlords and donate to political campaigns. Holding government accountable for its actions demands a well-informed public. We need to know who, not what, is benefiting in order to do our jobs as citizens.

Discovering who’s behind the curtain isn’t easy. Cruise through your local property tax rolls or the state’s campaign finance disclosure database. You’ll see plenty of LLCs but you won’t see many names.

Anonymous shell companies have been a popular vehicle for money laundering, tax evasion, organized crime, terrorism and other forms of corruption for decades. Yet, as the proposed New York State bill notes, establishing an LLC requires less personal information than getting a library card. 

That’s why it’s imperative for Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to sign the LLC Transparency Act, passed in both the state Assembly and Senate, which would require these special kinds of business organizations to publicly identify the owners to the state and to the public registry run by the Department of State.

At the federal level, the Corporate Transparency Act, taking effect next year, seeks similar disclosures from businesses, including LLCs, but stops short of making the information publicly available. A wide variety of businesses, from pizza shops to mall developers and property buyers, use the LLCs as an organizing business structure.

The approach, sanctioned by state law, provides the owners some limits on liabilities the company could face. As a practical matter, LLCs also offer the people who actually own the company the ability to remain anonymous.

Under current reporting requirements, LLCs need only supply a company name, county of operation and a basic address where legal documents should be sent. Sometimes, the address is a P.O. Box, sometimes it’s an attorney’s office, sometimes it’s a registered agent.

For anyone interested in knowing more, the information provided is often frustratingly nondescript and consequently useless. We all have a well-established interest in this information, and the state Legislature should be commended for recognizing this by including solid public disclosure requirements.

The lack of transparency with campaign donations is just one of the reasons the LLC Transparency Act has the support of good government groups, such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. While a 2019 law change required LLCs making political donations to disclose their owners, many are ignoring the requirement, the groups say.

The Business Council of New York State opposes the law, saying it would violate the privacy of law-abiding businesses — including thousands of small businesses organized as LLCs — and put their security at risk. There are some provisions in the legislation for public disclosure to be waived when “a significant privacy interest exists.” The law’s efficacy will be determined in part in how waiver requests are handled.

Given the benefits state law confers upon LLCs, it’s not too much to ask that they at least let us know who they are. This is a good step toward much-needed transparency

Judy Patrick is vice president for editorial development of the New York Press Association, of which TBR News Media is a member.