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Lawrence Aviation

Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico, left, and Lillian Clayman debate the issues facing town residents. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Lynn Hallarman

A lively debate took place between candidates Lillian Clayman (D) and Dan Panico (R) for Town of Brookhaven supervisor at the headquarters of TBR News Media. The incumbent supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), is running for Suffolk County executive. 

Candidates had two minutes each to respond to questions from the staff, with an optional 30-second rebuttal. The debate kicked off with the rundown of their credentials.

Clayman, 70, of Port Jefferson, honed her political skills as the three-term elected mayor of Hamden, Connecticut, from 1991 to ’97. She served as a city councilwoman in Connecticut, where she was the finance committee chair and managed a budget of about $200 million. Clayman noted that she spent 10 years as a financial planner and portfolio manager.

Since moving to Long Island 20 years ago, she has worked as a union organizer for 1199 SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and was chair of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee from 2016 to ’21. She holds a doctoral degree in American History from Rutgers in 2019.

Clayman was asked to step in when former Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant withdrew from the race this June due to illness.

“As mayor of Hamden, I was in charge of the board of education budget, the sewers, the police department, the fire department, the libraries, all the roads, parks and recreation,” she said.

Panico, 45, of Center Moriches, represents the town’s 6th Council District, a position he has held since he was first elected in 2010.

Panico received his law degree from Touro Law School with an award for excellence in land use, zoning and planning. He has been deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven since 2012.

“I’ve run as high as almost 79% of the vote because I know the job I do, and that is local government,” he said. “I don’t talk about national politics.”

Town supervisor’s role

When asked for their superpower, or the quality that makes them most qualified for the town’s highest post, the candidates offered varying perspectives.

Panico said, “My superpower is that my land use planning and zoning ability is unparalleled by anybody in the town. That is my superpower.”

Clayman, on the other hand, responded, “I can get people to work together. I work collaboratively.”

Land use

Panico said he believes the best land use decisions happen at the hyperlocal level in collaboration with communities and their elected district council representative.

“I’m deeply involved in all the redevelopment projects throughout the entire town,” the deputy supervisor said. “It’s without an exaggeration that I could be the councilperson for any of the six town council districts.”

He added, “I have the know-how to meet with developers and push the projects through, which are predominantly redevelopment, but also safeguard communities like Stony Brook and Setauket to make sure they are not overdeveloped.”

Clayman used her two minutes to focus on sewer infrastructure, which she believes is a critical aspect of sustainable development throughout the town.

“Without sewers, without IA [Innovative/Alternative] septic systems, we will continue to release nitrogen into our aquifers into our waterways,” she said. “Until we get new sewers and septics, we can’t even talk about development. We must be very careful because we are above our capacity.”

On the Town Board’s role in overseeing the planning and construction of new developments, both candidates agreed upon a hands-on approach from the supervisor’s office.

“I make it my business to know what’s going on across the entire town, although I represent the 6th town Council District,” Panico said. “I wrote the multifamily code with our planning department. I rewrote the [Planned Retirement Community code] and the [Commercial Redevelopment District code].”

Clayman offered a slightly varied perspective, noting the role of the town government in limiting overdevelopment. “The primary function of the Town Board is to make sure that areas are not overdeveloped,” she said. “All you have to do is look at Port Jefferson Station — there is an enormous amount of overdevelopment that is occurring in this area.”

Open space

Another critical component of the town’s land use arsenal is its open space fund. When pressed for their strategies for preserving open space, Panico highlighted the few undeveloped parcels that remain.

“I think we’re in a race to save what’s left,” the Republican said. “That’s what I believe, and I believe people in Brookhaven value open space,” adding, “We have the Joseph Macchia [Environmental Preservation] Capital Reserve Fund, open space funds that we use. I would certainly partner to preserve as much open space as we can and work with our villages.”

Clayman advocated for a grassroots, civic approach targeting parcels for preservation as open space. “Working with the civic associations and the Town Board to make sure that we have open space” would be critical, the Democratic candidate said. “We don’t need to develop every single piece of property that is available. That is something that occurred during the ’70s and ’80s, and we don’t need to do that now.”

Lawrence Aviation site

Lawrence Aviation is among the biggest Superfund sites on Long Island, and both Port Jefferson Station and the Village and Port Jefferson Station will likely bear most of the impacts from future redevelopment of that site. 

On how to accommodate residents of those areas, Panico said, “People have had to deal with that pollution for quite some time. If you are going to unveil solar in the area, give the affected population a reduced rate on their electric — you’re allowed to do that under New York State law. And give the residents of [Port Jefferson] Village a break on their tax bills. I think that would be a somewhat equitable thing to do.” 

Clayman said that the longstanding environmental impacts are not localized to Lawrence Aviation. “It’s not just Lawrence Aviation. At the town landfill, there are negative impacts from toxins that have seeped into our groundwater and our air. People swear that Lawrence Aviation has had a negative impact [on their health]. But I also think that what Dan said is a good idea for that property. I’m all for [tax breaks].”

Cost of living

For many seniors and young people throughout the region, the high standard of living is becoming untenable, prompting many to leave Long Island. To counteract these movements, Clayman advocated for increasing the amount of affordable housing units in the town. She pointed out that to live on the Island for a family of four, you need to make about $150,000 a year.

“That’s a lot of money,” she said. “The average family on Long Island is currently making about $86,000 a year. [Affordable] housing prices need to reflect that amount. That is something that can be part of any kind of development plan.”

Panico highlighted the town’s recent efforts in constructing new affordable units. “We’ve been very successful around the town in creating more units,” he said. “But if you listen to my opponent, we can’t build any more units. And to me, I live in reality, and I am pragmatic.”

He added, “I know that there needs to be redevelopment — redevelopment is the name of the game.”

Fentanyl crisis

Both candidates regarded the fentanyl crisis foremost as a mental health issue. Panico viewed the crisis as an issue that primarily needs addressing at the state and federal levels. Clayman, on the other hand, said there is an opportunity for expanded town, county and state partnerships in education and outreach.

“We can utilize the resources that we have with Channel 18 to have outreach to the communities and to the schools,” Panico said, “But ultimately, [combating the crisis] is going to come from a change in our federal government.”

Clayman outlined her more local outlook toward remediating the challenges. “I think the town has an important role to play,” she said. The town “needs to put more of our time and energy and focus not just into development projects but also look at how we can be of service to the community.”

As a follow-up, the TBR staff inquired how the candidates sought to finance an expanded role in combating the fentanyl crisis within the town.

Clayman suggested looking within the current budget as a possible source of financing a community response to the crisis: “I would look through vendor contracts, for example, and examine [the spending on] those vendor contracts.”

Panico objected to this proposal. “We’re going to look into vendor contracts and solve the fentanyl crisis?” he asked. “To me, it doesn’t make any sense. The fact of the matter is, it’s better when one level of government is focused on this issue.”

Energy costs

Both candidates agreed that the town’s Community Choice Aggregation program, launched in Brookhaven in 2022, is a well-intentioned initiative by the Town Board.

Clayman, however, questioned the rollout of the program as mired in confusing bureaucracy, putting the responsibility on town residents to figure out how to maximize cost savings.

“While maybe it was good intentioned, it doesn’t serve the residents,” she said. “And worst of all, nobody knows about it.”

Panico acknowledged that the town could do a better job of explaining the program to residents but believes it is a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless.

“Our aim is to save people money,” he indicated. “If you are a savvy consumer, you can opt out when the price is low and opt back into our program and save real money.”

“That’s unfair,” Clayman responded. “The program is based on putting the responsibility on [residents] to opt out of a program they are automatically enrolled in. As a consumer, I would much rather learn about a program beforehand and then make a decision as to whether or not I want to participate.”

Panico countered by adding, “Scores of people have used the program, and the town has an active outreach program to educate residents on their choices. The town publishes National Grid rates on their website so that people can track the rates.”

Brookhaven animal shelter

Earlier this year, residents publicly witnessed some frayed relations between volunteers and staff at the town-operated animal shelter on Horseblock Road. [See story, “Volunteers and officials express concerns over Brookhaven animal shelter,” Aug. 5, TBR News Media.]

“Just this morning, [New York] State declared the animal shelter unsatisfactory,” Clayman said. “The volunteers at the animal shelter were [the ones] that brought [the issues] to the public eye. This is one of the areas that Brookhaven needs to be more transparent.”

She added, “An attorney was hired to oversee the animal shelter — you don’t need an attorney to be in charge of an animal shelter. He directed that the volunteers had to sign non-disclosure agreements.”

Panico defended the administration for its handling of the shelter and pointed to progress at the facility since the initial dispute.

“We hired, for the first time, a full-time veterinarian at the animal shelter,” he said. “I met with some of the more prominent volunteers — they’re happy with the progress. We are making a big effort to bring up the animal shelter. But also, we hired somebody specifically for social media to get these dogs and cats adopted.”

Clayman responded, “But it is indicative of the way the town government has been run that volunteers have to meet in secret with a potential candidate for office.”

Panico countered, “Under my administration, there will be no NDAs or anything like that. We’re going to calm the waters.”

Active-use trails

Both candidates endorsed park preservation, linear park expansion and linkage of existing trails within the town.

Panico pointed to his record as councilman in park preservation, including negotiating with developers to preserve or create park spaces.

“Our parks and trails are absolutely beautiful in the Town of Brookhaven,” he stated. “I’ve made it [almost] through the Rails to Trails with myself and my 4-year-old on the back of my bike and my 9-year-old [on his bike].”

Clayman touted her record as the mayor of Hamden in building new biking and walking amenities.

“I built the Farmington Canal trail, which is a rails-to-trail linear park,” she said. “I would work very hard in linking [Brookhaven trails] up and to build more.”

Self-reflection

TBR asked each candidate on a personal level for their greatest frustration in their respective professional lives.

“I sometimes wonder if other people spend as much time [as I do] kicking themselves in the butt over something that I thought that I should do better,” Clayman said.

For Panico, “I wrestle with whether I should stick to what I know and stay in my lane in town government, or should I get more involved in other levels of government,” he said. “Professionally, I wrestle with this issue. I’ve chosen to stick predominantly with staying in my lane. I think I’ve made the right decision.”

When asked if they had a magic wand that could immediately resolve two issues within the town, the town supervisor candidates offered insightful perspectives.

“That’s easy,” Clayman said. “I would clean up the water, I would clean up the aquifer — that would be number one. I would make sure that the air was good to breathe. That would be wonderful if I could do that.”

Panico replied, “If I had a magic wand, I would help homeless people and the mental health crisis on the Island because it’s a Herculean task, but I would if I could solve that. Litter is something that is pervasive on the Island. It’s almost societal, and there’s no easy way to tackle it.”

Residents townwide will decide between these two candidates. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

NYS officials alert public to possible local impact

Inside one of the remaining derelict buildings at the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station. File photo

News Flash

Key takeaways by ChatGPT, edited by the TBR staff

Derelict buildings at Lawrence Aviation site in PJS to come down after New York State takeover from Feds.

• Daily air quality sampling, wet demolition planned for hazardous material removal.

• Proposed solar farm and MTA rail yard discussed.

By Carolyn Sackstein

On the road to redevelopment, the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station will clear a significant hurdle in the coming months.

Port Jefferson Village Center hosted Wednesday, Oct. 4, New York State officials and the contractor who will demolish the remaining derelict buildings on-site at the Lawrence Aviation property.

The two-hour information session featured informational posters and charts on easels around the room’s perimeter, with state Department of Environmental Conservation officials explaining their contents and providing additional clarity for members of the public.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “did the investigation of the site, performed removal actions such as soil and drum removal of underground storage tanks, transformers containing PCB [polychlorinated biphenyl] oils and implemented the groundwater remedy over the last 10 years,” said NYSDEC environmental engineer Steven Scharf. The EPA has now “turned it over to the state, as required by federal law. Now that the company is bankrupt and the Suffolk County Landbank Corporation has seized the property for back taxes, we can take the buildings down.”

Mark Sergott, representing the New York State Department of Health, said that during the demolition of the buildings, there will be “mostly dust issues.” Scott McDonald, project manager of Groundwater & Environmental Services, the contracting firm performing the demolition work, explained that removing structures from the property will be a “wet demolition” to lessen the number of airborne particulates.

Jeffrey Dyber, also representing NYSDOH, explained that “the air quality will be sampled daily. Monitoring equipment will vary locations from day-to-day depending on the direction of the wind.”

Should the equipment detect levels of particulates and volatile organic compounds beyond those considered safe, he added, alarms will sound, and demolition will be halted and mitigated before continuing. The materials will be wrapped and secured for safe transport.

NYSDEC project manager Payson Long. Photo by Carolyn Sackstein

The above-ground structures should be removed by summer 2024, according to NYSDEC project manager Payson Long. “We are going to sample below the pits, sumps and through the slabs in several areas to ensure that we have documented the entire site to ensure there is no contamination in that area,” he said. “We are [sampling] down to the water table, which is about 200 feet.”

“Currently, the buildings are an attractive nuisance,” Long continued, explaining it is not just the unhoused who have been drawn to create encampments on the property. People from the community have exposed themselves to toxins by riding dirt bikes and local teens using it as a hangout location. There is even evidence that the buildings have been used for drone racing.

McDonald discussed the potential traffic impacts related to the demolition project. He said the wooden bridge to the west of the property will not be used as it is not rated to carry the weight of the trucks and equipment. All project-related traffic will be routed from Route 112 to Sheep Pasture Road and then enter the Lawrence Aviation property using the gate at 100 Sheep Pasture.

When it was pointed out that the gate and roads on the property were overgrown and derelict, McDonald indicated that those would be rehabilitated to allow the trucks and heavy equipment to access the work zones on-site. 

Once demolition equipment reaches the property, it will stay there. Site security will be present during the off hours. Truck traffic will be limited to between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. 

The event was well attended by Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station/Terryville residents, including Bill Caraftis, Paul and Carolyn Sagliocca, Liz and Jim Marzigliano, who demonstrated a keen interest in the possible uses for the land after the cleanup.

A 36-acre solar array and an MTA rail yard have been proposed, which could necessitate rerouting a section of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway trail

The Eastern box turtle, above, is a native species to Long Island. Photo by 37and7 from Wikimedia Commons

Through the years, there have been scattered reports of the Eastern box turtle, a native species to Long Island, seen along the Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, particularly at a 1/8-mile strip adjacent to the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site.

Though not listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation considers the box turtle of “special concern,” a classification for native species that “warrants attention and consideration but current information, collected by the department, does not justify listing these species as either endangered or threatened.”

The New York State Department of Transportation, charged with mowing the Greenway three times per year, was alerted to the turtle presence earlier this summer by the Three Village Community Trust, the local organization supervising and stewarding the trail.

“We became aware that there were some turtles apparently in the area in and around the Lawrence Aviation site,” said Herb Mones, TVCT president. “As a result, we requested that the state, when it does its mowing program, not mow that section or that area.”

The Friends of the Greenway is a subsidiary of TVCT that works to maintain and upkeep the trail grounds. Charlie McAteer, the organization’s chair, held that the mowing operation does fulfill a public end, limiting tall grasses, which can often yield ticks.

“If the tall grass is right next to the paving, people worry about ticks as they go past,” McAteer said in an email. “So these few mowings do help with our human satisfaction.”

But, he added that the organization strives to keep “mowing to a minimum so meadow growth and places for turtles [and other wildlife] can flourish again and trail users can see and enjoy nature along the trail.”

Joshua Heller, public information specialist for NYSDOT, indicated that the department was made aware of the presence of turtles and halted mowing for the area in question. 

“The New York State Department of Transportation prides itself on being good stewards of the environment,” Heller said in a statement. “We have received the Three Village Community Trust’s letter and are reviewing it. In the meantime, we have temporarily halted mowing operations in this area.”

Aug. 22 walkthrough

A walk along the Greenway Tuesday, Aug. 22, painted a different picture.

Outside the Lawrence Aviation property, there was evidence of fresh mowing. However, there was no evidence of harm to wildlife observed during the walkthrough. 

Presented the photos of the recent mowing activities, Mones expressed possible miscommunication. 

“It’s unfortunate that the NYSDOT extended their mowing beyond the area we recommended to them,” the TVCT president said in an email. “In the past, the DOT has been responsive to our requests and recommendations. It’s obvious we’ll need to do more work to create a ‘protective zone’ in the future.”

NYSDOT did respond to a follow-up request for comment on the matter by clarifying that the recent mowing occurred prior to temporarily halting mowing in the area.

Possible solutions

A 2017 thesis paper by Margarete Walden explores the danger mowing activities pose to box turtles. 

To mitigate the potential risk of turtle mortality due to mowing, Walden suggests conducting “mowing activities [from] November to March, so as to coincide with the period of turtle hibernation,” during which they live underground. It is, however, difficult to mow during these months when there is heavy snowfall.

McAteer pledged that the Friends of the Greenway “will work with NYSDOT to try to work on the mowing distance/guidelines” for routine mowings.

For Mones, wildlife conservation and trail maintenance are not mutually exclusive. Rather, he indicated that both efforts could serve the coinciding interests of trail users and wildlife.

“Our motto is, ‘Protecting the places we love,’” Mones said. “We are the stewards of the Greenway, but we also have the residual responsibility to protect the open space and advance environmental protection.”

One of over a dozen derelict buildings that remain on the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Raymond Janis

UPDATE: The June 29 community availability session at the Port Jefferson Village Center for the Lawrence Aviation Industries Site is postponed. DEC will notify the public once a new community meeting date is scheduled.

To ensure careful and thorough cleanup efforts at the former Lawrence Aviation Industries Superfund Site in Port Jefferson Station, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation scheduled a community availability session at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101 East Broadway, tonight, June 29, from 6-8:30 p.m. This event has been postponed to a later date.

Experts from NYSDEC, the state Department of Health, NYSDEC-contracted engineering and demolition firms, the Suffolk County Landbank Corporation and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will be available for one-on-one interactions with community members. Multiple stations will be set up at the Village Center, with representatives available to discuss specific areas of interest. 

Participants can attend any time during the session.

The community availability session will present information about the planned demolition, cleanup activities and future use at the LAI Site. Handouts of the presentation materials will be made available during the session.

Eliminating possible exposure to site-related contamination in the local community will be a point of emphasis. The updates include the latest information regarding the planned demolition of derelict buildings and provide progress to address contaminated soils and groundwater on the property.

Conceptual plans for the 126-acre Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station. Graphic from Suffolk County Landbank

Breon Peace, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced this week the federal government settled upon terms for the future of the Lawrence Aviation Industries Superfund site, ending years of litigation. This agreement will enable the sale of about two-thirds of the 126-acre Port Jefferson Station property by a subsidiary of Suffolk County Landbank.

A 2019 trial had found Lawrence Aviation, with its former CEO and owner Gerald Cohen, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 and liable to the Environmental Protection Agency, among other claimants, for over $48 million.

‘This settlement will enable a previously contaminated property to be put to uses that will benefit Port Jefferson [Station] and the greater Suffolk County community.’

— Breon Peace

This week’s announcement resolved the last unsettled question on the priority of claims against the property by New York State, Suffolk County and other agencies.

In a statement, Peace said the U.S. District Court approved a consent decree that allows for the sale and redevelopment of the Superfund site.

“This settlement will enable a previously contaminated property to be put to uses that will benefit Port Jefferson [Station] and the greater Suffolk County community,” the U.S. attorney said. “In the process, the EPA will recover at least some of the enormous costs expended in remediating the LAI Superfund site and protecting our environment from hazardous substances.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), whose 5th Legislative District includes Port Jefferson Station, has been involved in the deliberations over the site. Reached by phone, she confirmed plans are ahead for demolishing the remaining derelict buildings on the property, an initiative subsidized by the federal government. [See story, “Schumer announces $450K to help demolish buildings at Lawrence Aviation,” Jan. 9, TBR News Media.]

“The first real step we’re going to see is the demolition of the buildings,” she said. “That is long overdue.”

The county legislator regarded the recent developments as a victory for Suffolk County taxpayers who “have been shouldering the burden of the taxes for the property for decades,” she said.

Hahn indicated that, under the plans, the site would be partitioned into three sectors — a third designated for a railyard to facilitate operations for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, another third for an industrial solar farm and the final third for open space. The county legislator added that cleanup efforts, which include two pumping and filtration systems, will likely linger on for decades.

She tied plans for the Lawrence Aviation property to the decades-long proposal to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, referring to the combined efforts for the two projects as “transformational for the region.”

“This is a very early step in the process for electrification,” Hahn said, adding, “The full-scale electrification of the branch is at least a decade away, but it would never happen if we weren’t able to rehabilitate this Superfund site.”

Ed Garboski, right, and Sal Pitti, former president and vice president, respectively, of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association. Photo by Raymond Janis

Two prominent local figures of the Port Jefferson/Terryville area are departing from the community.

Ed Garboski and Sal Pitti, former president and vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, respectively, recently sold their homes, both headed for permanent relocation to the warmer climes of Texas and Florida. The two civic leaders formally transitioned their posts Tuesday, April 25, handing the reins to newly installed civic president Ira Costell and vice president Carolyn Sagliocca.

The departing officers caught up with TBR News Media in an exclusive interview, during which they reflected on the area’s projected growth, improvements in the standard of living and the vital role of PJSTCA.

Community planning

Garboski emphasized the 2014 Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study as a critical component for the area’s long-term planning. 

The study makes several recommendations for reconfiguring the commercial corridor along Route 112, including rezoning much of the area from J-2 local business zoning to J-6 Main Street zoning. 

The plan also aims to “improve the physical environment, reestablish the hamlet’s historic character and augment the natural environment” to create a Main Street Business District in Port Jefferson Station.

While planning stalled for some time following the adoption of the hub study, Garboski expressed optimism that its recommendations would soon be ratified. “I was kind of hoping we’d have shovels in the ground before I left,” he said. “But it’s moving.”

The outgoing civic president also reflected upon the ongoing work to clean up the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site, with plans in the works to convert the existing space into a multipurpose community hub and recreational park space.

Much of these local aspirations, Garboski contended, will require assistance from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has yet to commit to electrifying the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road despite generations of residents and officials calling for the project.

“Once you electrify that line, then everything will fall into place,” he said. “You can move the train station to the other side of [Route 112] to eliminate the railroad crossing, put the storage at Lawrence Aviation, a solar field and open space.” He added, “I couldn’t think of a better thing to do with that.”

Public safety

During his tenure, Pitti said he had observed gradual improvements in the standard of living and public safety within the hamlet. His community involvement began with a local neighborhood watch program on his block, which soon expanded across the hamlet.

Pitti’s local crime program later merged with the civic association, where he integrated public safety forums into civic meetings.

“The civic became crime information and construction information,” he said, adding that over time, this approach helped “clean up the neighborhood.”

Civic’s role

Reflecting on his community work, Pitti regarded openness to new ideas and perspectives, along with a willingness to enter a dialogue, as necessary ingredients for effective community leadership. For these traits, he said the civic has amassed greater credibility with residents and government officials.

“We just built a good reputation for being willing to work with people,” he said. “We always said at meetings that you have to meet people in the middle. You can’t have it one way or the other, and I don’t care who you are.”

‘That’s the kind of community we have — when their back is to the wall, they will show up.’

— Ed Garboski

He added, “You have to always try to find that happy medium to make the majority of people happy because, unfortunately, not everyone will always be happy.”

Garboski said the civic body requires continual community mobilization to represent resident interests. He maintained that the success of future advocacy efforts rests upon “strength in numbers.”

“That’s the kind of community we have — when their back is to the wall, they will show up,” he said. “They will fight. You have to have the right people leading them, you have to be willing to negotiate and stand your ground.”

Both leaders thanked the members of the civic and the greater community for their support and for entrusting them as leaders over the years. Though bittersweet, they expressed optimism for the community and civic to stay on their current upward track. 

“For the bulk of it, I think we did a good job,” Garboski said. “And we had good people to work with, very good people to work with.”

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met Tuesday, Feb. 28, for an evening packed with local business.

Lawrence Aviation

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.

County sewers

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.”

Reports

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.   

Civic elections

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.”

Brookhaven councilmember talks Lawrence Aviation, PJ Branch electrification

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich. Photo from Brookhaven Town website

While plans to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch line have stalled for over half a century, nearly every level of government is coming together to support the development of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station. [See story, “Schumer announces $450K to help demolish buildings at Lawrence Aviation,” Jan. 9, TBR News Media website.]

In an exclusive interview, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) summarized the plans for the Lawrence Aviation property, connecting this local project to the decades-old struggle for branch electrification. The implications for both, he suggests, would be transformational for the community and greater region.

From a planning perspective, what is the overall vision for  the Lawrence Aviation property?

Roughly a third of the site would be preserved as open space. Another third would be for industrial purposes, specifically a solar farm. And the last third would be, theoretically, set aside for the MTA rail yard to try to move [the existing] rail yard there and eliminate the grade crossing on Route 112.

Is the proposed rail yard intended to accommodate electric train cars or the diesel-powered locomotives currently used on the Port Jefferson Branch?

I’d love to see it as an electrified rail yard. But even if it were to relocate the existing rail yard using the same 19th-century technology they’re using now to a better location, it would still be an improvement. 

How is your office coordinating with higher levels of government? Have they been open to your suggestions?

We haven’t interacted much on a federal level. We have had a couple of meetings with the MTA, with [former state] Assemblyman [Steve] Englebright [D-Setauket]. 

Much more of our interaction has been with Suffolk County. I did help negotiate a New York State contribution through Assemblyman Englebright’s office to get the buildings taken down.

When you’re dealing with some of these big state bureaucracies like the MTA, I feel like we tell them things, and they tell us things. But sometimes, I don’t know how responsive they really are. 

This is a major priority for us, but I don’t know if it is for the MTA. My job, what I’ve been trying to do, is get meetings with them to keep those lines of conversation open. It’s to communicate to them how important this project is and what the regional impact of electrification would be.

Is there a disconnect between local and state-level officials’ priorities, particularly with electrification?

Yes, and this is a common theme that we have seen. The centers of power in Albany seem to be well aware of the city’s concerns. To some extent, they’re concerned with upstate and rural communities. But I feel that sometimes there is a disconnect between state-level priorities and suburban concerns.

What can local officials along the North Shore do to make their concerns heard by state-level officials in Albany?

This is the nexus between politics and government. We have to advocate for the needs of our communities — not for political reasons but from the standpoint that these are the concerns of the suburbs. These are concerns that these communities face, and we want state support in addressing the unique challenges that we face in the suburbs.

Is it realistic that MTA-LIRR will commit to Port Jefferson Branch electrification within the next decade?

My parents moved out here in 1968, and my dad was working in the city at that time. The real estate agent who sold them the house said, ‘You are going to love getting into the city because the Long Island Rail Road is going to electrify that train.’ They were literally talking about this in the 1960s.

So, is it realistic? I guess it could happen. Will it happen? I have no idea, but I’m going to fight like hell for it.

Suffolk County Police Officer John Efstathiou during a general meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met at Comsewogue Public Library Tuesday, Jan. 24. The civic discussed public safety, the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site and its executive board transition.

Suffolk County Police Officer John Efstathiou delivered the report on public safety, sharing various crime statistics and trends throughout the area.

While catalytic converter theft has fallen off considerably, Efstathiou said carjackings are surging. “This month, I think we’re somewhere close to 20 in the [6th] Precinct,” he said. “Please lock your vehicles. Take your keys. Don’t leave anything in your vehicles that you don’t want stolen.”

Robberies during exchanges through Facebook Marketplace have also spiked. Efstathiou noted that even one of his colleagues, an off-duty police officer, was robbed after agreeing to meet someone through the e-commerce platform.

“It can happen to anyone,” he said. “Be aware that it’s taking place, and maybe bring somebody with you as well when you’re doing something like that.”

Frank Gawdun, team leader of Chick-fil-A’s nationwide rollout canopy program, presented to the civic association regarding a proposed canopy at the franchise’s location on Nesconset Highway.

Given the high traffic volume at the location, Gawdun suggested that the canopy proposal would address possible safety concerns. “We’re seeing numbers of anywhere from 47 to 54 cars every 15 minutes,” he said. 

The canopy system would enable two Chick-fil-A employees to be posted outside, moving traffic within the drive-thru more efficiently. “All we’re trying to do is let you guys know that we have an eye on this, and we want to do this canopy project as fast as we can and hopefully get it up this summer,” Gawdun said.

After discussion among the members, the civic association passed a resolution to draft a letter stating the civic has no objection to the proposal, subject to further input.

Andrea Malchiodi, assistant director of Comsewogue Public Library, gave a string of updates on upcoming events to be held at the library. Bus trips will be returning in the spring, with a trip planned for the Bronx Botanical Garden in April. The seed library will also reopen sometime in March.

Earlier this month, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) visited the Lawrence Aviation Superfund property, announcing $450,000 in federal funds to help demolish 14 remaining buildings. [See story, “Schumer announces $450K to help demolish buildings at Lawrence Aviation,” The Port Times Record, Jan. 12.]

Charlie McAteer, corresponding secretary of PJSTCA, updated the civic on planning for the Superfund site. Following the demolition of the structures and cleanup of any lingering contamination, plans are in the works for a passive solar farm. 

Another segment of the property would be for a rail yard, helping the Long Island Rail Road with logistics. The remainder of the property would serve as open space.

The meeting concluded with a discussion over a succession plan for the civic’s two highest-ranking officers. In October, Ed Garboski and Sal Pitti, the civic’s respective president and vice president, announced they would vacate their posts by the end of 2023. [See story, “Port Jefferson Station/Terryville civic talks … shake-up at the helm,” The Port Times Record, Oct. 27.]

The body passed a resolution to create a nominating committee to vet prospective candidates for the two positions. 

Under PJSTCA bylaws, the president is empowered to nominate members to a nominating committee of no fewer than three and no greater than five members. 

Garboski agreed to send out an email to all members “so that everyone knows we’re forming a nominating committee,” he said.

At podium, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announces $450,000 in federal funds to rid the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site of its remaining buildings. Photo by Raymond Janis

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.

At podium, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Photo by Raymond Janis

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.

At podium, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). Photo by Raymond Janis

“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.