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Long Island

Many Illnesses Carried by Ticks Share Symptoms with COVID-19

A deer tick is a common type of tick on Long Island. Stock photo

With summer close by and as New York State continues to relax shutdown restrictions, residents will naturally want to get some fresh air. But while open spaces like parks and nature preserves provide a temporary reprieve from the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also home to ticks. These arachnids can carry Lyme disease and other serious tick-borne illnesses. Experts say this is the time when ticks are most active and when their numbers increase. 

“We have already passed a month of tick activity here on Long Island,” said Jorge Benach, distinguished Toll professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology and Pathology at the Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University. “With minimal contact because people were staying indoors due to the pandemic, we have seen less cases.” 

Benach said that could change in the coming summer months, especially with an already large tick count this year. Currently, we are entering the second phase of tick season, which is when the arachnids are in the nymph stage and are harder to spot.

“For some reason Long Island has a heavy population of ticks,” Benach said. “It has the perfect environment for them and they really thrive.”

Three species of ticks call Long Island home. The deer tick can carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and other illnesses, while American dog tick can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The lone star tick can transmit tularemia and ehrlichiosis. 

“The lone star tick, we believe, is the most aggressive of the three species, and we didn’t know it existed until 1980,” the distinguished professor said. “And then it somehow found its way to Long Island.”

A 2019 study, headed by Benach and Rafal Tokarz, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, with co-authors from SBU and Columbia, found prevalence of multiple agents capable of causing human disease that are present in three species of ticks in Long Island.

Another concern this season is that tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis have symptoms that overlap with those of COVID-19, including fever, muscle aches and respiratory failure, but without persistent coughing. 

“It is true that they have overlap in the initial symptoms, but once you get past that first stage it should be easier to diagnose if that person has a tick-borne illness,” Benach said. 

Tick-borne diseases are usually treated with antibiotics. The effects range from mild symptoms that can be treated at home to severe infections that if left untreated can lead to death in rare cases. 

The distinguished professor stressed the need for people to be aware of ticks when they are in certain areas outdoors. 

Repellents and wearing long-sleeve pants and shirts can be good deterrents for ticks. Other tips include walking along the center of trails, washing and drying clothing when you come home and keeping pets from areas that could be tick infested. 

Benach said there is a misconception that humans get ticks from dogs. Instead, it is more likely one gets a tick from being in the same space as your dog.

“You should be checking yourself, and if you spot a tick get it off as soon as possible,” he said. “If you develop any symptoms or illness contact your doctor.”

Police and PSEGLI have been trying to catch scammers pretending to be from the utility company for several years, but the con is still on the rise. Stock photo

Phone scammers have used a number of tactics to get unassuming people to hand over their money, but one con has police and a Long Island utility company especially concerned.

Some scammers have been claiming they are employees of a utility company like PSEG Long Island, and then tell a person their bill is in arrears. They threaten to turn off heat or electricity if they do not receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars, often in the form of a gift card instead of the normal check or direct deposit.

“The elderly might not say anything because they may be embarrassed.”

— Stuart Cameron

Such is what happened to Setauket resident Candy Maeder, who said she was called March 5 by a person claiming to be from the utility company. The man on the phone said Maeder was late on her bills and her service would be shut off in a matter of hours if she didn’t give them hundreds of dollars in cash. She said they would not even take a debit card over the phone.

“I fought with them back and forth,” the Setauket resident said. “At first, I really believed it was them.”

After hanging up the phone, and after talking with her boyfriend and also her electrician, she came to the conclusion it had been a scam. 

That day, she called PSEGLI and the police, but Maeder’s experience is all too common in the modern day — almost textbook with what others have experienced. Suffolk County police has records of the number of reports of phone scams received over the past several years. Records show the frequency of the PSEGLI scam has increased. In 2018, there were 56 reported cases of the scam throughout Suffolk. In 2019, police received 76 reports of scammers claiming they were PSEGLI, where people did not give them money. An additional 55 actually resulted in the scammers stealing money from victims for a total of 131. In January and February of this year, police have received reports of 30 scams so far.

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said scammers are always coming up with novel frauds, but the PSEGLI scam has been on the rise. Like many scams, it particularly targets the most vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, who particularly can’t afford to be out several thousand dollars as some scammers demand.

“The elderly might not say anything because they may be embarrassed,” he said. “Scammers play on that type of fear and embarrassment to exploit money from those residents who are probably in the worst position to lose money like this.” 

New Jersey-based PSEG has been tracking this scam even before taking over the electric infrastructure portion of LIPA’s business from National Grid in 2014. Robert Vessichelli, the senior security investigator for PSEGLI, said the actual number of people falling for the scam has decreased over the years. In 2019 the utility company received notice of 6,574 scams for the whole of Long Island, where 305 of those fell victim to the scammers. The con artists often ask for as little as a few hundred dollars and up to several thousand. 

“The best way to combat these scams is by educating the public,” Vessichelli said. “When I learn people haven’t heard of the scam, it kind of concerns us.”

Tracking these individuals is difficult, even when scammers are calling locally. While the police chief said they have made some arrests, the suspects often do a process to their phone numbers called “spoofing,” making their caller ID on answering machines appear as a completely separate number, even making it out to look like it was coming from PSEGLI or even police.

The Long Island utility company has been participating in a national campaign to promote awareness of phone scams. Utilities United Against Scams, a U.S. and Canadian consortium of utility companies, ran the campaign during National Consumer Protection Week March 1-7 to promote scam awareness. Vessichelli said the consortium uses its influence to block the numbers of callers they confirm are from scammers, but of course the perpetrators will simply move on to use a different phone number. Sometimes, these calls come from people outside the U.S. 

The scam comes in multiple forms. While often it’s a person on the phone proclaiming a bill is in arrears, con artists also conduct phishing schemes by telling people they are owed money from overpayment and ask for bank account information. They may also call saying they need a deposit for a new meter, though PSEGLI does not charge a deposit for such a thing.

“At first, I really believed it was them.”

— Candy Maeder

One of the more frightening tactics is when charlatans show up in person at people’s houses claiming they are utility employees. When such people come to the door, Vessichelli said its best to call PSEGLI to confirm those are legitimate employees. The security expert suggested if they show ID, ask to take a picture for you to send to the utility to confirm identities.

Warning signs are often readily apparent. If a resident receives a cold call without any prior email or snail mail notifications, that’s usually a bad sign. Another sure sign is if they ask for any nontraditional form of payment, such as asking you to buy gift cards which the person then asks for those to be scratched off, or a payment of cash by drop off or in person. 

These are points often seen across all sorts of scams, so police’s general advice is to not relay any kind of personal information, such as your name or the name of family members or where you live. Scammers often take private information off social media such as Facebook, so if one starts hearing familiar names, don’t take it as a sign they are who they say they are. 

PSEGLI workers are required to wear photo IDs, so in meeting one of these scammers in person, a surefire sign is if they cannot produce such an identification. 

Cameron said if one suspects a caller might be a scam, then one should hang up, get the number where called from and phone PSEGLI at 800-490-0025 or the police at 631-852-2677. For more information, visit www.psegliny.com/scam and www.utilitiesunited.org.

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As the number of people infected with the new coronavirus climbs in China and countries limit travel to the beleaguered country, the incidence of infection in the United States remains low, with 11 people carrying the respiratory virus as of earlier this week.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant.”

— Gov. Andrew. Cuomo

American officials stepped up their policies designed to keep the virus, which so far has about a 2 percent mortality rate, at bay in the last week. For the first time in over half a century, the government established a mandatory two-week quarantine for people entering from China’s Hubei Province, which is where the outbreak began. The United States also said it would prevent foreign nationals who are not immediate family members of American citizens from entering within two weeks of visiting China.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the viral outbreak an “unprecedented situation” and suggested that the American government has taken “aggressive measures” amid the largely expanding outbreak.

The actions, Messonnier said on a conference call earlier this week, were designed to “slow this down before it gets into the United States. If we act now, we do have an opportunity to provide additional protection.”

The number of deaths from coronavirus, which has reached almost 500, now exceeds the number for the sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003. The number of infected patients worldwide has reached above 25,000, triggering concerns about a pandemic. More than 1,000 have recovered from the virus.

The CDC, which has been coordinating the American response to the virus, has been testing potential cases of the disease. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

In New York, 17 samples have been sent to the CDC for testing, with 11 coming back negative and six pending. New York created a hotline, 888-364-3065, in which experts from the Department of Health can answer questions about the virus. The DOH also has a website as a resource for residents, at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement.

The CDC sent an Emergency Use Authorization to the Food & Drug Administration to allow more local testing during medical emergencies. Such an effort could expedite the way emergency rooms respond to patients who they might otherwise need to isolate for longer periods of time while they await a definitive diagnosis.

By speeding up the evaluation period, the CDC would help hospitals like Stony Brook University Hospital maintain the necessary number of isolation beds, rather than prolonging the wait period in the middle of flu season to determine the cause of the illness.

As for the university, according to its website,  approximately 40 students have contacted the school indicating they are restricted from returning to the U.S. With university approval, the students will not be penalized academically for being out or for taking a leave of absence.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean.”

— Bettina Fries

Testing for the new coronavirus, which is still tentatively called 2019-nCoV, would miss a positive case if the virus mutated. In an RNA virus like this one, mutations can and do occur, although most of these changes result in a less virulent form.

The CDC, whose website www.cdc.gov, provides considerable information about this new virus, is “watching for that,” said Bettina Fries, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. At this point, there “doesn’t seem to be much mutation yet.”

In the SARS outbreak, a mutation made the virus less virulent.

Fries added that the “feeling with SARS was that you weren’t infectious until were you symptomatic. The feeling with this one is that you are potentially infectious” before demonstrating any of the typical symptoms.

Fries assessed the threat from contracting the virus in the United States as “low,” while adding that the danger from the flu, which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths during the 2019-20 flu season, is much higher.

In the hospital, Fries said the health care staff puts masks on people who are coughing to reduce the potential spread of whatever is affecting their respiratory systems.

While Fries doesn’t believe it’s necessary to wear a mask to class, she said it’s not “unreasonable” in densely populated areas like airports and airplanes to wear one.

Masks don’t offer complete protection from the flu or coronavirus, in part because people touch the outside of the masks, where viruses condense, and then touch parts of their face. Even with the mask on, people touch their eyes.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean,” Fries suggested.

Fries believes the 14-day quarantine period for people coming from an area where coronavirus is prevalent is “probably on the generous side.” Scientists come up with this time period to establish guidelines for health care providers throughout the country.

Fries suggested that the only way these precautions are going to work is if they are aggressive and done early enough.

“Once the genie is out of the bottle” and an epidemic spreads to other countries, it becomes much more difficult to contain, Fries said.

The best-case scenario is that this virus becomes a contained problem in China. If it doesn’t spread outside the country, it could follow the same pattern as SARS, which abated within about eight months.

While there is no treatment for this new coronavirus, companies and governments are working on a possible vaccine. This, Fries estimated, could take about a year to create.

Looking out across the calendar, Fries wondered what would happen with the Olympics this year, which are scheduled for July 24 through Aug. 9 in Tokyo. Athletes who have been training for years certainly hope the virus is contained by then. A similar concern preceded the 2016 Olympics, when Zika virus threatened to derail the games in Brazil.

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Before the summer ends, go to the beach and close your eyes. Most of us are visually dominant, so we go somewhere like West Meadow Beach and look at everything from the boats and ferries out on the Long Island Sound to the young children running back and forth in and out of the water to the light sparkling across the waves.

While all of those are spectacular sensory stimuli, they are only a part of experiences we might otherwise take for granted at a local beach. Our ears can and do pick up so many seasonal cues. We might hear a seagull calling from the top of a bathroom hut to birds flying along the shore. Apart from the music that emanates from phones and radios along the crowded beach, we can hear the wind rustling through umbrellas, the sound of a young couple laughing about the ridiculous thing their friend did the night before, or the splashes a skimming rock makes as it gets farther away from shore. On a day with limited visibility, we can listen to boats calling to each other with their deep horns.

Our skin is awash in cues. As clouds float overhead, we appreciate the incredible temperature difference between the sun and the shade. Combined with a sudden gust of wind, our skin feels unexpectedly cool as we wait for that same wind to escort the cloud away. We take off our shoes and allow our feet, which carry the rest of our bodies hither and yon, to appreciate other textures. We dig our toes into the warm sand and lift our heels, allowing the grains of sand to trickle back to join their granule brethren.

We walk to the edge of the water and feel as if we’ve left the office, the shop, the lawn or the screaming kids far away. The lower water temperature draws away the heat that’s built up inside of us. If the surf kicks up, we can slide into the soft sand, sinking up to our ankles in the moistness.

Our feet can appreciate the fixed ripples on a sandbar that are smooth, soft and uneven.

As we walk up the beach, we can test the ability of our soles to manage through rocks often smoothed over by years of wave and water. We bend our knees more than normal to cushion the impact of a hard or uneven rock.

Our noses anticipate the beach before we leave the house. We lather coconut-scented sunscreen on our bodies and across our faces. As we get closer to the beach, we may pick up the marshy whiff of low tide. When we pull into a hot parking lot, the sweet and familiar ocean spray fills our lungs.

Once we’re swimming, our taste buds recognize the enormous difference between the waters of the Sound and a chlorinated pool. When we leave the sea, we head to the warm blanket or towel to partake of foods we associate with the beach, like the sandwiches we picked up at the deli on the way over, the refreshing iced tea or the crispy potato chips.

We saunter over to the ice cream truck, looking at a menu we’ve known for years. While we scan the offerings, we lick our lips and imagine the taste of the selections, trying to get those small bumps on our tongues to help us with the decision. We know how fortunate we are when the most difficult decision we have to make resolves around choosing the right ice cream to cap off a day that reminds us of the pleasures of living on Long Island.

West Meadow Beach at low tide. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

If you ever move away from Long Island, you may find relief and a longing.

The relief could take many forms. For starters, you may find a place with magnificent sidewalks that allows you to walk for miles without needing to step out into the road. Yes, there are such places, although they are mostly in urban environments, where you can watch people, find restaurants and not just bars that are open at all hours, and where you can shift from one ethnic neighborhood to another within a few blocks.

You may also find road relief, as people in other places may allow you to merge readily, may move at a different pace, and may smile and wave at you as you pass them while they are on their lawns, walking their dogs, throwing a ball with their daughters or sitting on a rocking chair on their front porches, appreciating the flow of human and avian traffic that passes by their houses.

You also may not miss the delays at the airports or the train stations, as you wonder if you’ll make it to the job interview, the meeting, the wedding or the date on time when construction, lane closures, accidents, sun glare or road flooding slow everything around you to a stop or a crawl.

You might also find yourself relieved that the delis — if you can find ones you like outside of Long Island — are much quieter, as people in other regions may not be as compelled to raise the decibel level in public to outcompete each other for stories or to place their turkey club orders.

But, then, you might also find yourself missing some key ingredient of Long Island life. There are plenty of landlocked places you can visit that have wonderful lakes, rivers and streams, but how many of them truly have Long Island’s magnificent and varied beaches?

You might miss sitting on a bluff in Port Jefferson and staring out at the harbor or looking through the channel into Long Island Sound. You might miss the chance to visit your favorite rocky beach on the North Shore, where you can walk slowly along, looking for the perfect skimming rocks, recalling the days decades ago when your grandfather taught you how to use surface tension to make a rock bounce its way far from shore.

You might miss the toughness of feet so accustomed to the uneven rocks that you pause momentarily when you see someone struggling to navigate them, remembering that you once found these rocks hard to cross as well.

You might miss the wonderful intertidal zone, which at low tide allows you to wander across rippled and water-cooled sand far from shore.

You might also miss winter beaches, where winds whip along the abandoned dunes and where, if a cold snap lasts long enough, you can see the top layer of water frozen as it heads toward shore.

If you ever took advantage of the myriad cultural and scientific opportunities on Long Island, you might also miss spectacular performances at the Staller Center, lectures and symposia at Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory or Brookhaven National Laboratory.

You might also miss the farms or vineyards on the East End, where you can admire the way rows of vines, trees or grass expand out from the road.

You might also miss the secrets hidden beneath the surface of the water. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to snorkel at Flax Pond or at a beach, you know that magnificent creatures — arthropods that live on yellow sponges and look like ancient creatures under a microscope — populate a completely different world that is within surprisingly easy reach.

They aren’t unicorns, tooth fairies or fantastic creatures from the C.S. Lewis “Narnia” series. And yet, for a Long Islander who spent considerable time standing knee deep in the waters around West Meadow Beach, listening to the aggressive screech of territorial red-winged blackbirds, the sight of a green ruby-throated hummingbird moving forward and backward in North Carolina brought its own kind of magic.

By the time I got out my cellphone and clicked open the camera app, the bird had disappeared.

While there are hummingbirds that periodically appear on Long Island, the sight of one in Charlotte so soon after our move here seemed like a charming welcome from the nonhuman quarters of Southeastern life.

Behind a Chili’s and Qdoba — yes, they are side by side in a strip mall here — we discovered a spectacular lake with a small walking path over the water near the shore. Looking down, we saw numerous fish hovering below and, to our delight, a collection of turtles, who all clearly have an appetite for the leftovers from the nearby restaurant.

We have also seen, and felt, considerably more bugs and mosquitoes, while we’ve heard cicadas, which, unlike the 17-year kind on Long Island, emerge here every year.

So, what about the two-legged creatures?

After the initial shock from the level of consideration other drivers displayed, it’s become clear that:

(a) The Northeast hasn’t cornered the market on aggressive and anxious drivers.

(b) You can take the New Yorker out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the New Yorker.

Until I get North Carolina license plates, I have been driving the speed limit on smaller, local roads. Other cars have tailgated me so closely that I can practically read their lips as they talk on the phone or sing songs.

I watched a woman in a Mustang convertible, with rap music shouting profanities, weave in and out of traffic as her long hair waved in the breeze behind her. From a distance, the music and expletives were one and the same.

We have also seen an extensive collection of tattoos. A young FedEx driver climbed out of her truck and rang the bell to deliver a package. Her arms were so covered in colors and designs that it was difficult to discern a theme or pattern.

I walked into a supermarket behind a young couple pushing a baby stroller. The father had tattoos along the back of his muscular calves, while body ink adorned the well-defined shoulders and arms of his wife. I wondered if and when their young child might get her first tattoo.

When they find out we’re from the Northeast, people in North Carolina frequently become self-deprecating about their inability to handle cold weather. They laugh that flurries, or even a forecast for snow, shuts down the entire city of Charlotte. They assure us that no matter how much we shoveled elsewhere, we won’t have to lift and dump snow by the side of the road.

They ask how we’re handling the heat, which is often in the mid-90s, and the humidity, which is fairly high as well. While the three H’s — hazy, hot and humid — are my least favorite combination, I have certainly experienced many warm summers on Long Island, where shade or a trip into the ocean or a pool provide small comfort in the face of oppressive warmth.

With birds and insects of all sizes flying around, and drivers weaving in and out of traffic, North Carolina has displayed an abundance of high-energy activity.

‘Dingy Boat Rack’ (Brookhaven Town Marina, Mount Sinai) Photo by Gerard Romano

By Melissa Arnold

If you ask Gerard Romano how he’s feeling about his first ever photography exhibit opening this weekend, he’s quick to admit he never imagined this would happen.

“It seems like one minute I was submitting pictures to the local newspaper, and now there’s going to be an exhibit for [my pictures],” said the Port Jefferson Station resident. “I wasn’t expecting to do anything like this — the thought never crossed my mind before — so there was a lot to learn.”

Last year, Romano began to submit his photos to Times Beacon Record News Media’s weekly Photo of the Week series. Several of his photos were chosen over time, and eventually he was invited to submit a collection of his favorites for a two-page photo essay in the Arts & Lifestyles section. 

Now, Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station is featuring Romano’s photographs in an exhibit he’s entitled Visions of the North Shore. The presentation will be on display in the library’s gallery throughout the month of July and will showcase images of this beautiful part of Long Island that we call home.

‘Low Tide’ (Stony Brook Harbor) by Gerard Romano

Romano’s interest in photography began more than 50 years ago, when he acquired a 35mm camera soon after he left the Army. “I enjoy creating images and seeing things differently through the lens of a camera,” said Romano, who went on to work as an engineer and auxiliary police officer for Suffolk County. After his retirement he became active in digital photography. “I find it very satisfying to share those images with other photographers around the world through the image sharing website Flickr,” he said.

That desire to share his work would become the spark leading to this exhibit. One day, while visiting Stony Brook Harbor, he met Donna Grossman who was instructing a plein air class through the Atelier at Flowerfield art school in St. James. He snapped a photo of the artist, and Grossman offered to critique his work. “She suggested doing an exhibit, and I thought it might be fun,” he recalled. 

Reached by phone, Grossman said that Romano was a talented observer of life on the North Shore. “I am happy that his work will finally be brought to the attention of the residents of this beautiful area. His show at Comsewogue Library is not to be missed,” she said.

Romano is happiest photographing the area he knows best — the landscapes and waters of the North Shore, especially its bluffs and beaches. Taking inspiration from Norman Rockwell, he also enjoys taking candid photos of people interacting with one another and recently began focusing on taking close-ups of flowers.

“I like to go out with a plan for the kind of photos I’m going to take, but mostly it depends on the weather,” Romano explained. “Stony Brook offers a beautiful harbor, a wonderful museum, the Village Center, the grist mill, Avalon Park and Preserve, and nearby Harmony Vineyards. I also love to take photos around Setauket’s historic district, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai Harbor with the lobster boats.”

‘Seabird’ (Port Jefferson) by Gerard Romano

One of the photographer’s favorite images in the show is “Seabird,” an image of a seagull perched on a piling in Port Jefferson Harbor. “The gull let me get within three feet of him before flying away,” said Romano in disbelief. “It was very unusual.” 

To create his images, Romano uses two Nikon DSLR cameras, both equipped with BMP sensors. One camera has his all-purpose “walk around” 18-200mm zoom lens, which he uses most of the time. The other camera usually has a wide-angle lens. The photographer’s favorite is a 10.6mm fisheye lens for up close and personal shots. “It creates great special effects,” he explained.

Featuring over 45 images, the exhibit will display a variety of subjects, giving visitors a chance to find something that resonates with them. Its six sections will include seasonal landscapes, nautical photos, classic cars, Norman Rockwell-style color candids, black and white photos, and more.

Loretta Holtz, exhibit coordinator and head of adult services at Comsewogue Library said the library was happy to be showcasing the photographer’s work, adding, “Gerard Romano has captured so many wonderful scenes of our local area and we hope the community will take the time to visit the library gallery in July to see this exhibit.”

As he prepared for the exhibit’s opening a few weeks ago, Romano said that he didn’t realize how much work went into this kind of project. He and his wife Barbara Ann printed and framed each photo themselves, which had its own learning curve. It’s been hectic getting to this point, he said, but “it has also been a rewarding learning experience that has extended well beyond photography.”

Comsewogue Public Library is located at  170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station. Viewing hours for the gallery are Monday to Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-928-1212.

Local government officials at all levels are pushing for the Shoreham woods adjacent to the Pine Barrens be spared from development. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put plans in his preliminary budget despite vetoing a bill to save the trees. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County elected officials learned last week that with perseverance comes preservation.

In a surprising move, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled in his 2018-19 executive budget Jan. 16 that roughly 840 acres in Shoreham would be preserved as part of an expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens. This proposal — which, if the budget is passed, would make the scenic stretch of property surrounding the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off limits to developers — came less than a month after Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) calling for that very action.

A proposal was made to cut down a majority of the more than 800 acres in favor of a solar farm. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We saw that he did a cut and paste of our bill,” Englebright said. “It left in all of the language from our bill for the Shoreham site and now that’s in the proposed executive budget. That is really significant because, with this initiative as an amendment to the Pine Barrens, this will really have a dramatic long-term impact on helping to stabilize the land use of the eastern half of Long Island. The governor could do something weird, but as far as Shoreham goes, it is likely he will hold his words, which are our words.”

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June but was axed by the governor Dec. 18, aimed to protect both the Shoreham property and a 100-acre parcel of Mastic woods from being dismantled and developed into solar farms.

Both Englebright and LaValle, as well as Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), pushed that while they provide an important renewable energy, solar panels should not be installed on pristine ecosystems. They even worked right up until the veto was issued to provide a list of alternative, town-owned sites for solar installation “that did not require the removal of a single tree,” according to Romaine.

In Cuomo’s veto, he wrote, “to sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.” Englebright said he and his colleagues planned to re-introduce the legislation a week or two after the veto was issued and was actively working on it when the proposed budget was released.

The legislation’s Mastic portion, however, was not part of the budget — an exclusion Englebright said he wasn’t surprised by.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, despite Shoreham not being in his coverage area, has been pushing to save the virgin Shoreham property from development. File photo

“During negotiations leading up to the bill’s veto, the governor’s representatives put forward that we let Mastic go and just do Shoreham — we rejected that,” he said. “We didn’t want to set that precedent of one site against the other. So he vetoed the bill. But his ego was already tied into it.”

The 100 acres on the Mastic property — at the headwaters of the Forge River — is owned by Jerry Rosengarten, who hired a lobbyist for Cuomo to veto the bill. He is expected to move ahead with plans for the Middle Island Solar Farm, a 67,000-panel green energy development on the property. But Englebright said he hasn’t given up on Mastic.

“We’re standing still in the direction of preservation for both sites,” he said. “My hope is that some of the ideas I was advocating for during those negotiations leading up to the veto will be considered.”

Romaine said he is on Englebright’s side.

“While I support the governor’s initiative and anything that preserves land and adds to the Pine Barrens, obviously my preference would be for Steve Englebright’s bill to go forward,” Romaine said. “There are areas where developments should take place, but those two particular sites are not where development should take place.”

Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who has been vocal against the veto and proposals for solar on both sites, said Cuomo is moving in the right direction with this decision.

“It’s clear that the governor wants to avoid a false choice such as cutting down Pine Barrens to construct solar,” Amper said. “I think he wants land and water protected on the one hand and solar and wind developed on the other hand. I believe we can have all of these by directing solar to rooftops, parking lots and previously cleared land.”

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”