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Mayor Margot Garant

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Port Jefferson is saying it's owed concessions Huntington received in their settlement with LIPA. File photo by Erika Karp

Though litigation between North Shore towns and LIPA have ended, the story of the stacks is not yet over, not by a long shot.

The Town of Huntington, with one hour to spare on deadline, approved the settlement with the Long Island Power Authority on its tax certiorari case over its Northport power plant Sept. 4. The agreement cuts LIPA’s power plant property taxes from $86 to $46 million in a 7-year glidepath. The settlement also included an extra $3 million sweetener on top of the deal to be paid in $1 million installments in the next three years. This settlement addition came just a few weeks before the deadline neared.

Though Huntington residents and the local school district will have to deal with the financial impact over the next seven years, Port Jefferson and its residents are in the middle of its own glidepath from its 2018 settlement over the Port Jefferson power plant. Village officials said LIPA is contractually obligated, based in their own settlement, to also grant any beneficial deals to the Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson.

Mayor Margot Garant said during the Sept. 8 village board meeting that Port Jeff’s attorney is in contact with LIPA’s counsel to get those same “sweeteners” by repassing their settlement.

Port Jefferson’s case was finally settled in December 2018, reducing the plant’s assessment from $32.6 million to $16.8 million over 9 years. Port Jefferson is currently in year 3 of the glidepath, with the first two years of the settlement effectively rolled into one.

Port Jefferson is in the midst of dealing with the loss of property tax revenue from the Port Jefferson Generating Station. This year’s budget reflects a $50,000 increase from last year in the total amount that Port Jeff has to raise from resident taxes, partially due to the LIPA settlement.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said he has been in contact with LIPA’s lawyers and is just waiting for the power authority to finalize the details of the Huntington settlement. He expects there could be the benefits of an extended payment and the potential to extend payments out over a longer time, adding that he hopes to have greater details of what Port Jeff should be able to get later this month.

In a statement, LIPA officials said that the power authority, Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “have started discussions to consider amendments to the 2018 settlement agreement for the Port Jefferson Power Station. LIPA intends to provide comparable settlement terms for Port Jefferson residents once the Northport settlement is finalized. Terms will be based on the size of the plant and existing tax payments.”

Egan also touted the village board’s decision to settle their plant’s case earlier than Huntington’s, adding that this means Port Jeff has a more gradual route to weather the drop in property taxes from the plant.

“The mayor and this board bore this settlement on their backs,” Egan said. “It was an early exit on this and Huntington is never going to recoup the costs they did.”

Trustee Bruce Miller said it’s important that Port Jeff receive that extra $3 million that Huntington will also be getting in their settlement over three years. In the past, LIPA has also argued that the plants in both townships may close in the near future. Meanwhile, Port Jeff has argued for keeping the plants running and retrofitting the property with newer technologies.

“We have been speaking with National Grid [which operates the Port Jeff plant] and they have been a little close-lipped,” Miller said. “LIPA, whether they have just been trying to get a settlement from Huntington, has been a little bit intimidating with talking about closing plants and not dealing with us in terms of what a better future will be.”

This post was amended Sept. 10 to add a statement from LIPA.

The Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting for Slate Floral & Event Studio on Aug. 11. The event was attended by family, friends, members of the chamber and Mayor Margot Garant.

The new boutique, located at 158 E. Main Street, Suite 2, in Port Jefferson Village (in the former Reruns location) specializes in custom event décor and unique, whimsical, artisan gifts, many of which are handmade by local artists. Curbside pickup and delivery is available.

Owner Dianne Mutell (pictured with scissors) goes by the mantra that “each of life’s special moments deserve celebration.”

“I have an extensive background in floral & event design … and I enjoy creating unique, one of a kind florals and event decor for clients. Each creation is custom and special, just as each person is,” said Mutell.

The beautiful shop features custom florals, succulents, plants, event decor and design, party planning, artisan wrapping papers and cards, unique paper goods, gift baskets, pots, planters, vases, topiaries, balloons and gifts and also offers Bloom Bar & Flower Crown  workshops.

Operating hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The shop is closed on Tuesdays. For further information, call 631-278-9068 or visit www.slateli.com.

Old Field resident Tim Hopkins took this picture late on Aug. 1 saying the black plume came out of the stack for some time before later drifting out over the Long Island Sound. Photo by Hopkins

The Port Jefferson Generating Station on the shores of Port Jeff Harbor has displayed emission issues at least twice in the past two months, photo evidence and a statement from Long Island Power Authority have shown. While plant operators said they were minor incidents, local environmentalists were much more uncertain.

On Aug. 1, past president and current member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Tim Hopkins, was out on the water in PJ Harbor when he took a picture of one of the chimneys belching black smoke into the air. 

Hopkins, who as a Village of Old Field trustee from 2016-18 chaired its environmental committee, said he goes out on the waters of Port Jeff Harbor on average six times a year, and this was the first time he saw the stack make that sort of cloud. He watched the stack exude the black smoke and snapped the picture at 7:40 p.m. The smoke, he said, continued to pour from the stack for some time before he left to go to Flax Pond. When he returned to the harbor, he saw the cloud had drifted over into Long Island Sound, where it lingered for some time.

John Turner, a local environmentalist who previously worked as Brookhaven Town’s director of the Division of Environmental Protection, said during a phone interview that, living on Long Island for 65 years, he could not recall seeing Port Jeff’s or any other power plant expelling emissions “that looked that disturbing, that’s potentially problematic from a health perspective.”

He said he also strongly suspects the black smoke could contain particulate matter, or dust and particles other than the normal gaseous emissions, that could be potentially damaging to breathe.

“That can’t possibly be just carbon dioxide or nitrogen oxide or other gases — that has to be particulate matter, which could be very troublesome to people’s lungs,” Turner said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is also the Assembly environmental committee chair. When first he saw an image of the plant’s emissions, he said, “It looks deadly,” adding, “This is not a good day to breathe.”

What it looked like to the assemblyman, a geologist and ardent environmental advocate, was black particulate mixed with the emission plume. Englebright said the emissions were as bad as he’s ever seen in the three decades he’s been in office, and it far exceeds normal opacity standards. Normally when the plant is active there may be a white plume coming from the stack, especially visible in winter when much of the visibility is the hot vapor interacting with cold air to create condensation. 

The plant is operated by United Kingdom-based utility company National Grid, and LIPA said in a statement National Grid is aware of all environmental regulatory requirements and the plant normally operates in compliance.

In an email response to inquiries, a spokesperson for National Grid said that the Aug. 1 incident was caused when Long Island’s electric system began to vary load and the unit became unbalanced. The black particles, National Grid said, were “most likely unburnt carbon due to the boiler imbalance,” adding it is similar to what can happen to a home heating system. 

The statement said the situation lasted for six minutes while the operator made adjustments to correct the situation. Hopkins reaffirmed he saw the stack smoking for much longer than that. 

In response to the assemblyman’s inquiries, LIPA sent an answer instead about another emissions failure which occurred on a separate date, July 11. 

LIPA said for 12 minutes, the plant exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opacity limits on that early July date. The electric utility said the incident was a result of the plant “combusting a mix of natural gas and residual oil,” while increasing load to meet demands on the grid. While increasing load, LIPA said the boiler “experienced an upset, resulting in a temporary interruption of the fuel supply and subsequent loss of load. This caused the unit to smoke (opacity) for a short period.”

LIPA said the emissions on that date were made of various gases such as nitrogen and nitrogen dioxide, but the power authority claimed they were below regulatory limits. It also claimed the plant is unable to measure the amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide released by the emissions. 

National Grid’s statement said the plant’s automated monitoring system notified the control room about the issues. Opacity incidents are reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 60 days following the end of each quarter. The company added that while opacity exceedance does occur, it maintains compliance a vast majority of the time.

“The plant is well maintained and operates in compliance with environmental regulations greater than 99% of the time,” National Grid’s statement read. “National Grid operators are highly skilled, receive ongoing training and operate the units to maintain compliance with all regulatory requirements. … However, there is no fail-safe item that will guarantee no events in the future.”

In a statement, the DEC said National Grid has reported about the Aug. 1 boiler issue but has no record of a July 11 event. The agency said plant emissions are run through filters to remove particulates before they are released into the atmosphere.

“DEC reviews the data logs from these monitors as part of our rigorous oversight of these facilities to ensure protection of public health and the environment from long-term particulate matter releases,” the agency wrote in its release.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement the New York DEC is the primary regulator of the facility and sets opacity requirements, though all facilities must follow federal guidelines set by the Clean Air Act. The EPA website lists that it last inspected the Port Jeff site June 16, where the plant passed its compliance inspection.

The units entered service in 1958 and 1960, and have since gone from using coal to diesel, and now runs as a hybrid that takes in both natural gas and oil. The plant only operates a small percentage of the year, but use often peaks during the heat of summer, as more people run their air conditioners, and in the winter when more customers are working their heating systems. 

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said in an email she had not been made aware by LIPA about the opacity violations. She said the sight of the black cloud was highly unusual, as the only time emissions are normally visible at all is during the winter.

Garant and other village officials have been working with an engineering firm in drafting a report to argue for retrofitting the power plant with newer technologies, including a hybrid battery to store energy in case of demand.

“You have old iron here, and when you need help to offset the peak demands, a cleaner plant would be an improvement at the site,” the mayor said.

If Caran Markson could make the world green, cover it in manicured sets of pollinating flowers and sweet smelling herbs, she would. 

Hearing her talk about planting and gardening, the possibilities seem endless. If she had unlimited hours in the day, she would pick up every spare piece of litter on the road from Port Jeff to Montauk, she would kneel in the medians along Route 25A with cars flashing past on either side and weed the curbs of their overgrown stalks and giant vegetation. If she was the queen of gardening, there would be a pocket park on every corner of every publicly accessed street in Suffolk County, or even wider, all of New York state. If she was the monarch of the pollinating flowers, there would be a gardener for every county, town and village, and she would lead her army from the front.

PJ Village Gardener Caran Markson transplants and weeds near the Village Center June 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

To hear her speak, one may truly believe the world could be green from one end to the other, if only there were more people with mindsets like hers. 

“A gardener’s work is never done,” Markson said. “Turn around after you’ve done something, and if you don’t enjoy it or see the progress you’ve made, then you’ve got to go do something else.”

But alas, she can only control what goes on in Port Jefferson village, and there’s more than enough there to keep her occupied. Since she started six years ago, she has turned from one of two seasonal part-time village gardeners to the lone full-time caretaker of the village’s many pocket parks. She’s out nearly every day of the week, most of the time beginning the job at 6 a.m. She’s out on the weekends too. She’s out in the blazing sun and the drizzling rain. In normal times, she would open the basketball court and Rocketship Park and take out the trash. She still walks all around the village and picks up litter, every single discarded wrapper and cigarette butt. To her, strewn garbage is public enemy number 1. 

“Because I’m a nut, and I’m an absolute anal person as far as litter is concerned,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful everyone throws everything on the ground.”

In autumn, she keeps the parks clear of debris. In the winter, she’s out shoveling snow. She has worked with the Long Island Explorium to construct three rain gardens at Village Hall, the Village Center and the Department of Public Works building, the last called the Whale’s Tail for its unique shape. She works an area of 3 square miles, from the country club to downtown and uptown to the village limits near the train station. 

At 61, with a wiry frame, Markson is like a coiled spring as she attacks green spots in the village such as the gardens next to Harborfront Park and in the center of the roundabout next to the Village Center. Three years ago, she described it as “a bunch of weeds, and a bunch of overgrown looking bushes.” The village parks department helped remove the old shrub, and Markson replanted it with many native plants like Sweet Joe-Pye weed and tall asters. Though she said some thought the plantings seemed sparse, now the area is full to bursting with color once her plants grew out. Among mistakes novice gardeners often make, the biggest are forgetting the importance of maintenance and not recognizing that plants will grow out to occupy more of the space they’re in. 

It’s been much the same for Markson as she’s grown to fit her role. Her family is from Port Jeff, and both her parents and children attended Port Jefferson School District. Her mother was the one to originally teach her about horticulture. She quit being an oral surgeon’s assistant to take care of her terminally ill mother. Once she passed, Markson came back to Port Jeff to “reinvent myself.” Her children are in their 40s, and the plants dotting the village have become her babies.

Mayor Margot Garant said the gardener has an annual budget of around $15,000, but that Markson “does magic with it,” making it stretch by accepting donations from Port Jeff and neighboring communities and by replanting from denser areas of the village to parts that need more. The village gardener and mayor also thanked Kunz Greenhouses in Port Jefferson Station for working with them to provide many of the flowers and greenery all across the village.

The family-owned Kunz Greenhouses has been around for close to 60 years and has been working with the village for nearly four decades. Carolyn Zambraski, who along with her brother is the second generation of greenhouse owners, said she often works with Markson, offering suggestions of native plants and ideas for different planting beds. Driving around the area, the greenhouse owner said the village gardener’s work has made a noticeable improvement in Port Jeff.

“It’s certainly getting better,” she said. “The anchor is a great example, as that was really an eyesore with evergreens and rocks a few years back. The village is going in the right direction.”

Port Jefferson also put up the money for Markson to go through her Master Gardener program with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. She received her certificate of completing 85 hours of training July 25.

“She cares 1,000 percent — her whole heart is in it,” Garant said of Markson. “I find her to be an exemplary employee with an old-fashioned work ethic you can’t just get anywhere.”

As much as she does, Markson isn’t stopping. She has an idea to create a children’s garden in a small patch of grass next to Rocketship Park, adding she is working with Port Jeff’s grant writer Nicole Christian to get some type of funding for such a project. She imagines it as a place where young people can walk through and learn about nature and planting. 

She also wants to work with school-aged children to create small gardens next to the downspouts at Village Hall, where she says there are erosion issues.

Beyond that, though, her ambition stretches past what might be humanly possible. She wishes there were more like her on the town, county and state level who paid as much attention to beautification, to make every stretch of road, street, parking lot, park as perfect as can be. 

“Beautification is so important,” she said. “Everything should look beautiful.”

Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Sapphire Perara

The Village of Port Jefferson approved a permit for protesters to march down Main Street June 18. 

Leaders of the protest filed an application for the protest earlier last week. Village officials said during their June 15 meeting that, originally, the protesters wished to organize by the basketball courts and make three laps of the downtown area. Considering the disruption this would cause, officials said they would allow the protesters to park in the Perry Street parking lot by the Port Jefferson train station, march down Main Street and eventually stop in front of Village Hall in order to make speeches. The protest is set to convene after 4 p.m, then start the march at 5 p.m. and end at 7 p.m.

Malachai Moloney, the speaker of the house for the Black Student Union at Stony Brook University, is at the head of facilitating and promoting the protest. He said the point of the march in PJ village is to give people more insight and perspective into how black communities feel on Long Island, especially in the wake of the deaths of black people nationwide before and after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody May 26.

While village officials were concerned that those gathered wouldn’t leave the area after the time the application and flyers denoted, during the village’s live broadcasted meeting on YouTube, multiple people who claimed they were organizers for the protest said they intended it to remain peaceful, and that they would disband after holding speeches at Village Hall.

Along with the application, there is a fee attached that Mayor Margot Garant said helps to offset costs for additional village code presence. Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich confirmed protesters dropped off a check for that application fee the morning of June 15.

“It’s in our best interest to let this group organize peacefully rather than not organize peacefully,” Garant said. “At that point we would have another kind of organized protest of a different tonality.”

She added that the safety of the community “is of the utmost importance, only secondary to following the law.”

Moloney said the group originally planned to host the rally Friday, June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when a U.S. general finally read out orders in Texas that all slaves were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. However, village officials emphasized to Moloney and other organizers it could not be hosted then. The airways have been abuzz due to the connotations of President Donald Trump (R) originally planning a rally on that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the Tulsa race massacre that took place June 1, 1921. 

Otherwise, the protest organizer said he felt the village was only protecting village commerce and could do better to respect the opinions of the protesters.

“They want us to protest in a manner that’s convenient for them,” he said. “A protest is not supposed to not be disruptive.”

Other protests in neighboring communities have not necessarily filed permits, but village trustees said the fact organizers did file an application shows a degree of willingness to cooperate.

“We certainly appreciate reaching out and filing a permit for the event application — it is a very good thing — it’s appreciated by the village and we appreciate their goodwill,” said village attorney Brian Egan.

Moloney said the group used GoFundMe to fundraise for the $400 in fees to the village. He said the protesters were willing to do that but added that groups of counterprotesters who have already said online they likely will show up in response to the march are not filing an application or paying the village to convene. Moloney said its unfair how the onus is on marchers to follow the proper procedure, while those looking to decry their message will not go through that same process.

The village has not recieved any applications to convene from counterprotesters, and officials said the village has not given any other groups permission to assemble on that day.

Police and code enforcement have been notified, officials said. Main Street will be closed while the protesters make their way down Main Street, similar to how the roads are blocked during events like the Easter parade when it makes its way down to Harborfront Park. 

The village also stipulated in the permit that masks must be worn, and on the protests’ flyer it also states everyone is expected to wear masks. 

Garant said the question of social distancing was up to state mandates, which already stipulated that masks must be worn when people are unable to socially distance themselves. 

According to Suffolk County officials, the county has already played host to around 100 protests. So far, police have said, nearly all protests have remained peaceful. 

This article has been amended June 17 to clarify no others groups have been authorized to assemble.

From left, Port Jeff chamber president Mary Joy Pipe, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Salon Blonde owner Melissa Hanley, Mayor Margot Garant celebrate the start of Phase Two reopening June 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

With Phase Two reopening coming to fruition Wednesday, June 10, Port Jefferson village has looked for several ways for business owners to get their wares and services outside.

Debra Bowling, owner of Pasta Pasta in Port Jeff, set up tables outside for Phase Two reopening. Photo by Kyle Barr

Village officials have already talked about setting up areas in parking lots to allow for more outdoor dining space. At its June 1 meeting, the village voted to waive all dining table application fees for the upcoming season. Mayor Margot Garant said the village has been working with a host of restaurants to figure out how they may go about offering outdoor services. 

The mayor said the village is allowing space for restaurants who normally have no space for outdoor dining in right-of-ways, walkways and parking lots.

By midday Wednesday, the town was jiving. With a steady stream of cars rolling down Main Street, and with customers sitting under canopy eating outdoors, many owners said Phase Two was turning out to be a much better scenario than Phase One.

During a tour of Suffolk downtowns, including Port Jeff, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the difference in allowing construction in the first reopening phase and allowing salons or outdoor dining has been significant.

“After going through an unprecedented event, these are the activities that give people a sense of normalcy,” Bellone said. 

Restaurants are setting up in formerly public places, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields which are laying tents in the space behind their restaurants. C’est Cheese and The Pie are also doing outside dining behind the main building on Main Street. Prohibition Kitchen will be using the parking lot behind its building as well.

Manager of The Pie, Jessica Janowicz, said though they will be setting up a tent behind the business Friday, each week has seen a slow progression in sales. Wednesday showed a big difference, with a steady stream of customers doing takeout since the place opened. 

Other restaurants will be using pedestrian walkways for its outdoor space, including Salsa Salsa, which will have some space in the alleyway next to the shop. Pasta Pasta and Toast Coffeehouse are laying out tables at the top of the stairway along East Main Street.

Debra Bowling, the owner of Pasta Pasta, thanked the Port Jeff chamber and the village for working so quickly with permits and signage. Her restaurant now has several tables and a flower box in front of her shop, and in over 30 years of working there, it’s the first time she has seen it do outdoor dining.

Alana Miletti of Fame and Rebel speaks about Phase Two with County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some restaurants that have access to the outside, including Nantuckets, Gourmet Burger Bistro, The Steam Room and SaGhar, will use their current outdoor space as long as it can be open up to the sky. Danfords has its outdoor space on its dock and now has an agreement with the Town of Brookhaven for some use of the Mary Bayles Waterfront Park.  

A member of the village fire marshals did not respond to requests for comment about guidelines for safety in walkable areas.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce released a letter dated June 5 to the Village of Port Jefferson mayor and trustees asking that retailers be allowed some latitude for “outdoor merchandising.”

“The consumer would have the ability to ‘shop’ in a less confined area and the retailer would be creating more opportunities for sales,” the letter states. 

Director of operations for the chamber Barbara Ransome said she has had positive feedback from village trustees on the proposal. 

Garant said they are working up guidelines that should be released sometime on Wednesday, but those were not available by press time. Retailers will have the option to have a table in front of their shops, but they will need to keep 3 feet of sidewalk clear and ensure that they do not block doorways or fire exits, as mandated by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for outdoor dining. 

Code Enforcement will be inspecting businesses and restaurants to ensure they’re not blocking too much of the curb or that they’re adhering to the CDC distancing guidelines. 

“We’re trying to keep it so that it’s nice looking and it’s not an overload of stuff,” Garant said. 

Alana Miletti, the owner of the boutique shop Fame and Rebel, said she has survived in the grueling months of the pandemic thanks to her active social media helping facilitate online orders. Though on Wednesday she said with customers able to browse, even in a limited capacity, she had not had a moment’s rest fulfilling orders since the store opened.

“People couldn’t wait to come out,” she said.

Now with Phase Two salons and haircutters are finally able to open. Melissa Hanley, the owner of Salon Blonde, said she managed to survive during the nearly three full months she was shut down thanks to federal loans. Being back in action, however, means a world of difference.

“It’s been scary — we’ve been struggling a little bit,” Hanley said. “It’s such a relief. This is my life so, to be back in business, I’ve waited a long time for it.”

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson village continues to plan for a number of ongoing projects. Here’s some notes from the June 1 meeting.

• The village has voted to waive all dining table application fees and outdoor dining public hearings, and permits would be effective for the full 2020 season. One example officials gave was Tiger Lily Cafe, which has one outdoor table setting but could expand to host more of its services outside. The village is still working out details with some restaurants, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields, to use residential parking lots as outdoor dining space for shops looking to participate.

• As the Port Jefferson Fire Department will not be making a decision on the annual July 4 parade until mid-June, the board voted to push back the fireworks show, normally held at East Beach, until potentially later in the summer. Mayor Margot Garant suggested the dates of Aug. 1 or 2 to coincide with potential graduation plans with the Port Jefferson School Districtm although no dates have officially been set as of yet. Fireworks by Grucci, which normally hosts the village’s fireworks displays, notified officials they would see no problem in providing the displays at a later date.

• Bike racks have already been installed at the small park by the village center, and now there are new bike racks next to the basketball courts near Rocketship Park. 

• A new electric vehicle charger has been installed at the parking lot in front of Rocketship Park. So far there have been 31 charging sessions with each session averaging a total of 1 hour and 21 minutes. The village plans to install another charging station at the Barnum Avenue parking lot once the lot is finally constructed.

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Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

On a daily update video, Mayor Margot Garant announced the village would be closing all on-street Main Street weekend parking starting Mother’s Day weekend, May 9 and 10.

Main Street in Port Jefferson empty of traffic on a weekday. Photo by Sapphire Perara

The mayor cited the two hospitals within village bounds, St. Charles and Mather, with “hundreds of residents on the front lines on a daily basis.” Two weeks ago, Suffolk County Police said they issued a summons answerable to the village to a man they said allegedly wasn’t obeying social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. The mayor said at the time people in Harborfront Park were being “belligerent” to code enforcement and police alike and were refusing to both wear masks and keep apart.

Reports of groups of motorcyclists gathering together on main street, and other pedestrian traffic with people not wearing masks, have left officials concerned that residents and visitors are possibly spreading COVID-19 as warmer weather incentivizes more outdoor activity. 

All businesses are limited to curbside pickups on the weekend. Code enforcement will be patrolling “in an army,” the mayor said, to enforce social distancing directives, as well as checking in on businesses to make sure they are also following guidelines stating no sit-down eating.

On Sunday, the village is bringing back the farmers market, this time in a new location in the parking lot behind what was once the Gap clothing store, just north of Arden Pl. New guidelines dictate cars can only pull one way in and one way out, and all visitors must be wearing a mask. Only one person is allowed at a stall at a time. Guidelines may change, the mayor said, if rules aren’t followed.

“It’s going to be a test — it’s going to be up to you,” she said.

Otherwise, village beaches remain open to Port Jeff residents, and all cars are asked for residents’ identifications before they can park.

 

Village Fears Future Coronavirus Closure Protests

Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson. File photo by David Luces

Though the majority of local residents are doing their best to practice social distancing and comply with state executive orders, Suffolk County police said others have been belligerent and uncooperative in suppressing the spread of coronavirus.

Police said 6th precinct officers responded to Main Street in Port Jefferson Sunday, April 19, at around 1:30 p.m. There was a report of a large group of people not practicing social distancing. 

Police said one individual refused a request to social distance or put a mask on. He was taken to the Sixth Precinct and was released with a civil summons returnable to the Village of Port Jefferson for failure to comply with the executive order.

Port Jefferson village Mayor Margot Garant said in the April 20 trustees meeting that Sunday saw large groups of people down in Port Jefferson, with many congregating on Main Street and in Harborfront Park. Many were not wearing masks. The park along the waterfront was temporarily closed after the incident when cops arrived.

“Sunday was a very difficult day in the village — it was a sunny day and people had cabin fever,” the mayor said. “Between groups of motorcycles, people showing off muscle cars …  we did have to close down Harborfront.”

She said such actions by locals and visitors means they could be spreading the virus not only to others, but also to police and code enforcement, which she said should be especially respected now since they are “part of the front line.”

The fear, village officials said, was a kind of political backlash and further gatherings. In other states, there have been protests about closures of businesses and amenities. While nearly every state, both Republican and Democrat-led, now has some sort of lockdown laws in place, these protests have taken on a political edge to them, with President Donald Trump (R) in some cases explicitly supporting the rallies, despite health officials warning it may spread SARS Cov-2 even more.

Some of these protests have blocked roadways and reportedly even restricted health care workers from getting to hospitals.

“Knowing there are certain groups that are causing rallies, this will not be getting better for us,” Garant said. “This situation is not going to get better for us, this is a destination village.”

Currently, the village is working on staggered shifts, and suspects some projects slated for 2020 may be put on hold, though the Toast stairway project is moving ahead, with only sprinkler systems yet to be installed.

Otherwise the village has instituted a spending freeze, and any expenditures have to go through administration staff before they get approved.

The mayor added village tax bills are still being generated, and will be due June 1.

 

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Village Hires Deputy Village Attorney/Prosecutor

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Port Jefferson village is still moving ahead with its budget agenda, this year seeing a revenue decrease thanks in part to the LIPA settlement reducing the assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station.

The Port Jefferson village board held a budget hearing over the Internet, even including a live rendition of the national anthem by Port Jefferson student Nicholas Rodriguez, who played Oliver during the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

However, the new format did not allow for any public comment. This was in accordance with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order suspending portions of the public meeting law due to the coronavirus crisis.

The proposed 2020-21 budget includes $9,992,565 in total appropriations, a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s amount of $10,310,869. This takes into account a 3.5 percent Increase in the tax rate, a $111,088 decrease in assessed value of the Port Jefferson Power Station, as well as a $145,000 decrease in ambulance charges since that is now handled by the Town of Brookhaven.

“Cutting our budget by over $300,000 was not an easy task,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “In cutting that budget we were effective in consolidating some departments.”

One of the changes she referenced was moving one clerk typist into the position of a retiring typist, at a lower salary, without replacing the original with a new employee. 

As regards other village employees, the village assessor, who was on an hourly rate, has become salaried at $30,000, resulting in an increase of $26,019 from what he was getting paid this last year.

The board is also hiring a full-time internal deputy village attorney as a prosecutor, for a total expense to the village of $102,000. Garant said the board agreed this was needed to help prosecute offenses more effectively, also bringing in more revenue for the courts.

“We were just not getting any real effect as a board,” the mayor said. “We collectively agreed bringing on a staff full time will have more direction over individuals.

Village attorney Brian Egan said this will aid in prosecutions of village code infractions. He added that New York State’s new discovery laws, which require municipalities to present all evidence to the defense within a short time after being charged with a crime, have been difficult on small entities like Port Jeff. The new prosecutor will be in charge of handling that side of things.

“This is to really put an emphasis on our code enforcement to go out and aggressively prosecute code enforcement violations,” Egan said. “Having a full-time deputy village attorney … will benefit [the village] all the time.”

This year, the village is looking to raise $6,451,427 from taxes, a near $50,000 increase from last year.

“Because our LIPA assessment is frozen at a settlement … the assessed value shifts from the power plant to the shoulders of our residents,” Garant said.

In terms of capital projects, there are several on the horizon for the upcoming fiscal year, including building the $795,069 parking lot on Barnum Avenue. There are also plans to renovate the Highlands Boulevard retaining wall in the next two to three months using funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York gained through state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Additionally, the village has gained Suffolk County grants to renovate the bathrooms by Rocketship Park and in the lower floor of Village Hall, to fix lingering issues, make them Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and heat the outside bathrooms so they can be used in the winter. Additionally, an $80,000 drainage project on Longfellow Drive is expected to start this year.

The village has also recently received permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for securing the bluff on East Beach, which has been rapidly eroding over the past several years. The mayor had expected they would need to take out a small bond for that project. Another bonded project will most likely be the digitization of village records at both the building and planning department and the clerk’s department. Such a project may cost upward of $200,000. 

The village currently has a AA bond rating.