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Port Jefferson Harbor

A model unit inside The Shipyard at Port Jefferson Harbor apartment complex. Photo from Tritec

By Alex Petroski

The 112-unit, three-story apartment complex prominently perched at the west entrance to Port Jefferson Village, with a bird’s-eye view of Port Jefferson Harbor, got its last, most important feature Jan. 18: tenants.

Tritec Real Estate Company broke ground on the former site of the Heritage Inn motel in June 2016, and last week a  small group of renters began moving into their new homes. Five apartments were fully moved in by the end of the day Jan. 18, and more tenants have been moving in incrementally every day. Onsite Community Manager Phil Chiovitti, whose permanent office will be on the first floor of The Shipyard, said the incremental strategy is to avoid elevator gridlock. Chiovitti said so far, about 46 percent of the units have been preleased, and Tritec’s goal is to have the remaining units inhabited by summer.

“It’s nice to have the building start to come alive a little bit,” said Chris Kelly, Tritec’s director of marketing, who has been a regular fixture at the formerly under-construction building.

As part of Tritec’s financial assistance agreement reached with the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency, an organization tasked with helping to fund projects that will attract business and improve economic conditions within its area, smaller payments in lieu of property taxes will be made to the village by Tritec for 15 years. The agreement has created tension with some longtime homeowners in the village concerned about more neighbors using village streets and services without contributing to the tax base. Others have expressed varying levels of outrage over the sheer size of the building.

“The natural beauty of its harbor and surrounding hills make it one of the loveliest spots on the North Shore of Long Island,” village resident Karleen Erhardt wrote in one 2017 letter to the editor of  The Port Times Record. “It is no wonder that visitors come here year-round to escape the blur of boxy, vinyl-sided suburbia that now characterizes much of Long Island. The Shipyard has done irreparable damage to the character of Port Jefferson Village. All that we residents can do now is wait for the inevitable traffic congestion in and around our town that can only make life here worse.”

Jordan and Alejandra Kaplan were the first tenants to officially move into the building. The couple owned a home in Ridge for 40 years, and after spending about six months living in the basement at one of their children’s homes, waiting for their new dream apartment to be ready to move in, were excited to be at the front of the line last week.

“We had a very large house and for the two of us — it was three floors — it was enormous,” Alejandra Kaplan said. “We said we need to change our lifestyle, and this is definitely what we wanted to do. Everything is right here, you just have to go downstairs and you have everything at your fingertips, and we’re very happy about that.”

She and her husband cited relief from yard work and snow shoveling; proximity to the ferry, which allows them a convenient option to visit casinos in Connecticut or one of their children who lives in Vermont; and the long list of amenities and attractions both inside the building and within the village, as major factors in their decision to downsize. The couple said they’ve long been fans of the goings-on at Theatre Three and the Village Center, and have more than a couple of favorite restaurants in the village.

A rendering of the Overbay apartment complex. Image from The Northwind Group

By Kevin Redding

A new, 52-unit apartment complex being built in Port Jefferson Village this spring just got a financial boost from the town.

The $10.8 million project, which will be called Overbay, was recently approved for a package of economic incentives that includes sales tax exemption and payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, by the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency.

During a Jan. 10 meeting, members of the IDA board announced the approval for the Hauppauge-based development company, The Northwind Group, to construct the 54,000-square-foot “nautical-style” apartment building on the now-vacant site of the former Islander Boat Center building on West Broadway, which was demolished by the company in February. The IDA received Northwind’s application in 2015.

Overbay would stand as the third new apartment complex built in the village in recent years. With the IDA’s assistance, it is expected to have considerably lower rent costs than the others in the area, according to Lisa Mulligan, IDA chief executive officer.

Prices for the units have not been established yet. When Northwind managing member Jim Tsunis received approval by the village building and planning department for the apartments in 2015, he estimated rents would range between $1,800 and $2,200 a month, Mulligan said.

“Just in general, the need for affordable rental housing in the Town of Brookhaven is well documented and significant, so our IDA board of directors felt this was a project that would help fill that need,” Mulligan said, adding Overbay will be especially helpful for college students and seniors. “The clientele is anybody who is looking to move out of their home and into something that’s a little easier to upkeep. There aren’t enough legal rentals that are [affordable]. A development like this one provides that option.”

Frederick Braun, chairman of the IDA, spoke of Overbay’s benefits in a press release.

“This project will bring much-needed rental housing to an area near to Stony Brook University and Port Jefferson’s Mather and St. Charles hospitals and spur additional spending in the village and the town,” he said.

The complex is also expected to create two permanent jobs — Mulligan speculated perhaps a rental agent and a building superintendent — and 150 construction jobs over a two-year period. IDA financial incentive agreements typically require the creation of jobs, both permanent and construction related.

Tsunis said the incentives will help Northwind offset the Islander Boat Center building’s $200,000 demolition costs.

“It’s going to enable me to spend more money on the building, so the end result is there will be a better product for the residents of Port Jefferson,” Tsunis said. “It’ll definitely bring people into the downtown area that will spend money at the local shops.”

Community response has long been mixed on the project, even within the village board.

Overbay’s eastern neighbor, The Shipyard apartment complex, which was constructed by Tritec Development Group, opened in January. That project secured a financial assistance package from the Suffolk County IDA and will make PILOT payments to the village for 15 years in lieu of property taxes.

The influx of new village residents without the benefit of increased property tax revenue has been a point of contention for property owners.

“I think it’s a real disaster for the village that they were able to get this financial assistance,” 30-year village resident Molly Mason said in a previous interview, referring to The Shipyard. “It’s like we’re giving away the store.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant and the board of trustees previously opposed the financial assistance granted to Tritec.

Randall Woodard, 97, reflects on meeting Roosevelt, a life and roots in the village, military service

Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in one case, a picture is worth almost 100 years of history.

On Dec. 8, 1941, 76 years ago to the day, then president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered his “day which will live in infamy” speech during a joint session of Congress in response to Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7. The address served as the precursor to the U.S. finally joining World War II and taking up the fight against the Axis powers. He went on to serve as president until his death in 1945, preventing him from completing his fourth term in office, a feat in itself, as no other American president has served more than two terms.

In the summer of 1932 just before his first presidential campaign, Roosevelt, an avid sailor, made a recreational stop in Port Jefferson Harbor.

Woodard and son Warren during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Warren Woodard

At the time, Roosevelt was the governor of New York and the Democratic Party nominee for the general presidential election that fall. He defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover to win the highest office in the land in November 1932. During the visit, Roosevelt took a photo aboard a sailboat with two youngsters from Port Jeff, one of whom is still alive residing in the village.

Randall Woodard was born Sept. 3, 1920, in his home on Prospect Street. His family has deep roots in Port Jefferson, though his ancestors can be traced back even further to Southold in 1664.

“I wasn’t there that day,” Woodard quipped during a November visit to the Times Beacon Record News Media office in Setauket, accompanied by his youngest son, Warren, and Richard Olson, a longtime Port Jefferson School District history teacher who has since retired.

Woodard’s father Grover was the school district manager in Port Jeff, and actually hired Earl L. Vandermeulen, who the high school was eventually named after. His wife Barbara worked in the elementary school under Edna Louise Spear, the eventual namesake of the same school. Though he said he didn’t meet any other presidents in his life, Woodard met Albert Einstein once, and his grandmother heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech in New York. Woodard went on to have two sons and a daughter, who were all raised in Port Jeff in a house on the corner of High Street and Myrtle Avenue.

The photo of Woodard, his childhood friend Gilbert Kinner and the soon-to-be president of the United States is a cherished possession of the Woodard family. Warren joked there’s a framed copy hanging in every room of his house.

Woodard said on the day he met Roosevelt that he and Kinner were sailing his family’s 12-foot mahogany vessel around Port Jefferson Harbor on a warm summer morning in June or July.

At about 10 a.m., two or three seaplanes landed in the harbor and taxied over to the beach near the east end of the waterfront near the famous Bayles Dock. Woodard, who was 12 years old at the time, said he and Kinner noticed a large crowd gathering near the dock, so they decided to sail over and see what the commotion was all about.

“I think I could take you.”

— Randall Woodard

They approached the black yawl sailing craft tied to the dock with a man wearing a white sun hat seated in the cockpit. Woodard said he still remembers noticing the metal braces on Roosevelt’s legs and a pack of cigarettes on the seat next to him.

“The whole waterfront of Port Jeff was people,” Woodard said. Roosevelt was waiting for his four sons, who were running late, to arrive to begin a vacation cruise.

The Democratic National Convention had just selected him as the party’s nominee for the presidential election that fall, and it was too early to begin campaigning. While he waited for his sons to arrive, Roosevelt and the reporters milling in the vicinity suggested the candidate should be in a photo with the two boys. Woodard and Kinner boarded, and “Vote for Roosevelt” hats were placed on their heads to wear in the photo. Woodard recalled that Kinner took the hat off, tossed it in the cockpit and calmly said, “My father is a Republican.”

Woodard said there was an even more memorable interaction from the meeting when Roosevelt asked him, “How does the boat sail?” Young Randall responded, “I think I could take you.”

He referred to the then-governor’s vessel as “badly designed,” with a laugh during the interview. He said eventually Roosevelt and the others took off sailing in the Long Island Sound. Woodard and his friend tried to keep up with Roosevelt for as long as they could until the soon-to-be president was out of sight.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies,” Woodard wrote in a 2004 account of the day.

Woodard and his son Warren shared a story about seeing by chance a clip of 12-year-old Randall dancing on Roosevelt’s boat in a documentary about past presidents decades later. Warren said they purchased multiple copies of the documentary on DVD.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies.”

— Randall Woodard

Woodard’s life and interests would intersect with Roosevelt’s in other ways later in life. His daughter Tracy was diagnosed with polio in 1949, which also famously afflicted Roosevelt. Woodard’s affinity for boating only grew after 1932, and he eventually went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, where Roosevelt had previously served as the assistant secretary prior to his years as governor.

The Woodards owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the years he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time,” he wrote in 2004. He joked he and a high school friend went to Citadel because their grades were not good enough to attend the U.S. Naval or Coast Guard academies.

“I was not a hero,” Woodard said. “If we didn’t have a Marine Corps we’d still be over there. I was in enough tight spots to know.”

After graduating from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, he became a Seabee officer in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time.”

— Randall Woodard

He was part of a mission headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges Woodard was responsible for overseeing, the U.S. Marine Corps invaded Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

One day a Japanese Zero aircraft flew low and attacked his flat steel barge with little options in the way of hiding places. He said he pulled out his handgun and fired two rounds at the aircraft, which eventually went down.

“I probably missed, but the plane crashed into the side of a freighter,” he wrote in 2004. He said his barges survived for five weeks until the island was secure. After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington, D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard said he remained in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

This post was updated Dec. 8 to correct the date of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 speech.

A motorist driving an SUV died after being pulled from his vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor Oct. 30. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A man was pronounced dead at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson after he was pulled from a submerged vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor just after 7 p.m. Oct. 30, according to Suffolk County Police Department Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers. Police have identified the man as William Whalen, 69, of Lake Grove.

“A 911 call came in at 7:10 p.m. after witnesses observed a car drive into the water at the Port Jefferson Marina boat launch located off of West Broadway Avenue and Barnum Avenue in Port Jefferson Village,” Meyers statement said. “Sixth Precinct Officers Brian Christopher and Michael Cappelli responded and jumped into the water and extricated a male victim that was trapped in his vehicle which was completely submerged. Personnel from the Port Jefferson Village Fire Department and Setauket Fire Department also responded and also went into the water to help extricate the victim.”

A motorist driving an SUV died after being pulled from his vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor Oct. 30. Photo by Dennis Whittam

The officers were being treated for hypothermia in the aftermath of the incident.

Members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department — Lieutenant Geoffrey Markson, Ex-Captain David Okst and First Assistant Brennan Holmes — were on the eastern end of the marina parking lot working on the department’s fire boat when they were alerted of the incident on their paging devices, according to a spokesperson from the PJFD chief’s office. The three jumped into the water, eventually breaking the window with a hammer and removing the seatbelt to pull the victim from the car. Two PJFD Heavy Rescue Squad members in diving gear also arrived on the scene to assist in the rescue effort.

“We had a brief conversation that went, ‘are we doing this? Yeah we’re doing it,'” Holmes said during a phone interview.

He said the three firefighters were focused only on action and not on what might happen to them if they jumped in the water.

“We could have saved a life,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said via email Monday night.

Garant announced during a board meeting June 5 the village had sent a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation and State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) asking for the traffic signal at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway to be changed from having a standard green light to a green left arrow and right arrow. The call was in response to an April 6 incident in which a man in his early 60s drove into the harbor via the same boat launch. Four good Samaritans rescued that driver, and were later honored by the Port Jeff Village board in July. Garant said the DOT told her in a letter she received about five weeks ago they intended to comply with her request to change the light.

“I am thankful that the DOT was willing to entertain and adopt our suggestion, and when the light is changed, it may save a life,” Garant said Tuesday.

In December 2005 60-year-old Setauket resident Richard Levin drove into the water on the same ramp and onlookers had to pull his unconscious body from the fully submerged car. Levin died days later as a result of the incident.

According to documents obtained from Brookhaven in May, both Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village were sued by the wife and executrix of the estate of Richard Levin in 2007.

“As a result of the negligence of the defendants in failing to properly maintain the intersection of Route 25A and Barnum Ave., in failing to properly safeguard against motorists driving onto said Port Jefferson ramp into the water, in failing to properly illuminate said area, in failing to provide fencing and warning lights — as a result of the aforementioned Richard Levin died,” the lawsuit read in part. “[The] town failed to submit any evidence that it maintained its property in a reasonably safe condition by providing adequate fencing, lighting or warning of the dangerous condition on its property.”

“We had a brief conversation that went, ‘are we doing this? Yeah we’re doing it.'”

— Brennan Holmes

Judge Joseph Farneti of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2011 because the “acts or omissions of defendants were not the proximate cause of the alleged accident.”

The April incident stirred up memories more than a decade old for one former village resident.

“People are dying here and it’s a simple fix,” Christopher Kelsch, one of the people who witnessed Levin’s death 12 years ago and tried to help, said shortly after seeing news of the April incident. “Somebody needs to shine a serious spotlight because Dr. Levin died at that location.”

Following the April incident, a Brookhaven Town spokesperson said in a statement there are clear signs and traffic measures in place to warn residents of the ramp’s location.

“The Port Jefferson boat ramp has existed at its current location for generations,” the spokesperson said. “A number of measures are in place including a multitude of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, road arrows and other traffic control measures to clearly indicate that this is not an entrance.”

A Brookhaven Town spokesperson directed questions to the police department Monday night. Garant called on the town to take action in April, as the marina is town-owned property.

A spokesperson for Lavalle said the state senator was meeting with representatives from the DOT Nov. 1 to discuss the incident and troublesome intersection.

This post was updated Oct. 31 to include information from the PJFD Chief’s office and a quote from Brennan Holmes, and Nov. 1 to include a response from Ken Lavalle’s spokesperson.

By Alex Petroski

Like a scene from a popular HBO show, Port Jefferson was overrun with dragons for as far as the eye could see Sept. 16. The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its fourth Dragon Boat Race Festival at Harborfront Park and in Port Jefferson Harbor Saturday. The annual event features boat races, food, vendors, traditional Chinese ceremonies and customs, and musical performances.

This year 30 dragon boat teams competed in a recreational division, and four club teams squared off on the open seas in a more competitive one. Teams consisted of 20 rowers, one steersman and one drummer for the races around the inner harbor. The festival is the brainchild of Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, who said she got her inspiration after she attended a dragon boat race festival in Cape May, New Jersey, a few years back.

“We’ve got it down from an organizational perspective,” Ransome said in a phone interview after the event. “Everything went very well and very smooth.”

Ransome said she thought this year yielded larger attendance numbers — she speculated several thousand — than previous years, and said she is happy the event is growing. She said about 140 people utilized a free shuttle service provided to take attendees from their cars to the park, which was about 40 percent more than during last year’s event.

In the recreational group, a team from the Long Island School of Chinese called Huaxia Dragon took home the gold with a time of 58.06 seconds, narrowly edging Seas the Day, a team of rowers from St. Charles Hospital, who finished in 58.10 to capture silver. A New York City-area rowing club called The Collective won gold in the club division with a time of 58.27 in the final heat. The New York City Police Department rowing club came in second, finishing just two-tenths of a second behind The Collective.

Ransome said upon request from teams that competed in 2016, this was the first year racers were separated into groups based on experience levels, and she thought it was a good decision.

Port Jefferson Dragons, a Port Jefferson Village team, prepared extensively for the 2017 race, according to Ransome, so the group was bumped up as the fourth team in the club division. As a modest underdog, Port Jefferson Dragons got on the podium with a third-place finish.

“That was very impressive,” she said. “They did extraordinarily well.”

The Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University, an educational partnership between the school and China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, was once again a sponsor of the event. According to a staff member at the institute, its directors were pleased with the event.

“We basically support any cultural events in the area that promotes Chinese culture, so it makes sense,” the staff member said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent Assistant Director of Constituencies for Asian American Affairs Joanne Choi to the event as a representative on his behalf. Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Village Mayor Margot Garant were among the other elected officials also in attendance.

A maximum occupancy restriction was placed on the village-owned pier for the event, which has been found to need repairs following the 2016 race. Ransome said the guidelines were strictly adhered to, and actually made the event easier for timekeepers and organizers.

Danfords Hotel & Marina will be the site of a new business venture in Port Jeff which will allow patrons to take week-long charter trips. Photo from Christina Whitehurst

By Alex Pertoski

A new business venture slated to open in Port Jefferson Village in spring 2018 will chart a course all the way to New England.

Lime Charters, a New York-based charter company, and Aeroyacht, a yacht dealer specializing in luxury sailing catamarans, have partnered with Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa to establish a Port Jeff location where charter boats can be rented by interested patrons to be sailed through the Long Island Sound to the New England region for week-long trips. Sailors would have the option of setting off on their own, or the company can recommend a captain to bring on board the small vessels to handle the navigation.

One of Lime Charters three vessels available for rent beginning in 2018 for those interested in sailing on week-long trips from Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa in Port Jeff to the New England region. Photo from Bill Beasley

According to Lime Charters’ website, most captains charge between $150 and $250 per day. Depending on the season and the size of the boat, prices range from around $4,000 to $5,000 for the seven-day use of a catamaran, which is large enough to take up to 10 people. The company requires proof of sailing experience for those declining to bring along a captain, and pre-charter checks allow the company to assess sailors and ensure they are comfortable with the boat. Though the company advertises the boats can be used to sail to Rhode Island, Connecticut, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, among others, charterers are permitted to take the vessel essentially wherever they would like.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said this is the first such business ever available in Port Jeff.

Bill Beasley, the founder of Lime Charters, said in an email at a recent international boat show he received a flood of interest in an offering like this in New York.

“Up until now, folks had to go further north or south to charter a catamaran sailboat,” he said.

Beasley shed some light on why Port Jeff is an “ideal location” to set up a launching area for Lime Charters. “It’s half way between New York City and the Hamptons — just an easy car or train ride out to us … Port Jefferson is a perfect sailing harbor town with its shops, diverse restaurants and, of course Danfords. It is a perfect partner considering their central waterfront location and opportunity for charter guests to stay at either before or after their charter. We hope to attract clients who like to be pampered and Danfords certainly supports that level of service.”

One of Lime Charters three vessels available for rent beginning in 2018 for those interested in sailing on week-long trips from Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa in Port Jeff to the New England region. Photo from Bill Beasley

Christina Whitehurst, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, said Danfords is equally excited by the natural hospitality experience partnership.

“We’ve been doing a lot of upgrades to the marina and the area, and this is proof the word has gotten around,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s just going to expose another audience to Danfords.”

Garant expressed excitement over the possibilities the charter trips could present to residents and visitors in Port Jeff for those who want to add a one-night stay before or after their charter experience.

“I love it, I think it’s fantastic,” she said of the service and its base in the village she oversees. “I think it’s an excellent way to have more activities on our waterways.”

Garant also called Danfords a perfect anchor point.

Currently, Lime Charters has a fleet of three boats, though Beasley said their plan is to add more. Each vessel has a cooking area, and they offer the option of having groceries delivered to the boat.

Lime Charters is currently taking reservations for the 2018 boating season.

Stony Brook University professor Christopher Gobler discusses the quality of local bodies of water at a press conference Sept. 12. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

There’s still something in the water — and it’s not a good kind of something.

Scientists from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences released an annual report highlighting the concern over the prolonged existence of toxic algae blooms, and a deficiency of oxygen in Long Island waters caused high levels of nitrogen.

Stony Brook Professor Christopher Gobler and several members of the advocacy collective Long Island Clean Water Partnership, a conglomerate of several Long Island environmental groups, revealed the findings of a study done from May to August.

The Roth Pond, a Stony Brook University body of water that plays host to the annual Roth Regatta, is affected by blue-green algae. File photo from Stony Brook University

“In order to make Long Island sustainable and livable, clean water needs to be established,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The challenge has been very great over the last decade … though the problem, unfortunately, is getting a bit worse. Algae blooms and the degradation of water quality across Long Island are serious threats to Long Island’s health.”

On the North Shore, there are several severe cases of hypoxia, or a depletion of dissolved oxygen in water, which is necessary for sea life to survive. Cases were found in Stony Brook Harbor, Northport Bay, Oyster Bay and Hempstead Bay. Measured on a milligram per liter of water scale,any case of hypoxia below two milligrams per liter can be harmful to fish, and almost anything else living on the bottom of the bays.

There were also periodic outbreaks of blue-green algae in Lake Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook University’s Roth Pond. This algae releases a poison harmful to humans and animals, but Gobler said students at the university shouldn’t worry, because he and other scientists at Stony Brook are constantly monitoring the water, especially before the annual Roth Regatta.

“[If nothing is done] the areas could expand — it could get more intense,” Gobler said. “We use a cutoff of three milligrams per liter, which is bad, but of course you can go to zero. An area like Hempstead Harbor went to zero, [Northport and Oyster Bays] went to zero at some points in time. There’s a usual day-night cycle, so it’s at night that the levels get very, very low.”

“We have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

—Dick Amper

As a result of the possibility of hypoxia expanding, Gobler said he and other scientists have also been monitoring Port Jefferson Harbor and Setauket Harbor.

Though Setauket Harbor is not currently experiencing any problems with hypoxia or algae, the harbor has experienced periods of pathogens, like E. coli, some of which were born from runoff into the harbor, but others might have come from leakage of antiquated cesspools in the area, according to George Hoffman, a trustee of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, which is also a member of the Clean Water Partnership.

Next May the task force hopes to start monitoring directly inside Setauket Harbor. Runoff from lawn fertilizers can also increase the nitrogen levels in the harbor.

“If our problem isn’t hypoxia, we have a problem with pathogens,” Hoffman said in a phone interview. “Prevention is really [Dr. Gobbler’s] goal — to know what is happening and to start taking steps. I think people’s information levels [on the topic] are high in the surface waters that they live by.”

In addition to hypoxia and blue-green algae, some of the water quality problems found in the assessment were brown tides on the South Shore, rust tide in the Peconic bays and paralytic shellfish poisoning on the East End — all of which are also nitrogen level issues that can be  traced back to cesspool sewage and fertilizers.

Port Jefferson Harbor is being monitored due to the speading of hypoxia across local bodies of water. File photo by Alex Petroski

“Make no mistake about it, this is so big that even … still, we have the problem growing worse, and it is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dick Amper, the director of The Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “What’s the solution to this problem? We have to do more.”

There have been several efforts to help curb water degradation on Long Island. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation in April that put $2.5 billion toward clean water protection, improving water infrastructure and building new sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park, and adding a rebate program for those upgrading outdated septic systems.

Despite doing more, the repairs will take some time.

“This is going to be a long, long marathon,” said Kevin McDonald, the conservation project director at The Nature Conservancy said.

There is also worry that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — announcing the dumping of dredged materials into Long Island Sound — could compound the problem.

“We have more political funding and will try to implement solutions,” Esposito said. “The problems are getting worse, but the solutions are becoming clearer.”

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The Long Island Seaport and Eco Center in Port Jefferson held its 7th annual “Quick ‘n’ Dirty” boat build and race Aug. 12 and Aug. 13 at Harborfront Park. The competition allows five hours for teams of two to build boats out of wood on Saturday, which are then painted for three hours Sunday and raced around Port Jefferson Harbor. Port Jeff residents Ken Callirgos and Matthew Deveau came out on top in the field of eight boats, and raced their UFO-themed boat to victory.

Suffolk County Executive presents Setauket pet with proclamation

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents Storm, an English golden retriever, with a proclamation for rescuing a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor. Photo by Kevin Redding

A local English golden retriever has earned a lifetime of “Good boy!” declarations and belly rubs, but Suffolk County recently threw him another bone to add to the accolades.

Suffolk County’s newest hero Storm, the brave, 6-year-old dog, who became a national celebrity last week after a video of him pulling a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday, July 16, spread like wildfire online, rolled around in the grass outside the Save the Animal Rescue Foundation in Middle Island July 19 as he and local animal rescue members were honored for their efforts to save the baby deer.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) presented proclamations to East Setauket resident and injury attorney Mark Freeley, Storm’s owner who captured the heroics on his cellphone, Strong Island Animal Rescue League co-founder Frankie Floridia, who aided in the rescue, and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation Director Lori Ketcham, who is rehabilitating the 3-month-old male fawn now referred to as Water. He is currently in stable condition.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite an attempt to present an official proclamation to the man’s best friend of the hour, Storm seemed much more interested in a large bone provided by the county executive’s staff.

“We’re here to talk about some of the heroes we have here, both canine and human, for what they’ve done to really remind us of the importance of compassion and giving to others and helping others,” Bellone said, acknowledging the selfless initiatives of the animal rescue groups.

Looking down at Storm, he said, “And this dog here is no ordinary golden retriever. He really did something important and special for us. The inspiration that Storm has given to all of us should inspire us to support the work of people like this that is happening each and every day. If that happens, then what Storm did will not only help save one fawn but will help save countless other animals here and others that will be here in the future.”

It was just another normal Sunday morning walk out to Pirate’s Cove for Freeley, 53, and his dogs, Storm and Sarah, a rescued Border collie, when he said the golden retriever suddenly got ahead of him on the empty beach.

The next thing Freeley knew, Storm was paddling out into the water about 100 feet offshore toward “a brown head bobbing” he quickly realized was a drowning fawn. As captured in the video seen around the world, Storm held the deer in his mouth and carried it towards the beach “like a lifeguard would with their arm,” Freeley said.

After the fawn got on the sand, it ran around wildly before collapsing. Storm gently nudged the deer’s face and belly and pawed his leg.

“He won’t even play fetch with a tennis ball,” Freeley said, laughing. “I just feel like he thought he had to do something for this deer. Storm’s a very well-adjusted and socialized dog. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and he gets along with all animals. People on Facebook were saying he was going to kill the deer, but if you meet this dog, you know that was not going to happen. He’s not prey-driven.”

Freeley quickly posted the video to his Facebook and then called the nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League to inform its members of the fawn.

Floridia, the group’s leader, said when he and his colleague Erica Kutzing tried to approach the deer with leashes and nets, “it totally went AWOL” and ran back into the water and paddled more than 200 feet out. Floridia said it was a do-or-die situation and it didn’t take long before he was swimming out to save the deer.

“He went into the water and followed the example that Storm set earlier and brought that fawn back in and brought it to safety,” Bellone said of Floridia, who he called the animal rescue cowboy.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The deer was then transported to the Middle Island animal rescue center.

“The deer was saved and that’s really the best part of the whole thing,” Floridia said. “It’s wonderful that this is bringing awareness to what really happens behind the scenes. Of course I want to thank Storm for helping us ride this wave to get awareness for what we do every day.”

Since the video was posted, the courageous canine’s heroics has accumulated nearly 5.5 million views on Facebook, has been the top story on several talk shows, including ones overseas.

“We’ve been going from one interview to the next and Storm’s been a champ at everything,” Freeley said. “Yesterday, a lady out of the blue called me to tell me just how much of an impact the video had on her, and I could hear her crying a little bit. It’s just amazing and I think people just want to see a simple, basic act of kindness by a dog because news is so hostile today.”

Ketcham said she appreciates the attention her center has been getting from this, which she admitted she isn’t used to.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days since the fawn came here,” Ketcham said. “We have several hundred animals here in our care all being taken care of by a dedicated bunch of volunteers. We hope to get the fawn outside with the rest that are there in a couple days and then back out into the wild in September.”

Freeley, who fosters rescue dogs, provides pro bono legal work for a local animal rescue group, and runs adoption events every Saturday with his daughter, reiterated the biggest takeaway from this.

“It’s really important to support people like Frankie and [these foundations] because they’re the front lines of animal rescue and everybody wants animal rescue, but without your support, there can’t be animal rescue,” he said. “So if Storm has one thing to ask you today it’s to donate to Strong Island and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation to help them continue to save the lives of animals in Suffolk County and on Long Island.”

Neil DeVine and Scott Declue are honored in front of family and attendees of a Port Jeff Village board meeting for saving a motorist who drove into the harbor in April. Photos by Alex Petroski

The decisive actions of four good Samaritans likely saved the life of a motorist who drove his car into Port Jefferson Harbor via the Brookhaven Town boat ramp at the end of Barnum Avenue in Port Jeff Village in April, and for their efforts the heroic men were honored by the board of trustees during a meeting July 17.

Scott Declue was on the phone with his wife Jeyce, with whom he had plans to meet later in the evening April 6. The 40-year-old Mount Sinai resident said in a phone interview he was driving on Route 25A in a severe rainstorm, and was sitting at the light at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Route 25A, yards south of the boat ramp which leads straight into the harbor. When the light turned green, he said miraculously it stopped raining, and near the edge of the dock he could see a car almost fully submerged in the water. Declue said he told his wife he was going to pull over to take a picture. Soon after stepping out of the car he said he saw a person’s head peeking out of the sunroof of the car.

Good Samaritans and SCPD Marine Bureau divers help a driver submerged in
Port Jefferson Harbor April 6. Photo by Andrew Tetreault/Fully Involved Media Group

“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me,” Declue said was the thought crossing his mind as he began running to the end of the dock, shedding clothing as he went. Declue dove into the water and swam to the car.

Port Jefferson Village resident Neil DeVine, 38, was also driving when he said he realized something was out of the ordinary. He said he was making a right onto Barnum Avenue from Route 25A when he caught a glimpse of the car, and turned around to enter the marina parking lot. He said he repeatedly tried to call 911 but got a busy signal several times.

“I didn’t expect the water to be as cold as it was,” DeVine said during a phone interview. Village Mayor Margot Garant said during the presentation of a proclamation to honor the heroism of the four men that the water was about 38 degrees at the time of the incident, which occurred around 5:30 p.m. DeVine said he and Declue jumped in the water, but he soon realized his heart rate and breathing were slowing.

Declue reached the car and got on the roof attempting to pull the driver out of the car. DeVine said he went back to the dock and tried to find a way to help pull both men to safety. The two men described DeVine luckily finding a line from a crane on a nearby barge that was tied to a ring, and both line and ring were thrown to Declue and the victim. DeVine, with other-witnesses-turned-heroes Tony Barton and Wayne Rampone Jr., pulled the two men to the dock and lifted them out of the water. Barton and Rampone could not attend the meeting.

Declue, who is an Eagle Scout, said he thought the victim was dead while he tried to get him to safety.

“His eyes were rolled back a little bit and yellowish,” DeVine said of the victim. He added during the rescue he heard the driver say he couldn’t swim.

“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me.”

— Scott Declue

Since the incident Declue said he spoke briefly with the victim and family members, but no in-person meeting has taken place. DeVine said the victim’s mother wrote a letter to DeVine’s children, thanking him for his bravery and explaining the actions the men took on the night of the incident.

Declue said he had a hard time articulating to his wife what exactly happened after he tossed his phone and sprinted to the end of the dock.

“I think I saved someone’s life,” he said he told her. “She asked, ‘How big was this puddle?’”

Declue called it divine intervention that his plans changed.

“I wasn’t even supposed to be there,” he said, adding that the incident kept him up at night for weeks.

DeVine said he was appreciative of the village recognizing their actions.

“We want to thank you for, really, saving a life in the Village of Port Jefferson,” Garant said. “That’s what this community stands for — citizens like yourselves seeing a person in harm’s way or an accident situation — so I really want to commend you on behalf of the board of trustees.”

The victim was treated for severe injuries in the aftermath of the incident according to the Suffolk County Police Department, and his current condition is not known.