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Sen. Jim Gaughran

The Miller Place Teachers Association along with Tuscany Gourmet Market organized a soup donation to Mather Hospital. Miller Place alumnae, Sammy Schaefer and Nicole Ellis, are among the people on the front lines. Photo from MPSD

By Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr

With so much going on day to day, with people stuck at home and fearing for the future, there are consistent hopes provided by the men and women doing more to help the people most in need. Whether it’s people making masks for essential workers or meals for hospital employees on the front lines, we asked local officials, business and civic leaders who they would like to thank during this time of crisis.

New York State

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) wanted to thank both those on the front lines and the “unsung heroes.”

“I want to thank each and every one in our community who has been on the front lines of this battle,” he said. “Doctors, nurses, first responders and all of our volunteer firefighters have been fighting a war that they never expected. Their efforts are truly heroic, and we owe them a debt we may never be able to repay. But equally as notable is the work of our unsung heroes — retail workers, postal employees, cleaners, truck drivers, restaurant employees, delivery people and every single person who continues to show up every day to help make sure we have food on our table, gas in our cars and electricity in our homes. This is an effort that requires so many to work together and these men and women are the ones who will lead us to victory over this virus. We say thank you for all you do for all of us.”

Rocky Point residents the Palifka family have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high. Photo by Jane Bonner

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is thankful for several local residents.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the members of our community who, week after week, have shown up for their jobs — our health care workers, first responders, grocery workers and all the others who have provided the crucial services we need to get through this shutdown. Through their courageous commitment to service, essential workers have enabled the rest of us to do our part by staying home.”

Englebright was grateful also for those doing their part at home. 

“For those of us at home, it is hard to reconcile that staying put is actually doing something important,” he said. “But by working from home, helping our children with their schooling, social distancing and wearing masks when out in public, our responsible behavior has worked to flatten the curve and slow down the transmission of the coronavirus. So, my gratitude goes to everyone who responded so admirably to the challenge before us. Your collective actions combined with others around the state have literally helped save thousands of lives.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said it’s difficult for him to just name one person or one group of workers.

“Everybody’s different and everybody, in different ways, has done so much incredible work,” he said.

He said in addition to medical and nursing home professionals, it’s important to remember the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

“They’re basically volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way,” he said.

He also credited police officers who have had to assist more so in ambulance calls during the pandemic.

“They are busier than they have ever been before, but it’s less with crime and more with dealing with so many health emergencies,” he said.

Gaughran added that medical calls are more involved than before as additional protocols need to be followed to protect first responders from COVID-19.

He said he has seen so many restaurant owners doing remarkable work too, donating food to nearby hospitals and firehouses.

“Some of these businesses are operating almost on their last dollars, just using it to help people,” he said.

Suffolk County

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) had health care and front line workers as well as residents on her mind when giving thanks.

“I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, aides, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, techs, phlebotomists, dietary workers, custodians, mechanics, grocery workers, restaurant workers, car mechanics, moms, dads, grandparents and daycare teachers and aides who have sacrificed their personal health and safety during this time as essential workers,” she said. “I would also like to thank all of those that continue to wear masks, maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others, sneeze and cough into the crook of their arms and wash their hands frequently. These little efforts protect not only them and their families from COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections, but they protect us all! Stay strong, stay safe!”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) also had an array of people to thank.

Bagel Express employees custom made and donated 50 feet of hero sandwiches spelling out “thank you” to health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from David Prestia

“During this unprecedented pandemic, it has been wonderful to see our neighbors coming together to support and help one another,” he said. “All of our essential workers (first responders, health care providers, postal and delivery people, store clerks and many more) deserve our gratitude for the sacrifices they make each day to do their job to help keep us safe and healthy. It is important to recognize everyone stepping up to make a contribution, from students sending kind messages — to sewing groups and seamstresses making and donating face masks — to restaurants/food establishments donating meals — to the libraries and businesses making PPEs and hand sanitizers — to nurseries donating plants to residents and health workers — and to the newspapers and media outlets keeping us informed. The work of those on the front lines is truly heroic and I can’t thank them enough.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) wished to thank Heritage Trust and the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for their food drives, which each raised thousands of food and toiletries items that will go to those who need it. She also thanked essential workers including law enforcement, health department and Department of Social Services.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she’s grateful for a range of people.

“Like so many others, my gratitude goes first to our health care and frontline workers,” she said. “Their courage and devotion is the brightest star in this dark time. I’m grateful that people in our community are staying home, following social distancing guidelines, and wearing face coverings in public so we can all help slow the advance of this invisible enemy. We all have that essential role to lower the toll COVID-19 takes by being responsible.”

Hahn also pointed out the importance of mental health professionals. 

“I am grateful too for the mental health professionals providing counseling, guidance and emotional support for domestic violence victims, as well as the many among us who are struggling to hold on to hope and the tattered shreds of what was a normal life just a few short months ago,” she said. “As someone with a social work background, I know for certain that these caring individuals are critical to the wellbeing of our community. We need their skills and their caring hearts now more than ever.”

Hahn added that the community has played an important role to help fight the pandemic. 

“From people making masks for others, delivering food to seniors and neighbors in need, to journalists bringing us the facts and stories or the lost and to the families teaching their kids at home, I see bravery and love everywhere,” she said. “It gives me hope that we will come through this stronger than ever.”

Children across the county have been writing and drawing encouraging messages in chalk. Photo by Stefanie Werner

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D- Dix Hills) thanked not only those on the front lines but also her staff members and many others. 

“During this most unprecedented time, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all essential workers,” she said. “You are on the front lines providing us the goods, services, care and protection we need to keep moving forward. A special thank you to the members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees who prove time and time again that their willingness to serve the residents of our county knows no bounds. I would also like to thank my staff for their hard work during long days that often become long nights. Their commitment to serving the constituents of the 16th Legislative District and all residents of Suffolk County is most admirable.”

She also had praise for the residents of the district.

“Thank you for demonstrating what makes Suffolk County the best place to live,” she said. “As a community we have shown that we are in this together, and surely, if we can get through this together, then we can get through anything together.”

Brookhaven Town

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said she has been holed up in her house since the start of the pandemic, only having one kidney and knowing it’s a potential comorbidity. Still, she said she has seen a tremendous amount of community support, such as from Rocky Point residents Quentin Palifka and his mother Alicia who have been putting up signs saying “Rocky Point Strong” on people’s front lawns, as a simple way of keeping spirits high.

Otherwise, both she and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pointed to Lighthouse Mission, which despite all the constant pressure and expanding need has kept up its mission to give food to those who need it. In April, the town gave Lighthouse Mission the green light to start delivering food and toiletries directly to homebound residents. With volunteers which has included a few elected town council members, they have been delivering upwards of 100s of meals a day, Romaine said.

Margaritas Cafe in Port Jefferson Station, along with the owners’ other franchise The Cuban in Patchogue, is just one of many examples of businesses supplying food to hospital workers during the ongoing crisis. Photo from Facebook

The supervisor also looked to thank the town personnel who are delivering close to 425 hot meals to seniors who were in the town’s congregate nutrition program. That is 425 meals each and every day.

“People feel like somebody still cares,” Romaine said.

Along with that, he also thanked all the people who are continuing to operate the many food pantries in the town of Brookhaven. 

“They are doing God’s work — they are helping people in desperate need,” he said. “Nobody should go hungry.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was thankful for many “hometown heroes.”

“I am incredibly thankful for the essential workers who are diligently providing support to individuals and families, including those most vulnerable, in our community during the COVID pandemic,” she said. “Without their commitment, none of us could be safe. In addition to our outstanding health care and medical professionals, I would like to highlight and thank the janitors, custodial, and maintenance staffs that are keeping our essential facilities and businesses running, as well as the grocery workers, the United States Postal Service and the many delivery drivers who continue to ensure that we receive the food, medicine and other supplies that we need during this time. A final thank you goes to all those hometown heroes in our community, too numerous to name, who have stepped up to fill a community need during this challenging time.”

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Huntington

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinaci (R) also had a number of community members to thank.

Susie Owens of St. Charles Hospital delivered a special message to her colleagues in chalk. Photo from St. Charles Facebook

“While it goes without question that all frontline workers deserve our heartfelt thanks, special recognition is due to the volunteers who have come out of the safety of their own homes, out of retirement, or who have traveled to Long Island from less affected areas of our country to put their lives on the line to participate on our front lines,” Lupinaci said. “From fire, rescue and EMS volunteers, to retired volunteers serving alongside our doctors and nurses, and military service members who are supplementing the efforts of our local front lines — our thanks can never be expressed fully enough. As we plan to kick off National Nurses Week on May 6, I’d like to thank Theresa Sullivan, whose Huntington Hospital Meals initiative delivered thousands of meals and raised over $150,000 to thank medical professionals and staff at Huntington Hospital over the several initial weeks of the pandemic, giving a boost to our doctors and nurses, who have found themselves in the difficult position of filling in, bedside, for the families of isolated patients during overwhelming, non-stop shifts. I encourage everyone who is still working and collecting a paycheck to join me in donating to the Northwell Health COVID-19 Emergency Fund to support our amazing nurses!”

Three Village

Jonathan Kornreich, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a member of the district’s school board, said he would like to thank the teachers.

“These people have devoted years to learning their craft and developing the skills to be effective in the classroom, and they suddenly find themselves engaged in a practice very different from what any of us could have predicted,” he said. “And yet, they have risen to this challenge with compassion, with great effort and yes, with newly developed skills.”

Kornreich said that even though school is not in session in the usual ways, Three Village Central School District teachers are working harder and longer than usual “and in ways that have challenged them professionally and personally.”

“I think that many parents have a newfound appreciation for what’s involved in getting developing minds to focus on learning,” Kornreich said. “I’m thankful that the kids of Three Village have a warm, dedicated and professional teaching staff to keep the wheels on this thing as we head into an uncertain future.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said she is thankful for Three Village residents.

“They just keep giving and giving freely,” she said. “It’s just extraordinary.”

Rocky Point community members and the VFW Post 6249 arrive at the Long Island State Veterans Home to show support despite horrible losses suffered inside. Photo from Facebook

Rocchio said she has witnessed a huge number of philanthropic acts during the pandemic that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. The WMHO along with Stony Brook Village Center restaurants created a health care meal program and are currently donating meals to Stony Brook University Hospital. Rocchio has been touched by the number of residents who have been donating funds to help with the mission. More than 9,000 meals have been donated to health care workers.

“It’s such a wonderful place to live,” she said.

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

Smithtown

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) had many to thank from restaurant owners to residents and community organizations that have taken the time to help out others to his fellow “partners in government” at the federal, state and county levels. Most of all, he wanted to show town employees his gratefulness.

“None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the town’s department directors and our labor force who stepped up in every way, during this pandemic,” he said. “The department leadership has worked through this entire pandemic, without time at home to be with their families. Our Senior Citizens Department teams and volunteers have pushed through exhaustion to deliver weekly meals for over 200 homebound residents. Our parks department has worked tirelessly to keep town buildings and grounds sanitized, while helping us to deliver PPE supplies to local frontline workers and facilities. And most of all, the job that our Public Safety department has done over the last two months has been nothing short of extraordinary. They did not get to rotate out of the schedule and work from home like all other departments. Public Safety has managed our Emergency Response, patrolled our parks, assisted SCPD, enforced social distancing requirements and all executive orders from the state. They have done an exceptional job, in an impossible situation and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Port Jefferson/Port Jefferson Station

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thanked A Cake in Time and its owner Sherry Sobel, who after a donation to help her business, took that money and made cookies and then made arrangements to have them delivered to the underserved. She thanked other individual businesses including the Fifth Season Restaurant, with owners John and Deb Urbinati and Steam Room manager Vinnie Seiter who have been supplying lunches and dinners to the Welcome Friends Kitchen without any compensation.

Indu Kaur, who with The Curry Club’s Feed the #HealthCareHeroes Campaign has been raising money and donating meals since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis back in March. They have donated 2,000 meals thus far and hope to continue our work and feed the homeless shelters, and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Thank you signs outside Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Carolyn Benson, a musician and singer, partnered in The Journey Home Project to support veterans through the pandemic. People can go to www.carolynbenson.us to buy a shirt which now through May 31 all proceeds are going to The Journey Home Project, which assists nonprofits aiding vets.

Front Porch Photographer Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images has been taking front porch photos and setting up a Gofundme page to then donate that money for meals for the underserved through the PJ Chamber.

Rebecca Kassay of Suffolk County Creators of Covid-19 Medical Supplies and her team of volunteers have been making facial masks by the hundreds.

Debbie and Jerry Bowling, the owners of Pasta Pasta, have been cooking countless meals donated to charitable causes, hospitals, women shelters.

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce Community Liaison Joan Nickeson named several chamber and non-chamber community members alike, including Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric and president of the chamber who helped purchase nearly $700 in groceries for the needy in the community; Jackie Kirsch, of PJS, who has been making masks for a variety of organizations since March; and Toni St. John of PJS, who is sewing as part of Facebook page Operation Headband making the straps hospital workers use to hold masks to their face, taking the stress away from their ears. St. John is also one of the costume designers down at Theatre Three.

She also wished to thank Debra Quigley, a trained Literacy Suffolk volunteer — who while in-person Comsewogue Library ESL classes have been cancelled, she has managed to offer ESL classes virtually through the library. 

“Our parents in this community are diversified,” Nickeson said.

North Shore Brookhaven Civics/Chambers of Commerce

Civics have also noticed the massive amount of support generated by local residents. Bea Ruberto, the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, thanked Rose Mayer and her daughter Lily, who as their own organization, The LilyRose Collective, are making masks along with Facebook group Long Island Love for police and other essential personnel. 

“We’re (the Civic) planning to donate to help her do this,” Ruberto said. “We’re also going to be asking the community at large to donate fabric, etc., and she will give us the masks to donate to whoever needs them.”

Health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital crowd together after the flyover April 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

Chambers also wanted to respect the multiple strides businesses have made in the community despite the strains and stresses from lost business. The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce thanked Dan Reinwald of Tilda’s Bake Shop who donated pastries, donuts, rolls and bread to Mather as well as Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai in appreciation of medical professionals and security staff. 

Tom O’Grady of Tuscany Market, who partnered with the Miller Place Teachers Association and organized soup and food donations for Mather Hospital,wanted to recognize our medical professionals.

Roy Pelaez of Island Empanada donated empanadas to the Suffolk County Police Department to show appreciation for our law enforcement. 

Joe Cognitore and the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, escorted by Peter Oleschuk, Rick Mees and the North Fork Cruisers, took to the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University to pay tribute to the staff and volunteers serving there as well as to remember and honor deceased heroes. 

Eufrasia Rodriguez of Justice 4 Autism has been donating masks to ambulance drivers, nurses at Stony Brook, Good Samaritan Hospital, Pilgrim State and Southside Hospitals along with local businesses like Spiro’s, Fantasia Bridal and Bakewicz Farms.

Tino Massotto of Cow Palace donated complete dinners to St. Charles Hospital’s ER Department and ICU as well as Good Shepherd Hospice.

Michelle LaManno of C.P. LaMannos Have a Pizza in Miller Place donated salads and pizza pies to Mather Hospital, and Michelle and Stelios Stylianou of Studio E hosted free virtual art classes for the community.

Northport power plant. File photo

When the Town of Huntington’s planning board originally authorized in 1965 a site plan for the Northport power plant’s first generating unit on the shores of the Long Island Sound, the impact on the greater safety, health and general welfare of the community was an overarching concern. In fact, the town’s approval stipulated that plant operators were required to submit emissions reports to the town, which were subject to regular review by town officials. 

Today, the plant has expanded to four units, and while the town is still searching for records, officials do not know the last time the plant submitted an emission report from on-site monitors for a review. Town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town is reviewing whether or not it has monitoring authority. The EPA and DEC, he said, have jurisdiction over plant emissions. 

Some lawmakers firmly disagree, and State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is calling for action. 

“The town has had more power than it’s realized,” he said. “It should take whatever action it needs to take.”  

Gaughran said he regularly drives past the plant and smells foul odors. Last year, he requested a state health investigation after learning that graduates of Northport High School Class of 2016 were diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma, after community members said they want to know if the plant’s emissions are a factor. 

State health department investigators have now expanded their study to look at cancer rates in a broader population to look for patterns. (See story on Page A3) With that investigation underway, Gaughran finds it prudent to take steps to better protect the community. 

Town Council member Joan Cergol agrees. 

“If the Town, in its rezone of the property, or any of its agencies or boards in the 1960s imposed conditions on LILCO to protect the health and safety of Huntington residents, then it stands to reason that its successors should be bound by the same,” she said.

It is unclear what action if in any will be taken, but some are saying additional precautions would be prudent. 

Danielle DeSimone is one several young adults diagnosed with leukemia from the Northport High School Class of 2016, who received a bone marrow transplant and is now in remission. She said she would absolutely support any policies that would better protect the public’s health. 

“May no more families be faced with this burden unnecessarily,” she said in an email. 

As the state’s health investigation continues, and as the town bears the additional burden of fighting LIPA and National Grid, spending $4.2 million to date, many people are looking at the plant with a discerning eye. 

According to the DEC, the Northport Power Plant emissions are in severe violation of state and federal the air pollution standards for nitrous oxide and VOCs, which contribute to ozone. When inhaled, ozone chemicals react chemically with many biological molecules in the respiratory tract, the EPA reports, leading to adverse health effects.

It’s difficult to know whether or not a specific environmental toxin will cause a particular individual to develop cancer or other diseases, according to a 2003 report “Cancer and the Environment” published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

But significant sources of VOCs are chemical plants, gasoline pumps, oil-based paints, autobody shops, and print shops. Nitrogen oxides result primarily from high temperature combustion. Significant sources are power plants, industrial furnaces and boilers, and motor vehicles, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation Permit Review Report from February 2019.

In response to inquiries,  National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said, “we submit our emissions report to the EPA and NY DEC.”

The DEC states that ozone is a regional air pollutant and most human and economic activity in the NYC metro area contribute in some way to ozone exceedences. 

“If the DEC finds any facility poses an imminent threat to public health or the environment, the agency works to address the situation immediately,” said DEC spokesman Kevin Frazier.  

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said that the town had no authority over emissions monitoring.  The town is actually still reviewing the matter. (updated 1/29/2020)

Officials train residents on how to avoid being taken

Phone scams are on the rise, and officials say these and other scams are targeting the senior population.

Local government representatives emphasize that the elderly need to be better informed about what to look out for and how to avoid them.

On Aug. 20, at the Huntington Senior Center, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport),Town of Huntington Receiver of Taxes Jillian Guthman and state attorney general representative T.J. Hatter held a Smart Seniors event. Together they cautioned seniors against handing over large sums of money through phone, email, letter and internet scams. 

“These scammers will use fear if they think that will work, they will use kindness and they will use intimidation,” Hatter said. “The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.” 

One of the most common scams targeting the senior population includes the sweepstakes scam, which requests the “winner” to send a check or wire money to cover taxes for their prize. Another one is where the scammer will act as a relative, such as a grandchild, and claim to be in danger. Sometimes, the scammer acts as a lawyer or police officer. In each case, they ask for money immediately. 

“There are two approaches to dealing with these types of scams,” Hatter said. “Ask for the person’s name and a call-back number.” He also recommends answering the phone only if you recognize the number as a friend or a loved one. “Let everyone else leave you a message,” he said. 

“The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.”

— T.J Hatter

Hatter said the scammers are often out-of-the country and can’t be traced. 

“These scammers are using something called routing technology,” he said. “The idea is to make the number they are calling from have a ‘631’ or ‘516’ area code to make it look more local and make it more likely someone will answer.”

According to Suffolk County officials, in 2018, there were 68 phone scam incidents reported, targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly, as reported in a January 2019 TBR News Media article. Between 2017 and 2018, the largest amount of money taken in once incident was $800,000, according to Suffolk County police. 

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulently gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion. 

One of the latest scams to target seniors urges them to purchase gift cards to help a relative in trouble. 

“We are finding that [scammers] are asking for those prepaid gift cards and then they will ask you to scratch off the back and read them the numbers,” he said. “That’s the most common one we are finding right now.” 

Home improvement scams are also common and often offer “free inspections.” The inspections will almost always find a problem that requires an expensive solution.

“Someone will knock on your door and say they are a repair person and ask if something is wrong with your home,” Hatter said. “They will say they can fix it and even offer you a discounted rate. Do not pay this person.” 

Hatter said ultimately you hold the power so if you are not sure that you recognize the caller, you are not forced to answer the phone. 

The Office of the Attorney General urges people to use strong passwords and avoid using birth dates, Social Security numbers and mother’s maiden names in them.

If you shop online, be sure the sites you use are secure. A secure site will start with https:// and most use a padlock icon, which will tell you the name of the owner. Also, use only credit card rather than debit or check cards.

“Debit cards, even those with a credit card name and logo, do not carry the same protections,” the Smart Seniors program states. If credit card information is stolen, you are only liable for $50 in fraudulent charges. If your debit card information is stolen and the thief wipes out your bank account, the money is gone. 

It’s also important to remember that email scammers often masquerade as a familiar and trustworthy company, such as your bank, online store or credit card company. Sometimes they pretend to be a government agency. These scammers are “phishing” for personal data and often claim that there’s a problem with your account. Do not click on a link no matter who they claim to be. You may be directed to a bogus, look-alike website that spoofs a real company. 

“The key to the phishing scams is that they ask you to provide personal information, such as your Social Security number or password, so they can “confirm your identity,” the program warns. 

“If you get a call, text or email from a company claiming there’s a problem do not respond,” the Attorney General’s Office states. Instead delete the message or hang up, and contact the company yourself. It’s important to protect your personal information. Papers should be shredded before you throw them away. 

New Yorkers donate more than $10 billion to charitable organizations each year, with older New Yorkers being the most generous, the Attorney General’s Office states. It is suggested that you confirm that a charity is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, as required by law and find out if the funds will be used for programs, administrative costs and fundraising. Avoid charities that will not answer questions about its programs and finances. 

Residents can greatly reduce the number of unsolicited calls, mailings and internet offerings they receive. The National Do Not Call Registry can be reached at 800-382-1222. You can place your landline and your mobile number on the Do Not Call List. Registration never expires. Political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors are still permitted. 

Patricia Wagner, a Huntington resident who attended the session, said she was grateful. 

“This was really informative and I’m going to share this information with my friends [who are not here],” she said. “We are getting older … we need an event like this every year.” 

People at a rally in Old Bethpage held up signs signaling for a need for gun legislation. Photo by David Luces

Close to 200 people, including activists, survivors, faith leaders and elected officials filled a room at Haypath Park in Old Bethpage, Aug. 6, to call for common sense gun reform from Washington and to collectively voice ‘enough is enough’.

Moms Demand Action has been at the forefront of LI protests against gun violence. Photo by David Luces

The rally came in the wake of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that took 31 lives over last weekend.

“We are upset, heartbroken — and most importantly we are angry,” Tracy Bacher, of Moms Demand Action, an organization founded by a Dix Hills mother after the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.  “In less than 24 hours our nation experienced two major mass shootings, this a public health crisis that demands urgent action.”

NYS Senator Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) said it’s time for federal government to act on common-sense gun reform.

“We are calling for Washington to take action, we have passed a red-flag law in the state we believe it’s going to save lives,” the senator said in an interview. “But if they can pass one in Washington it will save a lot more lives. We need to get guns off the street that are in the wrong hands.”

While the federal government has been stagnant in achieving more robust gun reform in recent years, individual states have taken it upon themselves to enact their own measures.

New York, in February, became the latest state to adopt a red-flag law, which is intended to prevent individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. It also allows teachers as well as family members and others to petition the courts for protective orders.

Sergio Argueta of S.T.R.O.N.G., a youth advocacy group that focuses against gang and gun violence, said all he and others ask is for the bullets to stop. He began his speech imitating the sounds of gunshots in front of the packed crowd.

“’Pop, pop, pop,’ in day care centers; ‘pop, pop, pop,’ in synagogues; ‘pop, pop, pop’ in houses of worship,” said Argueta. “… It is not fair that we have kids that walk into school that look like prisons. It is not fair that people that go out to Walmart to prepare their kids to start the new school year die.”

Family members of gun violence victims shared their stories.

Tracy Bacher of Moms Demand Action spoke at the rally about a need for gun legislation at the federal level. Photo by David Luces

“It is about time that we do something different, we have been here for Sandy [Hook], we have been here for Parkland and nothing changes,” said Rita Kestenbaum, whose daughter Carol was killed by a gunman in 2007 when she was a sophomore at Arizona State University. “Background checks are lovely, red-flag laws are lovely, but if we don’t get semi-automatic weapons banned, then all of this is for nothing.”

Shenee Johnson said gun violence is preventable. Her son, Kedrick, was killed in a shooting at a high graduation party in 2010. She was in Washington D.C. at a conference called Gun Sense University when she heard of the shooting in El Paso.

“For so many years, I’ve tried to hide my pain and shield my pain from others, but I’m dying inside,” Johnson said. “We can no longer go on like this, how many times do we have to go through something like this.”

Other speakers called for people to fight to end gun violence and the hate that fuels it.

“To eradicate hate, we must fight it with love and action,” said David Kilmnick, of the LGBT Network. “…We say by coming here together that this is not a normal way of life. This is not the America we know.”

Genesis Yanes, a student at Nassau Community College and counselor at S.T.R.O.N.G Youth, was one of many members who brought handmade signs to the rally. The non-profit works with individuals ages 11-21. A hand full of elementary and middle school students were at the rally.

“This is something that affects them directly and their communities, we just want to show them that there are people here who are advocating for this change,” she said.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) hands out survey cards at local rail stations and seeks commuter input. Photo by Donna Deedy

The electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch is back on the table, and government officials say they’re optimistic about the prospect, since now there’s some money to fund the idea.

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) during an informal interview May 9 at the Huntington train station, where he was personally handing out commuter surveys, said he predicts that the line will become fully electrified within the next five years. 

Morning commuters at the Huntington station where many switch trains to go both east and west. Photo by Donna Deedy

“It’s been talked about for decades,” he said. “It’s time to make it happen.”

Currently, the branch east of Huntington uses diesel or double-decker, dual-fuel trains, that are prohibited in Manhattan. Commuters between New York City and points east of Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch must change from diesel to electric trains, or vice versa for the reverse commute, at various junctions, typically in Huntington. The process is time consuming and inconvenient for passengers, who are often subject to inclement weather on an open platform. Electric trains would eliminate the need to change trains and would create a time-saving, one-seat ride to Manhattan. 

Gaughran, who is serving his first term in the state Senate, has been a major proponent of the MTA Rail Act, an overhaul plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law last month. New York State’s 2019-20 budget funds the overhaul and includes an expected $1.5 billion in capital projects for the Long Island Rail Road. Funds will be used for a variety of needs, but new trains and increased service are top priorities, according to Gaughran’s office. 

Electrification makes sense now, Gaughran said, because it would help address both congestion at Huntington’s station, which serves 41,440 daily weekday riders, while speeding up the slow commute to New York City.

Gaughran said that he’s already taken steps to advocate for electrification. He’s also conducted mobile town halls on trains during the morning commute to solicit passenger input on all rail service issues and will present passengers comments from his surveys to railroad officials later this year. 

Details from the Long Island Rail Road 

The LIRR is currently evaluating proposals, according to its spokesperson, and will soon award contracts to begin the electrification studies for both the Port Jefferson Branch and the Central Branch, which connects Babylon to Hicksville via Bethpage. The studies will determine what is required to complete each project.

Overall, the electrification project, in addition to a new fleet, would require significant investments in infrastructure such as new substations, a third rail and a second track between Huntington and Port Jefferson, upgrades to half-dozen platforms and work on bridges, viaducts and crossings, according to LIRR’s spokesperson. Additional train storage yard(s) will also be needed. 

The railroad does not yet have funding for construction but is seeking it for the Central Branch electrification in its 2020-24 capital program. Port Jefferson electrification would require additional funding in several other future programs. 

A faster, one-seat ride 

A common complaint among passengers interviewed for this report during the May 9 morning commute aboard trains on the Port Jefferson line supported the need for more rapid service. 

“It takes two hours to get to New York City from Stony Brook,” said John Morgan, a mathematician at Stony Brook University’s Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, who uses the train twice a week. “It’s too slow.” 

Larry Penner, a former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, who is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs, said the one-seat ride to Manhattan in general is the best bang-for-the-buck idea for improving rail service for riders. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us.”

— Margot Garant

“Electrification of Ronkonkoma was selected over Port Jefferson back in the early 1980s,” Penner said. “Perhaps this time, Port Jefferson will come out on top this go-around almost 40 years later.”

Penner noted that the electrification of the railroad’s Central Branch east of Hicksville to Babylon holds the potential of creating a new north/south service route, which will provide detours to Jamaica during major service disruptions on the main line between Hicksville and Jamaica. 

For years, local elected representatives have recognized the commercial value and the resulting tax revenue benefits of electrification. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview.

The Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in North America, carrying an average of 301,000 customers each weekday on 735 daily trains. It’s comprised of more than 700 miles of rails on 11 different branches. For most lines, the terminus is Penn Station in Manhattan, with some lines originating or ending in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Huntington line, in addition to serving 41,440 daily weekday riders, serves another 11,210 travelers on the Port Jefferson line. 

State senators at THRIVE press conference. Photo by Maureen Rossi

Advocates say new budget has wins for people in recovery

By Maureen Rossi

With the opioid epidemic still endemic throughout Suffolk County and beyond, New York State senators are hoping the new state budget will mean more help for those in the throes of addiction.

Measures woven into and passed in the state budget include increasing access for those suffering with substance use disorder to access 28-day inpatient and outpatient programs without prior insurance authorization.  They also include money for a recovery high school start -up and no prior authorization for medication- assisted treatment.  

“These are critical reform measures,” said New York State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood). In addition, she touted another reform, which will require emergency rooms to enact screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment for all overdose patients before they are released. For the first time, emergency room doctors will also initiate medically-assisted treatment to overdose patients prior to their release, utilizing drugs like buprenorphine that alleviate the craving for opioids including heroin. 

Long Island advocates rally in Albany for the state to do more about the opioid crisis on LI Lobby Day in March. Photo from Friends of Recovery NY

Martinez was joined by her Democratic colleagues at a press conference in Islandia April 12.  Senators Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), James Gaughran (D-Northport), Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) gathered at THRIVE Long Island, a community center for people in addiction recovery whose funding was a legislative win three years back.

The Island’s Democrats were joined by stakeholders to celebrate critical initiatives passed in this year’s state budget to combat Long Island’s pernicious opioid epidemic. Those stakeholders include parents of those lost to the epidemic, those in recovery and those in the prevention and addiction field, including the CEO of Family & Children’s Association Jeffrey Reynolds, of Smithtown.

 “There is still much work to be done to combat the opioid epidemic we are seeing here on Long Island,” Martinez added.  She looked to Reynolds to the right of the podium and shared that he was tenacious in getting the Long Island’s senators’ attention as the hours dwindled in budget meetings. “He used social media and tagged every single one of us and let us know what funding was missing in the budget.”

Kaplan said the crisis affects every community, every school and every community.   

“Too many innocent souls have been lost to this disease, they have been failed time and again,” Kaplan said.  “We are done with half-measures — we will do everything we can to help people get into long-term recovery.”  

One such measure included and passed in the budget was the funding of another THRIVE center for Nassau in Hempstead. The doors are scheduled to open next month.

Kaminsky met with some Long Island parents who lost loved ones to the epidemic prior to the budget process. Figures released by the addiction experts on Long Island put that figure at 3,400 since 2010.

“When a parent tells you the story of how they found their child (dead), you want to make sure another parent doesn’t experience that,” said Kaminsky.   

When it came to budget negotiations that lasted around the clock, the state senator said they would not take no for an answer.  

Suffolk County has long been a powerhouse when it comes to shining a light on the opioid epidemic and taking legislative measures to address it. Packages of historic bills have been pushed through statewide by Suffolk County advocates. The county is one of the state’s hardest hit counties and they were the first county in the country to file a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the makers of the drug OxyContin.  

Reynolds addressed the senators on behalf of the sixty-plus advocates present.  “ ‘Thank you’ seems insufficient. You promised on campaign trails you would do good for Long Island. Thank you so much for your efforts,” he stated.

However, Reynolds promised that he and the Long Island advocacy movement will always ask the senators to do more. 

Northport power plant. File photo

New York State and town officials are renewing their calls for changes to be made to Long Island Power Authority’s operations as the trial over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station is slated to begin Feb. 25.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) reintroduced legislation Jan. 31 that called for LIPA to be restructured so that eight of the utility company’s nine board members would be elected by public vote, among other changes.

“I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island,” he said. “I think it needs to be scrapped and replaced.”

““I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island.”

— Jim Gaughran

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has partnered with Gaughran to sponsor the bill in the state Assembly. The concept of the ratepayers protection act was first introduced in February 2017 by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Thiele, co-sponsored by a coalition that included state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport). Those early bills failed to ever make it the Legislature’s floor for a vote.

Currently, LIPA’s nine-member board of trustees consists of five individuals appointed by the governor, two selected by the president or majority leader of the state Senate, and two chosen by the speaker of the Assembly.

The proposed ratepayers protection act calls for the state Legislature to create eight districts roughly equal in population size based on the last U.S. Census by May 1, 2021. A resident of each district would be elected to LIPA’s board to serve a two-year term as trustee, with the first elections to be held in December 2021. Candidates on the ballot would not be chosen by the political parties, and those elected would not be paid but could be reimbursed from the state for their related expenses, according to the draft.

In addition, the proposed legislation would require LIPA to hold public hearings before making future rate changes, give residents 30 days advance notice of the hearing and hold the event in the county it affects — Suffolk or Nassau. It would prohibit the utility company from increasing its rates to offset any losses from energy conservation efforts.

“I promised the residents of his district once elected, I was going to hold one of my first town halls on this — a town hall in Northport to drill down and deal with the issues of LIPA,” Gaughran said.

He will hold a town hall-style forum 10 a.m. March 16 in Northport High School’s auditorium with town and school district officials present to answer questions and review various options moving forward with LIPA, including the ratepayers protection act.

“We are encouraged to hear this legislation is being reintroduced, as it will provide the oversight and transparency needed to restore residents’ confidence in LIPA — ensuring that the best interests of the ratepayers are served,” Huntington spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said.

Huntington’s town board also voted unanimously Jan. 29 to petition its elected officials to amend state law to allow the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district access to the state’s Electric Generating Facility Cessation Mitigation Program funding in case LIPA is successful in getting the Northport power plant’s annual taxes reduced, as well as to put more money into that state fund. This bill also failed to find sufficient support to pass the state Legislature last year.

We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case.”

— Nick Ciappetta

The tax certiorari case is slated to begin trial Feb. 25. While the town and Northport school district have entered nonbinding mediation with five sessions being held to date, according to Lembo, an agreement has not been struck.

In contrast, the Town of Brookhaven formally settled its lawsuit with LIPA over the Port Jefferson power plant Dec. 14 agreeing to decrease taxes on the plant 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years.

“We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case,” Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said. “The Brookhaven agreement has nothing to do with the Northport power plant.”

Ciappetta cited what he believes are several key differences between the Northport and Port Jeff stations: Northport’s output capacity is four times larger, it is a dual-fuel plant that is capable of operating on both natural gas and oil, and that its operation is vital to helping maintain the state’s power capacity requirements.

Gaughran said he is willing to review and support any state legislation which may aid Huntington and Northport in their ongoing legal battle with LIPA and National Grid.

“It’s clear that everyone has to continue to fight this,” he said. “We can’t be preparing to lose. Everyone must continue to fight — it’s too important.”